Eagles

Schwartz wants Rodney McLeod to be the 'blur' he was first half of season

Schwartz wants Rodney McLeod to be the 'blur' he was first half of season

They watched the play together, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and safety Rodney McLeod, and that wasn't easy for McLeod, who prides himself on being a tough, hard-hitting, aggressive NFL safety.

“I looked at it and I definitely could have been more aggressive,” McLeod said. “I feel like that’s what this team expects of me.”

McLeod came under tremendous scrutiny for his play on the Ravens’ final touchdown in their 27-26 win over the Eagles Sunday, a 16-yard run by Kenneth Dixon that gave the Ravens a 10-point lead with 11 minutes left.

McLeod appeared to simply backpedal all the way into the end zone without trying to make a play on Dixon.

It looked like he was avoiding contact.

“We had a conversation about it, looked at the film, self-evaluate myself,” McLeod said at his locker on Tuesday. “Certain situations I may be thinking too much, just trying to do what I think is best for the defense.

“I’m the last line of defense most of the time so, you know, just trying to do what I can to get guys on the ground.

“We had a conversation about it and that’s why I appreciate Jim. He’s a great coach. I definitely take coaching well, I’m a coachable guy.”

It wasn’t the first time McLeod’s effort has come into question late this season. It happened on a touchdown in the Bengals loss two weeks ago as well.

Schwartz didn’t defend McLeod’s effort on that Dixon touchdown but he did shed some light on what happened in his eyes.

“Rodney was doing the wrong thing for the right reason,” Schwartz said. “And I say this: He's trying not to allow a big play right there. As a result, we end up giving up big plays. I told him I would rather you shoot your gun. I would rather you take that shot then shoot at chickens and give ground and give ground and hope that you can buy time for other people to make the play.

“There are times that you have to do that.

 It's tough being a middle-of-the-field defender and a run breaks. There's a big difference between being a safety and, I like to tell those guys, being a ‘risky.’ It's a different thing. But you don't want a safety that's ready, fire, aim. And you don't want a safety that's ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, never pull the trigger.

“That's where I told him my opinion was that's where he's gotten to these last couple games. I want him to get back to early in the season where that 23 was a blur everywhere on the field. And you don't want to be risky and you don't want to take chances sometimes when you are the post player, but you've got to pull the trigger when it comes.

“I have enough confidence in him to trust his judgment to pull the trigger.

 Rodney knows big plays have affected us. He's trying not to allow a big play. Sometimes that's the wrong approach to take. And hopefully we can get him back to being the blur on the field that he was first half of the season.”

McLeod, who was selected a second Pro Bowl alternate Tuesday evening, was off to a great start this year.

In the Eagles’ first six games, he averaged 9.2 tackles per game, had three interceptions plus a sack and forced fumble. In the last eight, he’s averaged 6.9 tackles with no interceptios or other impact plays.

McLeod said he doesn’t think he’s been awful the second half of the season. It’s just that when he’s had a bad play, it’s been glaring.

“I think it hasn’t been a great amount of plays,” he said. “I think it’s just a couple plays. … I think I’m still the same player. Just a few plays that you see on film maybe. I know what type of player I need to be for this team.”

As for the Dixon touchdown, McLeod really had no excuses. Just an explanation.

“They ran a flip play to try to slow us down, I recognize it and saw it and just trying to get him on the ground, save us and give us another opportunity to line up and play another snap,” he said.

“And on that I just lost aware of the field, and looking at it on film and looking at the replay, I definitely would have taken a shot and been more aggressive on that play.

“You’ve just got to know when you can take shots and when you can’t. There’s certain times where you can. I think that flip play was one of those times where I probably need to be more overly aggressive when you’re at that point. You’re close to the end zone, what do you have to lose? And just trust your teammates will rally to the ball.

“I practice it a lot, man, take pride in it, and this team expects me to be more aggressive and that’s what I’m going to do.”

McLeod knows that fans have been on him since the Ravens' game, and he said he prides himself on being a physical player and never shying away from contact. The criticism hurts.

