Eagles

Pederson expects Kelce back; how about other expensive vets?

Pederson expects Kelce back; how about other expensive vets?

INDIANAPOLIS -- If the Eagles are planning on cutting or trading long-time center Jason Kelce, no one has told head coach Doug Pederson.

Shortly after his podium session on Wednesday inside the convention center at the combine, Pederson was asked if he expects Kelce to be back on the team next season.

"I do," Pederson said without hesitation.

"Listen, he's a player that's under contract, a Pro Bowl player who has been a tremendous asset to the team, so yeah."

Kelce, 29, is coming off a Pro Bowl season but has been labeled as a possible salary cap casualty this offseason. In 2017, his cap number rises to $6.2 million and the Eagles would save $3.8 million if they cut or trade him.

Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman wouldn't commit to Kelce's return. But when he was asked about the center, Roseman praised him.

"Jason Kelce was a second-team Pro Bowler, has been a huge contributor to our football team," Roseman said. "I don't want to get into specifics of any player individually because that will open the door to every other player. But certainly appreciate the tremendous value that he's had and had for our young quarterback this season."

The Eagles have shown that they'll skip no expense to give Carson Wentz every tool he needs. They signed Chase Daniel to be a mentor, blocked quarterbacks coach John DeFillipo from leaving and it looks like they're going to keep a more expensive option at center to keep continuity. The Eagles are also keeping left tackle Jason Peters at his $10.7 million cap hit in 2017.

Back on Feb. 8, the Eagles cut cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Since then, things have been slow.

Kelce, of course, is among some of the tough decisions the club needs to make. Another is defensive end Connor Barwin, who shares the same agent. The Eagles, coming into the week, were expected to meet with their agent while in Indianapolis.

"You don't want to pay for a guy for what he's done," Roseman said. "You have to figure out what his value is going forward and what he's making."

So that brings up plenty of questions about Barwin, who is coming off a relative down season in his first year in Jim Schwartz's 4-3 defense. He had just five sacks in 2016.

Will Barwin be worth his $8.35 million cap hit in 2017, or does it make more sense to cut him and save $7.75 million in cap space?

"You talk about Connor and what he's meant to our football team on and off the field," Roseman said. "There were a lot of questions about his ability to play in a 4-3. And he did it and he did a really good job with it. Obviously, we're not going to get into whoever you guys ask me about. We're not going to get into specifics of who's going to be back and who's not. Certainly, when you talk about Connor, he's got all those traits we're talking about here, about guys who have done a good job and still have stuff left in the tank."

If Barwin still has "stuff left in the tank," the Eagles' decision to hold onto him this long might make sense. Instead of cutting him, perhaps the Eagles can trade him to another club and recoup at least some sort of asset. 

Another veteran player who would be a logical cut is veteran running back Ryan Mathews, who is set to have a $5 million cap hit and is coming off a significant neck injury.

"Ryan is doing great," Roseman said. "We fully expect him to be ready to play. He's under contract and I think it's as simple as that."

Only it's probably not as simple as that. The Eagles would save $4 million in cap space by cutting the oft-injured Mathews – a move that would seem to make a lot of sense -- but it's not that easy thanks to his injury.

When asked in general terms, Roseman said league rules prohibit teams from cutting an injured player.

So maybe the Eagles' hands are tied there until they can figure out some sort of injury settlement.

But for decisions about the other guys, the clock is ticking.

The legal-tampering window begins on March 7 and free agency begins two days after. So it would appear March 9 would be a deadline for when the Eagles want to make these decisions. Roseman isn't giving himself that deadline.

"There's no deadline on the decision-making," he said. "We don't have a drop-dead date. For us, again, it goes back to information gathering, getting as much as possible, seeing the potential options for us. We don't want to do something shortsighted and lose and opportunity. And it's easy to talk about all the players you want to get rid of, but do you have a plan to replace them?"

Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 7 Picks: Will Falcons avenge Super Bowl loss to Patriots?

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Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 7 Picks: Will Falcons avenge Super Bowl loss to Patriots?

Derrick Gunn makes his picks for Week 7 of the NFL season.

Redskins at Eagles (8:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Because they have the best record in the NFC, the Eagles have a huge target on their backs and everybody is gunning for them. On Monday night, the Washington Redskins are hoping to take them down a notch. The ‘Skins come limping to the Linc. Their star rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is done for the year with a Lisfranc injury. Their starting cornerbacks Josh Norman (rib) and Bashaud Breeland (knee) both might miss this key divisional showdown.

