Caleb Sturgis

Examining Eagles' 14 free agents

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USA Today Images

Examining Eagles' 14 free agents

Toward the end of their magical playoff run, the Eagles started realizing that as special as the 2017 team was, it was going to change before the 2018 season. 

They were right. 

While most of the starters will return, the team is going to change plenty over the next few months and it'll have a different feel by the time the season kicks off in September. 

The Eagles have 14 players from last year's team who will become free agents on March 14, when the new league year begins. Until then, the Birds will have exclusive negotiating rights with the unrestricted free agents. 

Here's a look at all of them: 

Nigel Bradham
Bradham is at the top of the list because he's clearly the most important of the bunch and the only no-doubt-about-it starter on the list. His 2017 season actually started off a little slow, but then he really picked it up. And when Jordan Hicks went down in October, Bradham took over as the defensive signal caller. His role on the Super Bowl-winning team probably wasn't emphasized enough. Jim Schwartz clearly thinks a lot of Bradham, who played under him in 2014 in Buffalo, as well. 

So how much is Bradham worth? It's tricky. Mychal Kendricks is the highest-paid linebacker on the team and will have a base salary of nearly $6 million in 2018. Meanwhile, Hicks would have been in line for a payday, but he's now recovering from another Achilles tear and is still cheap on his rookie contract. Based on the Spotrac market value tool, Bradham is worth around $5.9 million per season. They look at guys like K.J. Wright, Kiko Alonso and Malcolm Smith as comparable players. Bradham is a little older than those guys, but that's probably where his representation will start. Wright's four-year deal was worth $27 million, Alonso's four-year deal was worth nearly $29M and Smith's five-year deal was worth $26.5M. 

Trey Burton 
Burton might have thrown a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, but he's known more for his ability to catch the ball. The Eagles would probably love to bring Burton back for another season, but there's a chance that the secret about the 26-year-old tight end is out. He can catch. The Eagles tried to lock him up during the 2016 season, but couldn't get it done and now he might be out of their price range, especially with Zach Ertz already on the roster making a ton of money at the position. Spotrac estimates his annual value at $7 million. 

Patrick Robinson
During training camp, Robinson was so bad everyone thought there was a good shot he'd be cut. But then the team traded for Ronald Darby, which moved the veteran into the nickel corner role and he never looked back. He was a huge part of the 2017 Eagles' success. The 30-year-old corner joined the Eagles on a one-year prove-it deal and he proved he can play. Now, how much is a 30-year-old slot corner worth? We're about to find out. Spotrac values him at $6.7M, but it's really hard to know. Meanwhile, cornerback was once a weakness for the Eagles, but now their depth at the position is a strength. They'll bring back Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas. It might be hard to justify signing Robinson and blocking Jones from getting on the field. 

Beau Allen
Over the last two years, Allen worked so hard to prove he could play in a 4-3 scheme and in the process, he doubled his list of suitors this offseason. He can play in either front, which should make him an appealing name for a lot of teams. Allen ended up playing just as much as Tim Jernigan down the stretch, but the Eagles already paid Jernigan ... and the rest of the starters on the defensive line. Would they really prioritize paying a rotational player now? Remember, the team still has a depth piece in Destiny Vaeao and drafted Elijah Qualls in the sixth round last spring. 

Darren Sproles
Sproles is a 34-year-old running back coming off a torn ACL and a broken hand. But it still might make sense for the Eagles to bring him back. While Corey Clement proved to be a receiving threat — he had 100 yards receiving in the Super Bowl! — he's not a Sproles-level threat. The screen game eventually came around, but that was a big element of the offense the Eagles seemed to be missing when Sproles first went down. All signs point toward a comeback for the veteran, but he hasn't definitively said so yet. 

Corey Graham
Graham didn't join the Eagles until early August on a one-year deal and it ended up being a solid move by Howie Roseman and the front office. Graham ended up playing 36 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2017 as the third safety. Having Graham allowed Malcolm Jenkins to play down in the slot for matchup purposes. But Graham will turn 33 in July. 

LeGarrette Blount
Coming in on a one-year deal in May, Blount had a pretty good season. During a year in which he turned 31, the veteran rushed for 766 yards in the regular season. And in the Super Bowl, he ran like a monster, going for 90 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. But Blount also saw his workload diminish after the addition of Jay Ajayi. The team still has Ajayi and will bring back Clement. 

