Eagles

10 things we learned from the Eagles’ 2019 season

10 things we learned from the Eagles’ 2019 season

That was another crazy Eagles season. 

After they lost to Miami to start December, they had a 5-7 record but then won the last four games of the season to get into the playoffs before falling to the Seahawks in the Wild Card round. 

Overall, the season was a disappointment. The Eagles had Super Bowl aspirations and while they made it to the playoffs, they didn’t get close to the big game or the kind of season they were supposed to have. 

But at least we all learned some lessons. Here are 10 of them: 

1. Carson Wentz is clutch 

It was a shame to see Wentz suffer a concussion early in the playoff game but that didn’t change how well he played down the stretch for the Eagles. In three of the four wins in December, Wentz was credited with a game-winning drive and in two of them he was credited with a fourth-quarter comeback. This season, Wentz led the Eagles on four game-winning drives, half of his career total. 

And, overall, his numbers in December were great despite playing with a bunch of guys who had been called up from the practice squad. Check them out: 66%, 1,509 yards, 10 TD, 1 INT, 99.3 rating. 

We saw Wentz grow as a player and as a leader this season, especially down the stretch. Everything doesn’t carry over from year to year, but a clutch quarterback gaining confidence while he earns the confidence of his teammates is big. 

2. Eagles still won’t quit on Doug Pederson 

For the second straight season, the Eagles fell into a hole and they never gave up. It’s obviously not ideal to learn this in back-to-back years but it’s a good thing to know. In consecutive seasons, the Eagles were 4-6 and 5-7 and rallied back to make it into the playoffs. Even when they were losing games this year — even in the loss to Miami — it wasn’t for lack of effort. Pederson deserves plenty of blame for the failures of his team in 2019 but he also deserves a lot of credit for getting his guys to buy in when a lot of teams would have checked out. 

3. Practice squad serves a purpose

We’re going to remember 2019 as the Year of the Practice Squad. The Eagles had 12 players spend time on their practice squad and the 53-man roster and they had 21 players on the 53-man roster at some point who had been on a practice squad at some point in their careers. And some of those guys played big roles. The two who really come to mind are Greg Ward Jr. and Boston Scott, who both began the season on the practice squad. 

Scott was called up on Oct. 11 and by the end of the season was the Eagles’ No. 2 running back option, making plays every week. 

And Ward was called up for good on Nov. 23. After that date, Ward was third on the team in receptions (behind Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz) with 28, more than triple the next closest receiver. 

After the Eagles lost in the playoffs, here’s what Jason Peters (a former member of the Bills’ practice squad over a decade ago) said would be his lasting memory of the season: 

“All of the practice squad guys coming up, stepping up, and getting us to this point.”

While the Eagles use their practice squad players on their scout team to get the starters ready for Sundays, they view the practice squad as a chance to develop young players. That approach paid off in 2019. 

4. They need receivers 

The Eagles came into the season with Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Mack Hollins. Back then, we thought that was a pretty formidable group of receivers. We were wrong. 

DeSean got hurt, Alshon and Nelly were bad before they got hurt, JJAW was a disappointment and Hollins played more than I’ve ever seen a receiver play without catching a pass. It all went bad. By the end of the season, the Eagles had their disappointing second-round pick playing alongside several guys who were on practice squads earlier in the season. Good for those guys, bad for the team. 

And as you’ve probably heard a bunch by now, Wentz became the first QB in NFL history to throw for 4,000+ yards without a receiver over 500. It has become very clear the Eagles need to get receivers. 

5. They need guys to stop receivers 

It has also become clear the Eagles need to find cornerbacks to solidify their secondary. The Eagles in four seasons under Jim Schwartz have the NFL’s-best rush defense and the NFL’s 23rd-best pass defense. The Eagles had the 19th pass defense in the league in 2019 and they gave up more 40-yard pass plays (15) than all but one other NFL team.  

They had more injuries at the position with Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, and now both are set to become free agents. Meanwhile, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas haven’t developed the way second- and third-round picks probably should. It’s a big problem. 