“Yeah, I mean, it definitely does,” he said. “But I think it’s just a few plays where looking at it, I’m like, ‘OK, it’s easily fixed.’

“I don’t think it’s something that’s been showing all year. I’m not going to change how I play. Just certain times go ahead and pull that trigger.”

Turns out, Alshon Jeffery was injured all season

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AP Images

Turns out, Alshon Jeffery was injured all season

We all know about the myriad injuries the Eagles suffered on their way to the Super Bowl.

Nobody knew about this one.

Alshon Jeffery had surgery Wednesday morning to repair a torn rotator cuff that he played through all season, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Per Rapoport, Jeffery suffered the injury in training camp this past summer. We did know Jeffery suffered some sort of shoulder injury during the summer. Even after he returned, Doug Pederson remained very cautious with Jeffery. At the time, that seemed strange. Pederson just kept saying he held him out at his own discretion, even though it seemed like Jeffery and Carson Wentz needed time to build chemistry. All that seems to make more sense now.

Rotator cuff injuries can be especially difficult for wide receivers (over-the-head catches) and any skill player who gets tackled to the ground. In recent years, rotator cuff tears have either ended the season or caused multiweek absences for Eric Decker, Martellus Bennett and Plaxico Burress, among others. 

Jeffery's ability to play the whole season with a shoulder injury makes what he was able to do all the more impressive. He made a quick impact, catching two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in Weeks 1-4, then scored seven TDs from Weeks 8-14 before turning in a strong postseason.

Along the way, Jeffery earned a new contract that pays him $26.75 million guaranteed with a full value of $52 million. 

Safe to say that playing through pain worked out. How crazy is it to consider now that on Wentz's crucial Week 14 touchdown pass to Jeffery in L.A., the QB had a torn ACL and the receiver had a torn rotator cuff.

Jeffery confirmed the surgery via Instagram story on Wednesday afternoon.

Eagles Stay or Go — How about all the tight ends?

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USA Today Images

Eagles Stay or Go — How about all the tight ends?

In the third part of 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. Today is Billy Brown to Vinny Curry.

Billy Brown
Roob: Don't be surprised if Brown makes the team next year. He's got good size at 6-4/255, and from what we've seen he has pretty good hands. We saw his catching ability at training camp last year, and he caught eight passes for 51 yards in the preseason. Brown spent the entire 2017 season on the practice squad, but with the future of both Trey Burton and Brent Celek up in the air, Brown may be able to secure a roster spot with a good training camp. I expect Burton to get an offer in the $7 million per year range if he hits the open market, which the Eagles most likely won't be able to match, and Celek could either retire or get released to save cap space. Brown could be the next guy up.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: After spending his entire rookie season on the Eagles' practice squad, Brown is going to have a pretty good shot to make the roster in 2017. Brown, who came from Shepherd University, was a training camp standout last summer. He's a converted wide receiver, so he has a good past as a receiving tight end. He has to prove himself, but the path to making the 53-man roster is there. 

Verdict: STAYS

Trey Burton
Roob:
Burton has gone from an undrafted free agent long shot to make the roster in 2015 to one of the most attractive tight ends set to hit free agency this spring. With his soft hands, versatility and tremendous athleticism, Burton should be in line for a multi-year deal in the ballpark of $7 to $7.5 million per year. Even the Super Bowl touchdown pass speaks volumes about Burton and his ability to stay cool and composed and make a play under extreme pressure and in a situation he'd never been in as a pro. You'd love to be able to keep Burton, but Zach Ertz is the Eagles' tight end and they just don't have the cap space for the luxury of a high-priced backup.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Burton is no longer a secret. The Eagles actually tried to extend Burton during the 2016 season, but the two sides were never really close. Burton wanted to bet on himself and now that seems wise. He played the 2017 season on a relatively cheap deal after being a restricted free agent last offseason. But now he's unrestricted this time around and other teams are going to be interested. Burton had his best season in 2016, when he caught 37 passes for 327 yards, but he did have a career-high five touchdown catches in 2017. He's going to get paid more for his potential, though, and it's going to price out the Eagles. 

