Eagles

Eagles rushing predictions, no-fluke Foles, and more in Roob's observations

Eagles rushing predictions, no-fluke Foles, and more in Roob's observations

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Comeback players, rushing predictions, Minneapolis bands, the first NFL game ever played on the site of the Mall of America and two dorks in a coffee shop.

All that and more in Monday's edition of Roob's 10 random Eagles Super Bowl observations.

1. If you had to pick a Comeback Player of the Year on the Eagles, you’d sure have plenty of candidates. Jason Kelce has gone from an inconsistent veteran center last year to a first-team All-Pro. Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games a year ago and made first-team All-Pro this year. Nelson Agholor was so bad last year he was benched during one terrible stretch and spoke openly and honestly about his challenges with confidence, but he had a career year, easily surpassing his first two NFL seasons combined with 69 catches for 851 yards and eight TDs if you include the postseason. Brandon Brooks is another one who was public about mental struggles a year ago, ones that were so powerful he missed two games. Now he’s a Pro Bowler. Nick Foles hasn’t had a winning record since 2014 and now he’s starting in a Super Bowl. There are other guys who have come a long way. Jalen Mills. Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Vinny Curry. Nigel Bradham. Patrick Robinson. Mychal Kendricks. And you know what … I can’t think of one guy whose level of play has dropped off. That is coaching. Flat-out great coaching. To have that many guys significantly improve their level of play from one year to the next is remarkable and speaks volumes about Doug Pederson and his staff.

2. The Eagles have faced 54 passes in their two Super Bowls without an interception. They're one of only two teams that's played at least two Super Bowls and doesn't have an interception (the Bengals are the other). I'm predicting that streak ends Sunday. In fact, I'm predicting Rodney McLeod ends it. Who do you think picks off Tom Brady Sunday evening?

3. I don't worry about Foles. No doubt in my mind he's going to play really well Sunday. None of this is a fluke. Just like 2013 wasn't a fluke. Give him weapons, give him time and he'll perform at a high level. He's put together too many games in his career for it to be a mirage. And he wins. He's 18-5 as the Eagles' starter since 2014 when he plays more than a quarter. That doesn't just happen. It's no accident. He can play.

4. Conversation I overheard Monday morning between two dorks in a Minneapolis coffee shop:

Dude No. 1: "Were you at the Minnesota Miracle?"

Dude No. 2: "No, I couldn't go, but what a finish!"

Dude No. 1: "I was there! It was unbelievable! I've never seen anything like it!"

Dude No. 2: "Un-freaking-real!"

I felt like just getting in their face and screaming, "Ummm … guess what. You lost last week! You got destroyed, 38-7, to a team you were favored over that was playing with its backup quarterback, so shut up!"

5. Five random Donnie Jones facts: 1. When Jones steps on the field Sunday, he'll become the oldest Eagle ever to play in a Super Bowl. 2. Jones is one of only three active players in the NFL who was a teammate of Jerry Rice. The others are Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski. 3. He's been released six times in his career. 4. He's one of only three punters in NFL history to punt 1,000 times and have an average of 45.0 or higher (Lechler and Andy Lee are the others). And 5. He's the only player on the roster who could drink legally when Brady won his first Super Bowl. (Thanks to Dave Zangaro for that one!)

6. Eagles running back predictions: Jay Ajayi 17 for 81, LeGarrette Blount 8 for 39, Corey Clement 6 for 51. Math: 31 for 171.

7. The Eagles' offensive line is so dominant these days it's easy to forget that not all that long ago, the Eagles had atrocious offensive lines every year. From 1982 through 2001, a span of 20 years, the Eagles didn't have a single Pro Bowl offensive lineman. Imagine that? Twenty years? And not surprisingly they weren't very good during most of those years. But since 2002, they've had nine different guys make a total of 20 Pro Bowl teams. In fact, they’ve had at least one guy make the Pro Bowl at each position in just the last four seasons — Jason Peters at left tackle, Evan Mathis at left guard, Kelce at center, Brooks at right guard and Johnson at right tackle. The others since 2002 are Jermane Mayberry, Shawn Andrews, Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas. Interesting that Andy Reid brought in seven of those nine. One thing Big Red could do was find offensive linemen.

