Eagles

5 reasons to watch the final quarter of the Eagles’ season

5 reasons to watch the final quarter of the Eagles’ season

The Eagles’ loss to the Dolphins was probably enough to make some fans swear off football for the rest of the year. I get that.

But there are still plenty of reasons to watch the final quarter of the Eagles’ season.

Let’s be honest, too. You’re going to watch.

Playoffs are still in play

As minimal as their chances feel, the Eagles are still in the playoff hunt. They’re just a game behind the Cowboys in the NFC East and will be in if they win out. That’s obviously a tough sell right now after watching them lose to the Dolphins, but the Eagles have a 35 percent chance to make the playoffs. If they make it, then they’d host a game in the wild card round.

If this isn’t enough of a reason for you — and I get that — there are still some others that have more long-term implications.

Carson Wentz

The Eagles already made their decision on Wentz this past offseason when they signed him to a $108 million deal. So he’s not going anywhere. But the franchise quarterback can play well in these last four games and let us know that guy, the special player, is still in there. And just finishing a season would be something he hasn’t done since his rookie year in 2016.

Right now, he’s on pace for 3,786 yards, 26.7 touchdowns and 9.3 interceptions. He could end up with a new career-high in yards. Wentz would need to average 290 passing yards in the last four games to become the Eagles’ first-ever 4,000-yard passer. But it’s really not about the numbers. It’s about leaving the fanbase with a feeling of confidence after his fourth NFL season.

Will Doug find it again?

Along the same lines as Wentz, let’s see if Doug Pederson can re-find some of the magic he had a couple years ago. Let’s just see some better game-planning and in-game decisions. We all understand that Pederson has built up enough equity to outlast this disappointing season, but he could leave fans with some confidence that he can still be the same coach he was in 2017. This will also let us know if his messaging is still working with this team; does the locker room stick together?

Decisions on upcoming free agents

There are several key players who are set to become free agents at the end of this year and the Eagles will have to make decisions about: Rodney McLeod, Ronald Darby, Nelson Agholor, Tim Jernigan, Jordan Howard, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Jalen Mills. And then the Eagles will also have to decide whether or not they want to pick up their option on Nigel Bradham, and if they want to try to move on from a guy like Alshon Jeffery.

The Eagles have always worked hard to keep their core players but it could be time for a new infusion of players. This could be an interesting offseason.

Rookie/young player development

In these last four games, the Eagles are going to try to win, but I’d prefer to see as much of their young talent as possible. That means finding snaps for J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. That means seeing how Miles Sanders handles being the lead back. That means actually letting Shareef Miller play and making Josh Sweat the top rotational defensive end; I know what Vinny Curry is at this point. Let’s see if there’s a future with some of these guys. The problem is that the Eagles are still trying to win, so it’s not like they’re just going to start playing all the developmental guys, but we’ll get our glimpses.

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Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

The Eagles on Friday released two players, including a defensive tackle who played in 11 games over the last two years and a Philadelphia native trying to make the team as an undrafted rookie.

The moves, along with the additions of Vinny Curry and Marcus Green, leave the roster right at the 80-man training camp limit.

The team released defensive tackle Bruce Hector and cornerback Prince Smith, an undrafted rookie who played at New Hampshire.

Hector originally made the Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent out of South Florida in 2018. He bounced up and down between the active roster and the practice squad three times and played in eight games, with 82 defensive snaps and 19 more on special teams. 

Hector, 25, was with the team in last year’s preseason but was traded on Aug. 22 to the Cards in exchange for safety Rudy Ford. But when the Cards released him nine days later, he rejoined the Eagles on Sept. 1 on the practice squad. 

He had two more stints on the practice squad and two on the active roster last year, playing 53 defensive snaps and 20 special teams snaps in three games. He was active for the Seattle playoff game and got five defensive snaps and seven on special teams.

After cutting ties with Hector, the Eagles have six defensive tackles remaining on the roster - Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway and Anthony Rush, who were all with the team last year, Steelers free agent Javon Hargrave and undrafted rookie Raequan Williams.

