10 observations from Day 1 of NFL free agency

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10 observations from Day 1 of NFL free agency

Ten observations from the first few hours of free agency, which saw 26 players change teams and 26 billion tweets sent out.

1. The Malcolm Jenkins backlash really surprised me. My Twitter feed hated the signing, and things got so crazy Tuesday evening that one follower actually posted that Jenkins is no better than Patrick Chung. Come on now. Jenkins is 26, durable, smart, versatile, started for a Super Bowl team, good locker room guy, good value. One of his strengths at 6-foot is his ability to line up and cover a tight end, something the Eagles have struggled with over the years. Is he a superstar? No. But you’re not going to have a superstar at every position, and for the Eagles, it was all about upgrading at safety. Jenkins is an upgrade. A significant one. This is like the Connor Barwin signing. Everybody talked about how his level of play dropped off in Houston in 2012, but once the Eagles got him in their system, and we actually saw him play, he turned out to be a heck of an addition. I expect the same from Jenkins this year. I think we’ll look back at this as a solid move.

2. As for Jairus Byrd, extraordinary talent, but I’d be skittish giving a guy with chronic plantar fasciitis $28 million guaranteed, which the Saints did. When you sign a player to a long-term, multi-million-dollar deal with a huge guaranteed bonus, you’re making a long-term commitment to that player, so it’s not just where will he be in 2014 or 2015 but where will he be in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Byrd is very good, but he’s not the fastest guy out there, and he’s not the healthiest. I think the Saints overpaid.

3. DeMarcus Ware is an intriguing name, but I’d tread carefully when adding a 31-year-old guy who’s been banged up and whose production has declined from 19½ sacks in 2011 to 11½ in 2012 to a career-low six in 2013. The Eagles are all about being young, healthy and fast, and I’m not sure Ware is any of those things right now. From 2006 through Week 8 of 2012, Ware had 100½ sacks in 104 games. In his last 21 games, he has 8½ sacks (or one more than Brandon Graham). It would be fun seeing Ware sack Tony Romo a few times a year, but I just don’t like the way he’s trending. If all the medicals came back totally fine? I’d make an exception to the 30-year-old rule. When he’s right, he’s an All-Pro. And we all know how desperately the Eagles need a pass rusher. But I’d have to be really convinced he’s healthy to make an offer.

4. What about Darrelle Revis? Tough call. He’s about the same age as Nnamdi Asomugha was when the Eagles signed him from the Raiders, and he’ll be joining his third team in three years. So there are a couple red flags. But Revis is still a tremendous player, and if the numbers aren’t too outlandish, I’d be intrigued. The Eagles already have Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher? So what. Adding Revis to their secondary would instantly make the them better. He’s 29 and has been hurt -- notably with the ACL in 2012 -- but he played at a high level last year in Tampa. What about the Eagles’ philosophy of only going after young, healthy, ascending free agents? Like with Ware, I’d make an exception for Revis, if the numbers are workable. With Revis, I doubt the numbers would be workable.

5. It’s going to fall under the radar, thanks to everything else going on Tuesday, but re-upping Donnie Jones was huge. He’s a human field-position flipper. Think about 33 punts inside the 20 but only eight touchbacks. That’s insane. Important move.

6. It will be interesting to see if anybody signs Chung. I just can’t imagine a team watching his 2013 film and saying, “Hey, I want this guy.” If Chung doesn’t join another team, the Eagles will have to pay him the $1 million guaranteed portion of his $3.25 million 2014 base salary. If he does go somewhere else, the Eagles are only responsible if he signs for less than his guarantee. They would be on the hook for the difference.

7. If you made a list of the five worst safeties in Eagles history, Chung wouldn’t be the worst. That honor would go to Erik McMillan, a one-time Pro Bowler with the Jets who Rich Kotite signed to a $1.3 million contract with a $500,000 signing bonus to replace the popular and productive Wes Hopkins in 1993. McMillan lasted six games before getting jettisoned. He flat couldn’t play. But Chung would be second. Then who? Matt Stevens? Jarrad Page? Sean Jones? Jaiquawn Jarrett? A lot of candidates. Too many recent ones.

8. Would be great to see Michael Vick sign with the Jets and be reunited with Marty Mornhinweg, Vick’s offensive coordinator during his resurgent 2010 Pro Bowl season. I know Vick has gotten hurt the last three years, but I still think he has one last good run in him. Maybe I’m dreaming. Vick turns 34 this summer, and he’s 12-19 in his last 31 starts. I’d just like to see him get one more chance to lead a team, and maybe things will turn out differently.

9. Interesting how few offensive skill guys have signed so far. Seems like there’s a real premium on defense this year, and that’s a direct result of the way the Seahawks won the Super Bowl and how that team was built. It’s also a reminder of just how strong the draft is with receivers. Why sign a free-agent receiver when you can get an equivalent guy a lot cheaper in the draft?

