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2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, TEs: Paying a hefty sum for leadership

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, TEs: Paying a hefty sum for leadership

About this time last year, it seemed a large cap hit might lead to the end of Brent Celek's tenure with the Eagles. Instead, the organization doubled down by extending Celek's contract. The three-year extension significantly reduced his salary for 2016, while the $6 million in guarantees committed the club for 2017.

In the grand scheme of things, Celek's cap number for next season currently ranks 17th among NFL tight ends, which isn't horrific. In terms of performance, however, it's difficult to argue he's worth that money.

Celek posted his lowest totals in his entire 10-year career with 14 catches for 155 yards and zero touchdowns. While still an adequate blocking tight end, he no longer grades as one of the best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus' measures. Even looking at pure playing time, Celek was on the field for just 38.7 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps, only beating out third-string tight end Trey Burton 439 to 331.

At this point, the club is paying Celek more for his veteran leadership and presence in the locker room than anything else, which there's certainly value to that. Whethere it's enough to justify his place on the roster at the current roster is probably in the eye of beholder.

It's also irrelevant. Even if the Eagles are having buyer's remorse, all but $1 million of Celek's deal is guaranteed, much of which would be put toward replacing him anyway. An additional $2 million can be pocketed in the event of a trade, but that's hard to fathom for obvious reasons.

Which means Celek will remain with the Eagles for at least one more season, although he could wind up being further phased out of the offense in favor of more Burton in 2017. Perhaps he would agree to a pay cut if asked, as his desire to win a championship before retiring seems genuine, although the organization has no leverage, and his $4 million base salary isn't exactly high to begin with.

Truthfully, this is a rare situation where it probably isn't and shouldn't be all about the money, because it's not crippling anyway. Celek and his trademark No. 87 serve a purpose that can't be measured, and the Eagles no doubt realized that when they made the deal.

TIGHT ENDS UNDER CONTRACT

Zach Ertz
Age: 27*
Cap Number: $5,600,000

Mr. December had another outrageous finish to a season, and wound up leading all Eagles players in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches as a result. While another slow start might leave people wondering if he can rack up numbers when it actually matters, this was the second straight year Ertz finished with at least 70 catches and 800 yards. Keep in mind, he missed Weeks 2 and 3 with a displaced rib and didn't spend much time working with quarterback Carson Wentz in OTAs and training camp, so it's not surprising Ertz would fare better in the second half. Quite simply, if the fifth-year veteran continues producing at this rate, he'll be well worth the money in 2017. The splits are wild though: 3.1 catches and 35.7 yards per game with four touchdowns in September, October and November compared to 6.0 catches, 70.5 yards and nine touchdowns in December and January.

Brent Celek
Age: 32*
Cap Number: $5,000,000

Even when Ertz was out with an injury, Celek's results were mixed. He failed to record a single catch against the Bears in Week 2, but came back with three catches for 61 yards in the following game versus the Steelers. If another team lost their tight end in OTAs or training camp, you could almost envision a scenario where Celek becomes an intriguing replacement, only a trade would come too late to help the Eagles with the cap. Not sure he'd be thrilled to leave, except maybe to join a true contender. It's farfetched anyway, and probably not worth seriously considering. 

Anthony Denham
Age: 26*

Denham initially joined the Texans as an undrafted free agent out of Utah in 2014, but appeared in only four games over two years. After failing to make the team out of training camp, he caught on with the Eagles practice squad in October, then signed a futures contract at the end of the season. Denham has enticing speed for the position, timing just under 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, but it has yet to manifest itself as a threat to defenses.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Trey Burton
Age: 26*
2016 Cap Number: $602,500

Not only did Burton emerge as a viable target in the passing game this season, finishing with 47 receptions for 327 yards and a touchdown. He's also an outstanding contributor on special teams, making seven tackles. Burton is the kind of versatile athlete every team wants on its roster, which is why the Eagles will likely make full use of the "restricted" aspect of his status as a restricted free agent. That could mean placing a second-round tender on Burton, which paid $2.553 million in 2016. That's a little steep for a third tight end, although he's already working his way up the depth chart. Still, the Eagles could also make a long-term offer that pays Burton less in '17, but reflects his growing role and future with the franchise. Either way, it's hard to envision them letting him get away.

Eagles' latest Achilles heel emerges in preseason

Eagles' latest Achilles heel emerges in preseason

Right when the Eagles get finished plugging one potential hole, another springs up.

