Eagles Stay or Go — Young CBs and a new return man?

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Eagles Stay or Go — Young CBs and a new return man?

As we continue our offseason series examining the future of the world champion Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro try to figure out who will be on the roster in 2018. 

We go alphabetically — Part 1 was Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett, Part 2 was De'Vante Bausby to Brandon Brooks, Part 3 was Billy Brown to Vinny Curry. Today is Ronald Darby to Zach Ertz. 

Ronald Darby
Roob: I’m still not completely sold on Darby. He made some big plays but also needs to be more consistent. That’s probably true of every young cornerback, and Darby certainly has all the tools to be a very good corner in the NFL. He just turned 24, he’s got world-class speed and when he gets his hands on the ball he’s always a threat to go the distance. The Eagles have a whole stable of young corners, and he’s in a similar position to Jay Ajayi in that he has one year left on his rookie four-year deal with another team, an AFC East team — in this case the Bills — and 2018 will give the Eagles a long look at him with a full training camp and season in an Eagles uniform. Darby will definitely be here in 2018. Beyond that, we’ll see.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: When you think about Darby's road to becoming a Super Bowl champion last season, it's pretty crazy. He gets traded to the Eagles during training camp, has to catch up and learn the defense and then dislocates his ankle in Week 1. He eventually came back as the Eagles' starter and never looked back. He's still just 24 and is really talented. Darby is about to enter the final year of his rookie contract, so the Eagles are going to have a decision to make about him soon enough. But for now, this is a no-brainer. 

Verdict: STAYS

Rashard Davis
Roob: Davis came and went on the practice squad throughout the year, but he was along for the Super Bowl ride in Minneapolis as a practice squad receiver, so the Eagles must like him. Davis had a decorated career at James Madison, where he was a record-setting punt returner, and that’s something the Eagles could be looking for depending what happens with Darren Sproles. Davis remains a long-shot, but he is an interesting guy. Stranger things have happened. Especially around here lately. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Davis didn't even spend all year on the Eagles' practice squad in 2017, but the team did bring him back and he'll be with them this spring. An undrafted receiver out of James Madison University, there's not a ton of people who even know about him. His best chance to make the Eagles' roster is as a returner, especially if Kenjon Barner isn't back. Not completely out of the question, but he has a steep uphill climb. 

Verdict: GOES

Rasul Douglas
Roob: I really like Douglas. What he lacks in pure speed he makes up for with intelligence and preparation. He’s a physical corner, likes to support the run, a sure tackler. He started five games while Ronald Darby was out and played surprisingly well for a rookie third-round pick, even picking up two interceptions in the first month of his pro career, both in key situations in close games. Whether or not he eventually moves into the slot or even safety remains to be seen, but I expect Douglas to be around here for quite a while. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Douglas had a pretty weird year. He was a third-round pick and would have had the opportunity to win a starting job but struggled some early during training camp. If he didn't, the team might not have made the move to trade for Darby. But when Darby went down, Douglas became a starter and played really well, finishing with two interceptions. He's not the fastest guy, but his length and ballhawk skills make up for it. With Darby and Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones all in the mix, how does Douglas fit in? That's not clear yet, but he'll be back for his second year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dannell Ellerbe
Roob: Ellerbe gave the Eagles functional linebacker play after joining the Eagles late in the season to provide defensive depth in place of Jordan Hicks. He was solid against the run and provided veteran leadership during the postseason run. He essentially did exactly what the Eagles brought him in to do. But Ellerbe is 32 and has nine years under his belt, and the Eagles will no doubt go younger at linebacker moving forward. Whatever happens, Ellerbe now has two Super Bowl rings — one with the Ravens and one with the Eagles. Not a bad career!

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles were looking for a veteran to play on base downs, so they went out and got Ellerbe from the street in November. The 32-year-old eventually became a starter, but never played much. He then missed the NFC Championship Game with an injury and played just a few snaps in the Super Bowl. The Eagles need to upgrade and get younger at linebacker. Ellerbe shouldn't be back. 

