Eagles

Johnson, Fitzgerald help Cardinals beat mistake-prone 49ers

Johnson, Fitzgerald help Cardinals beat mistake-prone 49ers

BOX SCORE

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- With Carson Palmer sidelined by a concussion, the one-win Arizona Cardinals turned to Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson and an opportunistic defense for a much-needed victory.

Drew Stanton threw two touchdown passes to Fitzgerald in the quarterback's first start in two years, Johnson ran for two scores and the Cardinals capitalized on San Francisco mistakes to beat the 49ers 33-21 on Thursday night.

"We were a hungry team, a team that knows that we dug a hole for ourselves and we had to win this game," coach Bruce Arians said.

The Cardinals (2-3) got 17 points off three turnovers by the 49ers (1-4) -- two interceptions by Blaine Gabbert and a fumbled kickoff return by Chris Davis -- and also had one drive extended by a running-into-the-kicker penalty.

Those three scoring drives totaled just 41 yards, but proved to be enough to beat the sloppy 49ers as the Cardinals survived a week with without Palmer out with a concussion.

"I don't think anybody played well on offense. Nobody," Niners coach Chip Kelly said. "I don't think we protected well enough, I don't think we threw it well enough and we had too many drops and two interceptions."

Stanton didn't produce much, going 11 for 27 for 124 yards. But Arizona didn't turn the ball over and got 157 yards rushing from Johnson to get the win. Johnson added 28 yards receiving, and Fitzgerald caught six passes for 81 yards as that duo combined to gain 266 of the team's 288 yards from scrimmage.

The defense did the rest with the two interceptions and seven sacks.

"We've been saying all week it just starts with one. Just get one win and try to stack them," defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. "We've been a team in the past that can rip off a bunch of them. ... Now we have to figure out what we can do to keep that ball rolling."

Quick turnaround
The game changed in a span of less than 4 minutes starting late in the second quarter. Campbell's interception of a deflected pass set up Arizona's first score on a 21-yard pass from Stanton to Fitzgerald with 1:40 left in the half. Davis' fumble of the second-half kickoff then set up Johnson's 4-yard run that put Arizona up for good.

"We got the momentum going," Stanton said. "Unfortunately, I think, it's one of those things as an offense you're waiting to make a play, and got that spark from the defense. Then to come out in the second half and get the ball right there was huge."

We want Kap
There were several thousand empty seats at the game but the fans who did show up were frustrated by what they saw. At one point in the third quarter, a chant of "We want Kap! We want Kap!" started up as fans wanted to give former starter Colin Kaepernick a shot at quarterback. Gabbert responded by leading an 82-yard TD drive fueled in part by his 24-yard run.

The chants started again after Gabbert threw his second interception.

Gabbert finished 18 for 31 for 162 yards and Kelly would not address whether it was time to make a quarterback change.

"We're 1-4. We're going to look at everything," he said. "We have to make sure we're giving our team the best chance to go out and win."

Favorite target
Jeremy Kerley, acquired two weeks before the start of the season in a trade with Detroit, has quickly established himself as Gabbert's most trusted receiver. After nine straight punts to open the game, Gabbert completed four passes for 63 yards on one drive in the second quarter, capped by a 9-yard TD pass to Kerley.

Punt party
The first quarter featured six drives, six punts, zero points and only five completed passes as both offenses struggled mightily. Gabbert and Stanton missed open receivers, had other throws dropped and neither offense could generate much of anything.

Sack party
Markus Golden and Campbell each had two of Arizona's seven sacks as the Cardinals put constant pressure on Gabbert. Pass protection had been one of the few positives on offense for the 49ers, who had allowed just three sacks the first four games.

6 ways for Eagles to create cap space

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6 ways for Eagles to create cap space

The Eagles are coming off a thrilling season but there's a lot of work to be done. 

The NFL's new league year begins on March 14 and the Eagles must be under the salary cap by then. The problem is that based on projections, the Eagles are set to be more than $9 million over the cap, according to OverTheCap. So it's time for some maneuvering. 

The good news is that Howie Roseman's specialty has always been finding unique ways to get the Eagles out of cap trouble. There are ways for him to do it again.

Cut Torrey Smith 
Probably the easiest one. Smith was a great teammate and a solid addition to the Eagles' locker room, and he really stepped up his game in the playoffs, but it's probably not enough to bring him back. He just wasn't good enough last season, and cutting him would save the Eagles $5 million in cap room with no dead money. The Birds still have Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, while Mack Hollins is entering Year 2. 

Cut Brent Celek
This one will hurt, but Celek can take away the sting if he decides to walk away as a champion. He's set to have a cap number of $5 million. That's just way too much for what Celek provides these days. By cutting him, the Eagles would save $4 million in cap space. So just between Smith and Celek, the Eagles will almost get back to zero ... but there's other work to do. They'll still need money to sign free agents and draft picks. 

Extend Brandon Graham 
Graham is entering the final year of his contract with a cap number of $8 million. He wants a new contract and deserves one. Good news: An extension would work for both sides. Graham would get more money long-term and the Eagles could get his cap number down this season. 

Re-work/cut Vinny Curry
Curry is coming off of probably his best season in the NFL but will have an $11 million cap number. That's tough to swallow, especially with Derek Barnett waiting for his chance to start. It seems likely the Eagles will ask Curry to take a pay cut or re-work his deal. If not, cutting him would leave $6 million in dead money but would also save $5 million in cap room. 