6. Injuries can wreck a season 

All teams deal with injuries but for the second straight season the Eagles were decimated. They lost key players and a lot of them play the same positions. Here’s a reminder of everyone who spent time on IR this season in alphabetical order: Brandon Brooks, Corey Clement, Ronald Darby, Rudy Ford, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Daeshon Hall, DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Jordan Mailata, Joe Ostman, Hassan Ridgeway, Darren Sproles. 

The Eagles hired a new chief medical officer in June and they are hoping they’ll be able to figure out a way to stay healthier. At least they realize this seems abnormal. 

“There is a part of that that is natural during the game,” Roseman said. “Injuries are going to happen. But we have to figure out a way to get better here. We can help from a front office perspective by looking at the players that we bring in. Hope is not a strategy when it comes to injuries. When you bring in guys that are injured, it obviously increases the risk that they will get hurt again.”

7. This ain’t an old folks home 

The biggest admission from Roseman during his year-end press conference is something the rest of us came to understand during the season: the Eagles need an infusion of youth. 

At the beginning of the 2019 season, the Eagles had the third-oldest roster in the NFL at 26.7 years old, according to Spotrac. And older players obviously have a higher likelihood of getting hurt. 

The Eagles need to get young and the way to do that is through the draft. The Birds expect to have 10 picks this spring; now they just need to hit on some of them. 

8. Zach Ertz is one tough dude 

Statistically, Ertz took a step backward this season but he still had 88 catches for 916 yards and six touchdowns. He’s putting up numbers that might put him in the Hall of Fame one day. But he also should have cemented his status as one of the toughest dudes in this city. We better never hear about that Vontaze Burfict play ever again. 

Against the Cowboys on Dec. 22, Ertz took a huge hit and suffered broken ribs, cartilage damage and a lacerated kidney. He finished the game and was back on the field two weeks later in the playoffs. Incredible. 

9. Miles Sanders could be special 

In the first three weeks of his rookie season, Sanders was averaging just over 3.1 yards per attempt and there were some folks ready to write him off. Good thing the Eagles didn’t. Because the rest of the regular season, he averaged over 4.9 yards per attempt and proved himself as a true lead back. He smashed the Eagles’ rookie record for yards from scrimmage and led all rookies in 2019. And then in the playoff game, he still managed to pick up 77 scrimmage yards despite playing through an ankle sprain and suffering an MCL sprain. 

Sanders has the chance to be great. 

10. Complementary football is key 

When the Eagles were struggling this year — and even when they weren’t — they weren’t very good at playing complementary football. When the offense was good, the defense wasn’t. When the defense was good, the offense wasn’t. When both units were finally playing well together, special teams failed. 

How many complete performances did the 2019 Eagles put together? Not many. That needs to change in 2020. 

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NFL free agency: Weighing pros and cons of a Darius Slay trade for Eagles

NFL free agency: Weighing pros and cons of a Darius Slay trade for Eagles

The Eagles desperately need some help at cornerback and one of the top ones in the game is reportedly available. 

Of course the Eagles should be interested. 

Schefter doesn’t list any teams in that report but it would make plenty of sense if the Eagles were one of them. In fact, during the 2019 season, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported the Eagles were interested in possibly trading for Slay before the trade deadline. That obviously didn’t happen. 

And now the three-time Pro Bowler is about to enter the final year of his contract with the Lions. 

Let’s weigh the pros and cons of a possible deal for the Eagles: 

Pros

• Slay is good and still in his prime. This is pretty obvious. The 6-0, 190-pound cornerback was an All-Pro in 2017 and has been a Pro Bowler in each of his last three seasons. And he’s been good for a long time. Since 2014, Slay has 19 interceptions, which ranks him fourth in the entire league behind Marcus Peters, Stephon Gilmore and Reggie Nelson.  

And Slay during his time in Detroit has traveled with their opponent’s best receiver a ton. That’s something Jim Schwartz hasn’t done in his time with the Eagles but would probably want to if he had a player of Slay’s caliber. And in a division with Amari Cooper, Darius Slayton and Terry McLaurin for the next few years, that would be nice to have. 

