Can Eagles afford to keep 3rd-string stud Trey Burton?

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Can Eagles afford to keep 3rd-string stud Trey Burton?

He doesn't get that many chances. When they come, he never fails to produce.

Welcome to the world of Trey Burton, who is essentially the Eagles' third tight end but is talented enough that he could probably start for a lot of teams out there.

With Zach Ertz out with a concussion, Burton had a career day Sunday, with five catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles' 43-35 win over the Rams at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.

Burton's previous high was 65 yards against the Redskins last year, but Sunday's game came on the heels of a 4-for-42 performance a week earlier in Seattle. Two weeks before that, he was 2-for-41 with a touchdown against the Broncos.

Here's a list of previous Eagles tight ends with 70 yards and two TDs in a game in the last 50 years: Charle Young vs. the Saints in 1973, John Spagnola vs. the Saints in 1985, Chad Lewis vs. the Giants in 2000 and Ertz vs. the Cowboys the last day of last season.

"I just did whatever needed to be done," Burton said. "Zach was out, which we don’t like, we love having Zach in there, he makes so many plays. But somebody needed to step up and Brent and I both did what we needed to do."

Brent Celek caught a touchdown pass and Burton caught two, making this the first game in four years in which Eagles' tight ends caught three TDs. In early December 2013, Ertz had two TDs and Celek had one against the Cardinals.

Burton is a remarkable story.

Undrafted out of Florida. Didn't catch a pass until his 26th NFL game. Didn't have a touchdown until his 32nd NFL game. Didn't surpass 50 receiving yards until his 38th NFL game.

But in 20 games since Week 8 of last year, Burton has 42 catches for 426 yards and four touchdowns.

That's awfully good production for a third tight end. And he still plays fewer snaps than Celek.

"We're probably the only team in the league that can have one of the best tight ends go down and not play in a game and feel the degree of confidence that we have in the guy that's stepping up for him as far as a route runner with Trey and then with the things Brent can do," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.

"Trey deserves a lot of credit. He's got a great skill-set and is a great playmaker."

Despite averaging only 20 snaps per game on offense (along with 20 more on special teams), Burton is 12th in the NFL among all tight ends with four touchdown catches.

Nobody on the roster has better hands than Burton, who in recent weeks has made challenging catches seem routine.

“Celek and I are just good players," Burton shrugged. "I think Zach would do the same thing if he (played vs. the Rams)."

Burton could start for a lot of teams. But he said he doesn't get frustrated at his lack of playing time or targets.

“Can’t control it," he said. "I can’t pout, I can’t be angry. I’m sitting behind one of the best in the NFL right now. Love that dude to death, extremely happy for him and Celek, all the opportunities that they get. Couldn’t be happier for them."

Then there's his contract.

Burton is playing on a one-year, $2.746 million deal he got this past offseason.

It's a deal that really reflects his value on special teams as well as a situational tight end. And it's an unusual amount of money for a backup tight end.

But the way he's played so far this year, Burton would be in line for a long-term deal worth much more this coming offseason.

Will it be here? Will it be elsewhere? Will the Eagles cut ties with Celek — who's been here since 2007 — in order to free up money to keep Burton? Releasing Celek would clear $4 million in cap space the Eagles desperately need. Or can Howie Roseman squeeze all three tight ends under the Eagles' 2018 salary cap?

Celek turns 33 next month and is still a capable blocker and receiver, but Burton just turned 26 and keeps getting better.

It would be tough to let Burton go.

Whatever is going to happen, Burton says he isn't even thinking about it.

“No, not at all," he said. "I can’t control that right now.”

The Eagles have a few months before they have to make these decisions.

And there's a first-round bye and home-field advantage to clinch at the moment.

"Trey’s a tremendous athlete," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He works extremely hard. He’s a core special teams player for us. Really, Trey hasn’t probably gotten a lot of offensive plays this year, but when he has … he’s made the most of his opportunity.

"He did that (against the Rams). Real proud of the way Trey played."

Sidney Jones practices with Eagles for 1st time following Achilles injury

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Sidney Jones practices with Eagles for 1st time following Achilles injury

Sidney Jones went out for his first practice rep as a Philadelphia Eagle and had to resist the urge to break out in a huge smile.

"It was kickoff return," he said. "I was just so happy. I just looked around and couldn't believe it."

Jones, the Eagles' rookie second-round pick, practiced Wednesday for the first time since he blew out his Achilles during his pro day at the University of Washington back on March 11.

He probably won't play this year, but just being out there and practicing after 10 months of rehab was … indescribable.

"I can’t even describe how happy and excited I am," he said after practice. "It’s been a long road. I’m just happy to be back with my team.

“It’s been a long road to even play football. I haven’t played football since my last college game, which was approximately a year ago. It was a first step, and I can’t wait for the future."

The Eagles have a three-week window in which Jones is allowed to practice. After that, they have to either shut him down or activate him.

But Jones wasn't worried about any of that Wednesday. He was just thrilled to be on the field with the teammates who've helped him through this endless grind.

“It’s been a long journey," Jones said in his first interview since draft weekend in April. "I’ve had a great support system around me, everybody’s been helping me, telling me this, telling me that. 

"A few guys I reached out to or reached out to to me and gave me advice, people who’d hurt their Achilles before. Jason Peters helped me out a lot, Jordan Hicks helped me out a lot as well. Everybody’s been supportive."

