Fading expectations easier for Eagles fans

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Fading expectations easier for Eagles fans

Carson Wentz's torn ACL has, for many observers, ended the Eagles' Super Bowl chances. That injury coupled with shaky performances from Nick Foles has many fans resigned to another January failure.

It doesn't take an expert to explain the logic there. But allow me to find a potential positive out of the Wentz injury: The Eagles are no longer the favorite to go to the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia struggles with the emotional toll of being a favorite. Having lived in this area my entire life, I can't entirely explain this phenomenon but I know it's an absolute fact.

Back in 2011, as the 102-win Phillies tore through the National League en route to a fifth straight divisional title, I remember wondering how the fan base was going to handle postseason games with the win-or-else expectations that had been placed on that season. 

After the Game 4 loss to the Cardinals in the NLDS, I remember my colleague Marshall Harris discussing the value of Game 5 being played at Citizens Bank Park. I countered that the Phillies would be better served to play that game at any other stadium on the face of the Earth. Fingernails were the primary dish on the menu that evening. The Cardinals scored two batters into the game and the ballpark that had been a carnival for the previous five years transformed into a morgue. Who knows how a fan base frozen in the fear of a dynasty derailed affected the final score but it sure felt like it played a role.

So what does that have to do with the Eagles in 2018? Now the Birds find themselves in the rare position of being the top seed and potentially having two home games to get to the Super Bowl while wearing the moniker of underdog. (Cue the Rocky statue shots on the national broadcast.)

With that in mind, Eagles fans should be able to put aside any nervousness concerning the playoff games. Wentz's injury and youth take the sting out of any defeat at this point. 

There should be many more chances ahead with the kid from North Dakota playing quarterback. (Save the Dan Marino-related pessimism for another time.) 

It's now time for Philly fans to be what they always claim to be. If you're going to the game, throw yourself behind the team completely. Be loud. Disrupt the opponent. If things go poorly, get louder. Keep cheering. Provide home-field advantage.

Wentz's injury makes the risk minimal. The reward, however, could be super. 

As a wise man once said, we're from Philadelphia and we fight.

LeGarrette Blount has found a new home

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LeGarrette Blount has found a new home

A big piece of the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl season is moving on. 

Running LeGarrette Blount has signed with the Detroit Lions. Blount's deal will be for one-year, $4.5 million, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

Blount, 31, was scheduled to visit the Lions on Friday and he didn’t leave without a new deal. He’ll reunite with Lions head coach Matt Patricia, who was the defensive coordinator in New England when Blount was there; the familiarity probably helped. 

Last offseason, Blount took his time deciding where he’d land. He didn’t sign with the Eagles until May and his contract was worth around $1 million. He apparently showed enough during 2017 to get a bigger deal this time around. 

After beginning the season as the Eagles’ primary runner, he eventually saw his role diminish after the Birds added Jay Ajayi through a trade. Still, Blount played in all 16 games and rushed for 766 yards during the regular season. More importantly, he had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LII. Blount had a rushing touchdown in all three playoff games after having just two during the regular season. 

Perhaps more important than his contributions on the field, it was Blount’s unselfish nature that seemed to rub off on his teammates. When he and Alshon Jeffery were on board with that unselfish mindset, it seemed like the rest of the team followed. 

As recently as late February, Blount indicated he wanted to return to Philadelphia, where he really seemed to fit in the locker room and under running backs coach Duce Staley, whom Blount clearly respects. 

"Obviously I like it a lot there,” Blount said in February on NFL Network. “They like me a lot there. It's a mutual respect and a mutual agreement thing about how we feel about each other. Obviously, you guys know how I feel about the team, the guys; I love those guys.”

While Blount said he wanted to return to Philly, it was unlikely the Eagles could have (or would have) offered him the type of contract he’s getting from the Lions. 

Meanwhile, the Eagles still have Ajayi and Corey Clement under contract from last season. Kenjon Barner is a free agent. The running back position still seems up in the air, but the Eagles have a few months and a draft to figure it out. 

Looking back at trio of Eagles' 2016 extensions

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Looking back at trio of Eagles' 2016 extensions

Back in early 2016, just after Howie Roseman had been reinstated to his post of power, he pulled out some moves from the classic Joe Banner playbook. 

He tried to find value in projection. 

Within a nine-day span in early 2016, the Eagles signed Vinny Curry, Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson to lucrative five-year extensions. Since then, Ertz and Johnson have grown into Pro Bowl players, rendering their contracts relative bargains. 

Curry simply remained a good player, which is why he was cut on Friday afternoon

While Curry finally became a starter in 2017, he had just three sacks and the team drafted Derek Barnett and traded for Michael Bennett who was cheaper and better. It’s certainly not really a knock on Curry, who had his best professional season during the Eagles’ Super Bowl year. 

When Curry signed his five-year, $47.25 million extension in February 2016, he was just two years removed from his nine-sack season and was seen as a much better fit in the 4-3 scheme Jim Schwartz was bringing to town. So the Eagles paid Curry like he was going to play at a Pro Bowl level and it never happened. In that first year, the Eagles tried to peg him in as a starter opposite of Connor Barwin, but Brandon Graham outplayed him. After Barwin was gone, Curry became a starter, but was just good; not great. 

Meanwhile, the two other big contracts handed to Ertz and Johnson have clearly worked out. Cutting Curry really speaks more to the nature of NFL contracts these days than it does to the level of his play. 

Sure, Curry never played to the level of his contract, but the deals for Ertz and Johnson look much better. And unlike Curry, both of them had one year left on their rookie deals when the Eagles tried to gain value in re-signing them early. It’s worked out. 

Ertz was the first of the three to sign his five-year extension. His was worth $42.5 million and as a Pro Bowler in 2017, he’s beginning to outplay it. He’s now the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league and he’ll continue to drop on that list as he plays out the next four years of that deal. The best part of Ertz’s contract is it wasn’t heavily backloaded, which has allowed the Eagles to restructure with him the last two offseasons to create some cap room. 

The second of the three big five-year extensions based on projections went to Lane Johnson. His deal was worth $56.25 million. Of course, Johnson’s suspension in 2016 was tough, but he rebounded to have an incredible 2017. He’s the highest-paid right tackle in football, but he’s 10th among all offensive tackles, which is a good value. 

Twenty days after Curry signed his deal, Malcolm Jenkins also got a five-year deal, but at that point he had already been a Pro Bowler, so his deal was more based off of production than projection. 

During that entire offseason, every single time Roseman was asked about the moves he made that offseason, he continually said the most important ones were the moves they made to keep their own players. That obviously included the projection deals for Curry, Johnson and Ertz. 

Sure, only two of the three ended up being bargains with tenable contracts. But even Curry was useful during the two years he played of his extension before the Eagles took the out they built into the deal. That’s not a bad hit rate.