Eagles Stay or Go — Vocal leader and key special teamers

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Eagles Stay or Go — Vocal leader and key special teamers

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

Chris Long
 It didn't take long for Long to make an impact on his new team, both on the field and off. Long was a vocal leader and impact-making third defensive end for the Super Bowl champs, not to mention very active along with close friend Malcolm Jenkins in various social causes in the community and also back in Charlottesville, Va. Long is under contract for one more year with a relatively modest $2.35 million cap hit. Great guy to have around.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It turns out Long was right. The Eagles' 4-3 defense did suit him pretty well. At 32 years old, Long played 48 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps, had five sacks and four forced fumbles. Four forced fumbles! That's the most FF any Eagle has had since Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham both did it in 2014. Long really seemed to fit the team and the city. It was a good signing. He does have a cap number over $2.3 million this upcoming season, so there might be a decision to make. But he still has value. 

Verdict: STAYS

Rick Lovato 
Roob: Lovato quietly had a very steady year as the Eagles' first long snapper not named Jon Dorenbos since Mike Bartrum. The 25-year-old Central Jersey native had brief stints with the Bears, Packers and Redskins before replacing an injured Dorenbos briefly in 2016. Lovato and Dorenbos both got Super Bowl rings this year, which must not happen too often. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: One of the big upsets of last summer was Lovato's beating out Dorenbos for the long snapper job. Everyone thought Dorenbos was going to come back from his wrist injury and coast, but Lovato beat him out before the Eagles decided to try to move Dorenbos to the Saints. Lovato had a fine season. He's not going back to his family's sandwich shop yet. 

Verdict: STAYS

Chris Maragos
Kind of a tricky one. You know the Eagles like to stay young on special teams, and Maragos, now 31, is really a player without a position, although he can play safety in an emergency. If Maragos is healthy coming off the season-ending knee injury he suffered against the Panthers, he'll get a shot in camp. But the Eagles could save $1.5 million under the cap by releasing him. It would be tough to see him go, but my guess is the Eagles will get younger and cheaper and try to develop a young backup safety who can also play on special teams.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Maragos is coming off a serious injury, but would the Eagles consider cutting him once he's healthy? Well, you could make that case. Maragos has a cap number of $2 million this season and the team could save $1.5 in cap room by cutting him. It might be a decent idea, but they're not going to cut him until he's healthy and by that point, Howie Roseman will have already worked his magic to get the Eagles under the cap. And Maragos is a big part of the team. It meant so much to him to be named one of the captains last year and he still made his presence felt even after he couldn't play. He has at least one year left in Philly. 

Verdict: STAYS 

Michael Bennett knows why Eagles can repeat as Super Bowl champions

Michael Bennett knows why Eagles can repeat as Super Bowl champions

Michael Bennett was with the Seahawks when they won the Super Bowl in 2013, and he was with the Seahawks the next three years when they were supposed to but never did again.

He knows how hard it is to win it twice. If the Seahawks, with Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Marshawn Lynch and company, couldn’t do it, who can?

Bennett thinks his new team is on the right track.

“They’re not complacent,” he said. “You look at most organizations. They win, they think that’s it, that year. But this team is pushing and moving pieces and finding our weaknesses and making them better, and I think that’s how you prepare to win [again]. 

“I think they’ve done a great job of it and me being an addition is something that I think is a great move.”

The Eagles, who won Super Bowl LII six weeks ago, acquired the 32-year-old Bennett, a Pro Bowl defensive end in each of the last three years, and a seventh-round pick from the Seahawks last week in exchange for receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round pick.

Bennett was there in 2014, when the Seahawks went 12-4 and earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff bracket before losing, 28-24, to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona.

The Seahawks were one yard from winning. But that final sequence shows just how hard it is to repeat. The last NFL team to win back-to-back Super Bowls was the Patriots in 2003 and 2004. The last NFC team was the Cowboys in 1992 and 1993.

“When you come to the NFL, you want to hold that Lombardi,” Bennett said. “A lot of people can get Pro Bowls, a lot of people can get a lot of different things in the NFL when it comes to contracts, but not a lot of people can hold that Lombardi, and when you hold it, it’s something that’s very dear. 

