Eagles

Top-ranked Vikings D? 'In this house, we're the No. 1 defense'

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Top-ranked Vikings D? 'In this house, we're the No. 1 defense'

They may not have the best defense in the NFL from a statistical standpoint, but the Eagles had the No. 1 defense where it mattered most: at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Championship Game.

The Vikings showed up with the league's top-ranked defense both in terms of total yards and scoring, and all of the hoopla that comes with the distinction. They left town having snapped a streak of four straight seasons with a No. 1 defense advancing to the Super Bowl after being upstaged by the Eagles, 38-7.

"All week, we just kept hearing everybody say (the Vikings) were the No. 1 defense, but I guess everybody forgot they were coming to Philadelphia," Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said postgame. "I know one thing: In this house, we're the No. 1 defense, and it's going to stay that way."

The Eagles are no slouches defensively, finishing the regular season fourth in total yards and scoring. The difference is that they actually looked the part on Sunday.

In fact, the Eagles' D has only been getting stingier down the stretch, limiting their last four opponents to a paltry 8.25 points per game going back to Week 16. Yet, the words "No. 1" kept coming up in reference to the Vikings, and the idea they were the superior unit — though technically accurate — clearly did not sit well with this group.

"From the front to the back end, we're loaded," Bradham said. "If nobody is going to respect us, we're going to find a way to take it."

The Eagles continue to be fueled by this idea they're underdogs or underappreciated, riding the rallying cry all the way to the big game.

"To me, it's a great defense," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of his own group. "One of the best, if not the top defenses in the league. They proved it again tonight.

"Sometimes they don't get enough credit, but you know what? Those guys in that dressing room, they know. They understand. We know as coaches."

Not convinced? Just ask Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, who played arguably his worst game of the season with the conference championship on the line.

"The Eagles are really good," Keenum said. "One of the best fronts we've faced all year, for sure, and they were solid in the back end. They played awesome. They played absolutely unbelievable today."

Keenum led the Vikings straight down the field on the game's opening possession, a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by an easy 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. For 4 minutes and 46 seconds, the Eagles missed tackles, blew assignments and generally looked overmatched.

It was difficult to imagine at the time the Vikings being held scoreless for the final 55-plus minutes.

"When they went up seven, we were like, 'Hey, they gave us their best shot,'" defensive end Brandon Graham said. "'We just have to make the plays and stay focused,' and that's all we did."

The Vikings committed a turnover or went three-and-out on their next four possessions, while Keenum finished with a season-low 63.8 passer rating.

"People didn't give us a chance," Graham said. "It's mind-boggling to me."

Many spectators have been critical of the Eagles' Super Bowl hopes since Carson Wentz was lost for the season. Talk about No. 1's — despite being the top playoff seed in the NFC, the Eagles were installed as underdogs in both matchups, and quite a few pundits and fans were expecting an early exit for this team.

But those folks either forgot or overlooked this Eagles defense, which has been great all season and firing on all cylinders for the last month. Let this win over the Vikings be a reminder.

"A lot has been said about this team, about what people's perception of us is and how far they think we can go," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "This was definitely one of those games where we wanted to keep our foot on the pedal for as long as we could do it and send everybody a message of who we are."

The question is, will the Eagles' message be heard this time around?

Eagles Stay or Go — How about all the tight ends?

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Eagles Stay or Go — How about all the tight ends?

In the third part of 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. Today is Billy Brown to Vinny Curry.

Billy Brown
Roob: Don't be surprised if Brown makes the team next year. He's got good size at 6-4/255, and from what we've seen he has pretty good hands. We saw his catching ability at training camp last year, and he caught eight passes for 51 yards in the preseason. Brown spent the entire 2017 season on the practice squad, but with the future of both Trey Burton and Brent Celek up in the air, Brown may be able to secure a roster spot with a good training camp. I expect Burton to get an offer in the $7 million per year range if he hits the open market, which the Eagles most likely won't be able to match, and Celek could either retire or get released to save cap space. Brown could be the next guy up.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: After spending his entire rookie season on the Eagles' practice squad, Brown is going to have a pretty good shot to make the roster in 2017. Brown, who came from Shepherd University, was a training camp standout last summer. He's a converted wide receiver, so he has a good past as a receiving tight end. He has to prove himself, but the path to making the 53-man roster is there. 

Verdict: STAYS

Trey Burton
Roob:
Burton has gone from an undrafted free agent long shot to make the roster in 2015 to one of the most attractive tight ends set to hit free agency this spring. With his soft hands, versatility and tremendous athleticism, Burton should be in line for a multi-year deal in the ballpark of $7 to $7.5 million per year. Even the Super Bowl touchdown pass speaks volumes about Burton and his ability to stay cool and composed and make a play under extreme pressure and in a situation he'd never been in as a pro. You'd love to be able to keep Burton, but Zach Ertz is the Eagles' tight end and they just don't have the cap space for the luxury of a high-priced backup.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Burton is no longer a secret. The Eagles actually tried to extend Burton during the 2016 season, but the two sides were never really close. Burton wanted to bet on himself and now that seems wise. He played the 2017 season on a relatively cheap deal after being a restricted free agent last offseason. But now he's unrestricted this time around and other teams are going to be interested. Burton had his best season in 2016, when he caught 37 passes for 327 yards, but he did have a career-high five touchdown catches in 2017. He's going to get paid more for his potential, though, and it's going to price out the Eagles. 

