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2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, TEs: Paying a hefty sum for leadership

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, TEs: Paying a hefty sum for leadership

About this time last year, it seemed a large cap hit might lead to the end of Brent Celek's tenure with the Eagles. Instead, the organization doubled down by extending Celek's contract. The three-year extension significantly reduced his salary for 2016, while the $6 million in guarantees committed the club for 2017.

In the grand scheme of things, Celek's cap number for next season currently ranks 17th among NFL tight ends, which isn't horrific. In terms of performance, however, it's difficult to argue he's worth that money.

Celek posted his lowest totals in his entire 10-year career with 14 catches for 155 yards and zero touchdowns. While still an adequate blocking tight end, he no longer grades as one of the best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus' measures. Even looking at pure playing time, Celek was on the field for just 38.7 percent of the Eagles' offensive snaps, only beating out third-string tight end Trey Burton 439 to 331.

At this point, the club is paying Celek more for his veteran leadership and presence in the locker room than anything else, which there's certainly value to that. Whethere it's enough to justify his place on the roster at the current roster is probably in the eye of beholder.

It's also irrelevant. Even if the Eagles are having buyer's remorse, all but $1 million of Celek's deal is guaranteed, much of which would be put toward replacing him anyway. An additional $2 million can be pocketed in the event of a trade, but that's hard to fathom for obvious reasons.

Which means Celek will remain with the Eagles for at least one more season, although he could wind up being further phased out of the offense in favor of more Burton in 2017. Perhaps he would agree to a pay cut if asked, as his desire to win a championship before retiring seems genuine, although the organization has no leverage, and his $4 million base salary isn't exactly high to begin with.

Truthfully, this is a rare situation where it probably isn't and shouldn't be all about the money, because it's not crippling anyway. Celek and his trademark No. 87 serve a purpose that can't be measured, and the Eagles no doubt realized that when they made the deal.

TIGHT ENDS UNDER CONTRACT

Zach Ertz
Age: 27*
Cap Number: $5,600,000

Mr. December had another outrageous finish to a season, and wound up leading all Eagles players in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches as a result. While another slow start might leave people wondering if he can rack up numbers when it actually matters, this was the second straight year Ertz finished with at least 70 catches and 800 yards. Keep in mind, he missed Weeks 2 and 3 with a displaced rib and didn't spend much time working with quarterback Carson Wentz in OTAs and training camp, so it's not surprising Ertz would fare better in the second half. Quite simply, if the fifth-year veteran continues producing at this rate, he'll be well worth the money in 2017. The splits are wild though: 3.1 catches and 35.7 yards per game with four touchdowns in September, October and November compared to 6.0 catches, 70.5 yards and nine touchdowns in December and January.

Brent Celek
Age: 32*
Cap Number: $5,000,000

Even when Ertz was out with an injury, Celek's results were mixed. He failed to record a single catch against the Bears in Week 2, but came back with three catches for 61 yards in the following game versus the Steelers. If another team lost their tight end in OTAs or training camp, you could almost envision a scenario where Celek becomes an intriguing replacement, only a trade would come too late to help the Eagles with the cap. Not sure he'd be thrilled to leave, except maybe to join a true contender. It's farfetched anyway, and probably not worth seriously considering. 

Anthony Denham
Age: 26*

Denham initially joined the Texans as an undrafted free agent out of Utah in 2014, but appeared in only four games over two years. After failing to make the team out of training camp, he caught on with the Eagles practice squad in October, then signed a futures contract at the end of the season. Denham has enticing speed for the position, timing just under 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, but it has yet to manifest itself as a threat to defenses.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Trey Burton
Age: 26*
2016 Cap Number: $602,500

Not only did Burton emerge as a viable target in the passing game this season, finishing with 47 receptions for 327 yards and a touchdown. He's also an outstanding contributor on special teams, making seven tackles. Burton is the kind of versatile athlete every team wants on its roster, which is why the Eagles will likely make full use of the "restricted" aspect of his status as a restricted free agent. That could mean placing a second-round tender on Burton, which paid $2.553 million in 2016. That's a little steep for a third tight end, although he's already working his way up the depth chart. Still, the Eagles could also make a long-term offer that pays Burton less in '17, but reflects his growing role and future with the franchise. Either way, it's hard to envision them letting him get away.

A loopy Carson Wentz FaceTimed Eagles after surgery and asked about new plays

ap-facetime-foles-wentz.jpg
AP Images/Carson Wentz IG

A loopy Carson Wentz FaceTimed Eagles after surgery and asked about new plays

Next man up. That's this 2017 Philadelphia Eagles team's motto.

