Eagles corners quietly showing off special capability this summer

Eagles corners quietly showing off special capability this summer

While Sidney Jones has naturally been one of the focal points of Eagles training camp, it’s time to give Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby their due. 

Both have been great so far this summer. 

Andt then when you start thinking about Mills and Darby and Jones and Rasul Douglas and De’Vante Bausby, we’re looking at a group of cornerbacks that are already deep and could be special. 

“We don’t have a ceiling,” Mills said confidently last week. 

Think about this: With how good Jones has looked this early, he’d be starting for most teams. After all, he was a first-round talent just a year ago. But Mills and Darby haven’t faltered even a little bit. Both have been shutdown guys through the first 10 days of camp. 

Everyone has taken notice. 

“They're both having outstanding camps,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “They’re making plays on the ball, they're playing with confidence. Those are two important things for corners. I think that both of those guys really elevated their games.”

This is really our first time to see Darby in training camp. The Jordan Matthews trade didn’t happen until Aug. 11. So this time last year, Darby was still up in Buffalo and the Eagles were still concerned about the position. 

Darby had to hit the ground running, pardon the cliche, when he arrived to the NovaCare Complex last summer. And then in the first week of the regular season, he dislocated his ankle and missed the next eight games. 

Schwartz said — and Darby agreed — that between coming late and the injury, it just felt like Darby was playing catchup all of last season. 

He’s caught up. 

“He's had an outstanding offseason,” Schwartz said. “I'm not just talking about training camp, I’m talking about OTAs and phase one, phase two. He’s in a different place than he was last year.”

Darby, 24, is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so a big season and a nice payday could follow. With Jones waiting to take over as a starter and cornerstone of the team, it’s hard to envision the Eagles’ handing Darby a huge deal, which is why trade rumors have been hovering over him. Darby on Monday joked that as long as his password worked on the team-issued iPad, he was still on the team. 

Sure, the Eagles could trade him still. But I’m pretty excited to see what he can do with a full offseason in the system. 

And Mills, who has never lacked for confidence, is coming off a season in which he really came into his own. No one thinks about him as the former seventh-round pick. He’s now the "Green Goblin," the guy who made some huge plays during the run that brought the Lombardi Trophy to Philly. 

And now, Darby, Mills and Jones have the potential to be great in 2018. This is what the Eagles have been building toward. 

This will be Schwartz’s third season as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator and there’s not one cornerback on the roster from when he was hired. We’ve seen a complete transformation of the position in less than three years. Heck, we’ve seen an incredible transformation from the 2016 season.

Within two years, the Eagles have gone from Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll to having a stable full of young, talented and cheap corners. 

They’ve gone from cornerback being a worrisome weak spot to an absolute strength, with newfound depth. 

“You have to come ready to compete every day,” Darby said. “That one day you're feeling lazy, tired, nicked up, another player out there is busting his a--, going all out. It helps you to push.” 

Darby and Mills have been definitely pushing every day during this training camp. The Eagles haven’t had a group of corners like this in a decade and there’s plenty of reason to be excited. 

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Why new onside kick alternative would give Eagles an advantage

Why new onside kick alternative would give Eagles an advantage

NFL owners are expected to vote Thursday on an onside kick alternative that would give teams the option to go for a 4th-and-15 from their own 25-yard line to retain possession. 

If this passes, it’ll be good news for the Eagles. 

Because while the rule is reportedly gaining steam among many NFL teams, there’s a reason the Eagles were the team that proposed this rule change. 

It will give them an advantage for two main reasons: 

1. The Eagles have an aggressive-minded head coach willing to buck convention 

During his four years as head coach of the Eagles, Doug Pederson has gone for more 4th-down attempts than any other team. The Eagles have 99 total 4th down attempts in four years; the next closest team has 91. The Eagles have converted on 52.5% of those fourth down conversions. 

And during the four years with Pederson as head coach, the Eagles have also gone for a league-high 28 two-point conversions. Pederson and the Eagles don’t care about conventional wisdom in the NFL; in fact, the organization believes a lot of league-wide thinking is outdated. 

All this aggressiveness from Pederson is a combination of using analytics and pairing them with his gut feel depending on how his offense is performing. 

If the Eagles didn’t think the analytics would tell them to go for an onside kick alternative at times, why would they propose it? 

2. They have a quarterback with the ability to extend plays and make tough throws 

Pederson and Carson Wentz have been together now for four seasons so, first, Pederson should have a perfect understanding of the kinds of plays to use with Wentz in these situations. 