Verdict: GOES

Brent Celek
Roob: We continue Tight End Day with the 11-year veteran, one of the most popular Eagles of the past generation. Celek will one day be enshrined in the Eagles Hall of Fame, but now he's just another veteran with a $5 million cap figure that is just too high. Maybe Celek will help the Eagles avoid a major decision by retiring. Celek has plenty of interests outside football and he's 33 years old now and has a ring, and retirement may be attractive to him. Go out on top. Or maybe he'll take a massive pay cut down to the veteran's minimum and stick around another year and get the two yards he needs for 5,000. But I think it's most likely Celek won't be here next year. Whatever happens, he'll always be remembered as a champion.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is a tough one just because it's Celek. He embodies the city of Philadelphia better than anyone else on the team. He's also the longest-tenured athlete in the city. It's important to him to be a career Eagle, to never play for another team. But he just can't be back in 2018 on his current salary. It doesn't make good football or business sense. His cap number in 2018 is $5 million, which is just way too high for a reserve blocking tight end. It would be tough for the Eagles to flat out cut him, but if he doesn't want to retire and doesn't want to restructure down to nearly the minimum, that's what's going to have to happen. 

Verdict: GOES

Corey Clement
Roob: 
To go from an undrafted rookie free agent running back with virtually no history as a pass catcher to a 100-yard receiver in the Super Bowl in 10 months is just insane. Clement showed me enough that I believe he can be a lead back on this team. I think the plan will be to take a good long look at Jay Ajayi this coming season, with Ajayi and Clement splitting time, then decide after 2018 whether or not to keep Ajayi, who is due to become a free agent in another year. But under any scenario, Clement will be a major part of this team's running back corps for at least the next few years.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I was wrong about Clement last summer. I thought he was a good running back but there was nothing special about him. I thought Wendell Smallwood deserved to be ahead of him on the depth chart. Oops. Clement had an incredible rookie season. The most incredible thing was that he became a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield, something he had never been in college or even in high school. He did everything the Eagles asked him to do in his rookie season and excelled at everything. He hasn't just earned a spot on the roster; he's earned the right to be a part of the running back rotation going forward. 

Verdict: STAYS

Fletcher Cox
Roob:
I think Fletch might be around a while. Cox goes into his seventh season with the Eagles having made three straight Pro Bowls and is one of the most dominating interior linemen in the NFL. And he's under contract for the next five years. He stays. And will stay for the foreseeable future.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Sometimes we all sort of forget how good Cox really is. As an interior defensive lineman, Cox doesn't always make flashy plays. But just ask around the league about the Eagles' defense and everyone comes back with one guy on their mind: big No. 91. There's a reason he's become a perennial Pro Bowler and there's a reason he got a $100 million contract last offseason. He's the engine to the Eagles' defense and we saw him elevate his game even more in the run to the Super Bowl by barely leaving the field. This is stupid easy. 

Verdict: STAYS

Vinny Curry
Roob: Curry didn't really have the stat numbers to back it up, but he did play fairly well this year. He's got some massive cap numbers coming up — $11 million in 2018, $11.25 million in 2019 and $12.25 million in 2020. Those are astronomical figures for a guy who has nine sacks in his last 50 games. The Eagles could clear $5 million in cap space by releasing Curry, and that number goes up to $7.25 million next year and $10.25 million before the 2020 season. I think he stays this year, but those cap savings could be tempting for the cap-starved Eagles.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: After a down season in 2016, Curry became a starter and had the best year of his career in 2017. Some folks will argue against that because his sack numbers weren't shocking, but Curry was just tremendously solid as a rusher and against the run in 2017. He's a big reason why the Eagles' defensive line was their top unit and why their run defense was the best in the NFL. But his cap hit of $11 million is a killer this year and first-rounder Barnett is ready to start. I think if Curry is back, it'll be after reworking that deal. But for now ... 

Verdict: GOES

Former GM would demand king's ransom for Nick Foles

Former GM would demand king's ransom for Nick Foles

The Super Bowl champion Eagles face a multitude of tough decisions this offseason. 

The toughest is what to do with Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles. With franchise QB Carson Wentz recovering from a serious knee injury, the situation becomes more complicated.

Longtime NFL executive and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian essentially thinks Foles is untouchable.

Two first-round and two second-round picks would be a doozy of an offer for a quarterback who has one year left under contract. But that speaks to how highly Polian values Foles and the idea of having a top-notch backup QB on a contending team.

Former Eagles LB turned TV host Dhani Jones is in the same boat as Polian, saying he believes that Foles should be the starter, even if Wentz is healthy by Week 1.

Check out Jones' opinion in the video above.