For months, cornerback was considered by far the greatest weakness on the Eagles' roster, but Howie Roseman appears to have taken care of that with the trade for Ronald Darby. Now, all of a sudden, the Eagles' secondary has the potential to be a strength in 2017.

Yet, just as the plan at corner is beginning to take shape, another concern is emerging halfway through the preseason, at a position many fans thought Roseman solidified in May. Running back looks like it could quickly become a serious problem for the Eagles, if it hasn’t reached that point already.

It’s only preseason, and the offensive line hasn’t done him any favors, but LeGarrette Blount has nine carries for 17 yards with a fumble in two games. Fifth-round draft pick Donnel Pumphrey – who the coaching staff seemed enamored with this spring — has 14 total touches for 34 yards. After a strong start at training camp, Wendell Smallwood has yet to play in an exhibition game due to a hamstring injury. And by now, everybody is aware 34-year-old Darren Sproles isn’t an every-down back.

The best any running back has looked in exhibition games is undrafted rookie Corey Clement, by far. Whether that’s a testament to his development or a commentary on the state of the backfield is a matter of perspective.

Regardless, you could’ve seen this mess coming from a mile away.

The Blount signing was met with tremendous enthusiasm, when it really should’ve been met with tremendous skepticism. Though he rushed for 1,161 yards and led the NFL with 18 touchdowns in 2016, Blount averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, sat by in free agency as the Patriots moved to replace him, and turns 31 in December. He’s never been a threat as a receiver, and even his gaudy numbers last season with the Super Bowl champions were an outlier compared to the rest of his career.

The reality is Blount is not a mortal lock to make the Eagles' roster. He likely will, because he still has value in short yardage and at the goal line, and most of all, because the competition hasn’t made enough of a push. However, releasing Blount would only cost the Eagles $400,000 against the salary cap, according to OverTheCap.com, while his age and the limitations of his skill set are worth reiterating.

The question is what then?

While the Eagles have toyed with getting Pumphrey and Sproles on the field at the same time, projections as to how prevalent those designer packages would be always felt ambitious as well. Listed at 5-foot-9, 176 pounds, Pumphrey has not looked like an NFL-ready player through two games. Even if he is ready to contribute, that is not an offense designed with running the football in mind.

The Eagles’ ability to let Blount go would seem to hinge almost solely on Smallwood. Of course, it was an unwillingness to rely on a second-year player with 83 touches that caused the club to seek veteran help in the first place.

Smallwood is not an unimpressive prospect. A fifth-round draft pick from West Virginia a year ago, Smallwood has the size and athletic ability to handle the bulk of the work. He was running with authority in camp. He simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy, which is his biggest shortcoming at this point, aside from inexperience. It’s impossible to tell whether Smallwood is in line to finish with the most touches in this backfield (regardless of Blount’s presence) or if he’s fighting for his job.

Clement is the bright spot in all of this, and arrives as a more polished pass protector than Smallwood was as a rookie. Seeing as inexperience was one of the primary reasons the Eagles weren’t willing to entrust Smallwood as the primary ball carrier, it’s difficult to imagine Clement could be the guy the in September.

Again, some of the culpability for Blount’s struggles falls on the offensive line. Some. Blount’s last season in New England was far from the norm, and for most of his eight-year career, he’s been purely a situational player. Even under optimal circumstances, expecting him to recreate last season’s numbers, or come close, never made much sense.

And while it would be easy to chalk up the pitiful ground attack as a symptom of the preseason, the fact is these games have exposed a problem that’s been lurking beneath the surface. Blount is old and not an ideal fit for the Eagles' offense. Pumphrey is an undersized rookie. Sproles is Sproles. Smallwood is a mystery.

Up until a week ago, everybody was worried about the cornerbacks. Before that, it was the wide receivers, until the Eagles made significant investments in talent over the offseason. All along, there’s been an underrated need at running back, or at the very least, an uncertainty.

Try as he might, Roseman can’t seem to find a solution for every hole on the roster — and it’s beginning to look like running back is the spot the Eagles might spring a leak.

Eagles preseason stock report, Week 2: Mychal Kendricks up, LeGarrette Blount down

Eagles preseason stock report, Week 2: Mychal Kendricks up, LeGarrette Blount down

Carson Wentz was impressive in the Eagles’ second preseason contest against the Bills on Thursday. While he did not look sharp early in the game, the way he was able to bounce back and finish strong was very encouraging.

Wentz missed two of his first three passes, badly overthrowing the intended receiver on both plays. He scrambled for a short gain on another play where he easily could’ve unloaded the football for a bigger chunk. Not coincidentally, the Eagles failed to record a first down on their opening three drives.

