Avant saw release coming, no ill will toward Birds

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Avant saw release coming, no ill will toward Birds

Jason Avant saw the writing on the wall. Or, more accurately, saw the writing on the stat sheet.

As his role diminished last year, the Eagles’ popular veteran wide receiver gradually began to realize that 2013 would be his last season in Philly.

“You start seeing things when your role gets a little bit taken back and you don’t get as many opportunities as you had, as many plays that are called for you,” Avant said Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview with Comcast SportsNet’s Derrick Gunn.

“Not necessarily when the quarterback is scrambling and you’re the last option. There were a lot of those this year.”

Avant, who has played more games at wide receiver than any Eagle over the last 35 years, was released by the Eagles on Tuesday after 116 games, 297 catches, 3,646 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The numbers don’t come close to defining Avant, an inspirational locker room leader, a fearless special teamer, a clutch big-play receiver and an athlete as unselfish and humble as any pro you’ll ever see (see story).

“I knew [being released] was likely, but you never know in those situations,” Avant said. “I was 99 percent sure but there was still that one percent chance.

“But at the same time, I really respect the Eagles for letting me know so soon, so I can be on the market before free agency. That’s beneficial to you rather than go into it with 100 other players.”

Only four wide receivers in franchise history played more games than Avant -- Harold Carmichael, Bobby Walston, Pete Retzlaff (who was also a tight end) and Charles Smith.

Avant is one of only 12 NFL wide receivers who finished 2013 with the same team he started 2006 with.

“People don’t realize, eight years in the National Football League, that’s like 20 years in someone else’s work,” Avant said. “I talk to kids now who say, ‘I remember you when I was a little kid!’ A little kid? Are you kidding me?”

Avant, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick in 2006, made a name for himself as a clutch third-down receiver with a highlight-reel knack for remarkable one-handed catches.

This year, playing in Chip Kelly’s offense, he caught just 38 passes for 447 yards, both his lowest totals since 2008.

“I believe … if there weren’t contracts and there wasn’t a salary cap I’d still be here,” he said. “But when your [salary] numbers are going up and your production doesn’t look the same, there has to be some type of release to relinquish that pressure.”

Avant told Gunn that 2013 was the most frustrating year of his career.

“By far,” he said. “Not necessarily from a selfish standpoint of a numbers situation, just with knowing that I could be used different, that I could help the team.

“That’s one of those things with the new coaching staff -- which is a great staff, which is a great coach -- but every player doesn’t fit, and I felt like that square trying to fit into a triangle. I felt like that at times.

“Because I have a very unique way of getting open and doing certain things. As everybody knows, I’m not a blazer, but I’ve been able to get open consistently, and when you have a new coaching staff, everybody’s not accustomed to that. Coach [Andy] Reid wasn’t accustomed to that. I had to make him believe in me in order to do what I do.

“It was frustrating because you can’t play the way you want to play. Coach Kelly and Coach Bick (receivers coach Bob Bicknell), it’s a great staff. I just don’t fit what they do.”

Avant spoke several times during his 20-minute interview with Gunn about the fans and how pleasing them drove him and motivated him.

He spoke about the relationships he built during eight years with the Eagles, mentioning everybody from his coaches and teammates to the security and maintenance guys at the NovaCare Complex.

“That’s the hardest thing about it,” he said. “The relationships with the media members, my teammates and fans here, church family, all those people. Those are the things that I’ll miss.”

Avant, who turns 31 next month, believes he can still play and said he hopes to sign somewhere before the start of free agency Tuesday.

The Chiefs, coached by Reid, and the Jets, with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, are obvious candidates.

“I’ve been here eight years and sometimes it’s good for a fresh start,” he said. “I know I still can play.”

Asked about his legacy, Avant said it goes far beyond football, far behind all the circus third-down catches and key blocks in the running game that may have gone unnoticed by most fans.

It’s all about being a good person, a good role model, a good teammate.

“Would I love to make the Pro Bowl? Would I love to have catches and new contract? Yeah, you love those things,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, you want your significance to have more effect on what you did outside the field and the type of people that you affect day in and day out and what type of person you are,” he said.

