Eagles

Eagles Mailbag: Jeffery's next contract, Robinson's future, Embiid in football

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Eagles Mailbag: Jeffery's next contract, Robinson's future, Embiid in football

With the bye week, it seems like the Eagles haven't played football in a few months, but they'll finally get a chance to take the field on Sunday Night in North Texas. 

During the bye week, they watched all three division teams fall, but also watched a few teams other top teams in the NFC get wins. 

A win Sunday over Dallas could pretty much make the division title a lock and then the Eagles can try to lock up one of the top two seeds in the conference to get a first-round bye. 

This has been a fun season so far, huh? 

To your questions: 

Yeah, I'd expect something similar. Lawrence has been just as disruptive as Miller this season. He already has 11 1/2 sacks to lead the NFL. It seemed like the Eagles had a really good game plan for Miller. They did a few different things to neutralize him during the game. 

At times, they offered Lane Johnson some help. At other times, they let Johnson go 1-on-1 against Miller. And they also schemed some plays to take Miller out of the game in more unique ways. One particular naked play to the right sticks out. On the Alshon Jeffery touchdown, the Eagles ran a zone-read play that eventually left Miller with a straight path to Carson Wentz, but Wentz was able to stand in and deliver the throw before Miller got there. 

The Eagles will get creative, but, for the most part, they need to let Johnson take on Lawrence. Johnson has been playing at a Pro Bowl level — let him earn his trip to Hawaii or wherever the hell they play that game these days! After all, this matchup is one of the reasons they kept him at right tackle when Jason Peters went down. Let him take on another top pass-rusher. 

I think this job will belong to Patrick Robinson on Sunday. With Ronald Darby's return, the Eagles can have him and Jalen Mills outside and let Robinson focus on playing in the slot, where he has been outstanding this season. 

I don't think it makes much sense for Malcolm Jenkins to cover Beasley. Remember the game a few years ago, when Beasley went over 100 yards with two touchdowns against the Eagles? Yeah, Jenkins was on him. When Jenkins is at his best in the slot, he's going against tight ends or bigger slot receivers. Beasley is way shiftier, so Robinson makes sense. 

Robinson has been the single biggest surprise of the Eagles' season. He's been an even bigger surprise than Nelson Agholor. At least Agholor looked good during the summer. Robinson looked awful until the team moved him into the slot. Since then, though, he's been incredible. 

Here's the problem: the Eagles are going to have a logjam at corner. So would they want to bring back Robinson, who came here on a one-year deal? Well, look at who will still be on the roster. They'll still have Darby, Mills, Rasul Douglas and (presumably) Sidney Jones. All four of those guys are 23 or younger, while Robinson is 30 and probably doesn't fit into their future. If he gets a decent offer elsewhere, he's probably gone. 

Nice to see you're taking advantage of the 280 character limit, Drew. I wasn't very surprised the Eagles didn't make a move to bring in a starting tackle. There aren't a ton of those guys available. No left tackle tree in sight. You could argue Duane Brown was that guy this season and the Seahawks got him. Should the Eagles have looked into that? Yeah, probably. 

But Halapoulivaati Vaitai has played well. No, he's not Jason Peters, but there's a reason his name hasn't come up much over the last few weeks. Vaitai has been described to me as a player who just needed confidence. That's why in some games you've seen him start slow but get better as the game goes on. The Eagles think he can play and he has been proving them right so far this season. 

As far as the NFC being wide open this year? Yup. It is. And you're right, there's a chance a few of those teams will bounce back stronger next year. I don't look at the Eagles' not making a move for a starting tackle as them not going for it this year. They're going for it. They just think Big V will hold up. 

I'm going to be pretty boring here. Sorry. I think Mills will end the year with the team lead in interceptions and Brandon Graham will lead the team in sacks. 

Right now, Mills is tied with Robinson — each has three picks. But with the return of Darby, I expect Mills to have plenty of opportunities the rest of the way. 

Graham leads the team in sacks with five, a half sack more than Fletcher Cox. Graham will finish more because it's just easier for defensive ends to get sacks than interior rushers. And Graham just happens to be the Eagles' best pass-rusher. 

This is an interesting question for this reason: Jeffery hasn't put up big numbers this season. He has just 34 catches for 500 yards and five touchdowns. Not terrible, but not WR1-type production. 