10. Most overpaid guy on Day 1? The Raiders signed offensive lineman Rodger Saffold to a five-year deal worth $8.5 million per year. Saffold has never made a Pro Bowl team and hasn’t started more than 10 games since 2010. Just wow.

Eagles-Steelers 5 things: The battle for Wentz-ylvania

Eagles-Steelers 5 things: The battle for Wentz-ylvania

Eagles (2-0) vs. Steelers (2-0)
4:25 p.m. on CBS
Eagles +3.5

The Eagles look to jump out to a 3-0 start in 2016, but face their toughest test yet Sunday when they host the unbeaten Steelers, who are a trendy Super Bowl pick this year.

So far, the Eagles have defeated a pair of opponents still in search of their first win, raising questions as to just how good they really are. A victory over Pittsburgh, or even a close game, would legitimize some of their early success.

1. The battle for Wentz-ylvania
Carson Wentz isn't playing merely for an Eagles victory this week. The 23-year-old out of North Dakota State is already chasing history in just his third NFL game.

With a win over the Steelers on Sunday, Wentz could become just the second rookie quarterback ever to guide his team to a 3-0 start. The other? Mark Sanchez, who guided the Jets all the way to the AFC Conference Championship Game in 2009.

Of course, beating the Browns and the Bears is one thing. Beating the Ben Roethlisberger-led Steelers in the battle for Pennsylvania is quite another.

Don't let Pittsburgh's 31st-ranked pass defense and Wentz's performance through two games fool you into thinking he should be able to throw on this secondary with ease. The Steelers are going to play things differently than the Eagles' previous two opponents, using far more zone coverage and trying a lot more disguise their intentions pre-snap.

If Wentz excels against this defense too, that should serve to quiet some of the skeptics — they're out there — not to mention put another feather in the young signal-caller's cap.

2. Who's got Roethlisberger?
In order for Wentz to even have a chance at making more history, the Eagles' defense will have to hold up its end of the bargain against one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. Roethlisberger has this unit firing on all cylinders, ranked eighth in the NFL in yards per game (405.5) and fourth in points (31.0).

Roethlisberger was always tough to bring down. Nowadays, even pressuring the 13-year veteran isn't easy because he gets rid of the ball so quickly. For much of his career though, he was among the most sacked quarterbacks in the league, yet even then getting to him and getting him on the ground was two different animals.

It's telling there's only one member of the Eagles' defense who has ever sacked Roethlisberger in a regular season game. That would be Connor Barwin, who once wrestled Big Ben to the turf while a member of the Texans in 2011.

Now many Eagles players — especially those along the defensive line — have only faced Roethlisberger one time in the regular season, or never. Regardless, the fact is only one person in that locker room has ever taken the man down in a meaningful game, so when Fletcher Cox or Brandon Graham finally do get their shot, it remains to be seen if they'll be able to finish the play.

3. Antonio Brown, meet Jalen Mills
You can't talk about the Steelers and not mention Antonio Brown, who improbably has become the best wide receiver in the NFL over the past few years. Since 2013, the four-time Pro Bowler has 389 receptions for 5,169 yards and 33 touchdowns. Remarkable.

Brown should have plenty of opportunities to add to his prolific totals against the Eagles' questionable cornerbacks Sunday. Nolan Carroll is a solid veteran coming off an ankle injury last season, but had a rough 2016 debut against the Browns in Week 1, getting beat twice on deep passes. Then last week, seventh-round rookie Jalen Mills saw his most extensive action and was caught biting on a double move that resulted in a big 49-yard gain against the Bears.

It was Cleveland and Chicago, two offenses currently incapable of consistently hitting those kinds of plays, but not Pittsburgh. If the Eagles allow Brown to go one-on-one against these cornerbacks, the seventh-year wideout could eat them alive.

Brown getting matched up on Mills specifically might result in some on-the-job training for the 22-year-old. To his credit, Mills has exceeded expectations by even getting on the field in his first season and has played the game without fear. But when he's lining up against Brown, it might help to have some.

4. Time on the Eagles' side
Maybe there is something to controlling the clock after all. After finishing dead last in time of possession for three years in a row under coach Chip Kelly, through two weeks the Eagles are leading the league in the category, averaging nearly 38 minutes per game on offense.

Is it any coincidence they're 2-0?

Yes, to an extent. While three of the top four teams in time of possession in 2015 made it to at least the divisional round of the playoffs (Seattle, Arizona, Carolina), the No. 1 team in the NFL last year was the Falcons, who went 8-8, and rounding out the top five was the 3-13 Chargers.

