Davis intent on decreasing DeMeco Ryans' snaps

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Davis intent on decreasing DeMeco Ryans' snaps

No defensive player in the NFL played more snaps last year than DeMeco Ryans. No lineman, no D-back, no other linebacker.

His 1,156 plays represented 96 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps and was four more than Chad Greenway of the Vikings played.

That number is very high. And it has to come down, Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said Monday.

“We have to take reps off him,” Davis said. “He’s a warrior and he had way more reps than he should have.

“We want DeMeco for the long haul this season, and so many times when you overwork a veteran -- and he takes great care of his body -- but it’s a lot of games.”

Ryans averaged 72 snaps per game last season. Of the 45 snaps he didn’t play, 42 were at the end of blowouts -- 13 vs. the Bears, a 43-point win; nine vs. the Broncos, a 32-point loss; and 20 vs. the Raiders, a 29-point win.

Twelve times, including the playoff loss to the Saints, Ryans played every snap.

The only NFL players on the field last year more than Ryans were eight offensive linemen and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

But Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowler with the Texans, is an inside linebacker, the most physically demanding job on the field. He turns 30 next month, and with newcomers like Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll now in the secondary, Davis believes the Eagles are better equipped to spell Ryans this year on some passing downs.

“I think we have more depth than we had and more experience and more people who can play versatile roles in the defense,” Davis said. “I think it’ll help.”

Ryans said after a recent OTA practice that he wants to stay on the field in all situations, and he said there’s been no change in practice so far this offseason in his role.

“I’m a competitor,” Ryans said. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’m here to play. When it’s time to compete, it’s time to compete, but I think we’ll all help ourselves a lot defensively not by not playing more reps but by playing better, playing smarter.”

He joked with a reporter who asked him about reduced snaps, saying, “Trying to get me off the field?”

He added: “I guess that’s the question everybody wants to ask, but I’m still out here playing and giving the team what I have to go out and compete.”

Davis said he’s already spoken with Ryans about decreasing his snaps.

Perhaps significantly.

“Just [being] honest with him,” he said. “I’ve sat him down a couple times. DeMeco’s a great man, and I’ve said, ‘Look, I know you want to be out there every down, everybody does. But I’m telling you right now that I’m going to work to get some ways to give you some relief to have you with us in Week 15 and 16, and he’s great about it.

“He doesn’t want to come off. But neither does Connor [Barwin], neither does Trent [Cole]. None of them want to come off. But what we do as a team and collectively, when you’re honest and explain why it is you want to do what you do, they’re fine. They’re all team players.”

Ryans said head coach Chip Kelly’s sports science and emphasis on conditioning has made it possible for him to play an NFL-high 72 snaps per game without wearing down.

“It helps a lot,” Ryans said of the Eagles’ year-round workout regimen. “Being an older guy, you’re able to come out here day after day and play hard, practice hard, because we know we’re taking care of ourselves from a recovery standpoint.”

Even Davis conceded that Ryans’ play late last season showed no dropoff from early in the season.

He wants to make sure that happens again, with Ryans a year older.

“He had some big games late,” Davis said. “He was hitting people and covering. I don’t think it was any different.”

NFL Notes: Steelers sign Antonio Brown, franchise tag Le'Veon Bell

NFL Notes: Steelers sign Antonio Brown, franchise tag Le'Veon Bell

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have signed Antonio Brown to a five-year deal that will reportedly make him the highest paid wide receiver in the league.

The Steelers did not release terms of the contract, but multiple media outlets reported that it is technically a four-year extension worth $68 million.

The contract takes Brown, who earned first-team All-Pro honors for the third consecutive year in 2016, through the 2021 season.

Steelers place franchise tag on running back Le'Veon Bell
The Pittsburgh Steelers have placed an exclusive rights franchise tag on Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell, ensuring he'll remain with the team in 2017.

The tag gives the Steelers time to work out a long-term deal with Bell, who could have become a free agent next month. The 25-year-old led the NFL in average yards from scrimmage last season and became the first player in NFL history to average at least 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving per game.

Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this month the Steelers want to keep Bell with the organization "for life." The team has until July 15 to reach an agreement with Bell on a new contract. If not, he will make the average salary of the top five running backs in the league in 2017 (see full story).

Browns release veteran WR Andrew Hawkins
The Cleveland Browns have released wide receiver Andrew Hawkins after three seasons.

The team terminated Hawkins' contract on Monday, cutting ties with one of its most respected players.

Hawkins had 33 catches for 324 yards and three touchdowns last season for the 1-15 Browns. But his contributions went beyond the field, as Hawkins helped mentor Cleveland's young receiving corps. He was also heavily involved in community activities.

Browns coach Hue Jackson says it's "tough to say goodbye to men like Hawk, that have done everything you've asked of them and gone above and beyond when it comes to leadership." Jackson says Hawkins "was a rock for us last season."

Hawkins signed with the Browns as a free agent in 2014 after three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. The 30-year-old, who played college ball at Toledo, played in 39 games with Cleveland, recording 123 catches for 1,424 yards and five TDs.

Cardinals: Chandler Jones receives franchise tag
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The "non-exclusive" tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

Panthers: Horton re-signed
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Panthers are trying their best to keep their defensive line intact, re-signing defensive end Wes Horton to a two-year contract.

Financial terms were not released Monday.

The move comes less than 24 hours after the Panthers re-signed defensive end Mario Addison to a three-year contract on Sunday night. Addison was set to become an unrestricted free agent, while Horton would have been a restricted free agent.

Carolina is likely to use the franchise tag to keep Kawann Short if they can't reach a long-term deal with the defensive tackle before Wednesday's deadline.

The 27-year-old Horton started 10 games last season and had 11 tackles with 2 sacks. Horton has started 27 games since joining the Panthers in 2013 as an undrafted rookie and has 8 career sacks.

Eagles storylines heading into 2017 NFL Scouting Combine

Eagles storylines heading into 2017 NFL Scouting Combine

Updated: 3:45 p.m.

The NFL world will take over Indianapolis again this week for the annual scouting combine. 

This year, the combine is taking place a little later than normal. Instead of late February, this year the combine is happening in early March, very close to free agency. 

Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson are scheduled to speak to reporters on Wednesday afternoon (Roseman at 2:30, Pederson at 2:45) while player interviews with the media begin on Thursday. Player workouts will begin on Friday and run through Monday. 

Flip, flip, hooray?
A very important coin flip will happen in Indy this week. The Eagles will end up with either the 14th or 15th pick in April's draft based on the outcome. The Colts will get the other. According to the Eagles' website, the coin flip will happen at 12:30 p.m. on Friday. 

This year the Eagles don't own their own first-round pick. The Browns have it at No. 12 thanks to the trade up to get Carson Wentz last year. The Eagles, instead, own the Vikings' first-rounder thanks to the Sam Bradford trade. The Vikings and Colts finished with identical records and strength of schedules, so a coin flip will decide who gets the higher pick -- in this case, the Eagles are the Vikings. 

Either way, the Eagles should have a really good chance to draft a difference-maker. They've had luck before higher than 20 and the recent history at 14/15 bodes well (see story)

In total, the Eagles will have eight draft picks -- the Vikings' first-rounder, their own picks in Rounds 2 through 7 and a fourth-round compensatory pick from the Browns. That pick from the Browns was part of the return from the trade up to No. 2 last year. It would have been a fifth-rounder if the Browns didn't get a compensatory pick, but they got two. The Eagles take the higher one at No. 139 overall. 

Here's a list of their picks so far by round: 

1 - 14 or 15
2 - 43
3 - 74
4 - 119, 139 (from Browns)
5 - 155
6 - 194
7 - 230 

Coach talk
On Wednesday, we'll hear from Pederson for the first time since just after the final game of the 2016 season. Pederson didn't have a year-end press conference and didn't speak at the Senior Bowl in Alabama in January. 

There are plenty of questions for Pederson, starting with his coaching staff. Since the season ended, the Eagles fired receivers coach Greg Lewis and hired Mike Groh, who held the same position with the Rams in 2016 and with the Bears from 2013-15. In Mobile, Roseman said any decisions with the coaching staff were all Pederson's, so this will be a chance to find out why the switch was made. 