A big reason for that is because of how smoothly the Eagles' offense has been running. Wentz is comfortable spreading the ball to all of his receivers, which means none of them have put up great numbers. The problem for Jeffery is that numbers come up in negotiations. This negotiation will be an interesting one. The Eagles' coaches clearly value Jeffery, but it might not be easy to find the right number. 

Spotrac has a pretty cool feature that looks at market values of a player. According to that tool, Jeffery's market value would be around $10.2 million per year, which could come out to be a five-year deal worth a little over $51 million. That would be a higher annual value than his one-year, $9.5 million deal in 2017. 

You have to remember, though, NFL contracts are never as they seem. A five-year contract worth $51 million isn't actually worth $51 million. The Eagles could backload a deal and find something to make it work. If there's one thing Howie Roseman is good at, it's this stuff. 

The biggest unknown is Jeffery. I think the Eagles would like to re-sign him. If they don't, they'll need to either sign another big-time free agent or draft a receiver high. It would make more sense to sign one in free agency because it's hard to know what to expect from rookie receivers. The Eagles could keep Torrey Smith for $5 million, but they shouldn't. The production just isn't there. And Mack Hollins has been taking on a more significant role throughout the season. He's the next guy up. Nelson Agholor can play outside but he's clearly found a home inside. But he could play outside in 12 personnel. So some combination of Jeffery/free agent, Hollins and Agholor would be my guess. 

At running back, Jay Ajayi will be the guy. LeGarrette Blount's one-year deal will be up and the Eagles won't need him back. Corey Clement might have a role. Wendell Smallwood is interesting because he's the odd man out now, but who knows next season. His issue has been staying healthy. When he's on the field, he can play a little. 

This is fun. Here's the thing we sometimes forget about NBA players because they're always surrounded by other NBA players. They're enormous. They're basically like modern-day dinosaurs. I once met Yao Ming and he could have picked me up, put me in his shirt pocket and walked away without anyone noticing. 

We'll start with Embiid, who is listed at 7-foot, 250 pounds. He would end up being tied for the tallest player in NFL history. Richard Sligh was a 7-footer who played one season in 1967. Heck, Embiid would be three inches taller than Ed "Too Tall" Jones. 

The tallest player on the Eagles' roster is 6-6. They have five guys that tall and three of them are offensive tackles. Embiid is so tall that defensive ends would be able to use their leverage to beat him. But King Dunlap was about 6-10 and that prehistoric creature ended up having a decent NFL career. Embiid is an offensive tackle, but he'd have to bulk up. 

OK, now to Simmons. He's listed at 6-10, 230. He's just too thin to play on the offensive line. I'm putting Simmons at tight end. That's the position everyone seems to think LeBron would play, so why not Simmons too? Imagine throwing the ball up to him in the end zone!

Eagles-Cowboys thoughts: A chance to bury desperate Dallas

Eagles-Cowboys thoughts: A chance to bury desperate Dallas

Eagles-Cowboys 
8:30 p.m. on NBC
Eagles favored by 3 

The Eagles will need to come out of their bye week with guns blazing as they prepare to duel the NFC East rival Cowboys in Dallas at AT&T Stadium on Sunday Night Football.

This is a pivotal game for the Cowboys, who, at 5-4, are currently out of the playoff picture. A defeat would all but erase their already long odds of winning the division, and possibly put them as many as two games back of a wild-card spot. That would be a tough hole to climb out of.

Win or lose, the Eagles are in good shape as they come in with the best record in the NFL at 8-1. However, they don’t need to give the Cowboys hope. Plus, the attention will soon turn to playoff seeding, with the prospect of another bye, possibly even home-field advantage throughout.

There’s a lot on the line for both teams already in Week 11. But it’s Eagles-Cowboys, so would you want things any other way?

Not the same ol’ Cowboys
So what did happen to the Cowboys? This team looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2014 and 2016, and the break in between can be chalked up to an injury under center. Seeing as the quarterback is fine, why exactly is Dallas struggling to stay above .500?

The answer is simple: The offensive line’s performance has fallen off dramatically, which in retrospect, was actually predictable.

The Cowboys' playoff squads of recent years were built around the O-line. It’s no coincidence Dallas had the NFL’s leading rusher in both 2014 (DeMarco Murray) and 2016 (Ezekiel Elliott). The offense leaned on the ground attack and asked less of the quarterback — mostly don’t turn the ball over — using a ball-control style to cover up deficiencies elsewhere.

Of course, the O-line largely remained the same and intact for those two years. Not the case in 2017.

