Eagles

After 'bumpy road,' Matt Jones sees opportunity with Eagles

After 'bumpy road,' Matt Jones sees opportunity with Eagles

The last time Matt Jones donned a helmet and pads in Philadelphia, he was enjoying a career game against the Eagles — a fact not lost on his new team.

“When I did my workout, I had some of the defensive coaches tell me I owed them something or they remembered that game,” Jones said Tuesday. “Everybody remembers that game here. Some of the same guys on defense are still in here, too.”

Not only were Jones’ 135 yards rushing and 8.4 yards per carry personal bests, but the performance keyed Washington to a 27-20 victory in 2016.

As it turns out, that game would serve as an audition of sorts.

“I know that wasn’t overlooked,” said Jones, who signed a two-year contract with the Eagles.

In one and a half seasons since, Jones has recorded just 15 touches in the NFL. He suffered a knee injury the following week, was released by Washington last September and then claimed by the Colts, where he failed to crack the RB rotation.

But while Jones may have fallen off the map, the Eagles never forgot the vision of him rumbling through their defense. The club maintained an interest in the running back ever since.

“It’s been trying to happen for a while,” Jones said. “I was claimed by waivers from the Colts, but [the Eagles] were trying to claim me too.

“I’m finally here and I thank [Howie Roseman] for giving me a chance to come prove myself.”

Jones should have no problem acclimating to the locker room. He professed the Eagles were his favorite team growing up. A third-round pick from Florida, he and fellow running back Jay Ajayi already know each other as members of the 2015 draft class. Jones even became friends with Brandon Graham as well, sharing how the Redskins used to scheme against the DE.

Perhaps most important, Jones has taken a liking to running backs coach Duce Staley, who wants to see Jones get back to running the way he did that day against the Eagles.

“He humbled me a lot about getting my pads down and just getting back to where I was,” Jones said. “Duce is a great coach. He makes you better. The first day I met him, he made me better.

“Just telling me little stuff I never heard before as far as pass blocking, running, everything. He was a running back, too, so he relates to running backs in different ways. I dropped a couple pounds and I was ready to go.”

It’s unclear exactly why Jones fell out of favor in Washington, where he rushed for 964 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons, then Indianapolis, but he attributed both exits to different sets of circumstances.

Fumbles were an issue in Washington. He racked up eight in his first 20 NFL games, though it seems he was overtaken on the depth chart after his injury.

“Just bumps in the road,” he said. “Some things I could’ve fixed. Everything was great. I just have to figure out what went wrong and try to bounce back.”

Jones was with the Colts until May but was cut loose after the team used fourth- and fifth-round picks on RBs.

“It was weird,” Jones said. “It felt great over there. I was in tip-top shape. I guess they just wanted to go a different route.”

Despite the way his career has unfolded, he's upbeat and determined to learn from every experience.

“It’s been a bumpy road, man,” Jones said. “Hard, but I’ll take the good and the bad. From here, I just want to work. This is a big opportunity for me. It’s been up and down, but I’m thankful for it all.”

Handing out grades on every Eagles move this offseason

Handing out grades on every Eagles move this offseason

Howie Roseman and the Eagles aren’t done making moves yet, but since the dust has settled after the first week of free agency, let’s take a look at some of the moves they’ve made so far. 

I used a simple A-F grading scale and tried to go in chronological order: 

Re-signing Brandon Graham: B+

I liked this move. The Eagles brought back a big piece of their defensive line, but they did have to overpay a little bit to do it. Three years, $40 million is a lot of money, but if Graham keeps his level of play and stays healthy, he’ll be worth it. I know there’s some fear because Graham is 30 now, but he has relatively low tread because of his years as a rotational player. 

Extending Jason Kelce: A+

This one was an easy A for me. The Eagles gave Kelce a much-deserved raise. I don’t know if he was ever really close to retiring, but if giving him this pay bump helped keep him, the Eagles absolutely made the right move. Even playing through injury in 2018, he was the best center in football. He’s arguably one of the most important pieces of the team and even at 31 can be for the next several seasons. 

Trading Michael Bennett: C

I get why the Eagles traded Bennett, but it’s hard to overlook his production in 2018, when he was their best defensive end. Bennett seemed unhappy about his contract and would have been unhappy about his role; those were reasons enough to trade for him. But the Eagles were a better team with him than they are without him. Clearing all of his $7.2 million cap hit keeps this at a C level. 

Extending Isaac Seumalo: A

Some folks are still blinded by Seumalo’s struggles earlier in his career, but he’s a decent starter at left guard and still has room to grow. This was a classic Joe Banner move from the Eagles; pay the player now and hope it becomes really team-friendly. His APY of $5.626 million is a good value for a starter and will become great value if he improves. 

Signing Malik Jackson: A

The Eagles gave Malik Jackson a three-year deal that they can make a two-year deal if things go South. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Jackson will be a perfect fit next to Fletcher Cox in the Eagles’ defense as someone who can consistently beat 1-on-1s. No, he isn’t great against the run, but his pass rush ability will really help. He did get benched in Jacksonville, which is a concern, but I think that just helped the Eagles get him at a more reasonable price. And he doesn't hurt the comp pick formula. 

