Philadelphia Eagles

20 Eagles & draft observations, news, notes from 2017 combine

20 Eagles & draft observations, news, notes from 2017 combine

I'm back from Indy, from a long and exhausting week at the 2017 NFL combine. It was busy for me, but even busier for the Eagles

For them, this week was jam-packed with meetings. Meetings with player agents, meetings with other teams and meetings with draft prospects. 

With NFL free agency just around the corner, let's not waste any more time. Here are 20 observations, news nuggets and notes from this year's event in Indianapolis: 

1. The Eagles are being honest with themselves, which should be slightly reassuring for fans. When de facto general manager Howie Roseman spoke on Wednesday, he talked about playing the slow game as the team develops around Carson Wentz. This is a smart approach. 

Here's what he said: 

"I think you have to adjust your thinking a little bit to what you have and what you need. Certainly, we’re not sitting here saying we’re one player away and if we sign this one guy, it’s going to put us in a position to get over the top. So we’re going to try to build it piece by piece and be aware of the risks involved. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to take some risks or do something to get through the moment at certain positions. But that’s our plan."

Basically, the Eagles aren't naive enough to think they're close to winning a Super Bowl, nor stupid enough to tell fans they are. 

That answer was in response to a question about the thought process changing from the time when Band-Aids were the goal for the Eagles, when they were going out and signing Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell and Cary Williams. 

Really, the first part of his answer on Wednesday was the most interesting. Roseman pretty much gave excuses for the way they used to do things. When Mike Vick was the quarterback, they needed to be in win-now mode because of his age. Then in 2013, when they maybe should have started over, they won 10 games and expectations changed. 

Roseman said this is the first time since Donovan McNabb was a young player that they have a young quarterback to really build around. That was the same talking point when Nick Foles was early in his career, but this time the Eagles actually mean it. 

2. The biggest storyline of the week had nothing to do with the prospects competing on the field. It was all about Brandin Cooks, the receiver from New Orleans. The Eagles have reportedly been one of the teams in the running to trade for him, which makes a ton of sense. 

Cooks is still just 23 -- just a year older than the top three receivers in the draft -- and has two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. According to multiple league sources, the Eagles have long been a fan of Cooks, so it shouldn't be a surprise they're going after him now. 

Cooks would be a perfect fit. He's young enough to grow with Wentz and is a true deep-ball threat. He had as many 40-yard catches (six) and 50-yard catches (three) as the Eagles in 2016. 

3. Price is the issue. Not just what it will cost the Eagles to acquire him, but also what it will cost to keep him if he comes to Philly. 

First off, there have been some dueling reports about what the Saints will need to get in return for Cooks. It sounds like they say they want a first-round pick, and other teams obviously don't want to give one up. If the Eagles somehow manage to grab him for a second-round pick, it's an absolute no-brainer. But I think even if it costs a first-rounder, the Eagles at least ought to consider it. 

Now, the reason some would say no to giving up a first-round pick is because of how much Cooks will cost down the line. He has one year left on his rookie deal, but the Eagles would be able to use a club option in 2018. That's two years of a good and cheap receiver. The best option from there would be to sign him long-term. I know ... that's more expensive than a rookie receiver would be over that time, but in the NFL good players get paid.

It's quite possible Cooks hasn't hit his ceiling and could become a weapon for Wentz long-term. 

4. Speaking of Wentz, he wasn't in Indy this week, but it sure felt like it. It's almost wild to think that for the Eagles last year at the combine, it was all about talking to him and finding a way to get him to Philly, and this year is all about building the entire franchise around him. 

Wentz has been working out in California with a few receiver prospects the Eagles are expected to have some interest in, but Wentz as free-agent bait is maybe more interesting. 

Here's what Roseman said about that. 

"First, in free agency, money does talk. There's no question about it. But having a guy that people want to play with, and we've had that before. Having a quarterback that people say, 'I want to play with that guy, I want to build around that guy' -- that's huge for you from a recruiting perspective.

"So if things are close or even and people see that there's this opportunity to build chemistry with a guy over a long period of time, we think that will help us as we go and recruit players."

