Seven Free Agents Who Could Provide Depth for the Eagles

Seven Free Agents Who Could Provide Depth for the Eagles

With the exception of a potentially major addition at linebacker, the Eagles aren't expected to make a huge splash in free agency. The front office already invested a sizable portion of their available cap space during last year's spending spree, and must put funds aside to re-sign some of their own players (DeSean Jackson, Evan Mathis), while possibly extending others (LeSean McCoy).

Besides, the Birds don't have as many front-line needs as a year ago. On offense, their core is only one season removed from setting the franchise scoring record. On defense, the front four features multiple Pro Bowl-caliber players, and the secondary has more starters at cornerback than the coaches know how to use, with a group of improving, young safeties pushing each other behind them.

But free agency always presents a prepared organization the chance to improve its team in one or multiple areas, and 2012 is no different. With the right additions, the Eagles can settle issues on the back end of their depth chart, and with any luck, put themselves one step closer to piecing together a complete roster.


QB Jason Campbell
Michael Vick's penchant for injury is no secret, and it's difficult to get comfortable with the current crop of relievers. Entering his third season, Mike Kafka has attempted 16 career passes in the NFL, so we have little to no idea where his ceiling is. He's joined by Trent Edwards, a never-was who spent 2011 out of the league.

To be fair to those guys, you never want to rule out success for a player who was never given a chance. Kafka obviously hasn't had much opportunity, and Edwards's development may have been stunted by his environment.

However, if Andy Reid shares our concern for the unknown, Campbell offers a clear upgrade at this point. The former first round pick of the Washington Redskins has started 70 games over the last six years, and hasn't posted a passer rating below 84 in a season in the past four. He hasn't gone above 86 either, so he's no star -- but he is a professional. Campbell is a consistent performer who played in a west coast offense, has some mobility, and limits his turnovers.

RB Mike Tolbert
The issue with back-up running backs and the Eagles is they are seldom used. Last summer, they added Ronnie Brown -- somebody good enough to be drafted second overall and be voted to a Pro Bowl -- and proceeded to hand him the ball a whopping 42 times. Some of that was McCoy's doing, but this has been a recurring theme for years, going back to Correll Buckhalter. Plus, the team has talented second-year back Dion Lewis, who may be in line for more touches.

Tolbert would make for an excellent complement to Shady though. At 5-9, 243, he's strong in short yardage, and has a nose for the goal line, rushing for 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He's also a viable receiver out of the backfield, catching 54 passes for 433 yards and two TD's in '11. Finally, he's solid in pass protection, so he can be used on all downs in practically any situation.

WR Plaxico Burress
We know Plax wants the Eagles, but do the Eagles want Plax? There's been no indication management has any interest in the eighth overall pick in the 2000 Draft, even though he might be worth considering.

The offense is still experiencing its share of struggles in the red zone. The Eagles committed eight red zone turnovers last year, and DeSean Jackson was ineffective when the field shrank. At 6-5, Burress still excels inside the 20, catching seven out of his eight touchdowns in 2011 once the Jets were deep. If Burress is willing to accept a reduced role, it might not hurt to provide Vick a big, proven target.

C Mike Pollak
Jason Kelce solidified himself as the club's center for years to come in his rookie season, rendering Jamaal Jackson and nearly $2 million in salary an unnecessary luxury, one the team could choose to part with. A former second round pick by Indianapolis, Pollak failed to carve out a permanent spot in their starting lineup. He's played in Howard Mudd's scheme, and should be available on discount.

DT Jason Jones
The Eagles surely would like to bring Derek Landri back after his strong season, and there seems to be some belief they could choose a tackle early on draft day, but Jones makes a ton of sense as a low risk/high reward signing. When Jim Washburn was in Tennessee, Jones was a player on the rise, notching four sacks in seven games in '09, and becoming a starter the following year. With Wash out of the picture, the Titans tried moving Jones to defensive end last season, where he didn't make much of an impact.

Jones should be interested in reuniting with Washburn in an attempt to get his career back on track, and the Birds might create the space. Even if they re-sign Landri, Jones might be a better fit in the wide nine than restricted free agent Antonio Dixon, whose strength is lining up at nose. The Eagles could make Dixon a reduced qualifying offer, perhaps tempting another team to trade a low draft pick as compensation for signing him away.

S Brodney Pool
While there is some disappointment over the state of the Birds' safeties, the fact is there are not a lot of moving parts there. Nate Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett are second round picks -- Allen played well in spurts last season while recovering from a torn patellar tendon, and with a shortened offseason to bring rookies up to speed, Jarrett deserves the benefit of the doubt. Kurt Coleman is serviceable as well.

That said, it's admittedly an inexperienced group that has struggled with consistency, so bringing a veteran into the mix to stabilize the unit would be wise. Pool isn't fantastic, but he's not a liability in any phase of the game either. He started 18 games in relief of the Jets' Jim Leonhard over the past two seasons, and 77 total in a seven-year career. He won't be playing baseball in 2013.

KR Ted Ginn
Ginn never amounted to much as an NFL receiver, but he is an explosive kick returner, something the Birds have lacked for far too long. Ginn returned both a kick and a punt for touchdowns for the 49ers last season, and five of his six career returns for score were in the last three seasons. This would get DJacc off the punt team without sacrificing his explosiveness, and give them an actual threat on kickoffs for the first time since Brian Mitchell.

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.