Kenjon Barner
He was on the street until late September when the Eagles brought him back. While Barner didn't have much of a role on offense, he did become the Eagles' primary kick and punt returner. He returned 27 punts for 240 yards (8.9) and had 10 kick returns for 194 yards (19.4). His 8.9 punt return average was 11th in the NFL. 

Najee Goode
The Eagles brought back Goode on another one-year deal last March and Goode again filled the role of special teams player and occasional defensive role player. It's hard to believe, but Goode has played for the Eagles in every season since 2013. The 27-year-old has 61 games and four starts under his belt with the Eagles. 

Caleb Sturgis
Sturgis got hurt and then had to watch as rookie Jake Elliott took his job. Even with his missed extra points, Elliott made so many big kicks last year that he's not going to be giving that job back anytime soon. The shame of it for Sturgis is that he was actually a pretty good kicker for the Eagles. At least he'll get a Super Bowl ring. 

Dannell Ellerbe
For most of the 2017 season, Ellerbe was on his couch. The 32-year-old joined the Eagles in November and eventually took over as the team's starting middle linebacker. But because of how much time the Eagles spent in their nickel package, he never really played a lot. He played just three snaps in Super Bowl LII. The Eagles need to upgrade their linebacker depth. 

Will Beatty
Like Ellerbe, Beatty didn't have a team until the Eagles brought him into their facility in November. Beatty played in the regular-season finale but was inactive throughout the playoffs. His primary role was helping on the scout team. The Eagles need to find better tackle depth. 

Bryan Braman
The Eagles needed a boost on special teams so they brought Braman back on Dec. 12. He provided Dave Fipp's unit a spark, but he's a 30-year-old special teamer who offers nothing on defense. 

Jaylen Watkins (RFA)
It's unlikely there will be a bunch of teams knocking down Watkins' door, but he became a nice depth piece for the Eagles in 2017 and when they needed him, he played well. If the Eagles want him back, he'll be back. They can use an original-round tender (he was a fourth-rounder) on him, which would pretty much guarantee his return. 

How injured Eagles are coping with missing Super Bowl

How injured Eagles are coping with missing Super Bowl

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Every night before Chris Maragos falls asleep, he lies in his bed and thinks about running onto the football field with his teammates in Super Bowl LII. 

He won't get to do that on Sunday. 

His season as a player ended way back on Oct. 12, when he suffered a knee injury in Carolina. But he's continued to be a part of the team. He's continued to be a leader and a captain. 

And he's not the only one. 

"Honestly, I'd like to say that it's not pretty difficult, but I'd be lying if I said it was," Maragos said. "Obviously, it's disappointing not playing, but when I came to this organization I wanted to do anything I could to help this team win. Right now, my role is to help these guys from a mentorship role, from an experience role. That's my way of contributing. 

"I think as you come in and you have special seasons like this, everyone has to lay aside their pride, everyone has to lay aside their own goals and aspirations for the team."

In addition to Maragos, the Eagles have also lost Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, Darren Sproles, Caleb Sturgis, and, of course, Carson Wentz. Every single one of those injured players is in Minnesota for Super Bowl week and they'll be watching as their teammates try to take down the Patriots on Sunday. 

They'll be cheering, they'll be offering advice, they'll be doing the same type of supportive things they've been doing all season. But this is the big game and they won't get to play. 

What will it be like to watch the Super Bowl? 

"Tough, but amazing," Hicks said. "These guys deserve everything. They have worked as hard as any team and are as close as any team I've seen. I'm excited, man. I know they're prepared. They're going to go out there, play loose and play great."

Pretty much every key injured player said the same thing this week. Of course it's going to hurt like hell to miss out on playing in what would have been one of the biggest games of their lives. That's natural. 

"As humans, we all want to be the competitors that we are and be out there on the field," Wentz said. "Every time the offense comes on the field on Sunday, it's tough. It hits me a little bit. But then I'm in it. I love these guys and I'm a part of this team as much as anybody else. I get involved in the game and that kind of all goes away. Without a doubt, as humans, it just feels ... it's tough. It's tough to not be out there, but I love watching these guys and I couldn't be happier." 

All of the injured players have been incredibly selfless all season. They've helped their teammates with whatever they possibly could. They're in film rooms, they're on the phone offering advice, sometimes they watch practice. 

