Eagles Mailbag: Alshon Jeffery, running backs, offensive struggles

Eagles Mailbag: Alshon Jeffery, running backs, offensive struggles

We're less than a month away from the start of free agency — March 9 at 4 p.m. So we're really getting closer to the time of year where things get really interesting. 

From there, we're right into the draft and then after that, spring workouts won't be far behind. 

What offseason? 

Once again, we asked for your questions and you came through. Let's hop into this edition of the mailbag:

I'm not exactly sure if you're looking for a percentage, but I think there's a small chance. Now, Jeffery is going to be expensive and I understand why some folks are terrified about that PED suspension after what happened with Lane Johnson last year. 

But despite that, Jeffery is going to get paid. He's pretty darn good and a change of scenery could do wonders for his career. The price might force the Eagles out of the bidding, but I'd expect them to at least be in the running. 

Jeffery will turn 27 on Tuesday and the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder has been productive during his career. He actually uses that frame the way he's supposed to, unlike Dorial Green-Beckham. In Jeffery's two 16-game seasons (2013 and 2014), he caught 174 passes for 2,554 yards and 17 touchdowns. If he had done that in the last two years, his price tag would be even higher. 

In the last two years, he played nine games in 2015 and 12 in 2016 and hasn't eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier in either. But we all know he's more than capable and he would be a great weapon for Carson Wentz. 

So how likely is it? Well, there's probably not a great chance because of the price tag that will be attached to him. A cheaper, mid-tier option seems more feasible, but don't completely rule the Eagles out. 

I tend to think the Eagles will try to find a running back in the draft, but that doesn't necessarily mean Dalvin Cook at No. 14 or 15. (Sorry!) The thing with running backs is it's a position in which teams can find guys, draft them, and save money by using young players instead of veterans. 

Signing a veteran running back to an expensive contract just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. 

With that said, I'm not sure how much the Eagles actually value the running back position when it comes to the draft. Last year, Howie Roseman made it a point to praise Ezekiel Elliott and talk about how he would be a possibility with their first pick (that was before they moved up again), but this offseason he admitted everything he said last year was nonsense. That rings true with my belief that his comments on a first-round running back were nonsense. 

OK, here's an option. This year there are clearly two top guys in Leonard Fournette and Cook. They're likely both going to be first-rounders. After that, there are a few guys in the second tier. Christian McCaffrey, D'Onta Foreman, Curtis Samuel, Kareem Hunt and even Jamaal Williams or local product Corey Clement. 

Samuel is certainly in that group and the last Ohio State running back to come out has done alright. But Samuel isn't really a running back and he isn't really a receiver. He does both. Do you have faith that the Eagles' coaching staff will be able to get the most out of a player like this?

This year is a lot like what we saw in the draft last year. Wendell Smallwood was among a group of running backs that came off the board around the same time. He went three picks after Jordan Howard went to the Bears. Howard became a Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

The Eagles have always claimed Smallwood was the guy they wanted, but it's fair to wonder if that's the truth. This year, it's up to the Eagles to pinpoint their mid-round guy and try to get him. It's not always easy when trying to draft for value too. 

Interesting question. Sort of a chicken or the egg thing in my view. The receivers were horrible. There's really no debating that. 

But you're right. At times the play-calling was questionable, especially the lack of downfield attack. But if the receivers were better, perhaps Doug Pederson would have dialed up more plays to go downfield. 

The only reason I question that, is Green-Beckham. Now, obviously, he didn't have a full offseason with the team, so he was playing catch-up. But in his rookie season with the Titans, he averaged over 17 yards per reception. That was down to under 11 with the Eagles. 

So probably a bit of both. 

I'm not going to blame Wentz, though. While he certainly had his bad moments in 2016, at times he had to overcome bad receiver play and questionable play-calling. 

5 Eagles to watch on offense and defense at OTAs

5 Eagles to watch on offense and defense at OTAs

Tuesday is a big day in the progression of the 2017 Eagles

The team is finally all together as OTAs kick off at the NovaCare Complex. We've already looked at the biggest storylines of the week (see story), but how about the individual players? 

Well, let's look at five offensive and five defensive players to watch this week, leaving out Carson Wentz. Yeah, we're going to watch the QB. 

Offense

Alshon Jeffery
Jeffery won't be hard to spot. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound receiver was brought in on a one-year deal this offseason. He's been in Philly working out, but this will be his first time at a real practice with his new team. Maybe we'll quickly get a sense of his chemistry with Wentz. 

Torrey Smith
At his introductory press conference in March, Smith was asked about his speed and responded by jokingly challenging a reporter to a race. While that never happened, it's fair to wonder what the Eagles are getting in Smith. He wasn't the same player in San Francisco, so we'll get to see if he has some gas left in the tank. 

