Alshon Jeffery

Eagles Mailbag: Free agents to-be; 5 players they can't lose

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Eagles Mailbag: Free agents to-be; 5 players they can't lose

It's hard to believe we're already through a quarter of the 2017 season. Time is flying. 

And thanks to the Thursday night game in Carolina next week, the Eagles will be through six games by this time next week. 

Let's hop into your questions: 

Yeah, it's a little early for this. But so far, it looks like the Eagles will be interested in signing both of these players long term. Sure, Alshon Jeffery's numbers haven't been great but he's gone against some great corners and he hasn't really clicked with Carson Wentz just yet. The Eagles tried to downplay the issue of their chemistry all summer, but now it looks like there was something to that. Jeffery still has the skills to be a top receiver in this league. 

Meanwhile, Jernigan is playing so well, he might price himself right out of Philadelphia. If he continues to have a big season, the Eagles are going to have a tough decision to make because he might demand some big money on the free agent market. He has proven he can play in a passive 3-4 system as well as an aggressive 4-3 like Jim Schwartz runs. 

If either of these two guys walk after the season, the Eagles will need to replace them. Beau Allen is also set to become a free agent, so the Eagles will definitely need help at defensive tackle. That's tricky, though, because their other defensive tackle, Fletcher Cox, will have a $17.9 million cap hit in 2018. 

With LeGarrette Blount on a one-year deal, the Eagles might need to bring in another running back. Another key free agent will be linebacker Nigel Bradham. He played very well in 2016 but is off to a rough start this season. 

"Why do we fall, Bruce?" 

I get why some fans want to forget about last season and move on, but it's important for the Eagles to learn from their mistakes. This week, there has been a lot of talk from last year and it's not hard to figure out why. For the second straight season, the Eagles started with a 3-1 record. This is about the time of the year where things went downhill in a hurry in 2016. The Eagles obviously need to avoid that type of free fall this year. 

This time around, it looks like they'll have Lane Johnson for the entire season. That makes a big difference. Don't overlook the fact that since the start of the 2016 season, the Eagles are 8-2 with him and 2-8 without him. 

Well, Cox is already out right now, so that's why I'm leaving him off the list. But the five aside from him: Wentz, Jason Peters, Zach Ertz, Jordan Hicks, Malcolm Jenkins. 

It was tough leaving Brandon Graham off this list. He was the toughest omission because he starts so much of their pass rush, but the team can replace him with a first-round pick. That wouldn't be awful. 

Wentz is the obvious one. Nick Foles is a good backup quarterback but the Eagles can't lose Wentz. Peters is defying everything we know about age. He continues to play at a high level. If they lost Peters, Lane Johnson could fill in but then Big V would be at right tackle. Ertz is the best tight end in football right now and everything on offense has been running through him. Hicks is a very good middle linebacker and is responsible for the calls on defense. And Jenkins never gets enough credit. He's a leader on the back end. He's a great safety and can even come down and play in the slot. Those are my five. 

Yeah, that's the way it works. When a team is forced to forfeit their pick, it just goes right to the next one. I guess that is unfair to potential draft picks but there's always fluctuation in the number of draft picks because of the compensatory selections. 

Undrafted players and late-round draft picks don't really get paid much differently. The real difference is the amount of guaranteed money, which isn't a little thing. But undrafted free agents have the ability to choose their destination. So if two teams want to sign them, they can pick the better fit. They'd obviously rather hear their name called, but it's not the end of the world if they don't. 

Yeah, Graham didn't have his best game against the Chargers. But he wasn't bad either. I think we've all just become used to him constantly getting pressure. He'll have a real chance to get something going this weekend. The Cardinals' right tackle, Jared Veldheer, has struggled and Carson Palmer has been sacked an NFL-high 17 times (see 5 matchups to watch)

Eagles Film Review: Alshon Jeffery's hidden impact

Eagles Film Review: Alshon Jeffery's hidden impact

Through four games, Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has 17 receptions for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns. That puts him on pace to finish 2017 with 68 receptions, 860 yards and 8 touchdowns.

That’s good – but is it $9.5-million-per-year good?

That’s the amount the Eagles agreed to pay Jeffery in March, and while it was only a one-year contract, we’re a quarter of the way through the season, and there’s a sense we may be no closer to knowing whether he was worth it. That figure doesn’t even include incentives, of which he’s currently on pace to earn another $400,000.

Ten million dollars for good-not-great production. Of course, there’s more to a player’s value than statistics.

Jeffery may not be busting out of the box score on a weekly basis, but he’s doing a heck of a lot more damage than the numbers suggest. Look no further than what the presence of a true No. 1 receiver has done for Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

“It’s benefited (Ertz) tremendously,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday. “He’s getting a little more of the one-on-one stuff. You’re not seeing the combo coverages necessarily on Zach until you get in the red zone area.

“Having Alshon on the outside, on the perimeter, has really allowed him to have better one-on-one matchups. He does a great job with that, and a good route-runner – obviously, it’s really helped him.”

Ertz is currently tied for fourth in the NFL with 26 receptions and ranks sixth with 326 receiving yards. The fifth-year player is off to the by far best start of his career, and it is absolutely thanks in part to Jeffery.

Look at Ertz’s 38-yard catch against the Chargers in Week 4. Jeffery is at the top of the screen in a twin-receiver set with Nelson Agholor, with two tight ends bunched at the bottom. Right away, you can see the single-high safety is shaded to the receiver-side of the field – he’s on the right hash mark, and the ball is being snapped on the left.

But with Jeffery and Agholor running shallow crosses, Ertz is really who the deep safety needs to be worried about.

Further compounding the matter for the Chargers, Brent Celek’s route to the sideline is going to draw the defensive back, leaving a linebacker stuck on Ertz down the field.

