Counting Down the Eagles’ Offseason Needs: No. 9, Tight End

Counting Down the Eagles’ Offseason Needs: No. 9, Tight End

Free agency is right around the corner, and the draft will be here before you know it. With the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason in full swing, we’re examining where the roster stands at each position, counting down based on team need. Check out the first installment on running backs.

The Philadelphia Eagles could literally change nothing this offseason and they would still enter 2014 with the deepest, if not the best trio of tight ends in the NFL. What could possibly be of need here?

It’s not certain all three will be back.

CSNPhilly.com’s Geoff Mosher opened a can of worms last week when he suggested the Birds could cut ties with James Casey, the expensive third tight end whose playing time didn’t match the investment. Casey agreed to a three-year, $12 million free-agent contract last March, but wound up lining up on less than 20 percent of the offense’s snaps.

The word on Casey when he arrived from the Houston Texans was versatility. Philly.com’s Jimmy Kempski described the 29-year-old as a “Swiss army knife” who could move around the formation, block or run routes and contribute on special teams.

Two things happened.

First, Casey’s ability as a pass-catcher was greatly exaggerated. He once set an NCAA single-season record for tight ends with 111 receptions and 1,329 yards at Rice—the former still stands—but those historic numbers are more than his combined totals (69 REC, 783) after five years in the NFL. He simply is not a playmaker with the ball in his hands at this level.

Second, the Eagles selected Zach Ertz with the 35th-overall pick in the draft about a month later, which naturally ate into Casey’s playing time. Now the question is should the organization continue to pay roughly $4 million per season to somebody with such a small role in the offense?

The decision is a little more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.” Mosher says $2 million of that is guaranteed, so that slashes the savings from Casey’s release in half—not to mention whatever the club pays a replacement.

Not only that, his playing time actually increased significantly as 2013 went along. Casey saw action on eight or fewer offensive snaps in all but two of Philadelphia’s first 11 games according to Pro Football Focus. Over the final six games however, the snap counts jumped to 11, 22, 6, 30, 28 and 11—the outlier being a shootout against Minnesota.

So Casey absolutely has a role in the offense, even if more is typically expected for that kind of money. Let’s not ignore his value as a reserve and on special teams, either.

If the Eagles stood to create real cap space, it might make sense to move on, but is the extra million or so in walking-around money worth dropping Casey for?

Ertz so good

I’m convinced Riley Cooper will not be an Eagle soon after free agency opens on March 11 due in large part to budgeting constraints. Assuming the club re-signs the infinitely more-talented Jeremy Maclin, they should have close to $20 million committed to Mac and DeSean Jackson in 2014 alone. How much can one team realistically spend on its wide receivers?

The other reason is Zach Ertz. As long as Ertz’s development continues into next season as anticipated, the increase in two-tight end sets will naturally lessen the need for three high-price receivers. In fact, the diminishing role of the slot receiver is already underway.

Jason Avant was ceding snaps to tight ends increasingly as the year went along. According to PFF’s snap-charting numbers, Avant was on the field for 70 percent or more in each of the Eagles’ first eight games. The same was true in only three of the final nine contests.

Ertz’s playing time rose accordingly, as did his production. In the month of December, the Stanford product posted 15 receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns, by far his best stretch of the season.

That’s only scratching the surface. Ertz could be the next in the line of modern tight ends who can line up traditionally on the line of scrimmage, or split out wide or in the slot. When 6’5”, 249 pounds, 4.6 40 is standing outside the numbers, the defense has to cover him with a safety. It’s a matchup nightmare.

Ertz finished his rookie season with 36 receptions, 469 yards and four touchdowns. If he can make the leap in year two, he’s a potential 1,000-yard receiver.

Brent Celek isn’t going anywhere for awhile

It was genuinely surprising listening to fans and analysts last offseason suggest Brent Celek might be on the roster bubble or a cap casualty. It will not be surprising when the conversation inevitably comes up again in 2014, but it will be no less baffling.

The casual observer will view Celek’s production as the worst it’s been since he took over as the fulltime starter for Philadelphia in 2009 and take it as a sign the soon-to-be 29-year-old is in decline. That sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth.

