Eagles

Eagles 2020 breakout candidate: Greg Ward is more than a nice story

Eagles 2020 breakout candidate: Greg Ward is more than a nice story

Over two weeks, I’m taking a look at 10 Eagles players who might be primed for a breakout season in 2020. I have already looked at Boston Scott, K’Von Wallace, Sidney Jones, T.J. Edwards, Jalen Reagor, Isaac Seumalo, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat

Up today: Greg Ward 

Age: 24

How acquired: 2017 undrafted free agent

Entering: Year 4 

It’s impossible not to root for Greg Ward. His story is one of true perseverance and determination. 

But is he for real? 

Ward first entered the NFL in 2017 as an undrafted free agent. The former University of Houston quarterback changed positions to wide receiver but it took him three years to actually make the team and get on the field. He was on the practice squad in 2017 and part of 2018, he became a star in the short-lived AAF before he came back to the Eagles for last season. Last season, Ward was cut, put on the practice squad, brought up, sent back down and finally brought back up on Sept. 26. 

Hopefully Ward won’t be going back to the practice squad anytime soon. 

In 2019, Ward finally got a chance to play in November. Thanks to injuries, from Week 12 through the end of the 2019 season, Ward became the Eagles’ most consistent and reliable receiver. He ended up with 28 catches for 254 yards and 1 touchdown in six weeks. 

So now as he enters the 2020 season, he’s probably the likely candidate to be the Eagles’ slot receiver. But is he more than just a nice story? 

Ward might not be as explosive from that slot position as Nelson Agholor once was, but that’s OK. He’s dependable, reliable and Carson Wentz can trust him. 

Just think back to the final seconds of the Washington game on Dec. 15. The Eagles were in must-win mode in their season and Ward’s touchdown catch gave the Eagles a 31-27 lead with just 32 seconds left. Wentz threw it up to him in the end zone, trusting Ward would come down with the ball. 

On that game-winning drive, Ward had four catches for 40 yards and the TD. There’s no denying the rapport he built with Wentz last season. 

I think Ward, along with Boston Scott, taught the Eagles’ front office a valuable lesson last year about youth and determination. The team was hesitant to go with Ward all season despite what it saw in practice and didn’t turn to him until it was out of options. The Eagles shouldn’t make those mistakes again. 

And maybe Ward will never be a Pro Bowl player, but in an offense that suddenly has a ton of field-stretching speed, having a sure-handed and reliable slot receiver will be a big deal. Look for Ward to continue his success. 

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What George Kittle’s landmark contract means for Zach Ertz and Eagles

What George Kittle’s landmark contract means for Zach Ertz and Eagles

George Kittle didn’t just reset the tight end market on Thursday. He obliterated it. 

And you can bet Zach Ertz is taking note. 

The 49ers and Kittle just agreed to a groundbreaking contract for the All-Pro tight end that comes with an average of $15 million per season. 

Ertz, 29, is still under contract through the 2021 season but is also in line for a contract extension of his own. And while you might not think he deserves as much money as Kittle or even Travis Kelce (who is also in line for an extension), Ertz might think so. 

Check out what Ertz said about the comparisons to Kittle and Kelce last week: 

I do consider myself in that upper echelon of guys, in that same tier with all those guys,” Ertz said last 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.

We’ll eventually find out if the front office agrees with him. Because the Eagles are going to face a really critical decision soon regarding Ertz. And the existence of Dallas Goedert only adds more layers to this situation. 

Ertz, 29, signed an extension in 2016 that gave him an average per year of $8.5 million. While he might not get to the $15 APY that Kittle just got, he’s going to aim to be in that area. That’s the natural progression of contracts in the NFL. My guess is he gets in the $11-13 million per season range, which is still a really big investment on a player who will likely be over 30 when that deal happens. 

For a long time, the market for tight ends has been really stagnant. The Jimmy Graham $10 million APY had been the benchmark until Austin Hooper passed that with a $10.5 APY this offseason. Now, Kittle has demolished that. 

It’s also worth noting that NFL Network’s Mike Silver reported earlier this offseason that Ertz actually turned down a deal during the 2019 season that was more lucrative than the deal Hooper signed. That should give you an idea of Ertz’s mindset. (But it was the right decision; let Kittle or Kelce reset the market.) 

There’s no questioning what Ertz has meant to the Eagles offense. He’s been their leading receiver in each of the last four seasons and this is the guy who caught the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl! He’s in the middle of an absolutely tremendous career. 

Ertz last week emphasized his desire to play for the Eagles for his entire career. But it’s never that simple. 

Remember, Goedert is still just 25, he has two more years left on his rookie contract and is already a top 10 tight end in the NFL. And while Ertz has put up incredible — like Hall of Fame — receiving numbers, Goedert is definitely a more well-rounded player. Heck, ProFootballFocus actually ranked Goedert ahead of Ertz for the 2020 season.

The one thing that seems clear is that it’s going to be really hard to keep both talented tight ends long-term. 

If the Eagles want to keep Ertz, they’re going to have to give him a huge contract. This Kittle deal just created some framework and a potential obstacle. 

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Doug Pederson hints at big role for Greg Ward Jr. with Eagles this season  

Doug Pederson hints at big role for Greg Ward Jr. with Eagles this season  

Greg Ward Jr. became a great story for the Eagles last season, when he began the year on the practice squad and ended up being their best receiver down the stretch. 

But is he more than a good story? 

Doug Pederson seems to think so. 

The one thing now as he goes into this season, he's in that rotation, in that starting mix for us,” Pederson said on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “It's just a matter of him embracing every day, getting better. Being a former quarterback, he understands our offense. Being in our offense, he knows the concepts and the routes. He and Carson (Wentz) have a really good feel for one another.

“I think for him now it's just a matter of continuing to get better each and every day and putting in the work. We expect some really big things from Greg. He can also be a leader. He can be a leader of that group. Him and DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, these guys, they can be leaders now and mentors to these young players.

In one year’s time, Ward has gone from practice squad player to being a leader in a wide receiver room that includes three draft picks, an undrafted rookie and a second-year draft pick. 

Ward, 25, is technically in Year 4 of his NFL career but he didn’t get a chance to play until the 2019 season and even then he didn’t play until November. 

Ward finished last season with 28 catches for 254 yards and a game-winning touchdown in a huge contest against Washington. 

Maybe Ward will never become a star player in the NFL, but he’s sure-handed, dependable and earned the trust of his quarterback and coaching staff last season. 

If you look at the Eagles’ group of receivers, Ward is probably the top candidate to win the slot job. DeSean Jackson is going to be the starting Z receiver and at the X the Eagles have Alshon Jeffery and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Rookie 1st-round pick Jalen Reagor is learning both outside spots. 

Eventually, could Reagor play in the slot? Absolutely. In fact, I’d love to see him in there because he’d bring an explosiveness to the position that Ward probably can’t offer. 

But Ward is going to play a lot in 2020. He’s going to have a chance to become more than a great story. 

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