That being said, there's no denying that ball control has aided Wentz immensely. Doing something as small as sticking with the run keeps the offense on schedule to convert on third and fourth down. It can also help the quarterback and shorten the game. It helps the defense stay fresh too since they aren't constantly on the field.

The offense still has to make those conversions though to keep the football, and the defense has to makes stops on third down as well, which the Eagles have done well — seventh-best in the NFL. Time of possession is typically a byproduct of those two things, but not necessarily a big indicator of success.

5. Pittsburgh hates Philly
There may be a rivalry among the cities' sports fans, but these two teams only meet once every four years. And the Steelers are probably happy keeping it that way.

Meetings between the two teams have gone decidedly in the Eagles' favor, with a 17-9-2 record against Pittsburgh since 1960. However, it's particularly in Philadelphia where the Steelers have struggled for whatever reason, with eight consecutive road losses in the series going back to 1966.

With a sample size that small and so much turnover every year, let alone dating back to the '60s, it's hard to put a lot of stock in these records. Both teams have retained only a handful of players since their last clash in 2012, so it shouldn't be predictive of anything.

Yet games between the Steelers and Eagles historically tend to be on the low-scoring side and close, and Pittsburgh doesn't fare well in doesn't play well in Philly. We'll see if any of those trends are broken on Sunday.

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Eagles-Steelers: 5 matchups to watch

Eagles-Steelers: 5 matchups to watch

As far as measuring sticks go, this ought to be a pretty good one. 

Over the first two weeks of the season, the Eagles have beaten the Cleveland Browns and the Chicago Bears. It’s not their fault the schedule lined up two of the NFL’s worst teams to start the season. And they did what they needed to, beating bad teams. 

But the Steelers are a different animal. They might be the best team in the entire league. 

Here’s a look at five important matchups for Sunday’s game. 

Antonio Brown vs. Jalen Mills 
Against Alshon Jeffery, the rookie seventh-rounder gave up one big play, but then actually held his own. A new week brings a new challenge for the rookie. 

With Leodis McKelvin still out with a hamstring injury, the Eagles will go with Nolan Carroll, Mills and Ron Brooks. With a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, Mills should expect to be tested early and often, especially if he’s on Brown.

How good is Brown? 

Well, since 2013, he leads the league with 387 receptions and 5,196 yards. The next closest player in both categories is Demaryius Thomas with 317 catches and 4,491 yards.

Brown’s worst season in the last three came in 2013, when he caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards. The Eagles have never had a receiver put up those numbers in a season. In fact, Brown has three of the 21 such seasons in NFL history. 

Good luck, rookie. 

Ben Roethlisberger vs. Eagles' D-line
Jay Cutler is a pretty good NFL quarterback. Roethlisberger is going to be a Hall of Famer one day. 

Roethlisberger can carve up a secondary, but a lot of that is because of his ability to extend plays in the pocket. No one moves better in the pocket or is harder to bring down than Big Ben.

While Roethlisberger is tough to bring down, he does get sacked quite a bit. His 441 sacks rank him eighth all time. But last year, he had his lowest number ever at just 20 sacks and he's been taken down just twice in two games in 2016. 

The key for the Eagles' defensive linemen is to be aware that a leg tackle isn't going to stop Big Ben. They have to go at his torso to bring him down and it won't be easy.

DeAngelo Williams vs. Eagles' D
Plenty of people thought the Eagles were getting a break by avoiding Le’Veon Bell because of his suspension. While Bell might be the best back in the league, his backup DeAngelo Williams is leading the league in rushing at 33 years old. 

The one thing that stands out about Williams is his patience. The key for the Eagles to stop him will be discipline staying in their gaps. 

Kenjon Barner, who was a teammate of Williams’ in Carolina, remembered a saying Williams used often: “Slow to, fast through.” That’s the way Williams runs … slow to the hole, then he explodes. The Eagles have to be there to stop him. 

Carson Wentz vs. Ryan Shazier 
Through two games and 71 pass attempts, Wentz hasn’t thrown an interception. It’s a huge reason why the Eagles are 2-0. 

The rookie has to be mindful of Steelers middle linebacker Ryan Shazier on Sunday afternoon. Shazier is deceptively fast in coverage. It might not look like he’s going to make a play, then he’ll undercut a route for a pass breakup or an interception. Wentz would be wise to know where he is. 

Cameron Heyward vs. Allen Barbre
Heyward is probably one of the more underrated members of the Steelers. He’s a former first-round pick who has never made a Pro Bowl, but is very disruptive. 

Heyward had seven sacks in 2015 and was tied among all 3-4 defensive ends with 44 quarterback hurries, according to ProFootballFocus. He already has seven QB hurries in 2016.

Through the first two games, Heyward has primarily lined up on the right side of the line, which means Barbre will be the guy responsible for him Sunday afternoon. Barbre has played pretty well through two weeks of the 2016 season.

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