Verdict: GOES

Brent Celek
Roob: We continue Tight End Day with the 11-year veteran, one of the most popular Eagles of the past generation. Celek will one day be enshrined in the Eagles Hall of Fame, but now he's just another veteran with a $5 million cap figure that is just too high. Maybe Celek will help the Eagles avoid a major decision by retiring. Celek has plenty of interests outside football and he's 33 years old now and has a ring, and retirement may be attractive to him. Go out on top. Or maybe he'll take a massive pay cut down to the veteran's minimum and stick around another year and get the two yards he needs for 5,000. But I think it's most likely Celek won't be here next year. Whatever happens, he'll always be remembered as a champion.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is a tough one just because it's Celek. He embodies the city of Philadelphia better than anyone else on the team. He's also the longest-tenured athlete in the city. It's important to him to be a career Eagle, to never play for another team. But he just can't be back in 2018 on his current salary. It doesn't make good football or business sense. His cap number in 2018 is $5 million, which is just way too high for a reserve blocking tight end. It would be tough for the Eagles to flat out cut him, but if he doesn't want to retire and doesn't want to restructure down to nearly the minimum, that's what's going to have to happen. 

Verdict: GOES

Corey Clement
Roob: 
To go from an undrafted rookie free agent running back with virtually no history as a pass catcher to a 100-yard receiver in the Super Bowl in 10 months is just insane. Clement showed me enough that I believe he can be a lead back on this team. I think the plan will be to take a good long look at Jay Ajayi this coming season, with Ajayi and Clement splitting time, then decide after 2018 whether or not to keep Ajayi, who is due to become a free agent in another year. But under any scenario, Clement will be a major part of this team's running back corps for at least the next few years.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I was wrong about Clement last summer. I thought he was a good running back but there was nothing special about him. I thought Wendell Smallwood deserved to be ahead of him on the depth chart. Oops. Clement had an incredible rookie season. The most incredible thing was that he became a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield, something he had never been in college or even in high school. He did everything the Eagles asked him to do in his rookie season and excelled at everything. He hasn't just earned a spot on the roster; he's earned the right to be a part of the running back rotation going forward. 

Verdict: STAYS

Fletcher Cox
Roob:
I think Fletch might be around a while. Cox goes into his seventh season with the Eagles having made three straight Pro Bowls and is one of the most dominating interior linemen in the NFL. And he's under contract for the next five years. He stays. And will stay for the foreseeable future.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Sometimes we all sort of forget how good Cox really is. As an interior defensive lineman, Cox doesn't always make flashy plays. But just ask around the league about the Eagles' defense and everyone comes back with one guy on their mind: big No. 91. There's a reason he's become a perennial Pro Bowler and there's a reason he got a $100 million contract last offseason. He's the engine to the Eagles' defense and we saw him elevate his game even more in the run to the Super Bowl by barely leaving the field. This is stupid easy. 

Verdict: STAYS

Vinny Curry
Roob: Curry didn't really have the stat numbers to back it up, but he did play fairly well this year. He's got some massive cap numbers coming up — $11 million in 2018, $11.25 million in 2019 and $12.25 million in 2020. Those are astronomical figures for a guy who has nine sacks in his last 50 games. The Eagles could clear $5 million in cap space by releasing Curry, and that number goes up to $7.25 million next year and $10.25 million before the 2020 season. I think he stays this year, but those cap savings could be tempting for the cap-starved Eagles.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: After a down season in 2016, Curry became a starter and had the best year of his career in 2017. Some folks will argue against that because his sack numbers weren't shocking, but Curry was just tremendously solid as a rusher and against the run in 2017. He's a big reason why the Eagles' defensive line was their top unit and why their run defense was the best in the NFL. But his cap hit of $11 million is a killer this year and first-rounder Barnett is ready to start. I think if Curry is back, it'll be after reworking that deal. But for now ... 

Verdict: GOES