So it's Nick Foles' turn at quarterback now that Carson Wentz has been lost for the season. The man who would follow in Foles' footsteps? That would be Nate Sudfeld.

The quarterbacks on this team are extremely close.

"They’re honestly like brothers to me," Sudfeld told reporters on Thursday.

Sudfeld also relayed a rather funny FaceTime call he and Foles received from Wentz right after his surgery to repair his torn ACL.

“He was pretty loopy after the anesthesia. He was trying to figure out the new plays we put in," Sudfeld said.

There wasn't a whole lot of small talk, apparently. Wentz is in positive spirits, Sudfeld said, as also seen in his video message to fans.

Of course Carson wanted to talk football.

“The first question from Wentz, ‘so what’s this new play I saw in the emails?’ I was like, ‘you sure you want to know right now?” Sudfeld said.

“Do you expect anything less from Carson? He was ordering a burger at the same time.”

“He was loopy but he was good. Classic Carson."

Eagles fans are going to miss Classic Carson on the field the rest of the season, sadly.

*

Photo of Wentz post-surger via his IG:

2014 Nick Foles played with a far inferior offensive line

2014 Nick Foles played with a far inferior offensive line

Nick Foles is a changed man. The sixth-year veteran is older, wiser, more experienced; all attributes the Eagles stand to benefit from coming down the home stretch with their backup signal caller.

There's also something about Foles that might look different in his second stint with the Eagles. Don't be surprised if you see a more confident, poised quarterback in the pocket, too.

After all, the Eagles may actually be able to protect Foles this time around.

When last we saw Foles in an Eagles uniform in 2014, fans were not happy. One season after setting a since-broken NFL record with a 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he was leading the league in giveaways through nine weeks. Furthermore, Foles looked skittish, unwilling to step up in the pocket, and developing the terrible habit of throwing off his back foot.

Most observers placed the fault squarely on Foles, chalking it up to a former third-round draft pick's inevitable regression. However, extenuating circumstances were at least partially to blame.

The Eagles' offensive line was, in a word, a mess.

In 2013, when Foles was busy making history, all five starting offensive linemen played in all 16 games. The unit paved the way not only for a gunslinger in the passing attack, but a rushing championship for running back LeSean McCoy. It was the best line in the league, without a doubt.

Foles would not be so lucky the following year. Lane Johnson was suspended for the first four games, while his replacement at right tackle, Allen Barbre, suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1. Left guard Evan Mathis was also hurt in the opener, missing the next seven games, and Jason Kelce went down in Week 3, missing four. Four starting-caliber players, out.

If Foles wasn't feeling comfortable in the pocket, that might be because there often was none. The Eagles were relying on the likes of Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin, David Mold and Dennis Kelly for much of the season.

Lines don't get much more patchwork than that.

Foles wound up with a broken collarbone just as the O-line was beginning to get healthy. Before that, he was taking unnaturally deep dropbacks, throwing off his back foot and generally getting rid of the football as quickly as possible in the interest of self-preservation.

Not surprisingly, Foles' touchdown-to-interception ratio dipped dramatically to 13-10, along with three fumbles lost -- totaling 13 turnovers in eight games. Also no coincidence, his completion percentage dipped from 64.0 to 59.8, and his yards per attempt from 9.1 to 7.0.

When Foles was traded to the Rams the following offseason, he didn't fare any better. But while we weren't following his progress nearly as close, we know the Rams were in the midst of 10 straight losing seasons with offensive finishes no better than 21st. The franchise was a career killer. Look no further than Sam Bradford's improvement with the Eagles and Vikings for evidence.

Foles may not have been as good as the hype surrounding his magical 27-2 campaign. He also isn't as horrible as he looked with the Rams, and he probably isn't even as bad as his final season with the Eagles seemed at the time, either.

This is not to absolve Foles of his failures completely. Clearly, he is somebody whose success is dependent on the supporting cast around him to some extent. And by the end of that '14 season, he was most definitely feeling some false pressure and making unforced errors as a result.

That's not the type of performance the Eagles should expect now, not regularly at least, so long as the line holds up. Left tackle Jason Peters is missing from the lineup, but this unit is still far superior, provided there are no more major injuries -- perhaps even if there are.

Foles has plenty of weapons at his disposal in 2017, too. No McCoy in the backfield, but Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement is a quality stable of ball carriers, while receivers Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor are all capable of bailing out their quarterback in the passing game.

Yet, the biggest difference is up front. If Foles is protected, he's more than capable of dissecting opposing defenses. We've seen that firsthand.

Foles may not be a world beater or break a bunch more records. But as long as he's upright, the Eagles have a a shot -- and this time, they have a legitimate shot at keeping him on his feet.