Philadelphia Eagles

Carson Wentz the big winner after Eagles' free-agent flurry

Carson Wentz the big winner after Eagles' free-agent flurry

When Carson Wentz went to sleep on Wednesday night, his best outside receivers were Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham. 

No more tossing and turning. 

Wentz will sleep a little easier from now on. 

While Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith will be counting their millions and while Howie Roseman will be receiving praise for pulling off the short-term deals, the real winner on Thursday was the Eagles' 24-year-old franchise quarterback. 

Wentz finally has some weapons aside from his hunting rifles. But these weapons are actually good for the Birds. 

All things considered -- the ups and downs included -- Wentz had a solid rookie campaign in 2016. The No. 2 overall pick completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,782 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in Year 1. As a rookie and for a team with a serious deficiency at wide receiver, he moved into fourth place all-time for Eagles passing yards in a season. 

Wentz wasn't perfect as a rookie, but he certainly didn't do anything to disprove the Eagles' notion that he can be the guy to lead the franchise for the next decade. And now he has the tools to make a jump in that all-important second year. 

The objective this offseason was pretty simple. A year removed from working to acquire a franchise quarterback, this entire offseason was all about finding ways to build around him. While signing receivers to what are basically both one-year deals might not seem like the way, it at least ensures that Wentz will have quality receivers to work with in 2017. It ensures that he'll be able to get into a rhythm and be able to count on his receivers to catch passes. 

It ensures that his growth won't be stunted by players who simply don't belong. 

How many times did Wentz seemingly avoid pressure, run around in the backfield for five or six seconds only to find that no one had gotten open? How many times did he throw for a first down only to have the ball dropped? How many times could a receiver have pulled in a tough pass that wasn't perfectly thrown to help him out but didn't? 

Forget Bryce Treggs and (yes, sorry) Paul Turner. DGB and Agholor are now afterthoughts -- if the Eagles get anything out of them next year, great. But now, the Eagles will have proven commodities lining up for them next season -- these guys chose to come and play with Wentz, too.

And the way the puzzle should fit makes a ton of sense. 

Jeffery is the big-bodied (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) receiver that Wentz can feel confidence in when he throws up a 50-50 ball. More times than not, Jeffery will come down with it. 

Smith, even after six years in the league, is still a burner. He's the field-stretcher who can finally help Wentz hit on long balls. Just six players have caught more 40-yard passes than Smith (25) since he entered the league in 2011. That was an area where the Eagles were awful in 2016; they had just six 40-yard completions. 

And Jeffery can catch the deep ball, too. Both Smith and Jeffery have had a season with more 40-yard catches than the Eagles pulled in during 2016. 

On top of Jeffery and Smith, the Eagles will still have two of Wentz's favorite targets -- Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz -- roaming the middle of the field. The two additions ought to help both of them find plenty more open space across the middle. 

Those Eagles fans who always see the glass as half-empty -- and there are plenty -- will scoff at these moves. They'll point at the declining numbers for both players, which are undeniable facts. Catch totals have dropped for Jeffery and Smith in each of their last three seasons. But without that drop-off, neither would be holding press conferences in Philly on Friday. Instead, they'd be playing on huge deals elsewhere. So think of these moves as low-risk, high-reward options.

The low risk comes in the form of the short-term contracts. The high reward will come if having them for at least a year helps Wentz grow. 

Because ultimately, that's what it's all about: helping Wentz grow. 

And it's hard to grow without getting a good night's sleep. 

Cowboys kneel before national anthem, beat Cardinals on MNF

usa-jerry-jones-cowboys-national-anthem.jpg
USA Today Images

Cowboys kneel before national anthem, beat Cardinals on MNF

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes and flipped head over heels into the end zone on a 10-yard run for another and the Dallas Cowboys pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat the Arizona Cardinals 28-17 on Monday night.

The Cowboys (2-1), bouncing back from a 42-17 pummeling in Denver, began the game kneeling at midfield with owner Jerry Jones in a show of unity that followed widespread protests across the NFL of critical comments by President Donald Trump over the weekend.

After they kneeled, they stood and walked to the sideline.

"We planned and it was executed that we would go out and kneel," Jones said, "and basically make the statement regarding the need for unity and the need for equality."

So they decided to make their statement before the anthem.

Prescott, 13 of 18 for 183 yards, broke a 14-14 tie with a 37-yard scoring pass to Brice Butler with 11:52 to play.

Arizona, with a spectacular catch by Larry Fitzgerald for 24 yards on a third-and-18 play, moved downfield but the drive stalled. Phil Dawson's 37-yard field goal cut the lead to 21-17 with 6:35 left.

Ezekiel Elliott, who gained 8 yards on nine carries against Denver and drew criticism for not hustling after a couple of late interceptions, was bottled up much of the game, but still gained 80 yards on 22 attempts, 30 on one play. He ran 8 yards for the final Cowboys touchdown.

The Cardinals (1-2), in their home opener, got a big game from Fitzgerald, who caught 13 passes for 149 yards, in the process moving ahead of Marvin Harrison into eighth in career receiving yards. The 13 receptions tied a career high.

"That's Fitz. It's Monday night," Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. "He's a money player. It was a great performance by him. It's a shame we couldn't play better around him."

Carson Palmer had a big first half, completed 15 of 18 for 145 yards and finished 29 of 48 for 325 yards and two scores. He was sacked six times, a career-high three by DeMarcus Lawrence.

The Cardinals dominated the first half statistically, but were deadlocked with the Cowboys at 7-7. Arizona had a 152-57 advantage in yards and dominated time of possession 19:34 to 9:41.

Arizona took the opening kickoff and went 82 yards in eight plays. Palmer was 5-for-5 on the drive, capped by a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jaron Brown.

Before Dallas even had a first down, Arizona mounted a nearly nine-minute drive but a touchdown pass to Brown was negated by a holding penalty and Phil Dawson's 36-yard field goal try was wide right. It was the third mid-range miss for the 41-year-old kicker this season.

And the miss left the door open for the Cowboys to get back in it.

Prescott scored on a 10-yard run, flipping head-first over the goal line to tie it at 7-7 with 3:33 left in the half.

Taking a knee 
Jones has been a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, so the speculation was that he would not allow his players to kneel during the national anthem.

Following a weekend of kneeling and protesting across the NFL, the Cowboys and their owner displayed their own version of unity Monday night, kneeling on the field before rising as a group and going to the sideline for the national anthem.

Numerous boos rang out across University of Phoenix Stadium as the Cowboys kneeled and continued as the players rose, still arm-in-arm, and stepped back to the sideline as the flag was unfurled across the field. They remained connected as Jordin Sparks sang the national anthem (see story).

The Cardinals had their own symbol of unity after a weekend of protests in the NFL, gathering along the goal line arm-in-arm during the national anthem. They were joined by team president Michael Bidwell, his family and general manager Steve Keim.

"It's just to show unity," Cardinals team captain Frostee Rucker said. "There's so much negativity going on. People are trying to pull us apart. We always want to stay together."

More than 200 NFL players kneeled, sat or prayed during the national anthem on Sunday after President Trump said any player who does not stand for the national anthem should be fired.

Sparks, whose father Phillippi played in the NFL, had "PROV 31:8-9" written on her hand while she sang the anthem.

The bible verse says: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

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 by 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.