Verdict: GOES

Jake Elliott
Roob: Yeah, he missed too many PATs, but the positives sure outweigh the negatives with Elliott. If Elliott didn’t prove his worth with the 61-yard game-winner against the Giants, he sure did with fourth-quarter field goals of 42 and 46 yards in the Super Bowl. Those are incredibly tough pressure kicks with the whole world watching, and Elliott crushed them. Caleb Sturgis is a very good kicker. Elliott is a potentially great one.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: This time last year, Elliott was still at Memphis getting ready for the draft. A lot has happened since then. He went in the fifth round to the Bengals, but he lost the competition in Cincinnati, was placed on their practice squad, and stayed there until Sturgis got hurt in the first week of the season. Elliott came to the Eagles and in his second game, he became a hero when he made a 61-yard, game-winner against the Giants. The crazy thing about it is, if Elliott missed the 46-yarder just before the game-winner, he would have been 2-for-5 and in jeopardy of getting cut. But that didn't happen and now it's his job for good. 

Verdict: STAYS

Zach Ertz
Roob: Ertz has established himself as a top-three tight end in this league, behind Gronk and probably a little behind Travis Kelce, although it’s close. As good as Ertz was during the regular season, earning his first Pro Bowl honor, he was massive in the postseason, with 8-for-93 against the Vikings and 7-for-67 with two huge catches in the Super Bowl — the two-yard gain on a fourth-quarter 4th-and-1 with the Eagles trailing by one at their own 45 and his go-ahead touchdown a few moments later. Ertz has the sixth-most catches by any tight end in NFL history after five seasons and the 10th-most yards. He’s already the greatest tight end in Eagles history, and he just turned 27. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There's no question about it. Ertz has grown into one of the best and most complete tight ends in the NFL. He's one of the best weapons on the team and he's going to have a chance to continue to grow his already-impressive chemistry with Carson Wentz. 

Verdict: STAYS

Roob's 10 late-March Eagles observations

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Roob's 10 late-March Eagles observations

Some random late-March thoughts on Michael Bennett, Cris Carter, Mike Wallace, Billy Brown and (of course) Nick Foles in this weekend’s 10 Random Eagles Observations!

1. I have no idea what Michael Bennett did or didn’t do on Super Bowl Sunday at NRG Stadium last February, but I do know this is a precarious situation for the Eagles. Team chemistry was the Eagles’ biggest strength last year, and that’s not easy to duplicate when the roster changes. What Bennett is accused of is truly terrible. But it’s a weird story. How is there no video of an incident that occurred at a Super Bowl? Aren’t there cameras everywhere? And why didn’t the cop who allegedly witnessed the incident arrest Bennett once he was assured the alleged victim was OK? Bennett didn’t go anywhere. The 14-month gap between incident and charges is odd. And how could the Eagles not know about the investigation? The bigger question is exactly what kind of person are the Eagles getting in Bennett, and is he someone they want in the locker room for the next year. Maybe the answer is yes. Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas seem to have a pretty good feel for this stuff. But this is definitely a major distraction and just about the last thing the Eagles need to deal with right now.

2. If the Eagles don’t sign a veteran tight end, keep an eye on Billy Brown, who had an impressive training camp last summer and spent the season on the practice squad. He’s 6-foot-4, 260 pounds with great hands. Yeah, he was an undrafted rookie. But remember, that’s how Trey Burton started out.

3. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you Mike Wallace isn’t a significant upgrade over Torrey Smith. Wallace last year had 16 more catches (52 to 36), 318 more yards (748 to 430), twice as many TDs (4 to 2) and a much higher yards-per-catch average (14.4 to 11.9). Over the last two years, the difference is more dramatic (124 for 1,765 to 56 for 697) with inferior QBs. And Wallace is cheaper. With Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Wallace, the Eagles are loaded at wideout.

4. I heard Cris Carter ripping Nick Foles the other day, saying he’s not an NFL-caliber starter and only had a handful of good games last year. He also only played a handful of games. And one of them was the Super Bowl, if I remember correctly? Foles may never get credit outside Philly for what he accomplished last year, but at this point, it doesn't matter. The Lombardi Trophy lives at the NovaCare Complex now.