That easily could’ve been it, but Wentz went back out for a fourth series and played better, completing five of his last six attempts for 45 yards. The drive ended with a fumble, but Wentz showed resilience.

Sometimes we forget Wentz is a second-year quarterback. There are still going to be ups and downs this season – stretches of series and perhaps even games where he doesn’t find his rhythm. However, he also showed an ability to let it go and stop pressing here when the game didn’t get off to the start everybody would hope.

While not his best evening from a numbers standpoint, Wentz’s stock is still very much on the rise. Unfortunately, not too many of his teammates on offense could say the same after this effort.

STOCK UP

Mychal Kendricks
Preseason or not, Kendricks was everywhere. The sixth-year linebacker saw extensive playing time, finishing with two tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and one interception. The crazy part is the numbers don’t really do the performance justice. Kendricks was rushing the passer, providing sound coverage and just generally in position to make plays. One good outing may not translate into more snaps come the regular season, but Kendricks managed to rebuild some confidence in his ability. Who knows, it may have been enough to entice a team to make a trade offer the Eagles can’t refuse.

Ronald Darby
This should go without saying, but Darby was impressive in his Eagles debut. In fact, the most disappoint aspect of his night may have been when he dropped a likely pick-six. He of course made up for it later with a 48-yard interception return. Darby’s speed and instincts were on display for both plays. He was patient and in sound position, as opposed to some overly aggressive ballhawks that gamble, and had the athleticism to close on the football and finish the play. If this preview was any indication of what’s to come, Darby could feast behind the Eagles' front four.

Corey Graham
With Ron Brooks nursing a hamstring injury, the Eagles used Malcolm Jenkins at nickel cornerback and brought in Graham to play safety. That could also be a package the Eagles go with depending on the match-up, with the 32-year-old defensive back showing he still has something left. Graham finished with five tackles, at one point coming up from his spot at safety to make a nice stop in the backfield. He hit hard and demonstrated some value on special teams. Signed two weeks ago, it’s clear Graham has already overtaken Terrence Brooks and Jaylen Watkins on the depth chart.

Corey Clement
Clement has been the most productive running back on the team through two preseason games. The undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin rushed eight times for 34 yards and one touchdown versus the Bills, and his 24-yard carry is the Eagles’ longest of the summer. Yet, the area where Clement has been most impressive is in the passing game. He’s shown some ability as a receiver, but more important, he’s been willing and effective in pass protection. Given all the issues in the Eagles' backfield, Clement is going to have a legitimate shot to make the 53-man roster should this continue.

Alshon Jeffery
It was only two receptions for 24 yards, but with that, Jeffery was able to provide a glimpse into why the Eagles have kept him in bubble wrap this summer. His 14-yard slant was especially exciting. While the grab was as easy as it gets in the NFL, Jeffery showed a little explosiveness after the catch. Everybody talks about the highlight-reel catches, but Jeffery is an all-around weapon who can get it done on short and intermediate routes as well. This was a nice preview that should leave people wanting to see more.

STOCK DOWN

LeGarrette Blount
Through two games, Blount has 17 yards rushing. To put that in perspective, he also has 15 yards receiving. In Blount’s defense, the offensive line has not given him much room to run. At the same time, the 30-year-old back doesn’t look like a great fit for the offense. He’s slow to the corner, he’s not really a threat as a receiver out of the backfield, and he’s not great in pass protection, either. Add a drive-killing fumble to Blount’s preseason resume as well. With Clement’s emergence, Blount’s roster spot might be up for grabs, especially if Wendell Smallwood can show anything.

Lane Johnson
Johnson played poorly, with the caveat that he was starting at left tackle rather than the right. Of course, Johnson is the emergency option there, so it’s not as if he gets a pass. There were at least three plays where the fifth-year lineman was beaten badly, resulting in a run getting stuffed in the backfield, a quarterback sack and a holding penalty. He was only in for 18 snaps. It’s not as if this was the first time Johnson played the position, either. Granted, Johnson would no doubt improve if he were on the left full-time, but in a pinch, he’s still a little scary.

Matt McGloin
The Eagles won’t feel the need to carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. Most of McGloin’s passes down the field are errant at best, with too many balls being forced into double coverage. One such attempt resulted in an easy interception on Thursday. McGloin simply doesn’t have the arm strength to get away with those mistakes. He doesn’t look comfortable in the pocket, either, a combination that tends to result in a lot of check downs. Fortunately for the Eagles, Nick Foles is healthy and expected to play next week.