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 Mailbag: Plan at corner, Alshon Jeffery's season, Wentz an MVP?

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Eagles Mailbag: Plan at corner, Alshon Jeffery's season, Wentz an MVP?

Now that we're well into the 2017 regular season, these mailbags will become a staple of each weekend. At least, I'll try. 

The Eagles are facing a really tough matchup this weekend in Kansas City against Andy Reid's team. Big Red had three extra days to prepare for this one, which isn't good news. For the record, I don't think the Eagles win this one. I predict a 31-24 win for the guys in red. 

If the Eagles do pick up a W Sunday, it'll be huge. 

Anyway, let's hop into your questions: 

Let me preface this by saying Jim Schwartz and the rest of his defensive backs kept their mouths shut about the plan during the week. And the Eagles certainly have some options. 

I expect this to be done based on packages; it probably won't be black and white. I think Patrick Robinson will slide inside and outside in this game. He'll be one of the outside corners — along with Jalen Mills — when the Chiefs are in their base package. But knowing Reid's offense, that won't be often. That means Robinson will be inside, and Mills will be outside with …? Well, now that's the real question. 

There's been a lot of talk about rookie Rasul Douglas getting some real playing time Sunday, but I'm not so sure. After all, Jaylen Watkins came into the game last week and actually performed well. I'd imagine he'll get a chance to play quite a bit Sunday. 

And at times, I think Malcolm Jenkins will be in the slot too. They don't want to completely get away from that, especially with Corey Graham available to take over at safety.

It's too early to say, but it's looking pretty good. The thing with Agholor is that one good game isn't enough to say he's turned it around. Frank Reich made that same point last season. Let's see if Agholor can keep this up for a few weeks. 

If you're asking my gut feeling: yeah, I think he's a completely different Agholor. I'm not sure if he'll ever be a superstar, but he can play in this league. He certainly has the talent and I always thought he was a better fit in the slot. I'm not sure why the Eagles were so hesitant to try him there last season. 

Talking to Agholor in the week before the opener, he seemed like a completely different guy as he has all offseason. For a guy who needed a personal mental health day last season, he is extremely confident and has been for months. Take a look back at that story after knowing what happened in the opener and it's telling. 

I do. 

That might seem crazy based on one up-and-down rookie season and one OK game to start Year 2. But there's something about this kid. And it's not just my analysis. There are many people throughout the league who think he has the chance to be really special. With Wentz, it's two-fold. He's not just gifted physically, but he has the mental capacity to be great. His recall and football knowledge are off the charts. He has to put it together. 

Still, it's really damn hard to win an MVP. And, remember, it's not all on him. The MVP isn't really just an individual award. It usually goes to a player on a good team. The good news for Wentz is that it's pretty much just an award for quarterbacks. Just one time in the last 10 years has it gone to a non-QB. The other thing Wentz has going for him is that Peyton Manning is out of the league and Tom Brady has to be close to the end of his career. Those guys would have been serious roadblocks to getting an MVP of his own. There are five MVPs still active: Brady, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson. 

Foles hasn't missed any practice time since the regular season started, so he appears to be fine. For a long time, that elbow injury was a concern. And he might not be completely past it, but the Eagles are probably just hoping that if they need him in 2017, he'll be able to tough it out for a few games at the most.  

It wasn't a great debut for Jeffery in Week 1, but he's a better player than that. And I think it's still going to take some time for him and Wentz to get on the same page. I kept hammering on those questions during training camp when Jeffery wasn't practicing for a reason. So much of his game is timing with the QB and they simply didn't have enough time together. The beauty of his game are those back shoulder throws and the fade route. Those things don't come easy with a new quarterback. 

I still expect him to have a nice season and the slow start didn't scare me off that. Watching practice every day through the summer, it's clear he's a different animal than the other receivers they have. He's much better and it's not close. He'll get his. 

Well, I thought Derek Barnett did some good things in his NFL debut. He certainly doesn't look like a rookie. The problem for him was that Vinny Curry actually had a pretty good game too. And Brandon Graham is going to be a starter as long as he's healthy, so Barnett will need to consistently outplay Curry. Even with how unimpressive Curry was last season, that's not going to happen right away.

Eventually, though, I think you're on to something. The Eagles didn't draft Barnett to bring him off the bench. I think he has a chance to be starting by mid-year. We'll get some warning signs before then though. Watch the snap counts and the situations he's on the field. He was in for a ton of third-downs in the opener. When he starts stealing a bunch of first and second downs, becoming a starter won't be far behind.

Eagles Mailbag: Wendell Smallwood, cornerbacks, Tim Jernigan

Eagles Mailbag: Wendell Smallwood, cornerbacks, Tim Jernigan

We answered half of your questions yesterday (see story), but there are plenty left to go. 

Let's take a dip into the mailbag: 

I still think the Eagles are pretty high on Smallwood. Obviously, they weren't ready to let him be the guy, so they went out and signed Blount. I think Blount was a decent addition, but I don't see him having the workload he did in New England last year. Instead, I kind of expect to see a running-back-by-committee approach. That would be good for Smallwood, who would still get plenty of carries. 

We'll get a better sense of the distribution of carries in training camp and the preseason. For now, though, I'd guess Smallwood will still have a decent role. 

Nothing new with Ryan Mathews. The last I heard was that it would happen sometime in summer. I still expect him to be released, which will save the Eagles $4 million in cap room. 

As for cap space, before signing Derek Barnett, the Eagles had just over $5 million in space, one of the lower figures in the league. Barnett's cap hit is going to be around $2.3 million, so they have enough room, but not a lot extra. 

Cornerbacks. They're just not very good and the position is the clear weak spot on the entire roster. A good pass rush would go a long way in helping to hide bad corners, so the Eagles should hope they get something more out of their defensive linemen. 

I think the Week 1 starting corners will be Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson. By Week 17, I'll say Mills and Rasul Douglas. Douglas makes sense outside because of his length. Maybe he can beat out 29-year-old Robinson throughout the year. 

After the Eagles traded for Jernigan, I went back and watched his Ravens film. I came away extremely impressed. I think he's a really good scheme fit for the Eagles. He has the potential to be a better rusher than Bennie Logan was last year, which could give the Eagles a big boost when Fletcher Cox is getting double-teamed inside. That happens a lot. 

I still think the bulk of the team's pass rush needs to come from their ends, but if Jernigan gets some push, that will help. 

The problem with Jernigan is that he's on the final year of his deal. If he has a big season, it'll be hard — at least expensive — to keep him.

This isn't going away, is it?