Trade Mychal Kendricks
If you remember, Kendricks actually wanted a trade last offseason. Good thing that didn't happen. Kendricks ended up being a big part of the Eagles' success in 2017. Depending on what happens with Nigel Bradham in free agency and with Jordan Hicks' Achilles recovery, trading Kendricks might again be an option. A trade would save $4.4 million in cap space. 

Trade Nick Foles 
This is such a tough one -- we explore it more herehttp://www.nbcsports.com/philadelphia/eagles/stay-or-go-super-bowl-mvp-nick-foles. But basically, Foles is a pretty amazing insurance policy until we know when Carson Wentz is going to be ready. If the Eagles do trade Foles, it would save them $5.2 million that they could certainly use. The problem is that by the time they know Wentz's status, free agency will be long gone and that cap space won't help this year. But it could help in 2019.

Stay or Go — Will both Grahams return?

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Stay or Go — Will both Grahams return?

As we continue 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, Part 3 was Billy Brown to Vinny Curry, Part 4 was Ronald Darby to Zach Ertz. Today is Nathan Gerry to Corey Graham, with Nick Foles getting a section of his own.

Nathan Gerry
Roob
: Gerry, a fifth-round pick last year, seems to be a decent prospect as a young late-round linebacker. He was a core special teamer — his 180 snaps were sixth-most on the team — and on a roster where the linebackers are generally older guys (with the exception of oft-injured Jordan Hicks), Gerry is in a position where a roster spot will be there for the taking if he has a good training camp. I figure Gerry is here at least one more year just as a special teamer, especially with Trey Burton likely to leave and Corey Clement likely to play less on special teams next year as his role on the offense grows.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: As a rookie, Gerry switched from safety to linebacker but didn't get a chance to play much on defense as a rookie. That's still a work in progress. But on special teams, Gerry found his role. He played in 10 regular-season games and then played in every game in the playoffs, including Super Bowl LII. For now, he's just a special teams player, but that's good enough. 

Verdict: STAYS

Shelton Gibson
Roob
: Gibson, a fifth-round pick last year, got only 17 snaps on offense all year after a mostly disappointing training camp, and he caught just two passes for 11 yards all year. His lack of impact on special teams along with the Eagles' young depth puts his roster spot in jeopardy. Gibson will certainly be invited back to training camp, but for once, the Eagles have depth at wide receiver, and young guys like Mack Hollins and Johnson are well ahead of Gibson in the Eagles' eyes. Even if Torrey Smith doesn't return, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery and Hollins have spots locked up in 2018, and Gibson will be fighting an uphill battle.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: After a really terrible training camp, Gibson began to pick it up enough late in the summer and made the team. He was inactive for the first 10 games of the 2017 season before he began to play a small role on special teams down the stretch. His special teams ability was what gave him the eventual edge over Johnson to be active down the stretch. He still hasn't shown his potential as a fifth-round speed receiver, but he'll get another chance. 

Verdict: STAYS

Najee Goode
Roob: Goode was one of those underrated pieces that every Super Bowl team seems to have but nobody ever talks about. He's a terrific special teamer — he was third behind Kamu Grugier-Hill and Burton with 294 special teams snaps — and also got 200 snaps at linebacker and held his own defensively. Goode is a free agent, but he's been around since 2013, and you can probably keep him at minimum wage. There's tremendous value in that as well.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It's pretty wild to think that Goode has been with the Eagles since 2013 and has appeared in 61 games with them. He isn't the best linebacker, but he's still a solid special teamer. He was on a one-year deal in 2017 so he's an unrestricted free agent-to-be. Goode is a 28-year-old who isn't a viable option on defense, but I never thought he'd be here this long and here we are. 

Verdict: STAYS

Brandon Graham
Roob
: Next year, this could become a very interesting situation. Graham has developed into one of the NFL's top outside pass rushers and had a career-high 9½ sacks this year and made his first Pro Bowl. But he turns 30 this spring, and the Eagles have Derek Barnett under contract with modest cap figures through 2020. It's clear the Eagles can't afford to keep both Vinny Curry and Graham, and Graham is obviously the superior player, but how much money is he looking for and how difficult will it be for the Eagles to keep him? I expect Graham to look for a long-term deal in the $12-13 million per year range. He'll get it. I'm just not sure where.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: The Eagles didn't give Graham a new contract last offseason but they did make a showing of good faith when they added some incentives to the last two years of his contract. But it's not a new contract yet. He's still their most disruptive pass rusher. His strip sack on Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII was the biggest play of the game. The Eagles are going to have to figure out if they're going to break the bank to keep Graham around for another contract. For now, though, he'll be a huge part of the 2018 season in a contract year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Corey Graham
Roob: Corey Graham is another one of those one-year contract veterans who made a big impact this past season both on defense and special teams. He will turn 33 before camp opens, but he's in tremendous shape and takes great care of himself. He's played in 171 of a possible 176 games in his 11-year career and shows no sign of dropping off. Graham is also a terrific natural leader who was extremely vocal during the Super Bowl run. The Eagles don't really have any young safeties knocking on the door, so as long as Graham is willing to accept another cap-friendly contract, I don't see a reason not to re-sign him.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Signing Graham was one of the best moves Howie Roseman pulled off last summer. It was a pretty low-key move, but the team brought in a veteran safety who was great in the locker room and offered them a quality third safety. That allowed Malcolm Jenkins to slide into the slot when needed and allowed the Eagles to go with a smaller lineup in their dime package when necessary. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but without a ton of great linebackers, having the flexibility to go small was huge. Graham is a free agent again and the Eagles might try to go younger, but they should at least think about bringing Graham back. 

Verdict: STAYS