Eagles' special teams unit ranked best in NFL for second time in 3 years

Eagles' special teams unit ranked best in NFL for second time in 3 years

For another season in 2016, the Eagles' offense and defense were at times up and down. 

Special teams never wavered. 

Dave Fipp's unit has been among the best since his arrival to Philadelphia in 2013. In 2016, his unit was the very best, according to Rick Gosselin's annual rankings in the Dallas Morning News. This is the second time in three years the Eagles have earned the top spot. 

The Eagles had the best kickoff starting position at the 27.2-yard and the best opponent kickoff starting position at the 22.7-yard line in 2016. They led the league with two kick return touchdowns and had the second-best punt return average of 12.9. 

[Quick Slants Podcast: Jordan Matthews joins Derrick Gunn and Reuben Frank]

On top of it all, kicker Caleb Sturgis made 35 field goals, a career-high and a new Eagles record. 

"There's been a long legacy of playing really well on special teams here with the Eagles," Fipp said to the Eagles' website on Wednesday. "I think we inherited some of that legacy and it's been passed down from the guys way before us. We're just picking up the flag and carrying it further. I think there's definitely a standard and an expectation that when you're playing special teams for this organization you have to play at a high level. That really has nothing to do with me. It's set by guys who played a long time ago and then it's set from the very top of the organization, by Mr. (Jeffrey) Lurie, and it all trickles down."

It's not just Fipp. The Eagles as an organization have put an emphasis on special teams, as evidenced by re-signing long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, punter Donnie Jones and special teams ace Chris Maragos to contract extensions during the season. 

This offseason, two important teamers will become free agents: Bryan Braman (UFA) and Trey Burton (RFA). 

While Fipp declined to speak to CSNPhilly.com toward the end of the season about the possibility of becoming a head coach, his players raved about him (see story). From Maragos to Burton to Darren Sproles to Kamu Grugier-Hill, they all thought Fipp has head coach potential. So did Ravens head coach John Harbaugh while on a conference call with Philly reporters during the season. While he did take a year to coach defensive backs, Harbaugh is still the best special teams coordinator-to-head coach example in the league. 

On that conference call, Harbaugh broke down the reasons a special teams coordinator, in theory, should make a good head coach: He has to be organized. He has to understand the roster. He has to evaluate talent. He has to develop young players. And he's the only coach aside from the head coach that deals with both sides of the team. 

Fipp has done a masterful job in his four seasons with the Eagles. In 2016, his unit was the best in the league, but that joy is short-lived. 

"Last year means nothing," Fipp said to the Eagles' website. "Rankings are nice, but at the end of the day it really means nothing. The bottom line for us is we want to contend as a team for championships and playoffs. We've got a lot of work ahead of us to get there. Fortunately, we do have some great players to start with, but we've got a lot of work to do both in acquiring players and also bringing the best out of the players that we've got in this building. We're excited about the future. We're excited to get to work here."

Eagles pick up compensatory fourth-round pick from Browns

Eagles pick up compensatory fourth-round pick from Browns

The NFL announced the list of compensatory picks for the 2017 draft and the Eagles weren't awarded any.

They're still going to get one, though. 

Thanks to the trade with the Browns to move up to No. 2 in last year's draft, the Eagles got back a conditional fifth-round pick that has now turned into a fourth. 

Basically, if the Browns received a fourth-round compensatory pick, the Eagles would get it. The Browns were awarded two (Nos. 139 and 142), so the Eagles get one. According to a league source, the Eagles will get No. 139 overall, the higher of the two.  

This is the first year teams are allowed to trade compensatory picks. The Bengals, Browns, Broncos and Chiefs were each awarded four compensatory picks. The highest compensatory pick awarded this year belongs to Miami at No. 97 in the third round. 

The Eagles still don't know where they'll pick in the first round -- either No. 14 or 15. That will be determined by a coin flip next week at the combine in Indianapolis. They have eight draft picks in total.

Eagles wise to bring Jason Peters back, even with full salary

Eagles wise to bring Jason Peters back, even with full salary

This isn't a big surprise, but Jason Peters will be back with the Eagles -- big salary and all -- for the 2017 season.

While the Eagles approached the veteran left tackle about his contract in January, Peters has not restructured his deal, according to a league source. 

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport on Thursday morning reported that Peters will be back next season on his normal contract. 

Yes, Peters is expensive in 2017. His base salary after hitting another Pro Bowl escalator written into his contract is up to $10.45 million for next season (plus a $250K workout bonus), which comes with a big cap hit of $11.7 million. That cap hit is the highest on the team, but not outlandish for a high-caliber left tackle. 

The Eagles could have very well cut Peters and moved on. It would have saved them significant cap space to use elsewhere. They just wouldn't have found any player more valuable to pay with that money. 

Peters, 35, is still their best option to protect Carson Wentz's blind side. He made his ninth Pro Bowl in 2016 after playing all 16 games. The team hasn't been shy about wanting him back and Peters toward the end of the season said he wanted to return for another year. 

"We certainly want to have him back," Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said of Peters in early January.

“I love him. I want him on the team,” head coach Doug Pederson said with two games remaining this past season. “I don’t want him to go anywhere."

With Peters back, it means Lane Johnson's eventual trip to left tackle will be held off for another year. Eventually, he'll take over that spot … just not right now. 

During the season, Peters opened up about his future, saying he hopes Wentz can be the guy who finally gets him a Super Bowl ring (see story).