True, Celek’s volume was down—32 receptions for 502 yards—but he made the targets he had count. His 15.7 yards per catch were 15th-highest in the NFL, second only to Vernon Davis among tight ends, indicating plenty of big plays were made when the opportunity presented itself. Celek’s six touchdowns were also two short of a career high.

Furthermore, looking purely at statistics ignores where Celek’s greatest impact was felt—in the running game.

According to metrics site Pro Football Focus, Celek graded out as the No. 1 run-blocking tight end in the NFL this year among players who were in for at least 50 percent of offensive snaps. Even if were to account for all tight ends, including blocking specialists, Celek’s cumulative score ranked third.

Celek has become so adept at blocking, Chip Kelly refers to him like he’s the sixth member of the offensive line.

71, 65, 62, 79, 69, 87. We've got some guys that can block, and we've got a very, very talented running back. .…  This whole deal is a personnel‑driven thing, and we've got some really talented guys on the offensive line. We've got a really talented tight end when it comes to blocking.

Celek is set to make $4 million next season, which actually is a reduction from his cap hit in 2013. That number grows to $4.8 million in ’15 and $5M in the final year, which aren’t bad numbers as long as he continues to play at his current level.

Previously: No. 10, Running Back

Instant Replay: Nationals 3, Phillies 2

Instant Replay: Nationals 3, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

The Phillies fell victim to a dominating pitching performance by Washington’s Max Scherzer in a 3-2 loss on Tuesday night.
 
Scherzer held the Phillies to two runs over eight innings. He walked one and struck out 11.
 
Scherzer has started against the Phillies eight times since signing with the Nats before the 2015 season. He is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA in those games.
 
The Phillies had just three hits. They had just four in losing to the Nats on Monday night.
 
Starting pitching report
Jerad Eickhoff gave up three runs on five hits and three walks over six innings. He gave up back-to-back two-out doubles in the first inning and extended the inning with a walk before giving up another RBI hit.
 
He took the loss to fall to 9-13 in 27 starts. His ERA is 3.90.
 
Scherzer (15-7) opened the game with five no-hit innings. The right-hander has carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning in nine of his 61 starts with the Washington. He has reached double digits in strikeouts 12 times this season.
 
Bullpen report
Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos kept the game close.
 
Mark Melancon earned the save for Washington.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis broke up Scherzer’s no-hit bid with a leadoff double in the sixth. He was promptly picked off second on a bad boneheaded base running play.
 
Ryan Howard lined a two-run homer to left to get the Phils on the board and make it a one-run game in the seventh. Howard hit an 0-1 Scherzer fastball that registered 94 mph on the stadium gun. Howard had been 1 for 20 with 13 strikeouts in his career against Scherzer before the homer.
 
Howard’s homer was his 20th of the season. He has reached 20 homers 10 times. Only Mike Schmidt (14) did it more as a Phillie. Howard has 377 homers, tying him with Norm Cash and Jeff Kent for 73rd all time.
 
Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos and Scherzer (with a safety squeeze) drove in the Washington runs.
 
An honor
One day after pitching seven innings of two-run ball against the Nationals in his fifth big-league start, Jake Thompson was named the International League’s Most Valuable Pitcher. Thompson went 11-5 with a 2.55 ERA in 21 starts for Lehigh Valley.
 
ICYMI
Manager Pete Mackanin is about to cut into Howard’s playing time so he can look more at Tommy Joseph (see story).
 
Up next
The two teams play the series finale on Wednesday night with a pair of lefties on the mound. Adam Morgan (1-8, 6.50) opposes Gio Gonzalez (9-9, 4.25).

Jeremiah Trotter, Merrill Reese to enter Eagles Hall of Fame

Jeremiah Trotter, Merrill Reese to enter Eagles Hall of Fame

Legendary announcer Merrill Reese and All-Pro middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter will enter the Eagles’ Hall of Fame, the team announced Tuesday evening.

Reese and Trotter will be enshrined on Nov. 28, during halftime of the Eagles’ Monday night game against the Packers at the Linc.

Trotter, a third-round pick in 1998, spent eight years with the Eagles during three separate stints — 1998 through 2001, 2004 through 2006 and again in 2009. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro.

The Axe Man is one of four linebackers in Eagle history to make four Pro Bowl teams. The others are Chuck Bednarik, Maxie Baughan and Bill Bergey. 
 