Carson Wentz has the Eagles offense rolling, and the defense has been rock solid against the run. Kirk Cousins will go after a Birds secondary ranked 29th against the pass (273.5 yards per game). One of the key matchups to watch closely is how the Eagles will try to defend against ‘Skins running back Chris Thompson, who is Washington’s leading rusher. More importantly, he’s their leading receiver, averaging 18.9 yards per catch.

In Week One the Eagles sacked Kirk Cousins 4 times, but since then he’s only been sacked 4 times. The Birds broke the ‘Skins jinx in the season opener. I look for the home team to make it a season sweep.

Pick: Eagles 28, Redskins 24

Buccaneers at Bills (1 p.m. on FOX)
The good news for the Bucs is Jameis Winston is expected to play despite dealing with an AC joint sprain in his shoulder. The bad news for the Bucs is they’re playing against a Bills team coming off a bye and a Bills' defense that is No. 1 in the league in points allowed at 14.8 points per game. Tampa Bay is also winless on the road. That won’t change this week.

Pick: Buffalo

Panthers at Bears (1 p.m. on CBS)
The Panthers have had a long time to lick their wounds after their encounter with the Eagles. The Bears are riding high after a stunning road win at Baltimore. Until the Panthers learn how to run the ball effectively, better teams will make them one-dimensional. Chicago has a potent run game, averaging 136 yards, but has difficulty scoring, putting up just 17.5 points per game. The Panthers go into the Bears' den and claw out a win.

Pick: Carolina

Titans at Browns (1 p.m. on CBS)
Desperate men take desperate measures and Hue Jackson is desperate to change the misfortunes of his 0-6 Browns. Jackson is going back to rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer who has 3 touchdowns and 9 interceptions this year. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is still dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, but he fought through it last week and threw for 306 yards against the Colts. The combination of running backs Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray takes a lot of pressure off Mariota. Look for the Titans to ground and pound the Browns.

Pick: Tennessee

Saints at Packers (1 p.m. on FOX)
These are dark days for Packers fans with Aaron Rodgers on the shelf with a broken collarbone. Meanwhile, the Saints have been marching, winning three straight. New Orleans has averaged 35 points in its last three and Drew Brees hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 1. The Saints will be doing more Lambeau Leaps than the Packers will this Sunday.

Pick: New Orleans

Jaguars at Colts (1 p.m. on CBS)
At 3-3, the Jaguars are tied for first place in the AFC South with Houston and Tennessee. Indy is just one game off the lead at 2-4. Jags rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who is second in the league in rushing, is questionable with an ankle injury. These Jaguars are an odd bunch to figure out and their wins have come in Weeks 1, 3, and 5. Since this is an odd week, I guess you know who I’m picking here.

Pick: Jacksonville

Cardinals at Rams (1 p.m. on FOX)
Looks like all the Cards needed was to find a running back to cure their offensive problems. In his Arizona debut last Sunday, Adrian Peterson had 26 carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns, along with a Cards win. The Rams have the league’s fourth-leading rusher in Todd Gurley. Both teams' offenses have the capability to light it up through the air, but if it comes down to the run game the Rams could be in trouble, as they allow 139.5 yards per game. With that said, I like the Rams at home in a close game.

Pick: Los Angeles

Jets at Dolphins (1 p.m. on FOX)
After falling behind 17-0 in Atlanta last week, the Dolphins mounted an impressive rally to pull off an upset win. The Jets have surprised many with limited offensive talent and have found a way to win three games. Division matches are usually difficult to pinpoint. The Jets are not the Falcons and since the Dolphins beat Atlanta on the road, they should handle New York at home.

Pick: Miami

Ravens at Vikings (1 p.m. on CBS)
Who are these Ravens? They look like contenders one week, then unravel against a team like Chicago the next week and look like pretenders. Minnesota’s defense is fast and rugged. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum has a firm grip on the offense. The Vikings will win their third in a row.

Pick: Minnesota

Cowboys at 49ers (4:05 p.m. on FOX)
These Niners are an interesting bunch. They haven’t won a game, but they’re in most of them. The Niners have set an NFL record by losing five consecutive games by three points or less. The 'Boys are coming off a bye and look to regroup. Their defense has been hot or cold. In this case, their D can be lukewarm because the 'Boys have just enough offensive firepower to hold off the Niners.

Pick: Dallas

Seahawks at Giants (4:25 p.m. on CBS)
This should be one of those good old rock’em sock’em type matchups. The Seahawks' and Giants' defenses can both bring it. Big Blue shocked the world last week by manhandling the Broncos in Denver. Russell Wilson is one of the best in the game at extending plays with his feet. Eli Manning is a stationary target with very few weapons to work with. Yes, I remember they found a run game against the Broncos but the legion of boom and company will be ready for it.

