The700Level

The Eagles' Jordan Matthews Conundrum, Tramaine Brock, and other notes

The Eagles' Jordan Matthews Conundrum, Tramaine Brock, and other notes

The Eagles and the Jordan Matthews Conundrum

Apparently, we need to have the Jordan Matthews talk. Again.

How much do Eagles fans hate Matthews? After averaging 75 receptions, 891 yards and six touchdowns over his first three NFL seasons, there are legitimately people who want to see Matthews traded so that a wide receiver who averaged 30 receptions, 324 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons can have more playing time.

The latter production belongs to Nelson Agholor, and I mean no disrespect. He’s had a tremendous offseason and training camp, and certainly might be poised for a breakout year. Yet, everything that has folks excited about Agholor has happened at practice. For three years, Matthews has been getting the job done in games.

Say what you want about dropped passes, about volume, about misleading statistics. Matthews has 225 receptions for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns during his brief career. Those are respectable numbers! He’s useful! And he could be even better now that he’s the offense’s second or third option.

Never mind the regular season is still a month away, and injuries could alter the depth chart at receiver in a hurry between now and then. Has anybody stopped to think the Eagles could use both Matthews and Agholor in the event somebody gets hurt?

If the Eagles get a great offer for Matthews, fine. If Matthews departs as a free agent in 2018, fine. But the Eagles don’t have to trade Matthews just because his contract is expiring – who knows, maybe he’ll have a strong season and the club will re-sign him? And the Eagles certainly don’t have to move him to make room for a receiver who has proven nothing.

I don’t understand what’s to dislike about Matthews. He’s perfectly fine when not miscast as a No. 1 receiver, and likely to improve now that he’s not the singular focus of opposing defenses on a weekly basis. Maybe wait and see how 2017 plays out before awarding his roster spot to Agholor.

Should the Eagles sign Tramaine Brock?

In perhaps the best example yet of what a sad state of affairs the Eagles cornerbacks are – or at least the perception is – there is a sudden clamoring to sign Tramaine Brock.

I’m not saying Brock wouldn’t be in the mix to start if he joined the Eagles. Nearly instantaneously after the seven-year veteran was “cleared” of domestic violence charges Wednesday – we’ll get to that in a moment – there was already a report the Eagles are interested. Seriously, the man had barely set foot outside the courthouse.

Speaking strictly about his play on the field, Brock is a proven, experienced cornerback. He started 43 games for San Francisco since 2013, including playoffs, racking up 156 tackles, 38 pass deflections and nine interceptions. Brock is not a shutdown cover man by any means, but he only turns 29 in August, and neither is anybody else on the Eagles' roster.

Of course, that’s if you can overlook the allegations against Brock. Yes, charges were dropped, but there’s a difference between “not guilty” and “uncooperative witness.” The evidence was compelling enough for the 49ers to cut Brock immediately in April, and he could still face discipline from the NFL.

The Eagles will likely do their homework. It’s no secret the club is still searching for help at cornerback, and based on ability alone, Brock represents a potential upgrade. Whether a marginal talent boost would be worth the trouble is a matter of perspective – although I don’t imagine the Eagles will think so.

Did the Eagles mess up with Byron Maxwell?

When the Eagles traded Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso to move up five spots and go from No. 13 to No. 8 in the 2016 NFL draft, I graded the deal a C+. A year and a half later, that still seems about right.

Sending Maxwell and Alonso to the Dolphins accomplished a lot. Not so much in terms of the No. 8 pick, which was eventually included in the trade for Carson Wentz – a trivial move as long as the Eagles were serious about getting their franchise quarterback. (Those five slots were not going to kill the deal with Cleveland.) It was more about removing Maxwell’s contract from the books, while simultaneously dumping a couple of bad fits for the locker room.

Both Maxwell and Alonso went on to become solid starters in Miami. That’s not surprising. Maxwell wasn’t as bad as his reputation with fans, and Alonso wasn’t healthy during his tenure with the club. Meanwhile, the Eagles still need at least one quality cornerback, maybe two, possibly even three. There’s no question Maxwell would be an upgrade right now, and the team essentially gave him away.

So did the Eagles screw up, as Maxwell recently claimed? It’s easy to look at the club’s depth coupled with his performance in Miami and say yes. Then again, Maxwell brought a mercenary vibe to the locker room, and after some memorably toasty games, was never going to repair his image with fans. He wasn’t viewed as a great fit for Jim Schwartz’s defensive scheme, either.

I wasn’t as down on Maxwell as most. After a rough start to his Eagles career, Maxwell played well, until a late-season collapse aided by injuries. But he was vastly overpaid, and didn’t possess the right type of mindset to thrive as a professional athlete in this city.

Was the Maxwell trade a great deal for the Eagles? Not really. But were they better off for making it? Even looking at the state of the corners a year later, definitely.

Eagles do right by Brandon Graham

It seems like Brandon Graham and the Eagles were able to work out a fair compromise on the contract front. Details of that can be found here, but in short, there are all sorts of incentives for the eighth-year veteran.

It’s worth pointing out Graham was not wildly underpaid. The $7.5 million he is scheduled to cost the Eagles under the salary cap in 2017 is tied for 20th among all edge defenders, according to Over The Cap. Graham was set to drop to 26th in 2018, the final year of his contract. For a player with a career high of 6.5 sacks and zero Pro Bowls, that doesn’t seem completely out of line.

Then again, there’s no question Graham is better than sack totals indicate, and more valuable to the Eagles than can be measured. He’s as hard a worker as there is and a tremendous personality in the locker room. And any limitations Graham might lack rushing the passer, he more than makes up for exceling in run defense.

These new incentives don’t change the fact that Graham’s contract allows the Eagles to move on with minimal consequence next year. He no doubt would have preferred something more permanent and long term. The club didn’t have to do anything at all for Graham, either. It seems like a sign of good faith, and perhaps the precursor to something more long term if he continues to perform.

Maybe most of all, recent deals with Graham and Jason Peters send a message to the Eagles' locker room and players around the league that this is an organization that will reward contracted veterans who are deserving. Take one look at all the holdouts around the NFL right now, and you’ll quickly realize that’s not the case everywhere.

Kennett Square's Jack Regenye makes catch of the year at Junior League World Series

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USA Today Images

Kennett Square's Jack Regenye makes catch of the year at Junior League World Series

Sunday gave us the catch of the year. And it didn't come from MLB, or the minors, but from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania's Jack Regenye in the Junior League World Series.

Just take a look at this. Then watch it again and again, trying to figure out how this is possible. 

After being initially ruled an out, the umps reversed the call, calling it a home run. After more deliberation, it was finally ruled an out because rules be damned, when a catch is that good, you have to count it.

Regenye's Junior League team (ages 13-14) went on to lose to Chinese Taipei, 12-1. 

With Odubel Herrera on the DL, maybe the Phils should give Regenye a call.

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.