5. Here are some options at 14 at positions of need we know the Eagles had formal interviews with: RB Dalvin Cook, WR Mike Williams, WR Corey Davis, WR John Ross, CB Sidney Jones, CB Marshon Lattimore. 

Now, you've probably heard some version of this: "It doesn't matter, teams talk to everyone at the combine." OK, some of that's true. But there are 330 prospects at the combine and teams get just 60 formal interviews of 15 minutes. So they at least indicate a little bit of interest. 

When you get some time, check out this video from the Eagles of their meeting with Carson Wentz last year. Really cool stuff.

6. I ran into former Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans a couple times while in Indy and got a chance to chat with him for about 10-15 minutes. After a year out of the game, Ryans is a defensive quality control coach with the 49ers, and he seems absolutely thrilled about his new gig. He's all-in as a coach, which shouldn't be surprising. Chip Kelly always said Ryans had coaching in his future, and he was basically a player-coach at the end in Philly. By the way, he thinks one of his pupils, Jordan Hicks, might end up being really good in the league. 

7. The most entertaining media session of the week was probably with cornerback Teez Tabor from Florida. Tabor certainly didn't help himself by running in the 4.6s on Monday, but he sure did talk the talk on Sunday. 

Tabor's confidence -- cockiness? -- isn't in short supply. When I asked him if he was the best cornerback in the draft, he said he was the best player in the draft

When asked with teams had the most interest in him, here's what Tabor said: "Really everybody. I mean, it's hard not to like a player like me."

Tabor said NFL teams have liked his confidence and I hope that's true. A coach like Chip Kelly wouldn't have. Tabor's media session got me thinking: The Eagles don't really have personalities like that, aside from second-year player Jalen Mills, who just shows it on the field. Guys like DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy had a little bit (a lot) of cockiness and it was fun. Not saying it's a necessary thing for NFL teams to have, but it doesn't always hurt either. 

8. Teez, despite his slow 40 times, is still among the best of the cornerbacks in this class, and it's a crazy deep class. Multiple personnel people throughout the week told me this is the deepest cornerback class they've ever seen. And you can probably extend that to all defensive backs. There's a chance around a quarter of the first round could be defensive backs. That's crazy. But what's crazier is that it won't end there. There will be solid corners coming off the board into the fourth round. At this point, I'd almost be surprised if the Eagles didn't leave the draft with two. 

9. I don't think Bennie Logan is going to be back next season. Ultimately, I think there are going to be too many teams bidding for him, which will force the Eagles to let him walk. That won't be easy because he's been a really good player since he got to the league, but sometimes cost outweighs value. 

A league source confirmed a Philadelphia Inquirer report that the Eagles have started to work on an extension for Beau Allen, who has been Logan's backup. The writing appears to be on the wall. 

10. I don't understand why Joe Mixon wasn't invited to the combine. I thought that's what the combine was for ... giving teams a chance to do their homework on guys. It's silly to think that by not allowing him to the combine, NFL teams won't be interested in him. Teams are going to talk to him. They're going to make a determination about whether they want him on their team regardless of his non-invitation to the combine. Maybe the sentiment was right, but it just doesn't make much sense to me. 

11. Last year, I didn't get to Steak 'n Shake, but this year at the urging of countless folks on Twitter, I made a trip. Solid burger and fries for a good price. They really mash the hell out of the burgers with a spatula on the grill, which confused me, but it was a good burger. 

12. I'm not surprised the Eagles slapped a second-round tender on Trey Burton, according to a source. According to ESPN, the price tag associated with the second-round tender is $2.746 million, which is a lot of money for a third-string tight end, but that's not all Burton is. He emerged as a serious receiving threat in 2016 and is a big-time special teams contributor. 

It seems the Eagles were worried about losing Burton to another team if they put an original-round tender on him. That would have been cheaper, but wouldn't ensure his return. The Eagles think an awful lot of Burton and want to sign him to an extension -- they even tried during the season, but the two sides couldn't reach a deal, per a source. 

