With Caleb Sturgis eligible to come off of injured reserve next week, the Eagles have given no indication that Jake Elliott’s job might be in jeopardy.
Elliott has been far from perfect of late, missing at least one field goal or extra point in each of the Eagles’ last three games. And while those kicks haven’t come back to haunt the team yet, it’s fair to wonder whether turning back to Sturgis might be an option.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday the club is “comfortable” with Elliott, but “nothing has been decided” with regard to Sturgis. “We'll just have to cross that bridge when we get there.”
We’re just about at the bridge. Time to decide.
As of Tuesday, the Eagles seemed prepared to work through the issues with Elliott.
“I tend to be more of an optimist,” said Eagles special team coach Dave Fipp, adding it’s easy to be critical. “If you’re willing as a coach or a person to accept some responsibility, and try to invest and work on finding a solution, you have a whole better chance.
“I believe the best in a guy, and that’s just the way I choose to look at it, but I believe the guy is going to overcome. He’s going to have success and be a great player."
In his second NFL game, Elliott delivered an Eagles victory over the Giants with a walk-off 61-yard field goal — the longest in franchise history. Up until that moment, however, the rookie kicker had been unreliable, missing one field goal in each of his first two contests.
Although, some initial jitters were probably to be expected. Signed off the Bengals' practice squad in September, Elliott joined the Eagles on a Tuesday and was kicking in a game on Sunday.
“It’s a tough transition to come in on a week’s notice and have a new snapper, a new holder and a kicker, and then do it on game day,” Fipp said. “And you can only practice so much during the week. Usually, these guys kick twice a week, so you have two days to get it in.”
Elliott settled in after the Giants game and was flawless on field goals and extra points over the next three. Even with the recent miscues, he’s made 17 of 20 field goals and 24 of 27 extra points for the season, and he set another Eagles record with four field goals of 50-plus yards in a season.
As far as Elliott’s recent struggles are concerned, those might not be as much of a factor in the Eagles’ decision as one would think. To begin with, another aspect of the battery could be at fault —maybe the hold, or the snap, based on an unconfirmed report the Eagles worked out long snappers this week.
Whatever the case, Fipp preached patience with the 22-year-old.
“The worst thing you can do with any kicker is overreact,” Fipp said. “If you’re always looking to replace that position, then you’re going to always be replacing that position.
“I think there are some coaches out there who are quick to get rid of the guy that they have, and I would say that you just have to make a smart decision. Take a step back, and make sure you’re making the best decision.
“Usually when you bring the guy in, you brought him in because he was the best player. Then if you get rid of him, now you’re saying you’re going to go with the second-best player? That never made a whole lot of sense to me.”
Of course, Fipp’s salient logic on kickers could easily apply to Sturgis as well.
Sturgis came to the Eagles in 2015 in much the same way as Elliott, as a midseason replacement. And like Elliott, Sturgis got off to a shaky start with the Eagles, but finished strong and won the competition for the job in training camp the following summer.
Last season, Sturgis made 35 of 41 field goals and 30 of 31 extra points. He was 3 for 3 on field goals and 1 for 2 with extra points in the 2017 opener, as well.
If Elliott wasn’t cutting it, the Eagles would be more than justified in giving Sturgis another shot.
“There’s certain standards that they have to perform up to, then you have to move on,” Fipp said. “But they all know that.”
Based on statistics alone, the comparison seems close. In reality, Elliott has a lot more working in his favor.
Elliott is six years younger than Sturgis, who as a five-year veteran, also commands a much larger salary. And while Sturgis was once a fifth-round draft pick, the same as Elliott, his NFL career as a whole has not been a model of consistency.
All signs point to the Eagles' sticking with Elliott, and it should be a slam dunk. But with Sturgis likely to wind up a free agent in a matter of days — it shouldn’t be long before he finds a new job — you can bet every and any Elliott slip-up will only draw more attention moving forward.