Another question for Pederson is about quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. The Eagles blocked the Jets from interviewing DeFilippo for their offensive coordinator position. While a report surfaced that this decision was Jeff Lurie's, Roseman repeated the line about Pederson making coaching decisions. 

Finally, Pederson is entering his second year as the Eagles' head coach. Last year, he was trying to put together a coaching staff and install his scheme, but this year that's already done. Has he taken a more active role in personnel and to what extent? 

Roseman in his element
The Eagles don't have a ton of guys who will become unrestricted free agents on March 9, but the biggest name of the bunch is clearly Bennie Logan. The Eagles will have a chance to meet with Logan's agent, Todd France, face to face during the week. They saw France last year too, as he represents Fletcher Cox. 

This situation is a little different, though. Cox wasn't scheduled to become a free agent last year, while Logan is this year. Logan is the Eagles' most significant pending free agent. 

While Roseman can use this week to try to work on deals for his own players, he can also float some trades. Guys like Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin and even Jason Kelce could be discussed. 

Weird timing
This year, the NFL schedule has the combine finishing just as the legal tampering window (March 7) is set to begin. So basically, the league is putting front office members and agents in the same city days before free agency kicks off and expects them to not talk about players from other teams. Yeah, OK. In any case, it'll be interesting to see what the new schedule changes in terms of to-be free agent talks.  

Cornering the market
Ahh, yes, the real reason everyone is heading to Indy: the actual players on the field. This year, the prized position in the draft looks like cornerback, which should be good news for the Eagles. You might have noticed they're lacking in that area. 

How deep is the draft for corners and rushers? Well, a former NFL GM tweeted this: 

There are as many as eight cornerbacks who could possibly go in the first round and over a dozen who might go in the first two rounds. Some incredible talent. It's just up to the Eagles to find the right one. 

It might make sense for the Birds take a different position at 14 or 15 and then come back in the second round to draft a corner. After all, with how deep the position is, they're bound to get great value in the second, right? Roseman's answer about this scenario was interesting. He pointed to last year's draft, which was supposed to be very deep at defensive tackle. Roseman thought they could get a second- or third-rounder in the fourth or fifth. 

"And what happened was they all went," Roseman said during Senior Bowl week. "And we had looked at it before and in years where there's positions of strength, when you think you can get guys later, what typically happens is there's a run on those guys and [teams] want to get their own guys. So you just have to be careful that you're not sitting there going, 'This is a great draft at position X and we'll be sitting there in the sixth round and we'll get a great guy.' That's why just sticking to your board and not getting cute and just making sure you just get the best player for the Philadelphia Eagles."

Helping Carson 
It's not a great year for receivers in the draft, but it's not a bad year either. The top two appear to be Mike Williams and Corey Davis, but there are plenty of good players who will be available throughout the draft. And like at corner, the Eagles need plenty of help. 

Receivers will speak to reporters on Friday and will be on the field working out on Saturday. You'd better believe the Eagles will be watching closely. 

Just a year ago
While the Eagles this year will be focusing on building around Wentz, last year they were just worried about getting him. For a team that still had the 13th pick while in Indy last year, the Eagles sure spent a lot of time with a quarterback who was going to be a very high pick. 

Really, last year in Indy is where picking Wentz started to become a reality. The Eagles spent a ton of time interviewing Wentz and everyone was involved, including Roseman, advisor Tom Donahoe, Jeff Lurie and a renowned sports psychologist. Wentz, for his part, blew them away. 

As the Eagles were falling in love with Wentz, Roseman was working on a way to make it happen. The first step was moving up from 13. The Eagles eventually traded with the Dolphins from 13 to 8. Those trade talks started in the hotel in Indy, where the Eagles were two doors down from the Dolphins. That, plus Roseman's relationship with Dolphins GM Mike Tannenbaum helped get the deal done. It was the first in a two-step process to secure Wentz as the next franchise quarterback.  

Roseman is more active than most NFL GMs when it comes to making player trades, so don't be surprised if he's back to work this week.