The Replacements: Eagles Draft Sends Message About Upcoming Free Agents

The Replacements: Eagles Draft Sends Message About Upcoming Free Agents

Quintin Mikell and David Akers have been in the news a lot lately. Two of the final three remaining members from the 2004 Eagles team that reached the Super Bowl become free agents whenever the new league year begins, and they both say the writing is on the wall.

"I talked to Dawk after he left, and he was pretty upset about it," Mikell said. "For me personally, seeing how upset he was, I think I started preparing for that back then. Mike Lewis and Dawk, seeing those guys go, I was like, 'Mentally be ready for that day, because it's going to happen, and it might happen sooner than you think.'

It's typical Eagles, casting off aging veterans in favor of their younger counterparts, and it's a model the front office has been very successful with, often parting ways at precisely the right time--except this time, it's not just the old guys. Virtually every player the Eagles selected in this year's draft should be viewed as a direct replacement for a scheduled free agent, several of them only finishing out their rookie deals.

The lack of a collective bargaining agreement has caused uncertainty over who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. A provision in the old agreement resulted in an uncapped year in 2010, during which the years of service required for unrestricted status jumped from four to six. Because nobody knows exactly what will happen, this led to the belief free agency could continue to operate under those rules.

In all honesty, that was always an unlikely premise. The rule changes triggered by the final year of the expired CBA were put in place as a feeble attempt to prevent a labor dispute. The thought process was the threat of an NFL with no salary cap would keep the owners honest, while a series of obscure rules limiting player movement would put pressure on the union.

We may not make it back to status quo, but there is no way the players will agree to anything that lengthens the wait until free agency. If you still need convincing though, take a closer look at the Eagles' draft class, and the list of players who would be unrestricted in a normal year.

2011 Draft: (1) running back, (1) fullback, (2) guards, (1) center, (3) linebackers, (1) cornerback, (1) safety, (1) kicker.

2011 unrestricted free agents: (1) running back, (3) guards, (1) defensive end, (4) linebackers, (2) cornerbacks, (1) safety, (1) kicker, (1) punter.

In case you are having trouble reading between the lines, the Eagles are preparing as if nobody will re-sign, and it's not just veterans like Mikell and Akers, or moving parts such as Dimitri Patterson and Ernie Sims. It's Max Jean-Gilles, a starter in 10 games last season; Jerome Harrison, who they swindled from the Browns in a trade last October; and Stewart Bradley, only two seasons removed from being a rising star at middle linebacker.

Prior the draft, I would have considered the return of several free agents likely, unrestricted or not. I really did not foresee the Eagles drafting another safety in the second round, Akers was tendered with the transition tag, and I hoped Bradley would show progress in his second season following an ACL tear. Now, none of their services are necessary.

Sure, anybody could come back... if the price were right. It has to be on the Eagles' terms though. Mikell should command top dollar as arguably the top safety on the market, not to mention years management would never match with Jaiquawn Jarrett in the fold. The transition offer to Akers may as well be rescinded, unless they are really going to have Alex Henery punting in his rookie season. Bradley probably has the best shot of all to don midnight green in '11, but only if he is willing to compete for a job.

We could do this all day. Curtis Marsh, a corner for all of one season, couldn't be any worse than Patterson. Why waste valuable instruction on the 28 year old Harrison when they have 20 year old Dion Lewis? Jean-Gilles, Nick Cole, and Reggie Wells are expendable now that they have Danny Watkins, Julian Vandervelde, and Jason Kelce, as are Sims, Omar Gaither, and Akeem Jordan to their Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle, and Greg Lloyd.

Obviously it's too soon to call anybody's draft a success, but it's enough to make you wonder how anybody could term the Eagles' haul bad, much less comically so as the Inquirer's John Gonzalez suggested the other day. They merely sought to replace players who are already out the door.

And are they losing anybody who is irreplaceable? A good kicker can be difficult to find, but Akers turns 37 this year, and the drama that unfolded over the winter--after he missed crucial field goals in the playoffs no less--hardly seems worth the trouble. Mikell is the most valuable of the bunch, and even he is somewhat one dimensional; one of the best in the box, but just average in coverage. And again, it's worth repeating he has a nice payday coming.

The Eagles passed on the household names in the first round, and failed to address seemingly obvious holes in the process. However, it would be incorrect to conclude they failed to draft for need, when if the roster holds up without any of their 15 upcoming free agents, they drafted out of practically nothing but immediate need. As a result, don't be surprised by the impact this year's class plays in the season ahead.

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

In the wake of the Sam Bradford trade, the Eagles' announcement a week before the opener that Carson Wentz would start Week 1 was met with some skepticism and overwhelmingly tempered expectations.

But it looks like the kid can play.

