Don't expect Eagles to sign 'hottest item off the shelf'

ap-eagles-howie-roseman.jpg

Don't expect Eagles to sign 'hottest item off the shelf'

On the heels of the Eagles’ five-point home wild-card loss to the Packers in 2010, the team’s brain trust decided that the best way to quickly bridge the gap from playoff team to Super Bowl team was to quickly fill holes through free agency.

You remember the thinking.

If the Eagles could go 10-6 and reach the playoffs, then by adding Pro Bowl-caliber players like Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Steve Smith, Jason Babin, Ronnie Brown, Vince Young and Evan Mathis, they would logically go 12-4 or 13-3 and reach the Super Bowl.

They just needed those studs to take that next step.

We won’t use the phrase Dream Team in this story (oops), but the expensive free agency haul was such a disaster that it essentially ended Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach.

Only Mathis, a first-team All-Pro this year, remains from that group. Asomugha, Smith and Young aren’t even in the league anymore.

Lesson learned.

The Eagles are now in the exact same position as they were three years ago -- coming off a 10-6 season and a home wild-card loss that came down to the final play.

This time there will be no free agency haul. This time, the Eagles know better.

“We have to learn from that moment,” general manager Howie Roseman said. “I would say we’re going to continue to try to build this team the right way, and there are no quick fixes in the National Football League.

“It’s such a team sport that one player’s not going to make the difference and we have to build it so hopefully we’re competing for a long time.”

As the Eagles enter the offseason, this is crucial.

The last two drafts have been extremely productive, landing the Eagles three offensive starters (Nick Foles, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz) and three starters and a de facto starter on defense (Bennie Logan, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin).

Going hand-in-hand with Roseman’s belief in drafting the best available player instead of drafting for need is a free agency philosophy of adding a handful of mid-priced players instead of breaking the bank for potential stars who, if they don’t pan out, can wind up being very damaging both from a salary cap and team chemistry standpoint.

“I think you’ll see a markedly different approach from last time, both in free agency and the draft -- because I feel like we did that in the draft as well,” Roseman said. “But no matter where we are right now or what we finish with, we’ve got to keep the process right and build onto a young team and hopefully have a good core group of players that we can build on and with and do things the right way.”

It’s not like the Eagles weren’t active in free agency last spring. They were.

They did add a bunch of mid-level guys -- Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Patrick Chung, Donnie Jones, Connor Barwin, Isaac Sopoaga, Kenny Phillips and James Casey.

But unlike the 2011 Dream Team guys, none of them were particularly high-priced and most of them acquitted themselves very well.

Even though Phillips wasn’t healthy, Chung struggled all year, Sopoaga turned out to be expendable and Casey was underutilized, none of the moves was a financial disaster, and the way Williams, Fletcher, Barwin and Jones played made free agency a net success.

“It’s interesting, because when you look at it, if you can sign a bunch of guys that maybe aren’t the high-priced guys, you have a chance to kind of have a batting average, as opposed to if you sign one or two big-priced guys and one or two don’t work out, it kind of puts you in a bind,” Roseman said.

“So if you sign a bunch of good players, solid players, and you sign a bunch of them, you want them all to work out, but you don’t necessarily count on them and it doesn’t really hurt your team going forward if one or two don’t work out.

“That group as a whole, I think they contributed a lot to our football team. We certainly weren’t perfect on our free agent signings, but I thought it matched what was out there in free agency last year, and I thought served us well.”

The Eagles right now have $119,927,839 tied up in 2014 salary cap obligations and $107,078,390 tied up for 2015. The projected unadjusted 2014 salary cap is $126.3 million, a small increase over the $123 million from this year.

Those figures don’t include carryover adjustments, which are still being determined but will definitely help the Eagles.

Roseman said the Eagles will continue to explore free agency -- which opens this year on March 8 -- but will show restraint and avoid getting into bidding wars for the sort of overpriced veteran players that wound up damaging the franchise so badly two years ago.

“I don’t think we should sign anyone just for the sake of signing guys,” Roseman said. “We’ve got to sign guys that are upgrades for our football team and fit what we’re looking for from a position standpoint and a character standpoint.

“The money runs out quick as you look at the natural evolution of contracts as they raise and the cap continues to be flat. You kind of look at the [salary cap] number and you get a little bit excited about it and then you start plugging in some numbers and when you do, they go down pretty quickly.

"If we’re doing things the right way and trying to build a team that we can sustain ... we’re not rushing out and buying the new hottest item off the shelf.”