8. My top five Minneapolis bands: 1. The Replacements, 2. Hüsker Dü, 3. The Beatifics, 4. Soul Asylum, 5. Hippo Campus.

9. I find it fascinating that the Mall of America sits on the site of the old Metropolitan Stadium, where the Vikings played from 1959 through 1981, when they moved into the Metrodome. The first game ever played at Metropolitan Stadium? Buck Shaw's Eagles beat Pop Ivy's Vikings, 28-24, on Oct. 25, 1959. Billy Ray Barnes rushed for 111 yards, Tommy McDonald had three catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns, Norm Van Brocklin threw for 254 yards and the Eagles picked off the Vikings four times. And the next year the Eagles won their last NFL championship and now 58 years later all the interviews for Super Bowl LII are on the exact same site as that game! Omg it's an omen!!!!!

10. Mind-boggling Nick Foles Stat of the Day: Over the last six postseasons, Foles has recorded more games with 76.5 percent accuracy and no interceptions (minimum of 20 attempts) than every other quarterback combined. Foles has done it in each of the last two games. The only other quarterback with a single performance with 76.5 percent completion and no INTs is Russell Wilson last year against the Lions.

6 ways for Eagles to create cap space

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USA Today Images

6 ways for Eagles to create cap space

The Eagles are coming off a thrilling season but there's a lot of work to be done. 

The NFL's new league year begins on March 14 and the Eagles must be under the salary cap by then. The problem is that based on projections, the Eagles are set to be more than $9 million over the cap, according to OverTheCap. So it's time for some maneuvering. 

The good news is that Howie Roseman's specialty has always been finding unique ways to get the Eagles out of cap trouble. There are ways for him to do it again.

Cut Torrey Smith 
Probably the easiest one. Smith was a great teammate and a solid addition to the Eagles' locker room, and he really stepped up his game in the playoffs, but it's probably not enough to bring him back. He just wasn't good enough last season, and cutting him would save the Eagles $5 million in cap room with no dead money. The Birds still have Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, while Mack Hollins is entering Year 2. 

Cut Brent Celek
This one will hurt, but Celek can take away the sting if he decides to walk away as a champion. He's set to have a cap number of $5 million. That's just way too much for what Celek provides these days. By cutting him, the Eagles would save $4 million in cap space. So just between Smith and Celek, the Eagles will almost get back to zero ... but there's other work to do. They'll still need money to sign free agents and draft picks. 

Extend Brandon Graham 
Graham is entering the final year of his contract with a cap number of $8 million. He wants a new contract and deserves one. Good news: An extension would work for both sides. Graham would get more money long-term and the Eagles could get his cap number down this season. 

Re-work/cut Vinny Curry
Curry is coming off of probably his best season in the NFL but will have an $11 million cap number. That's tough to swallow, especially with Derek Barnett waiting for his chance to start. It seems likely the Eagles will ask Curry to take a pay cut or re-work his deal. If not, cutting him would leave $6 million in dead money but would also save $5 million in cap room. 

Trade Mychal Kendricks
If you remember, Kendricks actually wanted a trade last offseason. Good thing that didn't happen. Kendricks ended up being a big part of the Eagles' success in 2017. Depending on what happens with Nigel Bradham in free agency and with Jordan Hicks' Achilles recovery, trading Kendricks might again be an option. A trade would save $4.4 million in cap space. 

Trade Nick Foles 
This is such a tough one -- we explore it more herehttp://www.nbcsports.com/philadelphia/eagles/stay-or-go-super-bowl-mvp-nick-foles. But basically, Foles is a pretty amazing insurance policy until we know when Carson Wentz is going to be ready. If the Eagles do trade Foles, it would save them $5.2 million that they could certainly use. The problem is that by the time they know Wentz's status, free agency will be long gone and that cap space won't help this year. But it could help in 2019.