And the Eagles aren’t just looking smart for drafting and playing Wentz. They’re also looking pretty smart for filling their coaching staff and quarterback room with decades of quarterback experience.

“It's a tight room,” head coach Doug Pederson said.

It’s also a knowledgeable one.

Pederson is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is a former college quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. And backup Chase Daniel has been in the league since 2009 and in Pederson’s offense since 2013.

If Wentz has a question, he has plenty of guys to ask. And it seems like this support system, which at one time looked like overkill, might be one of the keys that has allowed the rookie to take the NFL by storm.

“There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt,” the veteran backup Daniel said. “Obviously, he’s a very bright young mind, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the coaching in the quarterback room has played a good part into his maturation and his bringing along so fast. There’s no doubt about it.”

Through three games, Wentz has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. Oh yeah, and the Eagles are 3-0.

It’s hard to believe that about a month ago, Wentz was gearing up for a redshirt year as the third quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Daniel. Now, he isn’t just the future franchise quarterback. He is the franchise quarterback.

And Wentz gives his quarterback-heavy coaching staff plenty of credit.

“It’s huge having them,” Wentz said. “I could never say enough how much they understand the game. They get it. They know what it’s like. As a former quarterback, they know what I’m going through and how I’m seeing things, so it’s been huge.”

The Eagles were clearly smitten with Wentz from the time they saw him in Alabama for the Senior Bowl. Eventually, de facto GM Howie Roseman was able to maneuver to the No. 2 pick to draft Wentz.

But Wentz went No. 2 and not No. 1, so it’s almost impossible to not peek over at Los Angeles and see how first overall pick Jared Goff is doing. So far, he isn’t doing much of anything. It doesn’t mean that eventually Goff won’t be a good quarterback, but through three games, he’s been inactive once and hasn’t yet played. The Rams are sticking with Case Keenum for now.

NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling compared the support system for Goff with the Rams and Wentz's with the Eagles. We’ll take a deeper look into what he started:

Rams
• Head coach Jeff Fisher: Defensive coach

• OC Rob Boras: Never a QB coach; coached tight ends in NFL from 2004-15

• QB Coach Chris Weinke: Former NFL QB for seven seasons; was highly-thought of QB draft guru with IMG academy for four years

• Vet QB Case Keenum: In league since 2012; best QB he's played with is Matt Schaub

Eagles
• Head coach Doug Pederson: 12 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Philly; OC in KC

• OC Frank Reich: 14 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Indy with Peyton Manning in 2009-10; QB coach and OC in San Diego

• QB Coach: John DeFilippo: College QB; QBs coach at Fordham, Columbia; QBs coach with Raiders, Jets, OC with Browns

• Vet QB Chase Daniel: In league since 2009; learned under Drew Brees; has been in Pederson's offense since 2013

It’s very possible if Wentz becomes a great quarterback that other teams copy the Eagles’ quarterback-heavy approach.

But it’s not just about getting a bunch of smart people and a talented rookie in the same room. Everything else has to work. The rookie has to be a diligent learner and all of the teachers have to check their egos and work together.

“I let John (DeFilippo), I let the quarterback coach run the meeting,” Pederson said. “If I interject, I interject. The way it works is I send my message through Frank (Reich), Frank through the position coaches. At the same time, if I want to interject something, I will interject. Just making sure there's one voice in the meeting room and they are not hearing three different answers from three different people, the message is the same.”

Practice squad quarterback Aaron Murray, who joined the team a couple weeks ago, thinks the quarterback room has “definitely” helped Wentz achieve his early success. While he is just a practice-squader, go ahead and add Murray — who was in the offense for two years in Kansas City — to the list of quarterback minds happy to help Wentz.

Murray, a fifth-rounder out of Georgia in 2014, has been impressed with Wentz’s ability to pick up protections and schemes at a young age. He compared him to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in that regard. While Murray, along with everyone else, is happy to give Wentz tips, he tries to not overload him.

“You still want him to just go out there and play,” he said.

Murray is the newcomer to the room, but he’s been impressed with the dynamic so far. He’s not the only one. It looks like this quarterback experiment might just work.

“It’s awesome. It’s great,” Daniel said. “Everyone has a say in there and everyone in the room, it’s pretty crazy, everyone in the room, really except Carson, has been around it, has been in it and played. Obviously, he’s played, but been around for a while. He’s just a sponge, he’s just taking it all in.

“Maybe some stuff he doesn’t need to take in. Maybe some stuff he wants to do his own way, which is great. You want your own personality out there. But yeah, he’s been great. It’s been great for us too as players. We have almost a 2-to-1 coach-to-player ratio. It’s been great. Everyone has little tidbits here and there and we roll.”

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Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

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