“Jeremiah Trotter embodies everything we strive for as an organization,” owner Jeff Lurie said in a statement. “He was an emotional and inspirational player who captured the hearts of our fans. As an anchor of our defense, he led with an immeasurable amount of toughness and a fiery attitude.”
 
Trotter left the Eagles after the 2001 season but returned after two years with the Redskins. After beginning the 2004 season as a backup behind Mark Simoneau, Trotter entered the lineup halfway through the season and wound up as one of the keys to the defense that helped the Eagles reach their only Super Bowl in the last 35 years.  

He wasn’t just a force in the Eagles’ defensive interior, Trotter was an inspirational leader with his passion, his work ethic and his fiery locker room personality. 

Reese this fall begins his 40th year behind the microphone with the Eagles and is the longest-tenured play-by-play announcer in the NFL.

With his signature deep booming voice and unrivaled passion for the Eagles, Reese has become one of the most popular broadcasters in Philadelphia history alongside legends like Harry Kalas, Gene Hart and Richie Ashburn.

He has never missed a game since taking over as the Eagles’ voice on opening day of 1977 and has as much energy and enthusiasm now as ever. He’s also remarkably thorough in his preparation, whether he is announcing a meaningless preseason game or a Super Bowl.

“When you think about some of the greatest moments in Eagles history, you can hear Merrill’s voice, living and dying with every play, just like we all do,” Lurie said. 

“What makes him so special, and so engrained in the fabric of our franchise, is how dedicated he is to the team, the fans and his job. Merrill is a legend, and he is the absolute best at what he does.”

Reese, a member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, is a lifelong Philadelphia-area resident. He graduated from Overbrook High School and Temple and currently lives in Blue Bell.

Reese was an age-group tournament tennis player before knee problems led him to golf, which is his current obsession.

The Eagles Hall of Fame was founded in 1987 as the Eagles Honor Roll. It was largely inactive from 1997 through 2003, with only one induction class during that span — trainer Otho Davis and the 1948 and 1949 NFL championship teams.

From 1997 through 2008, only two individual players were enshrined — Bob Brown in 2004 and Reggie White in 2005. 

The Honor Roll was revived on a full-time basis in 2009 with the induction of Al Wistert and Randall Cunningham and renamed the Eagles Hall of Fame in 2011.

Reese and Trotter are the 42nd and 43rd members of the Eagles Hall of Fame. The full list can be found here.

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram headlined this year’s draft. Now that the players are nearing training camp, they are looking ahead to how their class will fair in the upcoming season. 

NBA.com talked to 38 rookies at the annual Rookie Photo Shoot this month to get their takes on their counterparts.

Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were named in the majority of the responses. Below are the categories in which the Sixers' rookies garnered votes. 

2016-17 Rookie of the Year
1. Kris Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.0 percent
2. Ingram (Lakers): 25.8 percent
3. Simmons (Sixers): 19.4 percent
Embiid and Saric also received votes

Best career
1. Ingram (Lakers): 26.7 percent
2. Dunn (Timberwolves): 16.7 percent 
3. Buddy Hield (Pelicans): 13.3 percent
Tie-4. Dragan Bender (Suns), Jaylen Brown (Celtics), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Simmons: 6.7 percent
Dario Saric also received votes

Most athletic
1. Brown (Celtics): 38.7 percent
2. Brice Johnson (Clippers): 16.1 percent
3. Marquese Chriss (Suns): 9.7 percent
Tie-4. Malik Beasley (Nuggets), Kay Felder (Cavs), Gary Payton II (Rockets): 6.5 percent
Simmons also received votes

Best shooter
1. Hield (Pelicans): 65.7 percent
2. Murray (Nuggets): 20.0 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot also received votes

Best playmaker
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.4 percent
2. Simmons (Sixers): 26.5 percent
3. Tyler Ulis (Suns): 20.6 percent
4. Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 8.8 percent
5. Felder (Cavs): 5.9 percent
Saric also received votes

Funniest
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 15.2 percent
Tie-2. Diamond Stone (Clippers), Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 12.1 percent
Tie-4. Brice Johnson (Clippers), Taurean Prince (Hawks), Ivica Zubac: 6.1 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot and Simmons also received votes. Embiid ranked first in this category when he was drafted in 2014.