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. 

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

The Eagles need cornerbacks. Plural. 

It's not a secret that the team's biggest weakness heading into next week's draft is at the cornerback position. So it would stand to reason that their best bet might be to simply take the best one off the board when they're on the clock at 14.

But NFL Network's Mike Mayock, on his annual pre-draft conference call marathon extravaganza Friday, said he thinks they should take a different approach. 

Looking at the top corners in the draft, Mayock is convinced Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore will be off the board well before the Eagles are on the clock at 14. His next rated corner is Gareon Conley. After that, Mayock has Marlon Humphrey but pointed out his major flaw of struggling to find the football in the air. 

So if Conley makes it to 14, the Eagles should pick him, right? 

Not so fast. 

"So I look at it this way, if Conley's on the board at 14, you have to compare him to the best playmaker on offense on your board," Mayock said. "Because I'm not convinced the Eagles should go defense, to be honest with you. 

"If Conley's not there, I think you want to go get your corner in the second or third round and I think they need two corners. But my perspective is, you drafted Carson Wentz. You better support him. You signed two wideouts in free agency (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) who are both effectively one-year contracts. Your slot receiver, (Jordan) Matthews is in the final year of his deal. (Brent) Celek, the tight end, is 32 years old. 

"So you might sit there and go, 'This year looks OK,' but get a running back. Get a (Christian) McCaffrey or a Dalvin Cook. Get a tight end, O.J. Howard. Get weapons. Get one of those wideouts you like. So I would be comparing Conley to the highest playmaker you have on the board offensively. And I might be leaning towards offense if it was me." 

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. 

When Zach Ertz looks at the recent history of great quarterback-tight end duos in the NFL, he can't help but notice one thing stands out. 

"Those guys have been together for a long time," Ertz said Thursday afternoon. 

Brady and Gronk have been together for seven seasons. Cam and Olsen have been together for six. And Brees and Graham were together for five. 

"And I think just having that, where you're on the same page regardless of the coverage," Ertz continued. "If they give you this coverage, you know exactly what you're going to do. If they give you that coverage, he knows exactly what I'm going to do. When to expect the ball vs. certain coverages, it might be a little earlier, it might be a little later. So it's just that constant camaraderie where we're able to know what the other person is thinking without thinking about it."

Ertz hopes that's the kind of relationship he can forge with Carson Wentz, who will enter his second NFL season in 2017. 

Ertz and Wentz spend a lot of time together in the facility and away from it. A group of Eagles went to Ertz's wedding earlier this offseason, and of course, Wentz was present. If it seems like Ertz is going to great lengths to build a rapport with his quarterback, he is. 

After going through Mike Vick and Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, the Eagles' starting tight end finally has a quarterback that isn't going anywhere for a while.  

"It's going to be huge," Ertz said about playing with Wentz for a second straight year. "I think when Carson was drafted, from the receivers and tight ends, that was the one thing we were really excited about. That we knew for the next five, 10, 20 years, hopefully, in Philadelphia, we knew who our quarterback was going to be."

Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Stanford, Ertz has been an extremely productive player. But that has set up huge expectations as fans wait for a "breakout year." Zach Ertz might never be Rob Gronkowski, but the numbers are hard to argue. 

In the first four years of his career, Ertz has 247 catches for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. Since 2013, here's the list of tight ends who have more catches and yards than Ertz: Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates. 

Ertz and Jeremy Maclin are the only two players in Eagles history to put up those numbers in their first four seasons. 

The argument often heard about Ertz's numbers is that they come in garbage time. Ertz has historically been an absolute beast in December. In the last few years, that hasn't meant much to a struggling Eagles franchise, but if they're in the playoff hunt in upcoming years, they'll probably want that trend to continue. 

The one statistic that doesn't seem to match the others: touchdowns. While Ertz has been among top tight ends in the league in receptions and yards, his 13 touchdowns rank 17th among tight ends since 2013. (It's not a stat, but for what it's worth, Ertz would likely be among the league leaders in touchdowns called back for penalties in the last few years.)

"I want to be the guy in the red zone, believe me," Ertz said. "For the first four years in my career, I think the most touchdowns I had in a year was four. So this year, we didn't have a lot of red zone touchdowns and that falls on us as players to get it down when we get down there, make plays when the ball's in the air. That's something I do pride myself on, making those tough and contested catches, whether it be in the red zone or third down. I want to be more of a go-to guy in the red zone, but I've got to earn that this spring and summer, earn that trust of the quarterback as well as Doug (Pederson). It's going to be a process, but when you look at the great tight ends in the league, the first thing that stands out is touchdowns."