Stay or Go — Will both Grahams return?

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USA Today Images

Stay or Go — Will both Grahams return?

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Nathan Gerry
Roob
: Gerry, a fifth-round pick last year, seems to be a decent late-round linebacker prospect. He was a core special teamer — his 180 snaps were sixth-most on the team — on a roster where the linebackers are generally older guys (with the exception of oft-injured Jordan Hicks). A roster spot will be there for the taking if Gerry has a good training camp, especially with Trey Burton likely to leave and Corey Clement’s role on offense expected to grow.

Verdict: STAYS — as a special teamer

Dave: As a rookie, Gerry switched from safety to linebacker but didn't get a chance to play much on defense. He did find a role on special teams. He played in 10 regular-season games and every postseason game, including Super Bowl LII.

Verdict: STAYS

Shelton Gibson
Roob
: Gibson, a fifth-round pick last year, got only 17 snaps on offense and caught just two passes for 11 yards. He’ll be invited back to camp, but for once, the Eagles have depth at wide receiver, and young guys like Mack Hollins and Johnson are well ahead of Gibson in the Eagles' eyes. Even if Torrey Smith doesn't return, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery and Hollins have spots locked up. Gibson's lack of special teams value will play a role.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: After a mostly terrible training camp, Gibson was inactive for the first 10 games of the 2017 season before playing a small role on special teams down the stretch. He still hasn't shown his potential as a fifth-round speed receiver, but he'll get another chance. 

Verdict: STAYS

Najee Goode
Roob
: Goode was one of those underrated players that every Super Bowl team seems to have but nobody talks about. He's a terrific special teamer — he was third behind Kamu Grugier-Hill and Burton with 294 special teams snaps — got 200 snaps at linebacker and held his own defensively. Goode is a free agent, and you can probably keep him at minimum wage.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Since 2013, Goode has appeared in 61 Eagles games. Not the best linebacker but a solid special teamer. Goode was on a one-year deal in 2017 so he's an unrestricted free agent-to-be. At 28, he isn't a viable option on defense, but I never thought he'd be here this long. 

Verdict: STAYS

Brandon Graham
Roob
: Graham has another year left on his deal. He’s now one of the NFL's top outside pass rushers with a career-high 9½ sacks this year and his first Pro Bowl honors. But he turns 30 this spring, and Derek Barnett is under contract with modest cap figures through 2020. The team can't afford to keep both Graham and Vinny Curry. Graham is obviously the superior player, but how difficult will it be for the Eagles to keep him? I expect he’ll look for a long-term deal in the $12-13 million per year range. He'll get it. I'm just not sure where.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: The Eagles didn't give Graham a new contract last offseason but they added some incentives to the last two years of his deal. As their most disruptive pass rusher, his strip-sack on Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII was the biggest play of the game. The Eagles have to decide if they're going to break the bank but for now, he'll be a huge part of the 2018 season. 

Verdict: STAYS

Corey Graham
Roob
: Corey Graham is another one of those one-year contract veterans who made a big impact this season both on defense and special teams. He’ll turn 33 before camp opens but is in tremendous shape. He's played in 171 of a possible 176 games in his 11-year career and shows no sign of dropping off. Graham is also a terrific natural leader who was extremely vocal during the Super Bowl run. The Eagles don't really have any young safeties knocking on the door, so as long as Graham is willing to accept another cap-friendly contract, I don't see a reason not to re-sign him.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Signing Graham was one of the best moves Howie Roseman pulled off last summer. Having a quality third safety freed up Malcolm Jenkins to slide into the slot when needed and allowed the Eagles to use a smaller lineup in their dime package. Graham is a free agent and the Eagles might try to go younger, but they should think about bringing him back.

Verdict: STAYS