Eagles-Redskins thoughts: Matchup of QBs with something to prove

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: Matchup of QBs with something to prove

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The Eagles are set to kick off the 2017 NFL season in Landover, Maryland on Sunday, where they will attempt to snap a five-game losing streak to NFC East rival Washington.

It’s no secret the Eagles haven’t beaten Washington in nearly three full years. As right tackle Lane Johnson said earlier this week, “We need one against this team,” so there should be no shortage of urgency Week 1.

That’s just a sampling of one of the many storylines from the days leading up to the Eagles’ first game.

Injury report
The Eagles appear to be completely healthy heading into opening day, which head coach Doug Pederson described as, “a great thing.” Every player listed on the injury report practiced fully all week.

The same cannot be said in Washington, which lists three players as questionable for Sunday, including a pair of starters.

Early indications are both center Spencer Long (arthroscopic knee surgery) and slot receiver Jamison Crowder (hip flexor) will play. Rookie linebacker Ryan Anderson (neck stinger) is less certain but likely to see only a limited number of snaps if he does suit up.

The injuries to Long and Crowder don’t seem like too big a deal, so it’s unclear whether the Eagles gain much of an advantage. For what it’s worth, Pederson doesn’t anticipate injuries being a factor.

“Most teams are usually 100 percent (for Week 1),” Pederson said. “I mean, guys are a little beat up, but for the most part, I think around the league, everybody's pretty healthy going into the first game.”

A chink in Washington’s armor
Washington’s defense will be anything but 100 percent.

The big news out of Washington this week was the abrupt departure of second-year safety Su’a Cravens. Cravens left the team last weekend and is considering walking away from the game permanently. The 22-year-old has time to rethink his sudden retirement, but he will not be on the field Sunday.

Little-known Deshazor Everett takes Cravens’ place. Everett recorded his first career interception against the Eagles last season on a pass intended for Zach Ertz. It’s an incredibly small sample size, however, as Everett played just 78 defensive snaps his first two seasons in the league, according to Football Outsiders.

Even assuming Everett performs capably, he’s not Cravens, a 2016 second-round pick who is in the mold of the increasingly popular safety/linebacker hybrids. His absence threatens to not only weaken the secondary but also take the teeth right out of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s aggressive scheme.

Key matchup: Malcolm Jenkins vs. Jordan Reed
Were it not for injuries, Jordan Reed might be one of the premier players in the league. Even still, he’s managed 153 receptions for 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns over the last two seasons. Redskins coach Jay Gruden will flat out admit, “A lot of our offense revolves around 86, our tight end.”

Yet, interestingly enough, Reed hasn’t often been a factor vs. the Eagles. During their Week 16 contest in 2015, Reed racked up 9 receptions for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. In five other meetings, he has 14 receptions for 102 yards total, with zero touchdowns.

Gruden credits safety Malcolm Jenkins for the Eagles’ success defending Reed. “It’s a great matchup, it always is, when he gets on the field with Malcolm Jenkins,” Gruden said. “Malcolm does one of the better jobs against him than anybody.”

Given the departures of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in free agency, Reed’s role in Washington’s offense could be more vital than ever. But the Eagles have limited Reed in the past, thanks in large part to Jenkins, whose ability to shadow the 6-foot-4, 246-pound tight end will go a long way toward dictating the outcome of this game.

How good is Kirk Cousins really?
We’re about to find out.

Kirk Cousins has thrown for 9,083 yards and 54 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He’ll earn a whopping $43.89 million between 2016 and ’17 alone. At this point, it’s sort of taken for granted that Cousins has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.

Is he? It’s certainly not a given Cousins will continue on as one most prolific passers in the league now that Garcon and especially Jackson are out of the equation. Even then, Washington’s record is only 17-15-1 record the last two seasons with Cousins at the helm, including a lopsided first-round playoff exit.

Cousins is headed for free agency next offseason and will make a lot of money regardless, but he still has plenty to prove. He’s had tremendous personnel, yet hasn’t won. I’m not ready to anoint this guy the best quarterback in the division, much less on the heels of losing two 1,000-yard receivers.

How good is Carson Wentz really?
Likewise, while there’s a ton of enthusiasm for the Eagles right now, we’re going to learn quite a bit about Carson Wentz this season. “We're in the second year of a potentially special, young quarterback,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “We don't even know that yet.”

Wentz is coming off a good-not-great rookie season. He threw for 3,782 yards – the fourth-highest finish in franchise history – and managed to win seven games without much of a supporting cast. He also had trouble pushing the ball down field and tossed 14 interceptions.

The Eagles rebuilt the offense around Wentz, and while the organization isn’t depending on him to become an overnight sensation, it sounds like “progress” is the key word around the NovaCare Complex this season.

