Brandon Brooks' early exit complicated an already difficult situation for Andre Dillard and the Eagles

Brandon Brooks' early exit complicated an already difficult situation for Andre Dillard and the Eagles

In hindsight, the Eagles’ decision to start Andre Dillard at right tackle against the Seahawks on Sunday was ill-advised, to say the least.

Dillard struggled with the position change, forcing the Eagles to send their first-round draft pick back to the bench at halftime. And though the other options at that spot weren’t great, the rookie’s issues were predictable, as he played exclusively left tackle since his junior year in high school.

“If you do something one way your whole life and then you’ve suddenly gotta change it for the next five days, how would you feel,” said Dillard postgame. “It’s tough, but I just do my best for the team.”

The Eagles could’ve chosen Halapoulivaati Vaitai to replace Lane Johnson, who missed Sunday’s game with a concussion. Vaitai played poorly in relief of Johnson the previous week, either, but he’s at least played the position for the Eagles previously – quite well when coached up.

Vaitai has been at both left and right tackle, so he knows firsthand how difficult it is to move, admitting it wasn’t until after his first season he felt comfortable on either side.

“I understand what he’s going through,” said Vaitai. “It’s life. If your name is called, just go out there and have fun.

“He is a great athlete, just going different positions is a little overwhelming.”

Chosen with the 22nd pick and regarded by some draft experts as a top-10 talent, Dillard played the bulk of the snaps at left tackle in four games, including three starts, and was OK. At the very least, he still looks like a fine prospect at his natural position.

It wasn’t like writing an essay with your offhand, an analogy several Eagles O-lineman have been heard using recently, and apparently how Dillard felt about playing on the right with only a few days of practice.

“I just needed more reps,” said Vaitai, recalling his experience flipping sides.

Of course, Dillard may have found himself pressed into action at right tackle on Sunday regardless of the decision leading up to the game.

Right guard Brandon Brooks exited the game in the first half with an illness, forcing Vaitai into the lineup in his place. When Dillard eventually got the hook, Vaitai moved over to tackle, and 2018 sixth-round pick Matt Pryor saw his first offensive snaps as a pro.

“Everybody waits on that moment to get called,” said Pryor. “It’s exciting and stressful at the same time because you don’t know how it’s gonna go.”

A right side with Vaitai and Pryor each in positions they’re comfortable was a slight improvement, though the Eagles only found the end zone for the first time all game with 20 seconds in regulation.

Point being, no matter what the Eagles’ plans going in, Brooks’ exit complicated an already difficult situation, and may have forced the team to plug Dillard in at right tackle with no experience at all.

Presumably, both Brooks and Johnson will be able to return in the near future, which is a plus. The only other offensive linemen on the Eagles’ roster are undrafted rookie Nate Herbig and Jordan Mailata, who’s currently on injured reserve. Neither has appeared in a regular season game.

In the meantime, with whatever combination of Dillard, Vaitai and Pryor on the right side, the offensive line was not good enough on Sunday.

“They just outplayed us,” said Vaitai. “We’ve gotta step it up.”

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How Eagles helped Nigel Bradham by cutting him now

How Eagles helped Nigel Bradham by cutting him now

The Eagles formally released linebacker Nigel Bradham on Wednesday, one day after it was initially reported that the team had decided not to exercise his $8 million contract option and a month before they had to.

Bradham’s contract requires the Eagles to decide by the last day of the 2019 league year — in this case March 18 — whether to extend his deal by a year and pay him $8 million in base salary for 2020 or not exercise the option, allowing him to become a free agent.

But by releasing him on Wednesday — a full four weeks before they were required to — the Eagles give Bradham the opportunity to begin talking to teams and potentially negotiating a new contract before the start of free agency, which is also March 18.

Now that he’s no longer the Eagles’ property, he’s an unrestricted free agent a month before all the other linebackers hit the market.

It's a courtesy that gives him a head start on the mid-March free agency frenzy.

The Eagles and Bradham renegotiated his contract in March of 2018, and that renegotiation ran through 2022 but gave the Eagles an escape clause in the form of option years after the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Because there’s no remaining guaranteed money in Bradham’s deal, the cap ramifications are no different if they release him now or formally decline his option next month. 

Bradham will count about $5.3 million in dead money under the Eagles’ 2020 cap, according to Spotrac, instead of the $9 million he would have counted if the Eagles’ kept him.

Bradham, who turns 31 in September, spent four years with the Eagles and started 64 of a possible 70 games, including the postseason.