Right tackle Doug Free retired and was replaced by La’el Collins. Left guard Ronald Leary departed as a free agent, his place taken by Chaz Green, then Jonathan Cooper when he wasn’t cutting it. The unit’s core is still in place in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, but the departures also hurt depth. With Smith hurt (back/groin), the Cowboys are down to Byron Bell at left tackle.

It’s a mess, and the Cowboys are one injury away from falling into complete chaos up front. So much of success in the NFL is predicated on strong offensive line play, and Dallas has not had its finest year there.

Facing the Eagles’ front four and No. 1 run defense Sunday, the Cowboys aren’t likely to turn it around overnight.

Cry the Eagles a river
The Cowboys will be without their All-Pro left tackle Sunday night. They will be without their starting middle linebacker and the heart and soul of their defense, Sean Lee (hamstring). They’re even going to be without their Pro Bowl kicker, Dan Bailey.

Sound familiar? It should. The Eagles have gone through more or less the exact same situation in 2017.

There’s no denying Dallas is in a precarious state due in large part to all the absences. That’s also no excuse. The Eagles lost left tackle Jason Peters, and so far they’ve kept on ticking. They lost middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, and there’s been little to no drop-off whatsoever. They lost kicker Caleb Sturgis, then went out and found Jake Elliott.

And as for the suspension to Cowboys running back and reigning rushing champion Elliott, his behavior was bound to catch up with him eventually. Another parallel, regardless, as the Eagles are without running back and return specialist Darren Sproles, too.

If Dallas can’t withstand the losses, the team probably wasn’t good enough in the first place. After all, you don’t hear the Eagles complaining.

On Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott
There’s been a great deal of debate over the past two seasons about whether Wentz or Prescott is better, and in all likelihood, it’s a discussion we will continue to have for years to come. It’s also a pointless conversation because one number and one number alone will eventually become the decisive factor... wins.

Specifically, Super Bowl wins, assuming either player ever has the privilege. Look no further than their first two seasons in the league for evidence.

Last season, when the Cowboys finished 13-3 and went to the playoffs, the team was riding high, and Prescott received a lot of the credit and attention for that. Meanwhile, the Eagles slogged through a 7-9 campaign, and Wentz faced many doubts leading up to this year.

Now it’s 2017, the Eagles are 8-1 thanks in part to an infusion of talent, and Wentz is widely considered the frontrunner to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player. On the flipside, Dallas is struggling for various reasons, so this time Prescott looks like a work in progress.

See how this works?

To look at the quarterback comparison from a historical context, take Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Manning was almost always the more prolific of the future Hall of Fame signal callers, but Brady often bested him head to head on the field and is running away with the competition in terms the Super Bowl rings — five, and counting, to two.

That’s what it’s going to boil down to for Wentz and Prescott — head-to-head wins, NFC East supremacy, Super Bowls. Only a year-and-a-half into their careers, there’s little use trying to make a case either way, as their stories are yet to be written.

Eagles-Cowboys predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Cowboys predictions by our (cough) experts

The Birds are back.

And fresh off the bye week, they hop right into a doozy Sunday night against the divisional rival Cowboys at AT&T Stadium (8:30 p.m./NBC).

Will the Eagles (8-1) push their win streak to eight games? Or will the Cowboys (5-4) answer the bell at home and keep things interesting in the NFC East?

Here are our expert predictions for the Week 11 matchup:

Reuben Frank (9-0)
Eagles 38, Cowboys 11. Usually, I work my way up to the actual prediction and try to build up a tremendous level of anticipation with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about matchups, trends, analytics and whatnot before getting around to the pick. 

But not this week. I’m not messing around here. The Eagles are going to crush this team. 

Here’s a stat I love: Since 2000, the Cowboys have lost 21 games by at least 22 points. Ten of them — almost half — have been against the Eagles. And five of their seven home losses since 2000 by 22 or more points have been at the hands of the Eagles. Don’t believe me?

2000 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 41, Cowboys 14
2001 at the Vet — Eagles 40, Cowboys 18
2001 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 36, Cowboys 3
2002 at the Vet — Eagles 44, Cowboys 13
2002 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 27, Cowboys 3
2003 at the Linc — Eagles 36, Cowboys 10
2004 at Texas Stadium — Eagles 49, Cowboys 21
2008 at the Linc — Eagles 44, Cowboys 6
2011 at the Linc — Eagles 34, Cowboys 7
2014 at AT&T Stadium — Eagles 33, Cowboys 10

Big Red used to crush the Cowboys, didn't he? Even soon-to-be-Florida head coach Chip Kelly had himself a rout of the Cowboys — it got the Eagles to 9-3 on Thanksgiving Day in 2014. 