The Eagles' defensive coaches threw a lot at Jones, treating him like a member of the active roster. He was in all the meetings, all the film sessions, out at practice watching. He prepared to play, even though he knew he couldn't.

It was all about keeping him engaged, keeping him involved, building toward 2018, when he'll presumably be a key member of this secondary.

"I think we'll see pretty quickly that he has a good grasp of what he's expected to do," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Keeping his ears open and his eyes open has been his No. 1 job description over these last six months.

"I've been really proud of what he's done there. I would be very surprised if he can't go in and execute what we're asking him to do. There's certainly a lot of rust that goes into it. With all due respect to our trainers, they are not a challenge to cover, and he's only been working with those guys. 

"So we've got to take each step along the way. It's almost like the first week of OTAs for him. It's not even really a first week of training camp. It's more like first week of OTAs for him." 

Jones said that when he was drafted, he didn't expect to get so much support from his teammates, but he said the other defensive backs have made sure he's felt a part of things throughout his rehab.

"I didn’t expect the league to be like this, but my teammates, my DB squad, they’re awesome, they’re terrific," he said. "Those are my brothers. 

"It’s a real brotherhood around here, and they’ve had my back every step of the way."

Jones, projected as a high first-round pick before his injury, said the past year has really taught him to appreciate the game more than he ever did.

“I was always grateful," he said. "In college I would go out and just every day think how grateful I am but now that it actually happened … and I got injured, I really have to be grateful because it could happen again. You never know when it’s going to happen. Just have to take every day like it's your last and go out there and give everything you’ve got."

Jones said his surgically reconstructed Achilles felt 100 percent at practice and he said he actually wasn't even thinking about it when he was out there running around.

He said he feels further behind physically than mentally.

“Just got to take it slow," he said. "I’ve got to get into shape first, that’s the biggest thing, so I don’t hurt any other body parts and stuff. Just trying to get better every day. It’s just a process.

"Just trying to get my feet wet so next year I’ll have some feet on the ground. Something to work with."

Torn ACL, players' day off, and Wentz still helps Foles plan for Giants

Torn ACL, players' day off, and Wentz still helps Foles plan for Giants

They've been together every day since training camp began. Carson Wentz and Nick Foles.

And now that Wentz's season is over and Foles is the Eagles' quarterback?

That won't change.

"He'll be a huge help," Foles said Tuesday of Wentz. "He was around today. [I was] just having conversations with him and how grateful we all are that Nate (Sudfeld), him and I have gotten to spend so much time together developing that relationship.

"He's going to come back stronger than ever. I know his mentality, him as a person, him as an athlete, this is just part of his journey, and we all continue to pray for him. And he's going to be instrumental every single week here on out for this team."

What does it say about Wentz that Tuesday — the players' day off and just two days after suffering that devastating injury — he was at the NovaCare Complex working with Foles and going over what he'll face Sunday against the Giants?

But nobody who's been paying attention all year should be surprised.

"He's fully supportive," Foles said. "We've been together this whole year, preseason, OTAs, and that he's going to be there every step of the way and I know he's got my back, and that will never change, and that goes both ways."

Foles will make his first start since last November and first in an Eagles uniform since November 2014 on Sunday when the Eagles face the Giants at 1 p.m. at the Meadowlands.

A win gives the Eagles a first-round bye in the playoffs. A win combined with a Vikings loss to the Bengals gives the Eagles home-field advantage through the NFC Championship game.

Foles is 15-9 as the Eagles' starting quarterback, including a 14-4 record since his rookie year.

Wentz was 11-2 in his 13 starts this year and is a Pro Bowl lock and still in the MVP race despite the season-ending injury.

"I think Carson will be a huge support," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "I mean, first of all, I can't even tell you the kind of support Nick was for Carson, and I'm sure Nick will still be that kind of support for Carson going through what he's going through.

"That [quarterback meeting] room cannot, from a chemistry standpoint and from a character standpoint, it can't get any better. That room is the best room. So Carson will add into that. 

"Just getting to know Carson the way we all know him, he'll help, but he's a guy who has a lot of ideas, and he's very engaged like that, as is Nick. So I think Carson will have the maturity to understand, 'Hey, Nick's running the show right now, so just be there to support him in whatever way he can.'"

Because of the injury, Wentz likely won't be allowed on the sidelines with the other quarterbacks and coaches and work directly with Foles on game day.

But head coach Doug Pederson said he expects Wentz to be with the team Sundays and helping Foles in some capacity.

"A lot like Jordan Hicks and Jason Peters and these guys, he can be around and be in the meeting rooms," Pederson said.

"He can watch the tape [and] be there on game day and just be another set of eyes for the quarterbacks, for Nick, and just having his input and having him around … it would be a big boost.

"[It's] an opportunity for him now to kind of put the coaching hat on and to help Nick."

Chase Daniel was Wentz's backup last year, but the Eagles released Daniel on March 13, the same day they signed Foles to a two-year, $11 million contract.

Foles and Wentz have become very close over these last 10 months, and Foles said he'll draw on that now that he's replacing his friend.

"Right now, as a teammate, someone who cares a lot about him, you hurt, but you're there to support him, pray for him," Foles said.

"Carson is such a huge part of this organization and will be for a long time and he's done so much for this team on the field and in the locker room, and a big part of coming here.

"Well, my job now is to step in that huddle and keep this thing rolling, and that's what I plan on doing."