“I want that to be my legacy. That should mean more than what you do on a football field, and that’s what I wanted to leave. …

“I just hope the fans would know that I respect them, and that I care for them, and that I thought about them when I was playing.

“Hopefully, I played this game, blocking, tackling, running -- as best as I could. That was my role for years and years and years. To assist someone else to be great. Hey, everybody has a role. Everybody can’t be Michael Jordan or DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin. A team just doesn’t work like that.

“There has to be someone who concedes and says, ‘No, you go ahead, you do your thing. As long as we’re winning, I’ll stay back,’ and that was my role here. To stay back and do what was asked of me and catch a couple passes over the middle.

“Could I have done more? Probably. But I loved doing it because it was going to help the team, help the city, help the team win.”

On verge of Super Bowl, Eric Rowe responds to Eagles, Roseman

On verge of Super Bowl, Eric Rowe responds to Eagles, Roseman

The Eagles' season ended a few weeks ago with a 7-9 record. 

In a couple weeks, Eric Rowe might be playing in the Super Bowl. 

Rowe, of course was the Eagles second-round pick in 2015 and went on to have a promising rookie season. But in 2016, the change of head coaches brought a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme, which Rowe apparently didn't fit. So a few days before the season began, he was dealt to the New England, where he has become a big part of their defense. 

In his after-the-season press conference on Jan. 4, Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was asked about the trade and gave a somewhat curious answer. He said the team made the move because the front office had already determined they were not going to give Rowe an extension, even though he wouldn't have been eligible for two more seasons. 

If that sounded weird to Eagles fans, they weren't alone. It sounded weird to Rowe too, when the Wilmington News Journal's Martin Frank caught up with him this week. 

“That’s a long time away," Rowe said. "If that’s the reason, that’s really, really weird. You know, it’s whatever. If he thinks that, then I guess that’s what it was. They’re thinking way down the line.” 

Rowe, 24, ended up starting seven games during this regular season for New England, but played just 43 percent of the Patriots' defensive snaps. If Rowe played 50 percent of defensive snaps in 2016 or if he does it in 2017, the fourth-round pick the Eagles get back in the trade will turn into a third-rounder, so there's still a chance next year. 

While a third-round pick wouldn't be bad, the Eagles gave up on a young, talented corner just a year after drafting him because he didn't fit what they wanted to do. 

Shortly after the trade, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz called Rowe a good cover corner but cited the development of Jalen Mills as a reason why Rowe became expendable. Schwartz said he appreciated Rowe, but the personnel staff "decided to use him as an asset, and as coaches, we just deal with that and keep playing." 

It was pretty clear during training camp that Rowe had fallen out of favor with the Eagles. He was buried behind Mills and others on the depth chart, so maybe the trade was the best thing for him. 

"That was frustrating, just kind of like thinking, 'What am I doing wrong?'" Rowe said to the Wilmington News Journal. "Yeah, I made mistakes, but everybody makes mistakes. I'm not making bad mistakes. I'm making plays. Why am I sliding down? That was frustrating times. I would just go home and my girlfriend's there, and I'm telling her all this stuff. I'd tell my parents, and they're like, 'Just keep your head up, just keep working because you never know. Then boom, the trade comes up." 

And now he might get a chance to play in the Super Bowl, while the Eagles desperately need to fix their cornerback position before next season. 

Eagles Stay or Go Part 5: Brandon Graham to Aaron Grymes

Eagles Stay or Go Part 5: Brandon Graham to Aaron Grymes

In the fifth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 5 is Graham to Grymes.

Brandon Graham
Cap hit: $7.5M

Roob: Interesting year for Graham, who got consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback and graded out as one of the most effective pass rushers in the league but managed only 5½ sacks. Hard to believe Graham is now entering his eighth season with the Eagles. He still has never had more than 6½ sacks in a season, but the pressure is there. I love his effort but would still like to see him finish when he gets a hand on the quarterback. He'll be here. The question is whether he can take his game to the next level and turn those hurries into sacks. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s hard to believe this is the same player who was once labeled a bust and completely written off by fans. Graham ended up having the best season of his career in Jim Schwartz’s defense and looked much more at home as a 4-3 defensive end. No, his sack numbers weren’t very high this year, but sacks don’t tell the whole story and that was the case with Graham. He was extremely disruptive and was the Eagles’ best defensive end. No-brainer. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dwayne Gratz