Keeping Jason Peters: B

This was the hardest one for me to grade. In a vacuum, this deal doesn’t make a ton of sense. Why bring back a 37-year-old who can’t stay healthy? The problem was there weren’t really any better options for a left tackle unless the Eagles really wanted to roll the dice. If Peters — and I know it’s a huge if — can stay healthy, he’s their best option in 2019. This is a team that has a chance to compete to win a Super Bowl right now. 

Trading for DeSean Jackson: A-

Aside from the DT position next to Cox, a speed receiver was the main component missing from the Eagles’ 2018 season. They didn’t just get a deep threat; they got one of the greatest deep threats in NFL history. Sure, he’s 32 now, but he led the NFL in yards per reception last year with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston. The minus on that A here is just because of his age. But that’s a gamble I’d be willing to take. 

Declining Stefen Wisniewski’s option: D

By letting Wiz walk, the Eagles saved $3 million in cap space, but I would have kept him. Remember, their top backup guard right now is unproven sixth-round pick Matt Pryor and Brandon Brooks is coming off a torn Achilles. Keeping Wiz for a $3.7 million cap hit this year would have been a no-brainer for me. Now, the Eagles have to find an adequate replacement and backup. 

Second-round tender on Nate Sudfeld: A

The Eagles placed a second-round tender on Sudfeld, which will pay him around $3 million. The reason I gave this an A was because if the Eagles decided they were clearly going to keep Sudfeld, it was worth paying him an extra million and pretty much guaranteeing his return. 

Signing L.J. Fort: B

I’ll be honest: I don’t know a ton about Fort. I do know he’s a veteran special teams player who played 29.2 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps. The Eagles are going to lose D.J. Alexander and LaRoy Reynolds as free agents, so they needed this type of backup/special teams linebacker. Fort is apparently a pretty decent one. 

Re-signing Ronald Darby: C+

On one hand, the Eagles are bringing back a talented young player and their team is better with him on it. But paying Darby might not be the best allocation of money, especially for a player who is coming off a torn ACL. There’s no way to know he’ll be ready to play at the start of the season, so that’s a big part of this gamble. His goal is Week 1. This move will also block us from seeing the Eagles’ younger players. At least it gives the Eagles more depth at a position where they were completely decimated by injuries last season. 

Signing Andrew Sendejo: B+

The Eagles found their Corey Graham replacement in Sendejo, who will factor into the secondary as a third safety. That third safety role is an important one for the Eagles because they use their big nickel package so much. Malcolm Jenkins basically plays linebacker and they bring a third safety on the field. Sendejo is 31 and coming off an injury-shortened season, but he should be able to help. 

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Ronald Darby’s goal is Week 1, knows he needs to stay healthy

Ronald Darby’s goal is Week 1, knows he needs to stay healthy

Ronald Darby tore his ACL on Nov. 11 against the Cowboys, so by the start of the 2019 season, he’ll be just about 10 months removed from the injury. 

His goal is to be ready to play.  

“My rehab is going great right now,” Darby said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “I’m hitting all the marks I need to. My goal is to be back by Week 1.” 

Darby, 25, recently signed a one-year deal to stay in Philadelphia. It’s really a one-year, prove-it deal for the talented young corner, who has missed 15 regular season games over the past two seasons. 

In 2017, Darby missed eight games with a dislocated ankle but returned for the playoffs. 

In 2018, Darby missed seven regular-season games and both playoffs games after tearing his ACL. 

On Tuesday, Darby said he thinks serious injuries in back-to-back seasons affected his value on the free agent market. In 2019, he’ll not only need to play well, but he’ll — more importantly — need to prove he can stay healthy. Darby played in 15 games as a rookie and 14 games in his second NFL season, both in Buffalo before the trade to the Eagles in 2017. 

Of course it’s been real frustrating. I never got hurt like this before until I got to Philly. So this was new. Everything was new to me. But I’ve been playing football since I was 8 years old. I’ve just got to have a healthy season. … This year, I’m gonna go out there, have a healthy season, compete and play hard.

If all goes well for Darby in 2019, he’ll be in line for a major contract this time next year. He said he would “love” to be back with the Eagles, but we’ll see where both sides of the negotiating table are after the 2019 season. 

“I always wanted to be back, of course,” Darby said. “It’s hard to walk away from a place like this.”

The move to bring back Darby was slightly surprising given that the Eagles seem to have a defensive back room stocked with young, cheap talent. But after they were decimated by injuries in 2018, they will at least have the luxury of depth for this coming season. In addition to Darby, they still have Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox and Cre’Von LeBlanc under contract. 

Darby said he thinks the talent in the defensive backs room should breed a lot of competition. That would be ideal. But the Eagles are paying him like a starter, so he needs to be that for them in 2019. If he does, and if he can stay healthy, he’ll earn himself some serious coin this time next year. 

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