• The Eagles desperately need help at cornerback. Whether it comes through the draft, free agency or a trade, the Eagles need to revamp a position that has been a problem for years. They have struggled to sign cornerbacks as much as they’ve struggled to draft them. Slay would immediately be the best cornerback to suit up for the Eagles in a decade. Their last Pro Bowl caliber cornerback was Asante Samuel, who hasn’t played here since 2011. 

• The trade might not cost as much as you’d think. ESPN’s Mike Clay projected a Slay trade for the Eagles a few days ago. In that trade, he had the Eagles sending a third-round pick and Sidney Jones to Detroit. That sounds like a small haul for a perennial Pro Bowl player but Slay is entering the final year of his contract and if the Lions are going to move on, they probably want to get something for him. Lions new DC Cory Undlin seemed to like Jones when he was here and a change of scenery could help him live up to his potential. 

Plus, if the Eagles trade for Slay and can’t work out a long-term deal, they’d probably get a compensatory pick back for him. 

Cons 

• Slay is 29. The Eagles want to get younger and Slay is nearing 30. While he has been durable, playing at least 13 games in all seven of his NFL seasons, it’s fair to wonder how long he’ll be in his prime. So many of the Eagles’ best players are near or over 30 and adding Slay would mean adding another aging player to the core. 

• He wants a contract. Slay is a 29-year-old Pro Bowler entering the final year of his deal. He has a base salary of $10 million in 2019 but wants to get paid and he’s earned that. The highest-paid six cornerbacks in the NFL make over an average of $14 million per season, so to sign Slay to a long-term deal, it’ll take at least that. The highest-paid CB in the NFL is Xavien Howard at just over $15 million per season. Slay is three years older but that’s likely where his agent will want to start. 

• There might be more attractive options. Sure, it’s hard to imagine a better option than a three-time Pro Bowler who still appears to be in his prime, but there might be cheaper and younger options. There’s a deep free agent class this offseason with guys like Logan Ryan and Kendall Fuller and then there are plenty of solid options in the draft. One of those options might be more appealing to the Eagles but those possibilities might also keep the price (trade and contract) at a reasonable level for Slay. 

So …. 

The Eagles should absolutely be interested in Slay, especially if we’re talking about a trade like the one Clay put forward. For that trade price, it might even be worth getting Slay for one season and seeing what happens. I don’t know how Slay would feel about playing out the final season of his contract but if he’d show up, that might be the best move because the Eagles will have enough cap space to pay him $10 million in 2020. The Eagles could trade for Slay, draft a corner or two and then see where things stand heading into the 2021 season. Not saying this is a slam dunk, but we all know Howie Roseman isn’t shy to pick up the phone. And this time it’s warranted. 

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NFL mock draft 2020 roundup 4.0: Plenty of Eagles options at WR

NFL mock draft 2020 roundup 4.0: Plenty of Eagles options at WR

I didn’t plan on this but it’s not that surprising either. 

In this latest 2020 mock draft roundup, you’ll notice there’s a common theme for every Eagles’ pick at No. 21. They’re all receivers. All five. 

With the team’s situation at receiver, they clearly need to upgrade and it just so happens that this is a pretty good class for receivers. There are six or seven likely to go in the first round, so there’s a legitimate shot the Eagles will take one of them at No. 21. 

In the modern era, the Eagles have taken a receiver five times in the first round and four of them were taken around where they’ll pick this spring. 

2015: Nelson Agholor (20)
2009: Jeremy Maclin (19)
2001: Freddie Mitchell (25) 
1984: Kenny Jackson (4) 
1982: Mike Quick (20) 

Here are some options for the Eagles in a couple months: 

The Draft Network, Benjamin Solak

Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado 

What they said: It’s no secret that I’m a big Laviska Shenault fan, but the bigger secret in Philadelphia is that it may have exactly zero 2021 starting receivers from its current 2020 roster. With rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside struggling to find the field, Alshon Jeffery looking like an eventual cap casualty once his figure goes down and DeSean Jackson yet to prove he’s back healthy, the receiving corps needs an overhaul something fierce.