13. Doug Pederson said he got a lot of positive reviews about new receivers coach Mike Groh during the search after firing Greg Lewis. It seems obvious that this time, the Eagles wanted some extra experience. An AFC receivers coach who requested anonymity said the Eagles job was intriguing despite the unit's struggles in 2016. The fact that the new coach had the chance to come in and maybe influence which receivers he'd get to work with was a selling point. So was Wentz. 

14. The Eagles need so much help at cornerback and wide receiver that it seems fans and reporters have almost completely overlooked other needs. I'm guilty of it too. One need that doesn't get talked about nearly enough is defensive end. The Eagles need more help on the edge, especially if Connor Barwin is gone. Even if he's still here, they need help. I really wanted to see Tennessee's Derek Barnett this week, but he was sick. He has a chance of being available at 14 after Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas are way gone. The good news is there are plenty of guys who will be available in later rounds. Keep an eye on Kansas State's Jordan Willis if he's there in the third. Had a good week. 

15. The NFL's legal tampering window will begin on Tuesday because there has been no tampering going on already. Absolutely none. Nothing to see here. 

It's a joke that the NFL had the combine and free agency this close and tried to tell teams and agents not to tamper. Not gonna happen. 

16. It's not surprising there were reports that NFL coaches and personnel men didn't enjoy having fans at the bench press this year. I think it's a decent idea and fans seemed to like it (they watched anyway), but it is a little strange. As far as the Combine Experience, that's pretty cool. Some folks who showed up to run the 40 took it pretty seriously. 

17. The Eagles don't need a tight end. But if O.J. Howard is there at 14, they should seriously consider it. He's a game-changer. 

18. This week, a report surfaced that the Eagles have given Allen Barbre permission to seek a trade. I doubt there will be much of a market for him and I think the Eagles should just hold him. He has a cap hit of just over $2 million, which would be a decent number for a backup behind Isaac Seumalo at left guard. The Eagles had a veteran backup in Stefen Wisniewski in 2016 and it paid off. 

19. The Eagles had a formal interview with Dalvin Cook, and Eagles fans started drooling upon hearing the news. I think Cook will be a good NFL running back, but there's just too much value at other positions at 14. And there will be too much value at running back in later rounds. A guy to keep an eye on: BYU's Jamaal Williams. 

20. Here are five prospects who had great showings at the combine: 

DE Myles Garrett: He looks like the No. 1 pick. A 4.64 in the 40, 33 reps on the bench, a 41-inch vert and a 128-inch broad. Freaky athlete. 

WR John Ross: Corey Davis didn't perform at all because of an ankle injury. Mike Williams didn't run the 40 because he'll do it at his combine. And Ross ran a 4.22. 

LB Haason Reddick: Coming into the combine, there was talk about Reddick maybe being a first-round pick. I think the Temple product is definitely in the first round now and he's climbing up the board.  

RB Christian McCaffrey: After putting up a measly 10 reps on the bench press, he showed off his athleticism and quickness the next day. 

S Obi Melifonwu: Melifonwu from UConn might have performed his way into being a first-rounder.

Extending legacy of toughness, Darren Sproles hints at comeback

Extending legacy of toughness, Darren Sproles hints at comeback

As Darren Sproles lay on his back during the second quarter of Sunday's game at the Linc, and as trainers rushed to him and his teammates kneeled around him, it was already too late. His ACL was already torn. His forearm was already broken. His season, and maybe even his career, was already over. 

Then Sproles did the most Sproles-like thing ever. He got to his feet, pressed his broken right arm against his body and walked off the field, down the sideline, through the tunnel and into the Eagles' locker room on a torn ACL. 

He looked pissed off the whole time. 

When news about the extent of Sproles' injuries surfaced Monday morning (see story), my first reaction was pretty simple: It would be a shame if that's how his career ended. That's still true. 

On Monday night, Sproles took to social media to thank folks for their support and hinted that a comeback is in his future.

Great news for fans, though at the start of next season, he'll be a 35-year-old free-agent running back coming off two major injuries. 

So if Sunday was indeed the last time we saw Sproles as an NFL player, it would be pretty fitting. That will be a big part of his legacy. He was talented, sure. He was dynamic, absolutely. The numbers and the accomplishments are incredible, no doubt. 