5. Speaking of Foles, in the 2017 postseason on third down, he was 26 for 32 for 398 yards and four TDs and a 158.1 passer rating.

6. Read that again. Foles threw six incomplete passes on third down during the entire 2017 postseason.

7. The Eagles converted 71 and 62 percent of their third downs in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, respectively. They had only converted 62 percent of their third downs in consecutive games twice previously since 1991.

8. The conversations about whether the Eagles are better or worse than last year are silly, considering we're six months from opening day. The Eagles last year added Chris Long, Patrick Robinson, Tim Jernigan, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Graham and Ronald Darby later in the offseason than it is now. And Jay Ajayi during the season. The roster is a long way from being a finished product.

9. I’ve got Derek Barnett with 12 sacks next year. Interesting that from Week 6 on, Barnett had only one fewer sack than Brandon Graham (6 1/2 to 5 1/2). You could just see him getting better and better each week. Can’t wait to see the 2018 version of Derek Barnett.

10. And finally, we need to keep throwing out Carson Wentz stats so nobody forgets just how freaking talented he is: Wentz had 10 games last year with two or more touchdowns and one or fewer interceptions. Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have ever had more through 13 games: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo. Pretty good company. Except for Romo.

Thank Carson Wentz (and 1 other thing) for landing Mike Wallace

Thank Carson Wentz (and 1 other thing) for landing Mike Wallace

During the 2016 season, Mike Wallace thought his Baltimore Ravens were going to steamroll the Eagles, who had a first-year head coach and first-year quarterback. 

He was wrong. 

Sure, the Ravens were able to sneak away with a 27-26 win back on Dec. 18, 2016, but Wallace watched up close as the gutsy Carson Wentz had the Eagles one two-point conversion at the end of the game away from walking out of Baltimore with a win. 

A year and a half later, when Wallace was testing free agency, the veteran receiver thought back to that game and thought to himself, “I want to play with that guy.” 

So how responsible is Wentz for Wallace’s landing in Philly? 

“Ninety-nine percent. Ninety-nine,” Wallace said at his introductory press conference Friday afternoon after signing a one-year contract. “The other percent was the rest of the team. I’m impressed by the way he plays football, the way he moves in the pocket, the way he throws the football and his competitiveness. You can see it.”

Wallace, 31, continued to watch Wentz during the 2017 season, when the second-year quarterback was seemingly on his way to an MVP award before a serious knee injury landed him on injured reserve.  

Having been through changing teams before, Wallace said the most difficult part for him is learning the new quarterback. He hopes this process won’t take exceedingly long, but he and Wentz might be at a disadvantage. Wentz is still recovering from a torn ACL and LCL and might not be ready until the season opener, if that. 

“You can just work on that watching film and things like that, but until he gets out there, there’s no real way to simulate it,” Wallace said. “I think he’s a great young quarterback who’s fired up. Whatever extra reps we need to try to get up to speed, I’m all for it.”

Wentz is, of course, a part of the big reason Wallace decided to join the Eagles. Wallace has played nine seasons in the NFL with four different teams. He’s made money, but he hasn’t been able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. That’s what he wants. 

On Friday, Wallace said he turned down more money to join the Eagles. 

“I had options but I just wanted the best chance,” Wallace said. “I feel like this is my best opportunity to make a run. This is my 10th year. Can’t play this game forever. You don’t want to come out feeling empty. I want to get a ring.”

Wallace had been a free agent twice before this offseason and he admitted, that when he was younger, free agency was about money. He signed a five-year, $60 million deal in 2013 to join the Dolphins. 

But now, Wallace said, his family is secure. He’s made a lot of money in the NFL to make sure those close to him are well off. Now, he’s allowing himself to make a decision that benefits him. 

“I didn’t try to come into this game to leave empty-handed,” he said. “I had to secure the bag and I did that. Now it’s time to secure a ring.”