Worst might be over for Eagles' defense

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Worst might be over for Eagles' defense

8:30 p.m. on ESPN
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The 12-2 Eagles can check off the final box on their holiday season wish list and clinch the top playoff seed in the NFC Monday night. All they need to do is contain a 6-8 Oakland Raiders squad with nothing left to play for.

The Raiders were eliminated from postseason contention Sunday, so if they look listless after flying across the country to Lincoln Financial Field for Christmas Day, holiday travel is probably the least of their issues.

The Eagles already received most of their gifts for 2017 — a division championship and a first-round bye in the playoffs — but there’s still one more present waiting, and it’s the best of them all. A win puts a bow on the season, which will make for some happy holidays across the Delaware Valley.

The worst might be over
The Eagles’ defense has taken its share of criticism after the past few contests, and particularly Sunday’s performance against the Giants, and justifiably so. This team isn’t going to last very long in January surrendering 29.3 points per game the way it has the last three weeks.

To many, the Giants' hanging 29 points on the Eagles, with 434 yards of passing and three touchdowns from Eli Manning, was a sign the defense, specifically the secondary is broken. That was one of the worst offenses in the NFL, and a quarterback who was benched just two weeks prior.

Yet upon closer inspection, things may not be as bad as they seem. Manning now owns the two most prolific passing performances against the Eagles this season and is one of only three signal callers to throw for three scores against this unit. In other words, the Eagles may have an Eli problem, not a defense problem.

Manning completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 400.0 yards and 3.0 touchdowns per game in two meetings. All other QBs have completed 59.3 percent for 210.5 yards and 1.1 touchdowns.

It’s possible the Giants simply had the Eagles’ number this season. Good thing they’re finished.

To put it Blount-ly …
As the weeks go by, the Eagles look smarter and smarter for pulling off the trade for Jay Ajayi. Not only has Ajayi brought a different dimension to the running game, averaging 6.4 yards per carry since his arrival, but so-called starting running back LeGarrette Blount has begun to fade.

Blount still leads the team with 717 yards rushing on the season. However, his effectiveness has rapidly decreased since the calendar rolled over to December. The 31-year-old running back has just 59 yards on 22 carries over the Eagles’ last three games, for a meager 2.7 average per carry.

Considered a “volume back,” Blount has an issue that could be a decrease in attempts, from 12.5 per game over the first 11 to 7.3 since. Then again, the decline was also predictable. Age aside, Blount averaged 3.4 yards per carry in December and January for the Patriots in 2016.

Ajayi has emerged as the Eagles’ primary back in recent weeks, and with good reason. He’s seven years younger than Blount and looks it based on the way the two are playing.

Blount looked ineffective for stretches early in this season, too, so it might be unwise to write him off after two or three quiet games. Regardless, the addition of Ajayi may have solved a potential leak before the flood.

Extra Cole in your stocking
Nice to see Trent Cole signing a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Eagles. Though the news seemingly came out of nowhere, and right in the thick of the holiday season, it’s a well-deserved honor that deserves more attention.

Cole spent 10 seasons with the Eagles, and his 85.5 sacks during that span are second only to Reggie White in franchise history. He only earned two trips to the Pro Bowl, yet Cole was one of the most consistent pass rushers in the league from 2006 through 2011 with 63.0 sacks — only DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen had more during that span.

Though he became a cap casualty in 2015 and spent his final two years in the NFL with the Colts, Cole made good with the Eagles and his career is well worth remembering. He’ll serve as the honorary captain on Monday and will be recognized on the field at the conclusion of the first quarter.

Consider it a little holiday bonus.

Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

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Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

The Eagles are scheduled to have a pretty boring Day 2 of the draft this year. Because after they pick at No. 32, they don’t have another selection until the 31st pick of the fourth round. 

That means 98 players will be taken between the Eagles’ first and second picks. And they’ll have to watch other teams pick that entire Friday (Rounds 2-3) without them … unless they make a move. 