Enter Shenault, who can line up anywhere and win with a simple route tree early given his dominant athletic ability and quality hands away from his frame. He makes a lot of sense as well if Jeffery and Jackson are healthy. Shenault can win as an underneath player whose best trait is his yards-after-catch ability. That’s where Shenault is truly dominant.

My take on Shenault: I agree with Ben that Shenault (6-2, 220) would make a ton of sense for the Eagles. His college production wasn’t off the charts but I think that will matter less to the Eagles this time around. And if Shenault goes to the combine and shows off his speed and athleticism, I will have seen enough. He’s a versatile player who could become a dynamic playmaker in the NFL, so he certainly checks off all the boxes. 

Solak has Shenault as the fourth receiver off the board after CeeDee Lamb (13th), Henry Ruggs III (15th), Jerry Jeudy (19th). Tee Higgins is still available here but I kind of agree that Shenault would be a more exciting pick. 

CBS Sports, Chris Trapasso

Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson

Here’s what they said: Higgins is there for Philadelphia. Marvelous situation for Carson Wentz. Higgins has otherworldly ball skills and deceptive long speed.

My take on Higgins: About a month into mock draft season, it seems like Higgins has been the most common pick for the Eagles. At 6-4, 215, Higgins is a different player than Sheanault and is coming off back-to-back 59-catch seasons. Let’s see what Higgins does in the 40 at the combine — I think that number will matter. 

In this mock draft, Higgins is the fifth receiver selected after Lamb (8th), Ruggs III (11th), Jeudy (13th) and Shenault Jr. (18th). TCU’s Jalen Reagor goes at 24. 

CBS Sports, R.J. White

Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama 

Here’s what they said: Ruggs certainly could go much higher than this, but if he's available, he'll bring the dynamic presence the Eagles sorely lacked last year when DeSean Jackson, who is 33, missed most of last season with an injury.

My take on Ruggs: I fully expect Ruggs III (6-0, 190) to be long gone by the time the Eagles pick at 21 but there are surprises every year, so I won’t sit here and say there’s no chance. I do think that with the talent at receiver in this class, there will likely be more than two in the top 20. To put it simply with Ruggs: the Eagles need speed and no one has more speed than him. 

White has just two receivers — Lamb (12th) and Jeudy (13th) — going before Ruggs. 

The San Diego Union-Tribune, Eddie Brown

CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

Here’s what they said: The Eagles wide receiver corps is in shambles. The inconsistent Nelson Agholor faces free agency while DeSean Jackson isn’t getting any younger (or healthier). Lamb has elite hands and ball skills (he’s special with the ball in the air). He can also contribute as a blocker. 

My take on Lamb: I think this is the first time I have seen Lamb (6-2, 189) mocked to the Eagles and that’s mostly because he’s usually off the board long before this. Same situation with Ruggs — I guess there’s an outside chance Lamb could be available, but I doubt it. 

For reference, the other four mock drafts we’re looking at today had Lamb off the board on average at 11.5. So his falling to 21 seems unlikely … at least for now. 

Yahoo Sports, Eric Edholm

Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State 

Here’s what they said: The need for (receiver) speed is real. I thought about a corner here, with the Eagles smelling a possible run at that position. But I believe they could be smitten with the vertical ability of Aiyuk, who also earned the apt nickname of “Ai-YAC.” 

My take on Aiyuk: It’s an interesting name and among the guys mocked to the Eagles, Aiyuk (6-1, 206) is probably the name you’re least familiar with. He has speed and is a big YAC guy, so he would certainly seem to fit a need. He has traits to possibly become a dynamic play-maker but 21 might be too early. 

Opinions are clearly split on him. Trapasso and White had him at 26 and 24, respectively, while Solak and Brown had Aiyuk in the second round at No. 54 and 56. 

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