He just also happened to be one of the toughest little mother f'ers to ever step on the field, too. 

If Sproles got a dollar for every time he was asked about his height, he could have played the game for free. At 5-foot-6, Sproles always understood the height questions and he was still getting them this season as a 34-year-old in his 13th NFL season. It sort of goes against what people expect from an NFL athlete. They're supposed to be Greek Gods, after all, bigger than life. Not the height of your teenage nephew. 

In a way, Sproles' height (or lack thereof) became a secret weapon. Do you want to underestimate me because I'm short? Go ahead. 

Sproles, eighth all-time in career all-purpose yards, isn't just extremely well-respected and liked within the Eagles' locker room. He's that well thought of around the league as well. In fact, when Odell Beckham Jr. entered the field Sunday, the first thing he did was find Sproles. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the league who doesn't like Darren Sproles. If you found someone, he'd probably be a linebacker who had once been on the receiving end of one of his punishing blocks. 

Because although Sproles is just 5-6, he's also 190 pounds and packs a hell of a punch. And throughout his career, he has always been more than willing to take on guys who weigh way more than he does. 

Sproles and I have always seen eye-to-eye and I'm not talking about some common understanding. We're pretty much the same height. So last year, when he was flagged for a chop block in Detroit, we both got a chuckle out of it. The next day, after Doug Pederson's press conference, I was standing outside to tape a segment with coworker Reuben Frank when Sproles walked out of the NovaCare Complex toward his car. He stopped for a brief chat and, of course, the first thing we talked about was that chop block. He wasn't trying to chop block of course; he's just short. It was arguably the toughest loss of the 2016 season but Sproles couldn't help but laugh, too; he basically got flagged for not being tall enough. 

Then the conversation rolled into his general enthusiasm for blocking and how he's always understood how important it is for him. And it got me wondering a little bit … when linebackers see a 5-6 running back about to block them, they probably don't know what's coming, do they? 

Sproles' eyes widened and the corners of his mouth lifted into a sheepish grin. 

"They're never ready for it," he said. "That's fine with me." 

This will be the first time in his lengthy career Sproles will play fewer than 13 games in a season. In 10 of his 13 seasons, he's played at least 15 games, proving to be as durable as he is talented. 

The Eagles are going to miss Sproles for the last 13 games of the 2017 season. There's no way to sugarcoat it and there's no reason to. They're going to miss him on offense, where he's a uniquely dynamic player in the run and pass game. They're going to miss him on special teams, where he's become one of the best punt returners in NFL history. 

And they're going to miss him in the locker room, where he's about as well-respected as any player on the roster. 

"He's a great man," Pederson said Monday. "He's a great leader, well-liked on this team and in this locker room and in this community. He's a lot of energy, and that's hard to replace. It's hard to replace. And so guys are just going to have to rally and pick up that spot and move forward. But, it's unfortunate. It is part of the game, and it's unfortunate that an injury has to happen, and sometimes it happens to great people and great men. It's just the unfortunate side of the business."

Well before the start of the 2017 season, Sproles was preparing for this to be his final NFL season. In June, he softened on that, saying, "We're gonna see" and to ask him after the Eagles made the playoffs. Despite growing pressure from his family to hang up the cleats, Sproles seemed genuinely rejuvenated by the opportunity to teach younger players like Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey and Corey Clement. During last season, he even lived next door to Smallwood. 

Sproles will have a decision to make eventually. He'll need surgery on his arm and his knee and the recovery process won't be an easy one. It sounds like Sproles wants to come back but he won't have to make that final decision for a while. 

If Sunday ends up being his final NFL game, his 13-year career will have ended on a fluke injury, followed but something that probably just shouldn't surprise us anymore. When the injury happened, it didn't sound good — "Ahh s---!" was heard from the microphone on the field. But Sproles collected himself, saved the cart a trip, and marched his beat-up body off the field. 

That's one tough little dude. 