ESPN hires Chip Kelly as college football studio analyst

ESPN hires Chip Kelly as college football studio analyst

Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly is joining ESPN as a studio analyst next season.

ESPN announced Friday it has signed Kelly to a multiyear deal.

Kelly will primarily be part of Saturday pregame, halftime and wrap-up shows on ESPN2. He will also provide NFL analysis on Sundays during SportsCenter.

The 53-year-old Kelly spent the last four seasons in the NFL, coaching the Philadelphia for three years and San Francisco for one. Kelly was fired by the 49ers after going 2-14 last season. He was 26-21 with a playoff appearance for the Eagles.

Before jumping to the NFL, Kelly spent four seasons as Oregon head coach and went 46-7. In 2010, Kelly led the Ducks to the BCS title game and was The Associated Press coach of the year.

Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas front-runners to face NFL's top receivers

Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas front-runners to face NFL's top receivers

Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Terrelle Pryor, Larry Fitzgerald. 

That's the murderers' row of receivers the Eagles will face during the 2017 season, cornerback deficiency and all. 

This week, we got our first look at who the Eagles are tasking with the unenviable challenge of trying to stop — or at the very least slow down — some of the best wide receivers in the NFL. 

At their first OTA practice of the spring, Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson were the team's starters in the base package, while rookie Rasul Douglas was on the field as the third corner in the nickel package. 

"The way Coach Cory Undlin works and the way Coach (Jim) Schwartz works, this depth chart right now is not important," Mills said. 

"It's about going out there and proving to those guys each and every day that you deserve whatever spot they have you in or moving up the depth chart." 

While it's true the depth chart at the first practice in the spring might not mean much, and while it's also important to remember that veteran Ron Brooks is recovering from a quad tendon tear, if Mills, Robinson and Douglas perform well enough, they won't ever give up their jobs. 

Of course, that's a big if. 

Mills was a seventh-round pick last year, who had a decent season but also went through his ups and downs. Robinson is a 29-year-old former first-round pick but has never lived up to that draft status. And Douglas is a rookie third-round pick. 

"I really don't have any expectations, just to be the best player I can be," Robinson said. "If I'm the best player that I can be, then I'll be a starter."

It might seem like a stretch to think these three will be able to stop the marquee receivers they'll face this year. But it's not like the Eagles have much of a choice. Their two starting corners from a year ago are gone — Nolan Carroll signed with the Cowboys as a free agent and Leodis McKelvin was released and is still without a team. And it's not like either played well in 2016. 

The Eagles drafted Sidney Jones in the second round, but he's not close to returning from his Achilles tear and Brooks isn't yet ready to fully practice. The Eagles also have undrafted second-year corner C.J. Smith and former CFL all-star Aaron Grymes. 

But Mills, Robinson and Douglas are the best they have right now. 

On Tuesday, Mills and Robinson played outside in the team's base package, switching sides sporadically, but in the nickel package, Mills moved inside to slot corner while Douglas took over outside. So, basically, Mills is playing two positions, something Brooks did throughout training camp last season. 

Mills played both outside and slot corner last season, but not like he is now when it seems like he won't be leaving the field. With Mills' staying on the field to play in the slot, Malcolm Jenkins is able to stay back and be the defense's field general at safety instead of sliding down like he's done at times over the last two years. 

"I feel like it's going to be helpful," Mills said. "Not just for me, just for guys like Malcolm, a smart guy who can really play that back end and call out every single thing, whether it's run, pass or route concepts. With not really having him do the busy work and nickel and just have him be the smart, savvy vet on that back end, I think that kind of calms everybody down."

Douglas is the biggest of the bunch at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds. Mills thinks having that type of size can help the team, especially as bigger receivers become more prevalent in the league. 

"You need a big, tall, aggressive guy," Mills said. "[Douglas has] been showing flashes here and there." 

Robinson didn't know much about Mills or Douglas before joining the Eagles on a one-year deal this offseason, but the veteran of the trio has been impressed so far by his younger counterparts.  

Robinson has also been impressed by the level of competition he faced during the first day of spring practices. 

"That's definitely going to benefit me," Robinson said. "Torrey (Smith), with his speed, you get that type of speed every day in practice, it's definitely going to get you ready for the game. And then Alshon (Jeffery), with his big body and his great hands, his catching radius is definitely going to get me ready for games this season against the big guys."

The big and fast guys will be coming plenty during the 2017 season. Mills, Robinson and Douglas — for now — look like the guys who will try to stop them.