They've been around for the whole ride, even when they weren't able to play anymore. 

"We all get together," Peters said. "Wentz goes with the quarterbacks and Hicks has the linebackers and we just support everybody. Maragos got the special teams. Sproles got the running backs. And I take care of the offensive line. We have support with every group."

The injured players said it's been helpful to have other key guys in the same position. They're able to commiserate and lean on each other when the tougher times come. 

Hicks and Maragos have talked about it before when they have lunch together in the NovaCare Complex while everyone else is off working out and practicing. It would be a lot harder if they weren't together. 

And the season would be a lot harder on everyone if these key leaders didn't stay involved. Lucky for the Eagles, they did.  

"It's been difficult all year," Hicks said. "Can't sugarcoat it. It's been tough. But you roll with it and you learn from it and you try to find different ways to help. Your role changes and it is what it is. Right now my role is having a different perspective and sharing it. That's part of the leadership role. You go down but you're still a leader."

Pressure's on for Eagles' rookie kicker

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Pressure's on for Eagles' rookie kicker

Nervousness comes with uncertainty.

As the Eagles drive down the field in key situations, kicker Jake Elliott tries to ready himself on the sideline. He has a routine. The rookie takes a practice kick before every first and third down. In between peeking over his teammates to see game action, the 5-foot-9 kicker tries to visualize his kick. If he thinks it might be a right hash kick, he moves the ball ever so slightly on the tee before booming it into the net.

The Eagles move the ball down the field, Elliott kicks into the net. The whole time the pressure continues to build and build. When will they call on him? How far will the kick be? What is the wind like?

Until it's his time to get on the field.

Then the nervousness fades away.

"As the kick's approaching, there's obviously a little nerves," Elliott said. "With every uncertain situation, there's going to be some nerves that come into play. You don't know what the yard line is going to be, you don't know this and that. Once you're jogging on the field, everything is kind of set."

The life of an NFL kicker is pretty much all pressure situations. They just get magnified in the playoffs.

As a rookie, this is obviously Elliott's first time in the postseason. The 22-year-old has had a wild rookie year. He was drafted by the Bengals in the fifth round but lost a competition and landed on their practice squad. The Eagles signed him when Caleb Sturgis suffered a serious hip injury and in his second game with the Birds, Elliott drilled a franchise-record 61-yard kick to beat the rival Giants. He's now the Eagles' kicker.

And he's ready for the playoffs.

"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "I'm just going to approach it like any other game. Obviously, the atmosphere is going to be a little more intense. I think I'm prepared for that. As long as I approach it like I have all season, I don't think it's going to be a problem."

Elliott is a pretty calm guy. You might even call his demeanor boring. He's not very excitable, which is probably an advantage as a kicker. Never get too high or too low.

He admitted that he doesn't even think about breathing techniques anymore. Elliott acknowledged that he'll take a few deep breaths to calm himself before a big kick, but it's no longer part of a conscious progression. It's built into his routine.

Sturgis has been impressed with Elliott all year long. He can't offer his younger teammate any advice about the playoffs because he's never been there either. But Sturgis just knows routine is the basis for comfort. He likened it to swinging well on a driving range, so when you get on the course, you're good to go.

"[Elliott's] been unbelievable," Sturgis said. "Especially the year he's had with how much success the team's had. Every game is so big for us and he's come out. Obviously, the Giants kick to start his time here and then the Oakland kick was huge. He's hit a lot of big kicks."

There's a good chance Saturday's game could come down to a field goal. The Falcons are favored by 2.5-3 points and playoff games always seem to be close.

On the other sideline this weekend will be a 16-year veteran in Matt Bryant, who has made 13 of 14 field goal attempts in the playoffs over his career. Bryant, of course, is the kicker who made that 62-yarder as time expired against the Eagles back in 2006 to give the Bucs a 23-21 win. This is Bryant's ninth season in Atlanta.

With all that experience, Bryant has been through these situations before. Heck, he kicked in the Super Bowl last year. Elliott is a fresh-faced rookie, but really, the life of a kicker is all pressure. He's built for this.

"It's a lot of not making the moment bigger than it needs to be," Elliott said. "I've done it a million times, whether it's in practice, in a game, whether it's in the fourth quarter, whether it's in the first quarter. I've done it enough so it's muscle memory and not make it bigger than it is."