Eagles

Eagles have decisions to make on Tim Jernigan, Hassan Ridgeway

Eagles have decisions to make on Tim Jernigan, Hassan Ridgeway

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp bring back Stay or Go with the 2020 version, trying to figure out the future of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Today, we’ll look at defensive tackle: 

Fletcher Cox 

Roob: Cox was still very good but not consistently great in his eighth NFL season. Cox obviously isn’t going anywhere for quite a while. He’s signed for three more years and he’s still one of the better interior linemen in the league. But it will be interesting to see whether his drop in production this past season had more to do with coming off offseason foot surgery or just getting close to 30 and having 132 NFL games under his belt. The Eagles need Cox to be great.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: He got off to a slow start after missing all of training camp but he turned it on late. He was pretty dominant in the first half of that playoff game and he’s still the Eagles’ best defensive player. With a full offseason to prepare, I expect Cox to return to form in 2020. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Without question, 2019 was a down year, but Cox was only ever close to 100 percent for a short period in the middle of the season. For practical reasons, he's here at least one more because it would cost something like $27 million in dead money for the Eagles to move on -- but also because it would be a drastic overreaction after five consecutive Pro Bowls. 

Verdict: Stays

Malik Jackson 

Roob: The high-profile free agent’s first season with the Eagles lasted 32 snaps. The Eagles had so many injuries on offense it was easy to forget they lost one of their better defensive players as well. They gave Jackson $30 million over three years to team up with Cox and form the interior of one of the league’s best defensive lines, but it never happened. Jackson hurt his foot on opening day and the Eagles just have to hope that by the time next year begins he’s closer to 100 percent than Cox and Brandon Graham were after their injuries.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: It happened so early in the season and a lot happened after that, but losing Jackson was a huge blow for the Eagles. They were relying on him and no one saw the injury coming. He had been incredible durable during his career before that. The good news is that the Lisfranc injury happened early in the year, so he has a lot of time to rehab. I don’t know if he’ll be the same player but the Eagles are going to find out. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: What an underrated loss Jackson was, and you could tell Howie Roseman felt the same. Given the Eagles' depth, cap implications and the fact that he's only 30, the team should roll the dice on a full recovery and return to form.

Verdict: Stays

Tim Jernigan 

Roob: Jernigan, an unrestricted free agent, is another interesting case because he missed seven games, he didn’t make a big impact early but then he finally looked his old self during the stretch run. He actually played about half the defensive snaps the last couple months of the season. If the oft-injured Jernigan is willing to take a modest salary again I’d bring him back as a third d-tackle. But he’s hurt too often to invest big money.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: One of the bigger storylines down the stretch of the 2019 season was the resurgence of Jernigan. He actually looked better than he had since early in the 2017 season. Because of all his injuries, I don’t expect Jernigan to find big money in free agency. If the Eagles can bring him back on a cheap deal, he could be the third DT and a rotational piece with Cox and Jackson. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Not only did Jernigan miss significant time due to injury for the second year in a row -- 19 games in two seasons -- with 10 tackles and 2.0 sacks in 27 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps, the production wasn't there when he did play. Can't see the club re-upping.

Verdict: Goes

Hassan Ridgeway 

Roob: With Jernigan and Jackson out, Ridgeway gave the Eagles some decent snaps before he suffered a season-ending injury of his own. Ridgeway isn’t as talented as Jernigan, but he’s younger and probably won’t cost as much. If Cox and Jackson are healthy and Jernigan is looking for a more money than the Eagles are willing to pay, Ridgeway is a sound option as a third tackle.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: Ridgeway was actually playing well early in the season before he ended up on IR. And he’s still young at 25. If the Eagles want to get a little younger, they could keep Ridgeway instead of Jernigan. My guess is that only one of them will be back. Right now, I’m leaning toward Jernigan as Ridgeway is coming off a season that ended on IR. 

Verdict: Goes

Kulp: Ridgeway's production (8 tackles, 2.0 sacks) was about on par with the other reserve linemen in, you guessed it, an injury-shortened season. However, he led the backups with 4 tackles for loss and 4 quarterback hits in 24 percent of the snaps, and played the most on special teams at 13 percent. He's a free agent, but only 25 and probably available for relatively cheap.  

