Nelson Agholor

Eagles Stay or Go Part 1 — Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett

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Eagles Stay or Go Part 1 — Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett

In the first part of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the world champion Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro try to figure out who will be on the roster in 2018. We'll go alphabetically  Part 1 is Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett. 

Nelson Agholor
Roob: Agholor has gone from being a giant question mark going into last season to a relative bargain in 2018 with a $2.983 million cap figure in a contract year. Agholor was one of many heartwarming stories on the 2017 Eagles, with a breakthrough season and a dynamite Super Bowl. At some point in the next year, the Eagles and Agholor will agree on a long-term, multi-million deal. He's only 24 years old and he's going to be the centerpiece of this receiving corps for years to come.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: In a year, we've gone from talking about possibly moving on from Agholor to now starting to think about a contract extension. Really. Because of the slow start in his career, Agholor is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2018; he'll have a cap number of just under $3 million, which is now a steal. Remember, the Eagles can use a fifth-year option to keep him in town in 2019 if they can't reach a new deal. Agholor was that good in 2017. He caught 62 passes for 768 yards. He had just 21 fewer receiving yards than Alshon Jeffery. And in the Super Bowl, Agholor caught nine balls for 84 yards. He offers the Eagles a shifty, quick player in the slot and he became a dynamic player after the catch in his third NFL season.  

Verdict: STAYS

Jay Ajayi
Roob: It will be interesting to see how the Eagles' running backs all line up next year. When training camp started last summer, LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey were the main guys, and by the end of the season, only one of them was on the field. My hunch is that Ajayi and Corey Clement will be the lead backs in 2018. Ajayi was very good after joining the Eagles, but he really sold me with his postseason performance — 184 yards and a 4.4 average in the three playoff games. Eventually, the Eagles will have to make a decision, since his contract is also up after 2018. But I'd love to see what he can do behind this offensive line with a full training camp and a full season.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He came into the fold during the season and picked up everything pretty quickly. Now just imagine how much better he'll be with an entire offseason in Doug Pederson's scheme. He's going to be the Eagles' feature back in 2018 and he'll be the feature back for cheap as he enters the final year on his rookie contract. Now, trying to figure out an extension with him might be tricky, especially because of his chronic knee issue, but that's a problem to deal with later. 

Verdict: STAYS

Beau Allen
Roob: Allen became a pretty significant part of the Eagles' defensive line the second half of the year and played almost as many snaps as Tim Jernigan the last couple months of the season. He's a no-nonsense run stuffer but a solid interior lineman. He'll become an unrestricted free agent this spring, but I would think the Eagles could get him back with a cap-friendly deal. It's possible there's a team out there that will bowl over Allen with a big-money offer, but I doubt it. And if the numbers are equal, I'd expect him to re-sign here.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It's a shame that Allen tore his pec while working out last spring because before that, the Eagles were working on an extension with the rotational defensive lineman. But since then, the team has re-signed Jernigan and has a ton of money locked up in the defensive line. And now Allen is going to be an unrestricted free agent. While it's true that the Birds really value their D-line, how much can they really spend on a backup player? It might be time for them to draft one instead and let Allen walk. After proving himself in Jim Schwartz's 4-3 scheme, Allen should have plenty of teams with his choice of scheme. 

Verdict: GOES

Kenjon Barner
 If the Eagles cut ties with Blount, Sproles and Pumphrey, Barner could be back as a returner and third running back behind Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. Barner actually finished 10th in the NFL at 8.9 yards per punt return after joining the Eagles a month into the season. He's not a bad guy to have around. But I think Sproles wants to be here and would be willing to give the Eagles a hometown discount to play one final NFL season and serve as a third back and returner.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Barner was on the street to start the season until Sproles went down and the Eagles brought Barner back. He became the team's top punt and kick returner but put up modest numbers in both areas. Barner will be 29 before the 2018 season starts and he's never really made a huge impact in the NFL. If he was able to really take control of the returner jobs and be great at it, maybe the Eagles would sign him again to bring him back. Hey, maybe there will be some goodwill after winning the Super Bowl, but it's probably not worth it. 

