Encouraging start for Eagles with Jeffery, Smith, but long-term issues unsolved

Encouraging start for Eagles with Jeffery, Smith, but long-term issues unsolved

Torrey Smith, nice signing. Alshon Jeffery, nice signing. Two veteran receivers who instantly give the Eagles' wide receiver corps credibility it's lacked since Jeremy Maclin followed DeSean Jackson out the NovaCare Complex front gate.

Smith has never caught a ton of passes. He's surpassed 50 catches only once in six seasons. But his 17.0 average is second-best among active receivers, behind only Jackson (17.7). And he gets in the end zone -- his 37 TD catches are 14th-most since he entered the NFL in 2011.

Jeffery scares me a little. Between injuries in 2015 and a suspension in 2016, he hasn't really been a special player in a few years. And that 1,400-yard Pro Bowl season was four years ago.

But he's big and strong and fast and instantly gives Carson Wentz a potentially elite wideout, something he's never had.

Now here's the thing. It's not that I don't like the moves. I do. These guys are quality players at a position the Eagles were desperate to improve. It's clear to everybody the Eagles are a better football team today than they were yesterday.

But it's also clear that these moves are not a long-term solution to anything. They don't solve the problem. They just defer it.

Both receivers signed contracts that are essentially one-year deals, and although the Eagles could exercise the options and keep Smith around a couple more years, and they could sign Jeffery to a long-term deal or theoretically franchise him next offseason -- which could cost in the neighborhood of $17 or $18 million -- it's also not too far-fetched to think that neither one will be an Eagle in 2018.

And then they're right back where they started. With Nelson Dorial-Treggs and Company.

Which brings us to the draft, and the Eagles' long-term strategy at wideout.

If the best player on the board at 14 is a cornerback, go cornerback. If the best player is a running back, go running back. But if it's a wide receiver, you have to still go wide receiver because this franchise's need for an infusion of long-term young talent for Wentz didn't change Thursday.

I don't want to say Jeffery and Smith are Band-Aids, but they really are placeholders who give the Eagles' offense instant credibility and give Wentz capable targets but very well could be only short-term answers.

And the Eagles need long-term solutions at wide receiver, and despite an encouraging day Thursday, that hasn't changed.

We should all know by now the only way to truly effectively build for the future is through the draft.

The Eagles used a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a third-round pick on wide receivers over the 2014 and 2015 drafts and came away with one guy who was released halfway through last season, another guy who has some of the worst numbers in NFL history by a first-round pick and another guy who's been decent but hardly electrifying.

And the Eagles wouldn't have even been looking at free-agent wide receivers this week if they had drafted better.

But those first few rounds of the draft are the lifeblood of a championship roster, and the Eagles can't delude themselves into thinking they've solved the whole equation just by signing two free agents. Even talented ones.

I still want young, fast, athletic wide receivers that Wentz can grow with. Guys who will still be here and under contract and making plays when Wentz is in his prime. Guys who grow up Eagles and want to remain Eagles.

It's all about long-term. Not that short-term fixes are awful. These moves give Wentz weapons he was missing as a rookie.

But until the Eagles figure out a way to identify young talent in the draft and develop that talent and keep that talent and find continuity and groom home-grown guys, this is not going to be a championship team.

And all the big-money contracts and former Pro Bowlers in the world won't change that.

This is a start. A very encouraging start. But it's only a start.

Alshon Jeffery doesn't think much of facing old team

USA Today Images

Alshon Jeffery doesn't think much of facing old team

Alshon Jeffery will be going up against his former team this Sunday, but he isn’t interested in looking back. The Eagles' wideout is happy with where he’s at now, and there’s only one thing on his mind.

“It’s a regular game,” Jeffery said Tuesday. “We’re just trying to win.”

Jeffery spent the first five seasons of his NFL career with the Bears before signing a one-year contract with the Eagles in March. Needless to say, the change of scenery has been beneficial so far. Not only is he on pace for his most productive campaign since 2014, but the sixth-year veteran is likely headed to the playoffs for the first time as a pro.

The Bears may be second-guessing their decision to let a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver depart in free agency. For Jeffery, the move was a no-brainer.

“I’m here in Philly,” Jeffery said. “I’m happy with that. It was the best decision for me. I love it.”

At this point, the tough questions for Jeffery aren’t really about the Bears at all. That’s in the past, and he’s fine with leaving it there.