The defense winds up with five players looking at Jeffery and Agholor, a defensive back on 32-year-old Celek – and Ertz soon to be all alone. It’s a nice play-design all-around, but the lack of safety help over the top is what allows this to go for a huge gain.

These plays rarely happened in 2016 because the Eagles didn’t have a legitimate big-play threat on the outside. Jordan Matthews was the best wide receiver on the team, and he lined up primarily in the slot. That made life easy on defenses, which could focus all of the attention on the middle of the field, where Ertz does the bulk of his work.

“It spreads people out,” Pederson said. “Defensively, you’re worried about a couple of guys, not just one or an area of the field. “

It’s not just Ertz that’s benefiting, either. Agholor pulled in a 36-yard reception on a similar look in the first quarter, and Torrey Smith would’ve had a big play, too, if he could only hold on to the football.

Jeffery may not have the pure numbers to justify his salary, but there’s no question he’s making a difference. Plus, in addition to drawing safety help to his side of the field, Jeffery has often drawn the defense’s No. 1 cornerback as well – Josh Norman, Marcus Peters, Janoris Jenkins and Casey Heyward thus far.

“That’s part of it,” Pederson said. “Any time you put their top defender against your top receiver, I don’t want to say it eliminates the field, but it definitely draws your attention to other areas. They can be part of the – I don’t want to say a problem – but it can be a part of the lack of targets and things like that because it’s a solid matchup.

“You’re not going to sit there and try to shove sand when you don’t need to. You still have a tight end and a couple other receivers and the run game that you can work.”

In other words, when the Cardinals have Patrick Peterson locked on Jeffery all day this Sunday (see 5 matchups to watch), don’t be surprised when the Eagles target Ertz or look to their other options instead.

Eagles-Cardinals 5 matchups to watch

Eagles-Cardinals 5 matchups to watch

The Eagles (3-1) are riding high after returning from Los Angeles with their second road win of the season. 

Meanwhile, the Cardinals (2-2) come to the Linc after an 18-15 overtime win against the 49ers at home. In fact, both of the Cardinals' wins have come in overtime. 

This Arizona team isn't the same one that won 13 games in 2015. The Cardinals have fallen off a little bit, going 7-8-1 last season. But they still have good players at key positions. 

Here are five matchups to watch on Sunday: 

Jared Veldheer vs. Brandon Graham 
The Cardinals' right tackle has struggled this season and is going against the Eagles' best edge rusher. Veldheer has given up two sacks, three QB hits and 16 QB hurries so far this season, according to ProFootballFocus. He really struggled against Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence.  

On a conference call with Philly reporters earlier this week, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said QB Carson Palmer is in the best shape he's ever been. 

"We've just got to quit getting him hit so much," Arians said. 

Palmer has been sacked 17 times through four games. That's more than any other quarterback in the NFL and just the eighth time in the last 10 years a QB has been sacked that much through four games. 

Meanwhile, the Eagles had eight sacks in the first two weeks of the season but have had just two over the last two weeks. Graham might have a chance in this one. 

Cardinals' running backs vs. Eagles' run defense
The Cardinals have the worst rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 57.0 yards per game. They're clearly missing David Johnson, who is out with a wrist injury. In his place, the Cards are using a combination of senior citizen Chris Johnson and former starter Andre Ellington. It hasn't gone that well. 

On the flip side, the Eagles have the second-best run defense in the league, giving up just 70.8 yards per game. 

Arians said he would like to be more balanced and run the ball but fourth quarters have dictated their lack of run game. They might try to get it going in Philly on Sunday but it won't be easy. 

Larry Fitzgerald vs. Patrick Robinson
Fitzgerald is 34 years old and is still the Cardinals' best receiver. It's pretty insane. This season he has 26 catches for 276 yards and two TDs. He's on pace for what would be his ninth 1,000-yard season and his third straight. He should be slowing down, but the move into the slot a couple years ago has really given his career some extra length. 

Arians said most teams elect to use their slot cornerback against Fitzgerald and if the Eagles do that, it means Robinson will give it a go. Robinson came in as an outside starter for the Eagles but got bumped inside after they acquired Ronald Darby. Robinson's been great there so far this season. 

Now, in the past, Malcolm Jenkins has enjoyed this matchup against Fitzgerald. And there's a chance he might play there some on Sunday, but it'll depend on the health of Corey Graham. Graham has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. If Jenkins moves into the slot, the Eagles need Graham to take his spot at safety. 

"It would be a huge benefit to get Corey in there," Doug Pederson said. "And it does give Malcolm flexibility to move down into the box and play some nickel if need be." 

Alshon Jeffery vs. Patrick Peterson
Jeffery has been somewhat underwhelming through the first quarter of his first season with the Birds. He has 17 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He's on pace for 68 catches, 860 yards and eight touchdowns. Not bad, but not WR1-type numbers either. 

And this week, it won't get any easier. Peterson is one of the NFL's best cover corners. This is his seventh NFL season and he's already been to the Pro Bowl six times and has been All-Pro three times. Expect to see him stick with Jeffery all afternoon on Sunday. 

Jason Peters vs. Chandler Jones
The Cardinals lost Markus Golden for the season to an ACL tear but they still have Jones, their best pass rusher. He already has four sacks this season and is on pace for his third straight double-digit sack season. Jones is a handful. 

Most of Jones' snaps this season and all four of his sacks have come from the right side, which means he'll be going against Peters a lot on Sunday. But Peters has been incredible through four games. He has yet to give up a sack or a QB hit and has given up just four QB hurries. 

So maybe, the Cardinals want to move Jones over to the right tackle. The problem there is that Lane Johnson has been nearly as good. Either way, it'll be a good battle.