“My expectation with Carson is he'll be better in Year 2 than Year 1, he’ll significantly be better in Year 3 than Year 2, and he’ll be significantly better in Year 4 than Year 3,” Lurie said.

If Wentz is the future of the franchise, as was hoped when he was taken No. 2 overall in the draft last year, we should see some growth this season. It starts on Sunday in Washington.

More money might not be enough to keep Chris Long in Philly

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More money might not be enough to keep Chris Long in Philly

The Eagles have given veteran defensive end Chris Long a raise, but according to one report, Long is concerned enough about his playing time with the Eagles that he's mulling his options regarding his future.

What is certain is that at some point before March 15, Long signed a new contract with the Eagles that increases his 2018 base salary from $1 million non-guaranteed to $2½ million fully guaranteed.

However, NFL Network's Michael Silver reported Monday that Long may decide he doesn't want to accept the new contract — which he already signed.

According to Silver, Long is concerned about how many snaps he would get as a third-down rusher following the addition of Pro Bowl pass rusher Michael Bennett.

The Eagles officially acquired Bennett on March 14, although the deal was reported a week earlier. Long's new contract was filed with the NFLPA on March 15, but there is a good chance he agreed to it and signed it before the Bennett acquisition.

Whether or not Long knew Bennett was coming to the Eagles when he signed the restructured deal is unknown. But at some point Long knew about their interest in Bennett and even gave Bennett a "glowing recommendation" when the Eagles asked, according to an interview Long gave to SBNation.  

Long wouldn't appear to have many options. He could retire, in which case he would have to return the $500,000 bonus he received from the Eagles last week.

He could request a trade, which would be bizarre for someone who signed a contract extension just a few days earlier.

Or he could simply play under the terms of the contract restructure and pay increase, which was first reported by Field Yates of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia with a source familiar with the renegotiation.

As for the contract itself, including that $500,000 roster bonus — which was also in the previous version of the contract — Long would receive $3 million guaranteed this year instead of $1.5 million non-guaranteed plus $750,000 in easily achieved roster bonuses.

Long had five sacks and forced four fumbles last year as a rotational defensive end. He wound up playing 496 snaps, 10th-most on the defense and only about 10 per game fewer than starter and Pro Bowler Brandon Graham and five per game fewer than starter Vinny Curry, who the Eagles released.

Long, who turns 33 next week, has 63½ career sacks. His 5.0 sacks last year were his most since 2013. He's won back-to-back Super Bowls the last two years with the Eagles and Patriots.

What happens next?

Long has demonstrated that the money is secondary to him. He donated his entire 2017 base salary to charity.

At some point very soon, the Eagles will need him to decide whether he's even going to have a 2018 base salary.

Terrell Owens digs deep to find his Hall of Fame presenter

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Terrell Owens digs deep to find his Hall of Fame presenter

A day after we found out that Brian Dawkins picked Troy Vincent to introduce him at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony this summer, Terrell Owens has picked his presenter. 

No surprise: It's not Donovan McNabb.

After alienating many people in the league throughout his tremendous career, Owens picked a name from his early days. Longtime NFL assistant coach George Stewart, who was Owens' receivers coach in San Francisco, will introduce T.O. at the 2018 induction. 

In a video released by the Hall of Fame, Owens said Stewart "knew what to get out of me."

Now special teams coordinator and assistant head coach for the Chargers, Stewart has been an NFL coach for three decades. He began his time in San Francisco in 1996 (Owens' rookie season) as a special teams coach but was their wide receivers coach from 2000-02.

"Things that George Stewart may say, it may be shocking to a lot of people, but not to him because he knows who I am," Owens said. "... To know who Terrell Owens is, you really have to spend some time with him. Fast forward, George Stewart became a father figure to me."

The first season Stewart became the 49ers' receivers coach, Owens went to his first of six Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro for the first of five times in his career. Owens was a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro in all three of the seasons that Stewart held the position in San Francisco. 

Of course, Owens' growth under Stewart led to his becoming one of the biggest stars in the NFL.

Eventually, Owens forced his way out of San Francisco and got to Philadelphia. With the Eagles, Owens had a short and tumultuous two seasons, but was also dynamic on the field and nearly helped them pull off a Super Bowl win over the Patriots. 

Owens averaged 93.5 receiving yards per game during his time in Philadelphia, the highest average in franchise history. It wasn't his play that led to his downfall in Philly. It was his beef with McNabb, along with his attempt to strong-arm the Eagles into a new contract. 

Owens was a divisive personality for his entire career. It's likely the reason it took him three tries to make it into the Hall of Fame. Because his numbers don't lie: He's one of the best receivers of all time.