“We’re not looking at it like we’re sitting out on Friday,” Eagles de facto GM Howie Roseman said. “We’re going through our draft process looking at every scenario. When we get to Friday, we get to Friday.” 

Even if the Eagles don’t make a move, they’ll be plenty busy on Saturday, the final day of the draft. They have two fourth-round picks and one pick in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. 

Eagles personnel head Joe Douglas showed up to his media availability with a stat ready to go to illustrate the importance of Day 3. 

“We’re excited that we have five picks on Saturday,” Douglas said. “When you look at the Super Bowl, there’s 22 starters that were third-round picks or lower. Of those 22, 18 of them were fourth-round picks or lower. So 18 starters in the Super Bowl this year were fourth-round picks or lower, including six of them that were undrafted free agents. We choose to keep the glass half full.” 

Douglas is right on all those stats — 22 of 44 starters in the Super Bowl were drafted in the third or lower and 18 of them would be considered Day 3 picks. Not bad. 

Here’s how the Super Bowl starters broke down by round: 1-10, 2-12, 3-4, 4-4, 5-3, 6-3, 7-2, UDFA-6. 

The Eagles accounted for seven of the 18 players who were drafted in the fourth round or later, so the Patriots were the ones who found even more value late in drafts. And of those seven, just three were original Eagles — Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jason Kelce and Jalen Mills. 

Of the six undrafted players who started in the Super Bowl, two were from the Eagles — LeGarrette Blount and Rodney McLeod. Neither was an original Eagle, but the Birds also relied heavily on running back Corey Clement, who was an undrafted rookie last season. 

With a dearth of high draft picks, it would make sense if the Eagles attack the undrafted market following the draft, but Douglas thinks it won’t be as easy as many might think. 

“You would think because we’re coming off a Super Bowl, we don’t have a second or third round pick that it would be a lot easier after the draft,” Douglas said. “But my experience coming off a Super Bowl, it’s sometimes harder to get guys to commit to your roster because agents and players have a perceived notion that it’s going to be that much tougher to make the team. I think that’s going to be a challenge. I think that’s going to be a challenge for us and we know it and we’re going to attack it.”

The Eagles in recent years have shown a willingness to pony up significant money to entice undrafted players to sign with them and if Douglas is right, they might need to do it again to land some this year. 

Either way, the Eagles know how important Day 3 and beyond can be. So when they’re bored on Day 2, they don’t plan on losing focus. 

Eagles reward Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles with reworked contract

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Eagles reward Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles with reworked contract

The Eagles gave Nick Foles a little raise on Friday, reworking the Super Bowl MVP’s contract, a league source confirmed. 

Basically, the Eagles are rewarding Foles after he helped the franchise win its first-ever Super Bowl a few months ago. 

Foles, 29, is still entering the final year of his contract with the Eagles, but the new deal also includes a mutual option for the 2019 season, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. The mutual option will still allow Foles the possibility to test the free agent market next season, but could leave the door open to a possible return beyond this upcoming season. 

Mike Garafolo and Ian Rapoport from NFL Network first reported the revised contract, which includes a $2 million signing bonus and “several millions in incentives if he’s the starter and hits various benchmarks,” according to Rapoport. 

That part makes a ton of sense. If for some reason Carson Wentz isn’t ready to play in 2018 or if he goes down again, Foles will have a chance to earn what might be closer to starter money. 

Foles was set to earn a base salary of $4 million in 2018, with a salary cap hit of $7.6 million on the contract before Friday’s renegotiation. 

Wentz and Foles grew very close last season — third-string QB Nate Sudfeld too — and have both been very selfless in a situation that would be awkward for many others in the league. But both have been incredibly selfless throughout the entire process. Just this week, Wentz admitted he had to fight jealousy but was truly happy for his teammate and friend, who became the Super Bowl hero (see story)

Earlier on Friday, Foles tweeted out this photo with his wife and daughter from the NovaCare Complex. That’s a $2 million smile.