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-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”