Donnel Pumphrey
We already got a glimpse of Pumphrey during rookie camp, but didn't get a long time to watch practice. At OTAs, we'll see everything. The biggest thing that stood out about Pumphrey a couple weeks ago was his size — or lack of size. How will Doug Pederson use his new weapon? We might get some hints this week. 

LeGarrette Blount
Pumphrey and Blount technically play the same position, yet Blount is 74 pounds heavier. To put that in perspective, 74 pounds is about the weight of an average 10-year-old. Blount has been in the league for nearly a decade, but he's in a new offense in Philly (without a true fullback), so we'll see where he is in a short time with the team.  

Taylor Hart
Normally we wouldn't put an offensive lineman on a list of guys to watch in shorts, but Hart is transitioning from defensive tackle to offensive tackle and this is the first chance to see him on offense. Worth watching. He was pretty excited about the switch in January (see story).

Defense

Timmy Jernigan
Honestly, it's harder to evaluate defensive players during OTAs because there's no hitting, and it's even harder to evaluate linemen. Jernigan, though, is worth watching because he's replacing Bennie Logan. 

Rasul Douglas
We've already seen Douglas at rookie camp, but he was really looking forward to lining up against some veterans like Jeffery. Douglas was a third-rounder, but he might be more important to the team in 2017 than any other rookie simply because of his position. 

Patrick Robinson
Speaking of the cornerback position, this week is the first of seeing Robinson, who signed a one-year deal that's mostly gone forgotten. The 29-year-old former first-round pick is coming off a rough yearlong stint with the Colts, but was much better in 2015 with the Chargers. He's on a prove-it deal, so who knows if he'll be the Eagles' best option. 

Ron Brooks
One of the biggest losses the Eagles suffered during the 2016 season was when Brooks went down with a bad leg injury. No, Brooks wasn't great before the injury, but he was the team's slot corner, which kept Malcolm Jenkins at safety. Not sure where Brooks is in his recovery, but don't forget about him. Jim Schwartz clearly likes Brooks. 

Joe Walker
Walker is recovering from an ACL tear from last preseason. He was lining up to be the team's backup middle linebacker before the injury and the 2016 seventh-round pick will probably have the inside track to win that job this year ... as long as he regains his form from before the injury. 

NFL Notes: Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

NFL Notes: Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has skipped the Los Angeles Rams' first day of organized team activities while he negotiates a long-term contract extension with the club.

Rams general manager Les Snead says the team knew Donald wouldn't be at their training complex Monday.

Snead acknowledged Donald's absence is because of their contract negotiations, which are reaching "the serious part." The GM is confident Donald will be a long-term fixture on the Rams' line.

The Rams exercised their fifth-year option for 2018 on Donald last month. He will make nearly $7 million next year. Snead has repeatedly said the Rams plan to sign Donald to a long-term deal.

Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his three-year career.

Vikings: Zimmer takes time off after latest eye surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer finally relented, taking some time away from the team to allow his right eye a proper recovery from his latest surgery.

Better in the spring than during the fall, he realized.

As Zimmer departed Monday for some rest and relaxation at his vacation ranch in rural Kentucky, general manager Rick Spielman said the organization anticipates a return by Zimmer "in a few weeks." Players will take the field Tuesday for the first of 13 scheduled offseason practices, including the three-day mandatory minicamp that runs June 13-15.

"We all agree Mike's health is the priority, and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term," Spielman said.

Zimmer directed a free youth football camp Saturday at team headquarters. He revealed to reporters that he underwent an eighth procedure on the eye last week, a trying seven-month stretch that has included several unplanned operations (see full story).

Jets: Former 2nd-round pick Smith waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Devin Smith has been waived from the injury list by the New York Jets.

A second-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2015, Smith rarely saw the field for the Jets. He tore his ACL during the offseason workout program after he appeared in four games last season. He started that season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from another ACL tear suffered in December 2015.

If Smith clears waivers, he would revert to the Jets' injured reserve list.

"It's bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back," coach Todd Bowles said last month during the NFL draft. "He has to persevere and adversity will help him get stronger. But unfortunately in this game, over my course of time playing and coaching, you see these types of things. Some of the best athletes get hurt and don't get a chance to get on the field, and it's just bad timing, bad luck."

The Jets also re-signed wide receiver WR Deshon Foxx on Monday. Foxx originally signed with the Jets in January and was waived May 9. The Connecticut product first signed with Seattle 2015 after going undrafted and was waived/injured with a hamstring injury that August.

Buccaneers: TE Howard signs rookie deal
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end O.J. Howard has signed his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Howard, who was the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, signed a four-year deal on Monday that includes a team option for a fifth season. He is the first of Tampa Bay's six draft picks to sign.

Howard, who is 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, was a third-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He started 12 of Alabama's 14 games last season and had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

The drafting of Howard and signing DeSean Jackson in free agency should give Jameis Winston more options in Tampa Bay's passing game.

The Buccaneers also announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has signed his restricted free agent tender.