Eagles

No team has built a CB group quite like Eagles

No team has built a CB group quite like Eagles

For generations, the Eagles couldn't find one promising young cornerback. Now they have a whole stable of them.

And in the NFL, young means cheap.

The Eagles were able to allow 30-year-old Patrick Robinson to leave via free agency after an extraordinary season for five reasons: Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Ronald Darby and Daryl Worley.

To win consistently in the NFL, teams have to draft well because having a significant number of talented players on bargain-basement rookie contracts is the only realistic way for a contending team to stay under the salary cap.

The younger players essentially subsidize the high-priced stars.

And the Eagles' five young corners — Jones is 21, Douglas is 22, Worley and Mills are 23 and Darby just turned 24 — are all talented but most importantly, they're all still on their rookie contracts.

Jones, Douglas, Worley, Mills and Darby have a combined 2018 salary cap figure of $4,529,400.

Or less than Robinson's $5 million signing bonus with the Saints.

The Eagles drafted Jones and Douglas in the second and third rounds last year and Mills in the seventh round in 2016. Darby, who came to the Eagles last summer in the Jordan Matthews deal, was the Bills' second-round pick in 2015, and Worley, who the Eagles acquired last week from the Panthers in the Torrey Smith deal, was Carolina's third-round pick in 2016.

Here are the 2018 cap figures for the Eagles' five young corners:

$1,395,475 — Sidney Jones
$1,058,139 — Ronald Darby
$   756,572 — Rasul Douglas
$   670,000 — Daryl Worley
$   649,214 — Jalen Mills

Jones is the Eagles' highest-paid corner but only their 28th highest-paid player.

Darby's deal is up after this year. The Eagles have Mills and Worley under contract through 2019 and Jones and Douglas through 2020.

So they can stay cheap at corner for years.

According to Overthecap.com, the Eagles have the sixth-highest defensive payroll in the NFL but the third-lowest cornerback payroll, ahead of only the Packers and Colts.

The Eagles are devoting just 3.03 percent of their adjusted $177,714,409 salary cap to cornerbacks, per Spotrac.

Only the Colts (2.96 percent) are devoting a lower percentage of their 2018 cap to cornerbacks.

So the Eagles basically have young, cheap cornerbacks to offset the massive contracts they gave players like Fletcher Cox, Malcolm Jenkins, Brandon Brooks, and Zach Ertz.

The Eagles actually have 11 players under contract who, by themselves, have a higher 2018 cap figure than all the Eagles' cornerbacks combined.

None of this works if the young corners can't play. But Mills had a breakthrough season for the Super Bowl champs, Darby proved to be a speedy playmaker (although a bit inconsistent) when healthy, Douglas was solid while Darby was hurt and Jones could be the best of all.

Worley is the new guy and said Monday he can play anywhere — inside, outside, safety — and that's the key. All these corners are versatile, which gives Jim Schwartz (and Howie Roseman) a lot of flexibility.

How will they all line up next year? Too early to say, but it's easy to envision a scenario where Darby and Jones are outside, Mills is in the slot, Worley is the backup to all three spots and Douglas converts to safety, where the Eagles have little depth.

Or the Eagles could dangle Darby — whose contract is up after 2018 — and try to recoup a missing third-round pick.

And get even younger and cheaper.

Zach Ertz missing Brent Celek as he takes his leadership role

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Zach Ertz missing Brent Celek as he takes his leadership role

There was a noticeable difference in the NovaCare Complex when Zach Ertz arrived on Monday for the first day of the Eagles’ offseason workout program. 

No Brent Celek. 

Celek, the 11-year pro, was cut earlier this offseason after a tremendous career with the Eagles. For the first time in Ertz’s six-year career, Celek won’t be around. 

And weirdly, Ertz will now assume Celek’s old role as the veteran leader in the Eagles’ tight end room. 

“It’s tough, obviously,” Ertz said on Tuesday. “He was the guy that when they brought me in, he was the guy, the veteran tight end in Philadelphia. He was the guy everyone knew about. And he didn’t treat me as a guy who was a competitor to him; he treated me as the guy who could help him further his career, where he didn’t have to take every snap. So it’s tough. That guy has been with me from the beginning, pretty much taught me how to be a pro in Philadelphia. 