Smith grew up in Philadelphia and played high school football at Imhotep Institute Charter in West Oak Lane. He signed with the Eagles on April 30, just after the draft.

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How does Zach Ertz rank himself compared to Kittle and Kelce?

How does Zach Ertz rank himself compared to Kittle and Kelce?

His Madden rating dropped. His ranking among the top 100 NFL players plunged. He didn’t make all-pro. He caught 28 fewer passes than a year before.
 
Zach Ertz, who has more catches than any tight end in NFL history after seven seasons, is largely seen as No. 3 in the league these days behind George Kittle and Travis Kelce. 
 
Ertz laughs about all of it, and if there’s a sense he’s declining as a player, he sure doesn’t share it. Neither do the numbers.
 
“I do consider myself in that upper echelon of guys, in that same tier with all those guys,” he said on a Zoom call Friday. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think a lot of guys in this building feel the same way about me. I’m never in the business of comparing people. I think all three of us are at the top of our games, and I think we’re all perfect in the offense that we play in, honestly. I think we all have unique skill sets. We’re all very different, with some similarities. But overall I don’t think my game is any less than any of their games.”
 
Kelce is an incredible down-field threat. Kittle is a remarkable blocker. But Ertz just keeps putting together Pro Bowl season after Pro Bowl season.
 
And in the two years that Kelce, Ertz and Kittle have all been regular starting tight ends, Ertz has more catches than either of them.
 
You can argue that Kittle or Kelce is the best tight end in football, but you can’t argue with Ertz’s seven-year body of work.

It's unprecedented.
 
It includes the biggest 4th-down conversion in Super Bowl history, a 4th-quarter game-winning catch in the Super Bowl, an NFL-record 116 catches in 2018. 
 
He’s one of only four tight ends with six straight 700-yard seasons and one of only three with five straight 70-catch seasons.
 
He’s not even 30 yet, but he’s already 13th in NFL history among tight ends with 525 catches.
 
Just 68 catches out of 8th.
 
“The goal when I was a rookie was to (be) in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I sat with my trainer growing up training for the combine and he said, ‘What are your goals when you get into the NFL?’ And I said, ‘I want to be a 1st-round draft pick and I want to go to the Hall of Fame.’ Unfortunately, I was not a 1st-round draft pick - three picks later - but I came to the best situation for me here in Philly. But the Hall of Fame goal is always something that I’ve strived for.”
 
Every eligible tight end that’s caught 600 passes is in the Hall of Fame. 
 
Ertz is 75 short, and he’s 29.
 
Four more seasons averaging 75 catches puts him behind only Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. Pending what Kelce does.
 
“You talk about accomplishments, you talk about progress, it’s never something in my opinion you look at as you’re playing,” Ertz said. “It’s always the next season. How can you become a better football  player, how can I become a better teammate? Even when we won the Super Bowl, that next offseason my mentality didn’t change and I broke the record for catches. My mentality didn’t change. It’s always, ‘How can I be better this year than I was last year?’"
 
“I feel the best I ever have going into Year 8. I don’t think I’m slowing down by any means. Doug and my tight ends coach (Jason Peelle) said last year was my best year as a pro that they’ve seen. So overall I’m excited with where I’m at. The end goal will never change. I’m just fortunate and blessed to even have my name in those conversations this early in my career.”
 
What about his contract?
 
Ertz has two years left at $6.6 million this year and $8.25 million next year. What if the Eagles get into cap trouble? What if Dallas Goedert continues to establish himself as an NFL top-10 tight end? What if Kittle’s forthcoming deal redefines tight end salaries?
 
Who knows what the future holds, but Ertz is clear about one thing.
 
“From the moment I got here as a rookie … my goal was to be like Kobe Bryant or Jason Witten, play for one organization their entire careers,” he said. “I’ve made that known. I’ll let my agent and Howie (Roseman) handle the rest, but I know for sure I want to be here the rest of my career.”

Is he Kittle? Nope.

Is he Kelce? Nah.

But he's Zach Ertz, and that should be good enough for every Eagles fan.

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