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NFL trade rumors: Why Stefon Diggs makes sense for the Eagles

NFL trade rumors: Why Stefon Diggs makes sense for the Eagles

On Tuesday night, receiver Stefon Diggs sent the internet into a tizzy when he apparently erased any mention of the Vikings from his Instagram account. 

We’re taking a bit of a leap here (gotta love 2020) but if this is Diggs’ somehow voicing his frustration with the Vikings it wouldn’t be the first time. And it would also basically be a Bat Signal to the other 31 NFL teams: “Come and get me!” 

The Eagles should. 

It’s funny. Before all those rumors began to swirl on Tuesday night, I was on NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Quick Slants and was asked for one potential trade target for the Birds. The name I gave was Diggs. He made sense even before this. While there’s no guarantee the Vikings trade him, it’s worth finding out. 

If you haven’t noticed, the Eagles are in desperate need of help at receiver. It’s why about 85 percent of mock drafts have them taking one in the first round of the draft in a couple months. But any player they pick in the draft is an unknown. Diggs is not. 

There are three big reasons why Diggs should be attractive to the Eagles: 

1. He just turned 26 back in November

The Eagles are committed to getting younger this offseason and getting Diggs now would kind of be like signing a free agent after his rookie deal. The Eagles have been getting older but Diggs would help them get younger. No, he’s not a 21-year-old anymore but he is arguably entering his prime. 

2. Diggs is already one of the best receivers in the NFL

Despite his targets dropping from 149 in 2018 to 94 in 2019 (ostensibly one of the reasons for his displeasure), Diggs still managed to have more receiving yards this past season. Since the 2016 season, Diggs has 313 catches, 3,903 yards and 26 touchdowns. There are just six players in the league with better stats in those four seasons: DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Travis Kelce and Michael Thomas. 

What has been impressive about Diggs is that he’s been successful in different ways. After averaging 10.0 yards per catch in 2018, he averaged 17.9 (a career high) in 2019 and was a tremendous deep threat. Just three players in the NFL had a higher yards-per-catch average in 2019. 

The Eagles certainly saw what he can do. In Week 6 against the Birds, he had his best game of the 2019 season. He caught seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. That was the only time this season he was targeted over 10 times in a game. 

3. Diggs is relatively cost-controlled for another four seasons

While trading for Diggs will cost draft equity (we’ll get to that soon), his salary will be cheaper than that of a free agent of the same caliber because he’s already locked up. While multiple teams will out-bid each other for free agents and end up over-paying, Diggs has a contract that runs through the 2023 season and it’s a very reasonable contract. By the end of it, there’s a very good chance he’ll be extremely underpaid. Even though he just signed the five-year extension in the summer of 2018, he’s already just the 13th highest-paid NFL receiver in terms of APY, according to OverTheCap. 

Check out his base salaries for the remainder of the contract: 

2020: $10.9M
2021: $11.4M
2022: $11.4M
2023: $11.4M

No, that’s not exactly cheap like a rookie contract would be but it’s very manageable. And once the new CBA is eventually worked out, those prices will probably look even better. And there are some performance escalators written in, but if Diggs hits them, both sides would be happy. 

So what will it take? 

This is the big question. I think we all agree that Diggs is a good player and the Eagles would love to have him. But what would they have to give up in a trade? 

Well, the Vikings are going to start any negotiation with a first-round pick at minimum. They should. All those reasons I listed above are reasons why they should have teams lining up for Diggs. It’ll be interesting to see just how bad things really are between Diggs and the Vikings, though. There was definitely frustration during the 2019 season but he finished out the year. Is it bad enough that it’s an untenable situation? If so, then the Vikings would lose some leverage. 

If it’s a second-round pick, this is an easier conversation. The real question is whether or not the Eagles would be willing to give up a first-round pick. I kind of doubt they’d be willing to but you can make a real case for it. It’s easy to say the Eagles should just focus on the draft and take one of the many talented options with the 21st pick but there’s no guarantee they’ll hit. In fact, their history picking receivers, especially in the last decade, shouldn’t instill much confidence. They have drafted four Day 1 or Day 2 receivers since 2010: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. 

None of them ever became what Diggs is right now. And there’s a good chance any player taken at 21 won’t become what he is either. 

Maybe GM Howie Roseman and the Eagles will be worried about Diggs’ fit in the building; after all, he has created enough drama in Minnesota to bring all of this up in the first place. Would that eventually happen here? Hard to say. This isn’t a no-brainer but it’s worth a call or two. 

Pick up the phone, Howie. 

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