Eagles' early signings fit Howie Roseman's plan

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Eagles' early signings fit Howie Roseman's plan

Howie Roseman told the truth. He cautioned about expecting the Eagles to splurge on Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward. He insisted free agency would be a patch-filling tool, not a foundation-building mechanism. He spoke on the virtues of rewarding those from within the NovaCare as opposed to outside.

His moves so far reflected those tenets.

Roseman, the Eagles’ general manager, continued the refurbishing of the 2014 Eagles on Tuesday by landing the proven safety they desperately needed in Malcolm Jenkins and re-signing punter Donnie Jones. On Wednesday morning, he added safety/special teams maven Chris Maragos.

Jenkins fills an immediate void and will start right away. Jones was a key component of last year’s worst-to-first team under coach Chip Kelly. Maragos can replace Colt Anderson and has upside the team likes.

None of the additions were considered premier players at their position on the open market, and the Eagles didn’t have to stretch their wallet to haul them in. Jenkins signed a three-year deal worth $16.5 million, with $8.5 guaranteed. Jones is back on a three-year deal worth $5.5 million. Maragos’ three-year deal can max out at $5.3 million.

It used to be an annual occurrence on the first day of free agency, the Eagles' making a big announcement about a major free-agent haul, from Jevon Kearse to Asante Samuel to Nnamdi Asomugha. But for the past two seasons Roseman has let other teams win the first-day free agency championship. 

The Bucs and Bears made big splashes within minutes of the 4 p.m. start of the league year and the Saints gave a stunning $54 million to Byrd, but the Eagles had already made their most significant transactions in the preceding 10 days, when they extended the contracts of center Jason Kelce and left tackle Jason Peters and re-signing potential free agents Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Cedric Thornton.

By not blowing a cash cow on Day 1, as Roseman hinted that he wouldn’t do, the Eagles have enough funds to continue upgrading as free agency goes on, when the market settles and bloated price tags lose some weight.

And that’s good, because Roseman still has some work that remains.

Upgrades to the pass rush and kicking game can also come at the right price, much like Connor Barwin joined last offseason after the first-day signing flurry had subsided. If they’re seeking a mid-level receiver to replace Jason Avant, the Birds will have plenty to choose from. 

And, of course, there’s Darrelle Revis, the All-Pro cornerback whom the Eagles were connected to in an ESPN report Tuesday morning. Revis is expected to be released Wednesday if the Bucs can’t trade him.

It just doesn’t seem like the Eagles are done.

There wasn’t much buzz Tuesday around Mike Neal, the versatile outside linebacker from Green Bay whom the Birds could use, or around Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka, another potential upgrade over what the Eagles currently have.

Whatever sculpting remains for Roseman in the coming days, he has the cap flexibility to chisel away judiciously after passing on the market’s top commodities and going the economical route that he believes is the best formula for building an annual contender.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Jenkins isn’t a franchise-changing safety and doesn’t come off an overly thrilling 2013, but he’s an upgrade for an Eagles defense that sorely lacked durable, consistent safety play last year.

Jenkins can slide right into the starting spot next to second-year pro Earl Wolff, and his contract is structured in a way that won’t preclude Roseman from drafting another safety early if he’s the best player available when they pick.

It would have been hard for Roseman to make more enhancements for this year and have an eye on extensions for Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks next offseason if he had succumbed to the temptations of Byrd, who claimed $54 million from the Saints, with a staggering $28 million guaranteed.

Maybe Jenkins didn’t produce that statistics that warranted his 14th overall selection in 2009, but the market this year went batty compared to last year’s modest free-agent opener, so Jenkins probably would have commanded way more coin if he had anywhere near the 22 interceptions Byrd has since 2009.

Donte Whitner, another former Ohio State safety, went home to Cleveland for $7 million per year. Perhaps the Browns misread his birth date and thought he was 18, not 28. Denver gave Ward  just under $6 million per year and one-year Panthers wonder Mike Mitchell secured a five-year $25 million contract from the Steelers.

The thriftier spending on Jenkins falls in line with Roseman’s belief that winning free agency doesn’t equate to winning Super Bowls.

Time will tell if he’s right.

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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Other RBs thriving, but Ryan Mathews (ankle) still 'the guy' when healthy

Other RBs thriving, but Ryan Mathews (ankle) still 'the guy' when healthy

Kenjon Barner has the third-most runs in the NFL of 14-plus yards despite having just 14 carries all year.
 