So here’s the funny thing: I picked 38-11 and then decided to change my prediction to the averages of those 10 routs and it turned out to be … 38-11. That's fate. Eagles will return to Philly Monday morning 9-1 with an eight-game winning streak and a virtual lock on the NFC East. This one's going to be fun!

Eagles 38, Cowboys 11

Dave Zangaro (7-2)
No Sean Lee. No Ezekiel Elliott. And a banged-up Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith (at best). 

Even if all of them were completely healthy, I'd probably lean toward picking the Eagles. Without them? No-brainer. 

Now, maybe the Eagles come out of the bye week a little rusty. It could happen after a long layoff, especially after a flight to North Texas for the game. But the Eagles have proven time and time again that their focus just isn't an issue. There's no reason to expect that to be a problem Sunday night. 

And the Birds are getting healthy. Ronald Darby is back. As well as the Eagles' other corners fared while he was gone, there's a reason he's a starter. And they get back Zach Ertz, who just happens to be one of their most important offensive weapons. 

Games against division rivals are not normally easy, so maybe the Eagles don't blow them out. But I think this is a win. 

Eagles 27, Cowboys 20 

Derrick Gunn (8-1)
Now that their bye week is over, the Eagles are focused on wrapping up the NFC East. Dallas is licking its wounds after getting manhandled down in Atlanta. Elliott is serving his suspension. Lee is out with a hamstring injury, and the Pro Bowler Smith is ailing with a groin injury. 

It all sounds too easy for the Birds, but with Prescott on the other side, they’re not about to overlook this one. And they still remember what happened in Dallas last season.

Without Elliott and Smith, trying to establish a ground game against the Eagles’ top-ranked run defense will be near impossible. 

Dallas is 0-2 in games Lee hasn't played in this season. 

Carson Wentz will spread the wealth through the air, and now that Jay Ajayi has had extended time to get familiar with the offense, the Birds' running attack should be even more diversified. 

If the Eagles' defense can make the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional, it's game over.

Eagles 27, Cowboys 17

Ray Didinger (8-1)
The Otho Davis Scholarship Fund dinner was held this week, honoring the late Eagles trainer and awarding scholarships to students pursuing careers in sports medicine. The room was full of former Eagles players and Philadelphia fans and, of course, there was a lot of conversation about Sunday's big game against Dallas.

The confidence level was high. I heard a dozen variations on "This will be a blowout." The thinking goes something like this: No Elliott, no chance for the Cowboys. Their pitiful performance in last week's loss to Atlanta was all the evidence the Eagles fans needed. And, yes, if that same Cowboys team shows up Sunday night, the Eagles will be in fine shape.

But my guess is the Cowboys will play much better this week at home. I'm still not sure it will be enough because right now the Eagles are playing better than any team in the NFL. I'll take the Eagles, which will virtually wrap up the division title, but I don't think it will be as easy as some folks think.

Eagles 28, Cowboys 20

Andrew Kulp (8-1)
With all their injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys really don't look so hot. 

Arguably their three best players — Smith, Elliott and Lee — are all out. They won't be able to run the ball, they'll struggle to protect Prescott, and the defense will struggle to slow down Wentz and the Eagles' offense.

All the stuff about this being a division rival on the road or the possibility of the Eagles coming off their bye week flat are going to fade pretty quickly with one simple reality. The Cowboys are an inferior opponent right now. Maybe not 49ers bad, or even Broncos bad, but at this point, they could struggle to finish .500.

Eagles 38, Cowboys 23

Corey Seidman (6-3)
No Zeke, no Lee, maybe no Smith, banged-up Bryant … the Cowboys are oozing with "nobody believes in us" potential this Sunday night. And just when one team is so undermanned that all hope looks lost (see: Giants-Broncos earlier this season), things turn out in an unexpected way.

Still, I'm not taking the Cowboys in this game. If they had Zeke, I think I would. But Alfred Morris is in that Rob Kelley mold of plodding running back who tends to struggle against the Eagles, and that'll make the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional. With Bryant at less than 100 percent, I just don't see Dallas keeping the pace.

Eagles 34, Cowboys 17