Encouraging start for Eagles with Jeffery, Smith, but long-term issues unsolved

Encouraging start for Eagles with Jeffery, Smith, but long-term issues unsolved

Torrey Smith, nice signing. Alshon Jeffery, nice signing. Two veteran receivers who instantly give the Eagles' wide receiver corps credibility it's lacked since Jeremy Maclin followed DeSean Jackson out the NovaCare Complex front gate.

Smith has never caught a ton of passes. He's surpassed 50 catches only once in six seasons. But his 17.0 average is second-best among active receivers, behind only Jackson (17.7). And he gets in the end zone -- his 37 TD catches are 14th-most since he entered the NFL in 2011.

Jeffery scares me a little. Between injuries in 2015 and a suspension in 2016, he hasn't really been a special player in a few years. And that 1,400-yard Pro Bowl season was four years ago.

But he's big and strong and fast and instantly gives Carson Wentz a potentially elite wideout, something he's never had.

Now here's the thing. It's not that I don't like the moves. I do. These guys are quality players at a position the Eagles were desperate to improve. It's clear to everybody the Eagles are a better football team today than they were yesterday.

But it's also clear that these moves are not a long-term solution to anything. They don't solve the problem. They just defer it.

Both receivers signed contracts that are essentially one-year deals, and although the Eagles could exercise the options and keep Smith around a couple more years, and they could sign Jeffery to a long-term deal or theoretically franchise him next offseason -- which could cost in the neighborhood of $17 or $18 million -- it's also not too far-fetched to think that neither one will be an Eagle in 2018.

And then they're right back where they started. With Nelson Dorial-Treggs and Company.

Which brings us to the draft, and the Eagles' long-term strategy at wideout.

If the best player on the board at 14 is a cornerback, go cornerback. If the best player is a running back, go running back. But if it's a wide receiver, you have to still go wide receiver because this franchise's need for an infusion of long-term young talent for Wentz didn't change Thursday.

I don't want to say Jeffery and Smith are Band-Aids, but they really are placeholders who give the Eagles' offense instant credibility and give Wentz capable targets but very well could be only short-term answers.

And the Eagles need long-term solutions at wide receiver, and despite an encouraging day Thursday, that hasn't changed.

We should all know by now the only way to truly effectively build for the future is through the draft.

The Eagles used a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a third-round pick on wide receivers over the 2014 and 2015 drafts and came away with one guy who was released halfway through last season, another guy who has some of the worst numbers in NFL history by a first-round pick and another guy who's been decent but hardly electrifying.

And the Eagles wouldn't have even been looking at free-agent wide receivers this week if they had drafted better.

But those first few rounds of the draft are the lifeblood of a championship roster, and the Eagles can't delude themselves into thinking they've solved the whole equation just by signing two free agents. Even talented ones.

I still want young, fast, athletic wide receivers that Wentz can grow with. Guys who will still be here and under contract and making plays when Wentz is in his prime. Guys who grow up Eagles and want to remain Eagles.

It's all about long-term. Not that short-term fixes are awful. These moves give Wentz weapons he was missing as a rookie.

But until the Eagles figure out a way to identify young talent in the draft and develop that talent and keep that talent and find continuity and groom home-grown guys, this is not going to be a championship team.

And all the big-money contracts and former Pro Bowlers in the world won't change that.

This is a start. A very encouraging start. But it's only a start.

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.