The great thing about Wentz, though, is his ability to create when a play breaks down. To pick up plays of 15-plus yards when the defense knows you need to gain 15 yards isn’t easy. But with a quarterback like Wentz, there are multiple chances on the same play. His ability to scramble and buy time will give his receivers chances to get open down the field. And Wentz then has the arm strength to get the ball to them in a hurry. 

During his career, Wentz has gained first downs on 6 of 50 passing attempts on 3rd or 4th-and-15+, but those situations are different than this hypothetical one. We admittedly don’t have a ton of data to support the idea that he’ll be great in these situations. But use the eye test. He has a skillset that should allow him to make these plays. 

• • • 

There are a few important notes and details about this rule proposal you need to know. These come from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and they will determine the way teams use this alternative if it passes. 

• Teams can use the alternative onside kick twice in regulation and it doesn’t matter if they’re leading, trailing or tied. 

• But no overtime. You can’t decide to forgo kicking off in OT, trying to keep the ball to win the game. 

• It’s an untimed down but there is a play clock of 25 seconds. 

• If the offense converts, it’s a first down and the drive keeps going. If the defense stops them, they get the ball back at the dead-ball spot. 

• If a penalty occurs during or after a score (let’s say there’s an unsportsmanlike conduct) and it was scheduled to be enforced on the kickoff, it can be enforced on this untimed down. So if there’s an unsportsmanlike penalty, the kicking team could attempt a 4th-and-15 from their own 40-yard line instead of their own 25. 

• If an offensive penalty occurs during the play, the kicking team can’t then change their mind and kick off. So if there’s an offensive holding, it could be 4th-and-25 from their own 15. 

• • •  

We’ll find out soon enough if this proposal and some of the others on the docket pass this week. But in my mind, there’s no reason to prevent this rule from passing other than desire from some teams to keep things status-quo. This rule would be fun. 

And, at least for now, the Eagles would probably be able to use it to their advantage. 

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Dak Prescott’s contract impasse with Cowboys a win-win for Eagles

Dak Prescott’s contract impasse with Cowboys a win-win for Eagles

The Dallas Cowboys are at an impasse with quarterback Dak Prescott. And no matter how things work out for the 26-year-old and two-time Pro Bowler, the Eagles should benefit.

The Eagles’ main division rival slapped the franchise tag on Prescott back in March. If he signs the tag deal, it would pay him $31.4 million for the 2020 season, and leave him free to seek out the highest bidder afterward. Prescott and the Cowboys have been in quiet negotiations since, attempting to hammer out a long-term deal ahead of the July 15 deadline, a deal that will likely make him among the highest-paid players in the game, if not the highest.

Carson Wentz’s contract extension signed with the Eagles last June was a four-year deal worth $128 million, with $66.5 million guaranteed. No matter how you feel about Prescott in relation to Wentz, Prescott will certainly be asking for north of $32 million a year. It’s just the way of the NFL. Just three months after Wentz signed his deal, Rams QB Jared Goff signed a four-year extension worth $134 million, with a whopping $110 million guaranteed.

According to multiple reports, the main sticking point between Prescott and the ‘Boys is the length of the deal. Prescott wants a four-year contract like the one signed by Wentz. The Cowboys want to lock him up for five years. If Prescott does sign a five-year contract with Dallas, you can expect the value of that fifth year to be substantial – in upwards of $42-45 million. In addition, the guaranteed money in his deal, if he agrees to five years, will certainly be north of $100 million, and could approach, if not exceed, Goff’s record guarantee.

I certainly believe the Cowboys and Prescott will work something out. Probably a four-year deal worth somewhere between $37-40 million per season and with guaranteed money right around the $110 million included in Goff’s deal.

You can see how a contract like this could limit a team from a salary cap standpoint. The Cowboys will pay WR Amari Cooper $22 million a year from 2021-2024. Running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 2021 cap hit is $13.7 million, and $16.5 million in 2022. If Prescott were to sign a contract worth, say, $38 million a season, Dallas will be committing more than one-third of its cap space to their “Triplets.”

So, there are two possible scenarios that exist for the Cowboys: A. They sign him to a long-term deal and go cheap on defense/tight end for the next few seasons, or B. They don’t sign him, he walks after the 2020 season, and Dallas has to start their franchise QB search all over again. 

Both of those scenarios should leave Eagles fans smiling for years to come.

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