The real questions are about Jeffery’s future, specifically whether he’ll remain a member of the Eagles beyond 2017 after his current deal expires.

To which Jeffery replied, “I hope so.”

“I let my agent take care of that,” Jeffery said. “He and (Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman) do a great job. Whatever they have going, let them talk about that. I just play football.

“Philly is a great city, great town, everyone has welcomed me with open arms. I’m having a great time here.”

It’s easy to understand why Jeffery is enjoying himself.

For starters, Jeffery is beginning to pile up the numbers. Over the Eagles’ last three games, he has 12 receptions for 213 yards with four touchdowns.

Jeffery is heating up, and he’s getting on the same page with quarterback Carson Wentz. As for the Eagles, they like what they’ve seen all along.

“Even early on when the ball wasn't going to him as much, totally unselfish, hard-worker,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “These things take time — the chemistry, the opportunities — and so the confidence level grows.”

Jeffery is up to 38 catches, 567 yards and six scores — plus a league-leading three two-point conversions — on the season. With six games remaining, a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown season is not entirely out of range.

Then again, statistical milestones don’t seem to be what drives Jeffery.

“As long as we get the division and that ring, I don’t care what happens,” Jeffery said. “That’s all that matters. Winning a Super Bowl, that’s all that matters.”

The Eagles are 9-1 right now, with the NFC East all but locked up and a chance to do some damage in the playoffs come January. The Bears are 3-7 and had only one winning season during Jeffery’s tenure, as a rookie, and still managed to miss out on the postseason that year.

The ball is coming Jeffery’s way, and his team is winning. Most of all, the 27-year-old says he’s having fun, and his Eagles teammates are a big reason why.

Jeffery can be a man of few words, but really opened up about why joining the Eagles has been such a great experience.

“It’s the guys in the locker room,” Jeffery said. “Everyone makes you feel like you’re part of the family, and everyone is together.

“Everything else is a bonus. Being on the football field, having fun, that’s a bonus, but what’s most important is the locker room. You have to have the right guys in the locker room. Everyone has to be able to feel like they love one another. It’s a brotherhood.”

So, no, Jeffery is not going to get caught up in the hoopla over going against his old team. He admits he still has some friends in Chicago, and some trash talk “comes with the territory,” but his focus is solely on the Eagles’ season and the task at hand.

As long as Jeffery and the Eagles continue down their current road, the future — Sunday included — should take care of itself.

Former Eagles Dawkins, Owens named Hall of Fame semifinalists

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Former Eagles Dawkins, Owens named Hall of Fame semifinalists

Brian Dawkins and Terrell Owens are again one step closer to making it to the Hall of Fame.

Both former Eagles were named as two of 27 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2018 class.

Their inclusion on the list Tuesday is not a surprise at all. Both were on the list of finalists last year, but did not make the 2017 class to the dismay of Eagles fans.

The 15 finalists will be announced during January and Hall of Fame voters will cast their votes for the inductees on Super Bowl Saturday.

This is Dawkins' second year of eligibility and Owens' third. Traditionally it has been difficult for safeties to make it into the Hall of Fame, which might have hurt Dawkins. Owens has likely been hurt by his abrasive personality. Both are very worthy candidates and have a shot to be inducted this year.

Joining them on the list of semifinalists are six who made it on their first years of eligibility: DB Ronde Barber, OG Steve Hutchinson, LB Ray Lewis, LB Brian Urlacher, WR Randy Moss and DL Richard Seymour.

The original list of 108 nominees was cut down to 27 semifinalists instead of 25 because of ties.

Here is the full list of semifinalists:

S Steve Atwater
CB/S Ronde Barber
OT Tony Boselli
WR Isaac Bruce
S LeRoy Butler
Coach Don Coryell
RB Roger Craig
S Brian Dawkins
G Alan Faneca
WR Torry Holt
OG Steve Hutchinson
OT Joe Jacoby
RB Edgerrin James
Coach Jimmy Johnson
CB Ty Law
LB Ray Lewis
FS John Lynch
C/G Kevin Mawae
LB Karl Mecklenburg
WR Randy Moss
DE Leslie O'Neal
WR Terrell Owens
DE Simeon Rice
DE/DT Richard Seymour
LB Brian Urlacher
CB Everson Walls
WR Hines Ward