Pick: Seattle

Bengals at Steelers (4:25 p.m. on CBS)
The Steelers put it all together last week to hand the Chiefs their first loss. Do you want defense? This game is about defense. The Bengals are ranked second and the Steelers are third best in the NFL. The Bengals are well-rested coming off a bye and will be waiting for Le’Veon Bell. The wide receivers in this AFC North showdown are exciting … Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, John Ross. The Bengals two-game win streak stops in Da Burgh.

Pick: Pittsburgh

Broncos at Chargers (4:25 p.m on CBS)
Remember how we were all snickering at the Chargers for inventing new ways to lose close games? Well, laugh no more. The Chargers have won their last two by a grand total of six points. Meanwhile, the Broncos have lost two of their last three. This game features premier pass rushers on both sides —Von Miller, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The Chargers are 0-3 at home. This is a pick’em game. After closing my eyes and throwing at a dart board, I’m picking the Chargers. Don’t ask me why.

Pick: Los Angeles

Falcons at Patriots (8:30 p.m. Sunday on NBC)
A rematch of last season’s Super Bowl. It would be a small measure of revenge for the Falcons, but Atlanta is having problems finding the end zone. In each of their last two games, the Falcons have been held to just 17 points and lost both. Brady and company know how to score, but the Pats' defense has been inconsistent stopping the opposition from scoring. However, maybe that’s changing. In its last two games, New England held Tampa Bay to 14 points and the Jets to 17 points. Atlanta presents a much bigger test, but never bet against Bill Belichick at home.

Pick: Patriots

Zach Ertz making significant strides after offseason work with Carson Wentz

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Zach Ertz making significant strides after offseason work with Carson Wentz

The same Zach Ertz who's never had more than four touchdowns in a season now leads all NFL tight ends in touchdown catches. With four.

It's all part of the natural evolution between Ertz and Carson Wentz.

Ertz shares the NFL TD catch lead among tight ends with the Buccaneers' Cameron Brate and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski.

And going back to last year, Ertz has six touchdown catches in his last seven games and eight in his last 13 games.

In his previous 40 games? He had five touchdown catches.

“I think it's just all the offseason work with Carson," Ertz said. "I think the coaches have a lot of confidence in me down there, and I think that stems from all the red-zone emphasis that we had all spring and summer.

"And then I’ve just made plays, the offensive line has held up, I think Carson is putting the ball in amazing spots, and I just go up and get the ball. I have the easy part."

Ertz had TD catches to give the Eagles 14-0 leads against the Giants and Cards and then caught two last Thursday that turned a 10-3 deficit into an 18-10 lead as the Eagles beat the Panthers in Charlotte.

He's the first Eagles tight end with four TD catches through six games since Pete Pihos in 1955.

“The biggest thing is A) He puts in the work and B) He’s a really intelligent football player," Wentz said. "He knows coverages, recognizes things, knows when he’s hot (on a blitz).

"He’s really kind of in my head. He knows when I’m about to change his route, those types of things. With a guy like that, that knows how to create separation and play on time and be on the same page as me, that makes it tough to stop."

The touchdowns are most notable, but Ertz is off to the best start of his career in every category. His 34 catches and 405 yards are both second-most among all NFL tight ends to Travis Kelce's 37 and 423 (in seven games).

The Eagles, 5-1, face the 3-2 Redskins Monday night at the Linc. Ertz already has 54 career receptions against the Redskins — third-most ever by a tight end.

“It’s just Year 2 in this system," he said. "I’m a lot more comfortable in my role this year as opposed to last year. I was hurt, missed two games, and I was slowly integrated back into the gameplan.

"I think this year I’m extremely confident in my role, I think they have the confidence in me to go out there and make plays when my number’s called, and it’s not going to be 10 targets every game. Last week it was two targets, 20 yards. It’s going to vary each and every week but I’m very happy with how they’re using me right now."

Ertz and Nelson Agholor are the first Eagles tandem with four touchdown catches each through six games since Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams each had four back in 1992.

The red zone was a point of emphasis this offseason, and Wentz's numbers in the red zone are off the charts — 62 percent completion percentage, nine touchdowns, no interceptions and a 112.8 passer rating, fourth-highest in the NFL.

Ertz is third in the NFL with five red-zone first-down catches and fourth in the NFL with both six red-zone receptions and 49 yards.

“It’s timing," Wentz said. "It’s a timing thing and being on the same page.

"Red zone’s all about making plays. Playmakers making plays and playing on time down there is so crucial and that’s something we’ve really focused on. I think we’ve gotten better at all our spots on playing on time but he’s a guy that we feel creates mismatches and we take advantage of them."