“It’s like you’re holding your child and being able to caress it and hold it and it’s yours and it’s something that you really value, and I think for me, that’s what it’s really about. 

“To come into an organization and you look around and everybody wants that. First thing I talked to Howie (Roseman) about was, the first thing he said is, 'I want to go back,' and when you hear somebody say something like that, you feel it, and I felt it through the phone and I felt the vibe, so for me, that’s what it’s really about.”

Bennett was asked what he learned from Seattle’s failure to repeat its 2013 success and how that might help the Eagles find their way to a second consecutive championship.

“I kind of go with the Nelson Mandela approach: ‘You never really lose, you either win or you grow from situations,’" Bennett said.

“And I think we were just growing as a team. We were a young team, we were having so much success, I was on a team full of superstars every single day. There were never enough cameras, every commercial was somebody on my team. So it was just us growing and I think we all just wanted to continue to grow. 

“As you know, in this league, it’s hard to get back to those moments and be able to win those games. Things happen, people get traded, new players come in, things change. I don’t think it took a toll on us, we just move on season to season and try to be the best players we could possibly be.”

Michael Bennett thinks Eagles' DL can be among 'greatest' ever

Michael Bennett thinks Eagles' DL can be among 'greatest' ever

As Michael Bennett watched the Eagles face the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, he couldn’t help but think about how he would fit with the Birds’ defensive line.

And how he could make an already impressive unit even better.

“Then a month later, it happens,” Bennett said at his introductory press conference in Philly on Monday afternoon. “Things always happen for a reason. This is just another great opportunity.”

Bennett is 32 now, but is coming off his third consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl. He clearly thinks he has plenty left in the tank and the Eagles obviously agree. They traded with the Seahawks to get him and then released a more expensive Vinny Curry.

The Birds then brought in Haloti Ngata and let Beau Allen walk in free agency. So the Eagles’ defensive line now includes Bennett, Ngata, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Brandon Graham, Chris Long and Derek Barnett. The group includes five former first-round picks and has a combined 11 Pro Bowls between them.

On Monday afternoon, Bennett put the quarterbacks of the NFC East on notice (see story) and then didn’t mince words about how great this defensive line can be in 2018.

“I think it can be one of the greatest,” he said. “I think we can have one of the greatest defensive lines to ever play the game if we approach the game every single way. Just go out there and just keep doing what they’re doing and just finding a way to add and just keep showing how many great players.

“I think a great defensive line is about the rotation. It’s kind of like Golden State. You want to be able to have those guys who can come in and shoot and shoot and score every time.”

This isn’t the first time an Eagles defensive lineman has compared the unit to the Golden State Warriors. In fact, it was Curry who said it last October after the Eagles tortured San Francisco's C.J. Beathard for an afternoon at the Linc (see story). Curry’s out and Bennett is in, but the rotation is still going strong.

Bennett played 934 defensive snaps for the Seahawks in 2017. That was the third most of any defensive lineman in the NFL. For comparison’s sake, Graham led the Eagles’ defensive linemen in snaps with 666 in the regular season; that ranked 43rd in the NFL among defensive linemen.

So maybe that means that the disruptive numbers Bennett put up in Seattle were because he played so much. Or, on the flip side, staying fresh might actually help increase his productivity and lead to more longevity. The Eagles are hoping for the latter.

“I’m comfortable with taking less plays, man,” Bennett said. “But, like I said, I came here to be an All-Star, just like I’ve been, to continuously play at a Pro Bowl level and I don’t think that’s no different. Just taking snaps off, being able to have a [longer] career, it’s something that every player wishes and dreams about. And this organization, when you think about play snaps and counts and keeping guys fresh for the moments that count.

“Because at the end of the day, it’s not about September or October or November; it’s about January and February. To be able to keep guys fresh and to have those opportunities where you have guys to be able to keep rushing the quarterback as savage as we can. You gotta go out there and play savage every single play and I think less snaps can give me the opportunity to do that.”