Wendell Smallwood ran for 79 yards and a touchdown Sunday in the first extended playing time of his career.
 
Despite their gaudy stats, Ryan Mathews will be the Eagles’ featured running back when he’s healthy, head coach Doug Pederson said Monday.
 
“I think we just continue the same way, really,” Pederson said. “When Ryan is healthy, he’s the guy, and then we’ll mix Darren (Sproles) in there and you saw what Wendell can do and we know what Kenjon’s all about.”
 
Mathews, who has been injury prone throughout his career, did not play after two early carries Sunday in the Eagles’ 34-3 win over the Steelers at the Linc.
 
Pederson said Mathews’ left ankle — originally injured in July, before training camp even began and then aggravated in the season opener against the Browns — is still bothering him.
 
“With that thing, that ankle, it’s something that for him it never loosened up (Sunday) and was stiff and so again (we) just opted on the side of caution more than anything else,” Pederson said.
 
Mathews gained minus-five yards on two carries in the first quarter and didn’t play again.
 
He's rushed for three touchdowns this year but is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry — 36th out of 40 backs with 20 or more carries this year.
 
Meanwhile, Smallwood is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, eighth-highest in the NFL, and Barner, with just 14 carries, has four runs of 14 yards. He’s averaging 6.1 yards per carry but doesn’t have enough to qualify for the league leaders.

Although Barner has the 58th-most carries in the NFL, only LeSean McCoy and Isaiah Crowell have more runs of 14 or more yards.
 
Sproles has been his usual electriyfing self in the receiving game and returning punts, but he’s averaging just 2.7 yards per carry.
 
Since opening day last year, Sproles is at 3.6 per carry — 50th of 52 backs with at least 100 carries over the last two seasons.
 
Pederson said despite Mathews’ injury history — he started more than nine games twice in his first six seasons — he has no problem with the workload he gave him in Cleveland. Mathews had 22 carries against the Browns, his second-most since 2013.
 
“I think that’s a good number for him, honestly, and then for everyone else to get a few touches after that we’re on track,” Pederson said.
 
“It’s kind of with Carson (Wentz), I don’t think you ever want to go into a game thinking you want to throw it 50 times. If you manage it and keep it around 30 and have a successful running game, I think that’s a good balance.”
 
How much Barner and Smallwood will work in once Mathews returns remains to be seen.
 
But it’s hard to argue with their production.
 
“Everybody’s a little different runner,” Pederson said Monday, a day after the Eagles improved to 3-0.
 
“Wendell did an excellent job between the tackles last night, sort of downhill, Kenjon sort of off-tackle, and of course Darren can do everything.
 
“So we’ll still keep the rotation the same, we’re not going to change much that way, and just want to get everybody in the football game.”
 
It’s tough to put together a running back depth chart for this team. Mathews had the most carries against the Browns, Sproles had the most against the Bears and Smallwood the most against the Steelers.
 
Last time the Eagles opened a season with three different backs leading the team in attempts was 1989, when Mark Higgs had 13 carries in the opener vs. Seattle, Anthony Toney led the way a week later with nine carries against the Redskins (that was the huge comeback win from a 20-0 deficit) and then Heath Sherman had a team-high 16 carries a week later against the 49ers (when Joe Montana threw four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter).
 
How similar this year turns out to 2003 and the original Three-Head Monster of Duce Staley — now the Eagles’ running backs coach — Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter will sort itself out after the bye.
 
“It’s good to have that kind of depth at that position with as many touches collectively as a group that we’re going to get each game and the wear and tear on that position,” Pederson said. “It’s great to get that many guys in the game.”
 
The Eagles certainly do seem high on Smallwood, the only back in the group that Pederson didn’t inherit from Chip Kelly.
 
Smallwood missed most of training camp with a quad injury and concussion but has been very good since he’s been healthy.
 
“He’s much like Carson in how he prepares during the week,” Pederson said.
 
“We’ve been fortunate with our young players ... and how they work and how they handle themselves on and off the football field, and he’s done a great job in practice, he’s put himself in a position to help us, and it’s great to see him.
 
“We saw it early in the spring, we saw it in training camp before the injury.”

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