Verdict: GOES

Derek Barnett
Roob: Barnett is going to be a stud. You could just see him get better and better as the season went on. He had a couple lulls, but every rookie does. After being held without a sack in his first five games, Barnett had five in the Eagles' last 11 games and added another sack, along with a forced fumble and a rather important fumble recovery in the postseason. His six total sacks, including the postseason, were actually fourth-most in franchise history by a rookie and most by a rookie defensive end since Derrick Burgess had seven back in 2001. Barnett's going to be around for quite a while.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: The Eagles' 2017 first-round pick didn't have a monster rookie season. He didn't go out and get double-digit sacks, but he was solid all year and showed flashes of becoming a great pass rusher. Five sacks as a rookie in a rotational role aren't too shabby either. Oh yeah, he also recovered the fumble after Brandon Graham's strip sack in the Super Bowl. Barnett is only going to get better and has the potential to be a star in the NFL. 

Verdict: STAYS

Eagles have decisions to make on Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor

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Eagles have decisions to make on Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor

The Eagles can create some breathing room under the salary cap in 2018 with a relatively simple move at wide receiver. At the same time, the club also has a decision to make at receiver that could inevitably drive costs up for 2019.

Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor each played a huge role in delivering the Eagles’ first Super Bowl championship. Now, determinations must be made on their futures with the team.

The question is whether either call is very difficult to make.

First, the Eagles must decide whether to pick up Smith’s option for 2018. The three-year contract the veteran wideout signed last offseason acts more like a series of one-year deals at $5 million apiece. The structure and amount could result in a convenient source of savings.

With the organization seriously up against the cap — currently over the projected spending limit — Smith might be a luxury the Eagles can no longer afford.

Smith posted mediocre regular-season numbers: 36 receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns. However, he enjoyed a strong postseason, racking up 13 receptions for 157 yards and one score. Dropped passes were an issue throughout.

While still a dangerous vertical threat, Smith was perhaps underutilized at times with the Eagles. The team also chose a pair of speedy receivers — Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson — in last year’s draft.

As for Agholor, a decision is coming whether or not to pick up the fifth-year, 2019 option on his rookie contract at a projected $9.4 million. The Eagles’ window to accept or decline the option ends May 3.

A first-round pick in 2015, Agholor finally lived up to his promise this season, a breakthrough sparked by his move to the slot. He wound up with 77 receptions for 935 yards and eight touchdowns, including playoffs, eclipsing the combined totals from his first two NFL seasons.

Though $9.4 million may sound steep for a slot receiver with one decent year under his belt, Agholor became a vital cog in the Eagles' offense. Plus, the option is guaranteed only for injury, so the team isn’t necessarily bound to that amount.

More than anything, exercising the option delays Agholor from becoming a free agent by a year, buying the Eagles another season of evaluation.

The fifth-year option is often a precursor to a long-term extension. By 2019, the Eagles should have a better sense of Agholor’s value, and will perhaps be in better position with regards to the cap.

*Ages as of Sept. 6, 2018

Torrey Smith
Age: 29
2018 cap hit: $5 million

Eagles quarterbacks didn’t even utilize Smith’s vertical ability all that often. According to Pro Football Focus, the seven-year veteran was targeted 19 times on passes of 20 yards or more, including playoffs. By comparison, Agholor had 18 such targets, while Alshon Jeffery led with 28.

Alshon Jeffery
Age: 28
2018 cap hit: $4.125 million

Brilliant bit of accounting here by Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman to keep Jeffery’s cap hit low in the first year of his contract extension. Four million for a No. 1 receiver is a steal, though that figure will balloon to over $14 million in 2019.

Nelson Agholor
Age: 25
2018 cap hit: $2.983 million

Perhaps Agholor was simply miscast in his previous role. Per PFF, he led all receivers in touchdowns out of the slot, and finished third in yards. Agholor also showed up at OTAs looking bigger and stronger than he had in previous years, or so it seemed. His eight broken tackles were a new personal best.

Mack Hollins
Age: 24
2018 cap hit: $714,000

One of two options to potentially replace Smith, Hollins turned on the burners for a 64-yard touchdown against Washington in Week 7. However, the fourth-round pick was largely used as a possession receiver, finishing his rookie season with 16 receptions for 226 yards.