Roob: Back in 2013, Gratz was a third-round pick and a pretty good cornerback prospect for the Jaguars. He started 25 games over three years for the Jags before bouncing from the Jags to the Rams and Eagles last year. Considering the Eagles’ situation at corner, the Eagles have to give him a long look this offseason to see if there’s anything there. He didn’t get into a game after joining the Eagles late last year, but without even seeing him play, I’m prepared to call him the Eagles’ best cornerback. (That's kind of a joke, but not really.) The Eagles have so many needs and need so many receivers, corners and running backs that they can’t get them all through the draft and free agency. So I’m going off a hunch and saying Gratz makes the team next year. Just because somebody has to play cornerback and it can’t be the guys who were here last year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Gratz was added late in the year and never played. But he’s a former third-round pick and we’ll have to see what he can offer. He’ll likely be with the team in training camp and will have a shot, but probably not a great one. Honestly, it’s probably too early to call this one. 

Verdict: GOES

Dorial Green-Beckham
Cap hit: $944K

Roob: One of the Eagles’ bigger disappointments this past year, DGB took a big step backwards after a promising rookie year with the Titans. Now, the question is, how much was because he arrived late in the preseason, how much was because the since-departed Greg Lewis was his position coach, how much was his lack of familiarity with Carson Wentz? The Eagles are desperate for playmakers at wide receiver, and you can’t draft or sign an entirely new group. Considering DGB’s salary and cap figure — both are just $944,418 — I figure the Eagles will keep him around one more year just to see if there’s anything there. Maybe with a new coach and another year in this offense, he can help. I kind of doubt he'll ever become more than just a guy, but there's no reason for the Eagles not to keep him around another year to find out. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It didn’t take too long into this season to see why the Titans were fine with giving up DGB for reserve offensive tackle Dennis Kelly. I know many people have said they’ve seen all they need to see of Green-Beckham to know he can’t play. I’m not sold yet. I’m just not ready to give up on a 23-year-old receiver who is 6-5, 237. I know he doesn’t play well with his size, but I want to see him have a full offseason here and I want to see him work with a new receivers coach. 

Verdict: STAYS

Darrell Greene

Roob: Greene spent the year on the Eagles’ practice squad after a solid career at San Diego State. He’s got some size at 6-3, 320, and the Eagles are definitely uncertain at guard. But is Greene the direction they’re going to go for offensive line depth moving forward? Probably not. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Greene was on the practice squad, then off the practice squad, then on the practice squad, etc., in the beginning of the season when the Eagles had their practice squad revolving door. But they liked Greene enough to keep him around, although he never made his way to the 53-man roster. 

Verdict: GOES

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Cap hit: $540K

Roob: While longtime special teams stalwarts like Bryan Braman and Najee Goode may be expendable because of their high minimum salaries and diminishing effectiveness, a young kid like Grugier-Hill stays because he comes much cheaper and can still run around on special teams and make plays. For the most part, special teams is a young man's game. Grugier-Hill is also a young linebacker at a position in which the Eagles have very little youth outside of Jordan Hicks. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He’s pretty far down the list of linebackers on the depth chart but proved to be a good special teams player. Maybe he’ll never be any more than that, but for now, that’s good enough. He can make an impact as a teamer. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aaron Grymes

Roob: Honestly, I wouldn’t rule out anybody who plays cornerback. Grymes is a guy who had three good years in Canada and even played for the Grey Cup-champion Edmonton Eskimos in 2015. How much of that translates to the U.S. game, I don’t know, but other than seventh-round pick Jalen Mills, undrafted C.J. Smith and possibly journeyman Gratz (see above), there really aren’t any young corners on the roster, so a guy like Grymes will get every chance to make the team. None of us have seen enough of Grymes to know whether he can help, but I figure he’ll get a long look in training camp, but ultimately not survive final cuts. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Grymes impressed last training camp and probably would have had a good shot at making the initial roster had he not injured his shoulder. The Eagles are going to take a look at him again this spring and summer, but they’re probably going to completely revamp that entire position if they can. 

Verdict: GOES