“Even a couple years back, when the playing time began to increase in my way, he let me kind of take on a leadership role. He wasn’t overbearing by any means. He kind of let me lead in my own way. Even though he was the leader of the room, per se, he let me lead and slowly earn more of a leadership role in our room. He kind of set me up for this moment. I owe a lot of my success to Brent, the way he was a dominant blocking tight end, I was able to learn from that for a lot of years. I’m extremely thankful for him.”

While Ertz learned how to be a pro from Celek, he always tried to become a top-notch tight end like the Cowboys’ Jason Witten. He’s long admired his game. While some would argue Ertz finally had a breakout season in 2017, his last three years have been elite. Since 2015, he has 227 catches for 2,493 yards and 14 touchdowns. The only other TEs to put up those numbers or better over that span are Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker. And in 2017, Ertz did something Celek never did: he made a Pro Bowl. 

Celek was released and Trey Burton signed a lucrative deal to become the top tight end in Chicago, so Ertz is the only player left from last year’s tight end room. The Eagles brought in Richard Rodgers as a free agent and have a few younger prospects already on the expanded roster, but the Eagles’ brass has commented about how good of a tight end draft this is, so it would make sense if they add one later this month. 

If the Eagles do draft a tight end, the 27-year-old Ertz is going to try to be a strong veteran presence for the young player … kind of like what Celek was for him. 

“I told the guys the other day, I’m here to help however I can, whether that be talking football or just allowing them to watch how I approach things,” Ertz said. “I kind of was able to learn from Brent how to treat young tight ends coming in, young players coming in, so that’s one of the things that he kind of told me as he was leaving: that I kind of set the blueprint for your success. He didn’t say that verbally, but that’s how I took it. I want to repeat that for whoever comes in.”

Celek is gone, but through Ertz, his impact is still going to be felt in the NovaCare Complex for years to come. 

Jordan Hicks trying to shed his injury-prone label

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Jordan Hicks trying to shed his injury-prone label

Jordan Hicks missed all but four games of the 2012 season at Texas with a groin injury, then missed all of 2013 with a torn Achilles. He missed eight games as a rookie in 2015 with a torn pec and then missed nine games and the postseason last year with another Achilles.

So over the last six years, he’s played in 48 games and missed 42.

When he’s played, he’s been very good. But that’s a season-ending injury four of the last six years, and so far Hicks’ accomplishments have been overshadowed by the games he’s missed.

Hicks spoke Tuesday about how frustrating the injuries have been and how important it is for him to find a way to stay healthy.

“I don’t think I need to do that for anybody else but myself,” he said. “I want to play this game. I love playing the game of football, I love being out there with the guys, and when I’m not out there — and I think everybody feels this way when they can’t help the team — you feel like you’re letting down the team because you know you can be out there making an impact.

“So it’s more disappointing to me than … anyone else. I have to make sure I’m out there. My motivation is within. And obviously it stems from the guys around me. I want to have that accountability and let the guys know I’ll be there for them no matter what.”

Hicks, a third-round pick in 2015, has seven interceptions, two sacks, five fumble recoveries and a forced fumble in 31 NFL games.

“I don’t have any question in my mind that if I’m healthy I’ll be productive,” he said.

Hicks got hurt last year in the second Washington game. He had been dealing with a left ankle injury for several weeks when he blew out his right ankle.

“I think that had something to do with it, but I’m a professional athlete and if you put me in a position to go play then I’m going to compete as hard as I can,” he said.

“That’s just my makeup and I think that’s the makeup of this locker room. 

“When you’re dealing with one thing, you’re susceptible to another. That’s just the way your body works. As I become a pro and as I’ve become a pro, you’ve got to learn there’s a level of being smart and understanding when enough is enough and when you have to say no at some point.

“Whether it’s pride or whether it’s the things in my head, those questions have to be answered. I decided not to come out, I decided to tough it out. I played vs. the [Chargers, Panthers and Cardinals]. All with a bum ankle, and at the end of the day, hindsight is 20/20.”

Hicks is six months out from his latest injury but as voluntary minicamp begins, he declined to put a timetable on his return.

“Doing really well,” he said. “It feels like since Day 1 I’ve been ahead of schedule. Currently progressing every day, trying to get stronger, constantly trying to get my explosion back.”

Hicks, whose contract is up after this coming season, knows his value will depend tremendously on his ability to stay healthy.

“If I focus on what I need to do every single day, if I focus on getting back and focus when I’m back on making sure I’m detailing my work and I’m taking care of my body, everything is going to fall into place,” he said. 

“When you start worrying about everything else is when you get out of your game, and that’s when you can really start forcing issues.”