Shelton Gibson
Age: 24
2018 cap hit: $619,000

Gibson’s only real action on offense came in the meaningless Week 17 tilt with the Cowboys — two receptions, 11 yards. If his hands ever catch up to his feet, he could become a viable deep threat. Work ethic shouldn’t be an issue, as Gibson worked his way from a regular inactive at the beginning of his rookie season to a regular role on special teams.

Dom Williams
Age: 25
2018 Cap Hit: $560,000

Signed to a futures contract in 2017, Williams quietly landed on injured reserve in May with a torn Achilles. He impressed in the previous year’s preseason with the Chargers, catching 10 passes for 132 yards in exhibition games.

Marcus Johnson
Age: 24
2018 Cap Hit: $555,000

Johnson made the 53-man roster off of a strong training camp but lost his role on special teams midway through the season and was inactive the rest of the way. There will be plenty of competition for his roster spot. So far, Rashard Davis, Bryce Treggs, Greg Ward and Marquess Wilson have been signed to futures contracts.

Nelson Agholor's Super Bowl symbolic of his turnaround

Nelson Agholor's Super Bowl symbolic of his turnaround

Last year, Nelson Agholor caught nine passes the last seven weeks of the season. This year, he caught nine passes in the Super Bowl.

On a team of inspiring stories, Agholor’s is one of the most inspiring.

A year ago, his confidence was so shot he couldn’t make even the easiest catch. He looked overmatched and overwhelmed. He spoke openly about his lost confidence, and things got so bad he was even benched and inactive for a week.

What a remarkable reversal.

We all saw a different Agholor as early as training camp, and the third-year wide receiver kept it up all year. He finished the regular season with 62 catches for 768 yards — more than his first two years combined — and added eight touchdowns.

In the playoffs? How about 15 catches for 167 yards, including 9 for 84 in the Super Bowl.

What a thing.

“This whole year’s been a blessing,” Agholor said. “At the end of the day, it’s me trying to be who I’m supposed to be. From here on out, I’ve just got to keep working hard and have great focus to get better each year.”

Agholor quickly became Carson Wentz’s favorite big-play receiver, opening the season with a 58-yard touchdown against the Redskins, and he didn’t slow down. In total, he caught six passes of 35 yards or more in all — including a 42-yarder from Nick Foles in the NFC Championship Game. That was tied for seventh most in the NFL this year.

And on Sunday, he was at his best, with a career-high nine receptions, breaking his previous career high of eight set in L.A. against the Rams on the day Wentz got hurt.

Including a couple runs, Agholor finished the 2017 postseason with 196 yards from scrimmage. Only four Eagles wide receivers have ever had more in a single postseason: Alshon Jeffery this year, DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis in 2008 and Harold Carmichael in 1979.

Agholor’s nine catches are second-most ever by an Eagle in a playoff game — behind Brent Celek’s 10 against the Cardinals in the 2008 NFC Championship Game — and 14th-most ever in a Super Bowl. The only NFC receivers with more catches in a Super Bowl are Jerry Rice and Hakeem Nicks.

Agholor had a 17-yard catch on a 3rd-and-6 on the third-quarter touchdown drive and a 24-yard gain on the drive that culminated in Jake Elliott's 42-yard fourth-quarter field goal, but he saved his best work for the Eagles' go-ahead drive in the game's final minutes, catching passes of 10, 18 and 10 yards on consecutive snaps to get the offense from near midfield to inside the Patriots' 15-yard line.

Three plays later, Foles threw the game-winning 11-yard touchdown to Zach Ertz.

Last year, three catches for 38 yards would have been one of Agholor's best games. This year, it was his production on the game-winning fourth-quarter drive in the Super Bowl.

“Honestly, I think that I’m a great example for everybody else who might be going through something similar to what I went through last year,” he said.

“You just have to believe in yourself. You have to work very hard and just make no excuses. That is my recipe.

“I can’t point the finger at anybody else for last year. That’s why I won’t point the finger at anybody else for this year, you know? You just have to work very hard.”