Roob: Talented, young cornerbacks no 'Band-Aids' for Eagles

Roob: Talented, young cornerbacks no 'Band-Aids' for Eagles

It's hard not to wonder: With Jalen Mills on the brink of establishing himself as a true No. 1 cornerback and rookie Rasul Douglas shining in his first two NFL starts, what happens when Ronald Darby gets back? And what happens when Sidney Jones gets back?

Answer? Who cares!

All I know is that after a decade of watching recycled, over-priced, disinterested veterans like Ellis Hobbs, Nnamdi Asomugha, Byron Maxwell, Bradley Fletcher, Nolan Carroll, Cary Williams and Leodis McKelvin, it sure is encouraging to see the Eagles stockpile promising, young largely home-grown cornerbacks.

Soon after last year ended, Howie Roseman vowed to finally stop trying to solve the Eagles' cornerback problems with what he called "Band-Aids."

"What we’ve done at the cornerback position is put Band-Aids on things," he said.

And then Roseman and Joe Douglas went and did something about it.

The Eagles drafted Jones and Douglas in the second and third rounds, then traded Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to the Bills for Darby, and with Mills returning for a second season, all of a sudden the Eagles found themselves with four promising cornerbacks 23 or younger, something unprecedented in franchise history.

The thinking was that the Eagles would be patient and take their lumps waiting for these raw, young corners to develop into legit NFL starters instead of riding the free agent veteran carousel year after year.

And that's where their plan went awry. Because Mills and Douglas are both playing at a high level, and that long-term plan seems to be way ahead of schedule.

It sure looks like for the first time since Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown first became starters 15 years ago, the Eagles have capable cornerbacks they can grow with.

Mills has come so far. He now has the technique to match his confidence. He had Terrelle Pryor most of opening day, and Pryor finished with six catches for 66 yards. Last week in Kansas City, he tracked explosive Tyreek Hill most of the game, and Hill caught four passes for 43 yards with a long gain of 18 yards. Mills drew one of the league's best Sunday — Odell Beckham Jr. — and although he caught seven passes, none went longer than 14 yards. 

Douglas, inactive on opening day, has been shockingly good in his two starts. He's proven to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical corner who makes up for average speed with very good technique, and he's as sure a tackler as the Eagles have had at corner since Brown.

How can you not be excited about these two?

The Eagles were without four defensive backs Sunday — Darby, Jaylen Watkins, Rodney McCloud and Corey Graham (five if you include Jones) — and they still beat a healthy division opponent with a Hall of Fame quarterback who threw 47 times and went after Mills and Douglas snap after snap.

I don't care what Manning's stats say, Mills and Douglas have both given the Eagles distinguished cornerback play the last two weeks, and now remind yourself that Mills just turned 23 in April, and Douglas doesn't turn 23 until next summer.

Which brings us to the future.

Jones, a projected first-round pick before his Achilles injury, has the glossiest résumé of any of these guys. He doesn't turn 22 until May. And Darby, who the Eagles liked enough to part with Matthews and a third-round pick, doesn't turn 24 until soon after the season ends.

Now maybe if the Eagles knew what they had in Douglas, they never would have made the Darby trade. But it doesn't matter at this point.

What's important is the Eagles have stocked the cornerback position with enough young talent that they should be in good shape for the foreseeable future. It's tough to find talented young cornerbacks, and the Eagles seem to have found a bunch of them.

And maybe it seems like they have too many. What do you do with all these guys?!?!?! But if you've lived through Asomugha and Maxwell and Fletcher and all the other guys the Eagles have paraded through the Linc over the last decade you're never going to worry about having too many young corners.

So what do the Eagles do when guys start coming back? And remember, even 30-year-old Patrick Robinson has been way better than expected in the slot.

We know Mills will play somewhere. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz could start Darby and Douglas and use Mills in the slot. Or he could keep Robinson in the slot with Mills and Douglas outside, leaving Darby as the fourth corner. He could go with Darby and Mills outside and Douglas in the slot.

And when Jones enters the picture? Jones and Mills outside with Douglas in the slot? Darby and Jones outside with Mills in the slot and Douglas at safety?

There are a million different ways to go, but all that stuff will sort itself out.

Really, all that's important now is that the Eagles have a stable of young corners to grow with. And not a Band-Aid in sight.