Verdict: Stays

Anthony Rush 

Roob: Rush gave the Eagles some decent production down the stretch after they scooped him up off the Raiders’ practice squad, averaging about 17 snaps per game over the last couple months. I think Rush will be one of those guys who’s on and off the roster, on and off the practice squad. I don’t expect him to make the initial roster but wouldn’t be surprised if he does pop up during the season.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: I was actually impressed by Rush this season. He didn’t even make it to training camp with the Eagles but when he came back to the Eagles in October, he played pretty well down the stretch. He’s still under contract and I think he can stick around as a deep rotational player. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: If nothing else, all the injuries to interior linemen may have uncovered a diamond in the rough in Rush. Signed off Oakland's practice squad, the undrafted rookie managed 9 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and two pass deflections in just under 15 percent of the snaps, plus contributed on special teams. Oh, and he's under contract for six figures. 

Verdict: Stays

Bruce Hector 

Roob: Another one of the numerous young defensive tackles the Eagles were forced to use this past season. Hector has been on and off the roster several times the last couple years but ultimately doesn’t project to have a significant role, barring another rash of injuries at the defensive tackle position.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: Hector has been around for two years now and has actually played in 11 games over the last two years. He might stick around on the practice squad but I don’t see him making the initial 53-man roster. 

Verdict: Goes 

Kulp: It was telling when the Eagles desperately needed tackles to fill in for injured players, the team went dumpster diving on other team's practice squads before promoting Bruce Hector the 53-man roster. He's had two years and hasn't developed.

Verdict: Goes

Albert Huggins 

Roob: Like Rush and Hector, Huggins is a former practice squad player the Eagles were forced to use because of injuries. He played sparingly and finished the season on the practice squad. He is only 22 so he has some upside, so I’d expect him to be in camp. But he'll be a longshot to make the team.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: The rookie from Clemson played in four games for the Eagles this season but finished 2019 on the practice squad. I don’t expect him to make the roster. 

Verdict: Goes 

Kulp: In one NFL season, Huggins spent time with three different teams, including two stints with the Eagles. He'll get another look because he's a big body, but practice squad seems like it might be the ceiling.

Verdict: Goes 

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Doug Pederson's ominous track record hiring coaches

Doug Pederson's ominous track record hiring coaches

The Eagles this year will have their fifth wide receivers coach in five years under Doug Pederson and their third defensive line coach in three years.

They’ll have their third offensive coordinator in four years and a new secondary coach as well. And there could be more changes on the way.

It’s a lot of turnover for a team that’s reached the playoffs each of the last three seasons and won a Super Bowl just two years ago.

And it tells you two things:

1) Doug Pederson won’t hesitate to jettison coaches he feels aren’t getting the job done,
2) And Doug's track record of hiring coaches is bad.

Let’s go back a few years. When Doug replaced Chip Kelly four years ago today, he kept seven of Kelly’s assistant coaches and brought in 11 assistants of his own. A year later he brought in Mike Groh.

Out of those seven original Chip assistants? Six are still here, all but Cory Undlin, just hired as Lions defensive coordinator.

Of the 11 guys he brought in? Only four are still here — all defensive coaches: Jim Schwartz, Dino Vasso, Ken Flajole, Tim Hauck.

All seven assistant coaches he’s fired — Eugene Chung, Carson Walch, Greg Lewis, Gunter Brewer, Chris Wilson, Phillip Daniels and Groh - are his own hires.

Of the 10 coaches from 2016 who are still here, six – more than half – are Chip Kelly holdovers.

So the pattern keeps repeating itself. He keeps Chip's guys and fires his own guys.

And with four coaching openings at the moment, that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Some of the most highly respected coaches on Pederson's staff - Jeff Stoutland, Duce Staley, Dave Fipp, Press Taylor - are guys he didn’t even bring in. Duce, of course, pre-dates Chip and coached under Andy Reid.

Both his original coordinators, Frank Reich and Schwartz, were very good hires. Beyond that? His track record is kind of ominous.

Coaching is just a fancy word for teaching. And we keep seeing the Eagles’ draft picks - Sidney Jones, J.J. Arega-Whiteside, Derek Barnett, Rasul Douglas, Donnel Pumphrey, Mack Hollins – failing to develop the way they should.

If you can’t develop young players, you have no shot.

So many of the players at the heart of the Eagles’ recent success – Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Zach Ertz, Nigel Bradham and Lane Johnson – will all be in their early 30s by opening day this fall and with most NFL players in that 30-to-33 range, you know you're going to get a gradual (or sometimes abrupt) decline.

So the challenge facing the Eagles isn’t just drafting talented players, it’s coaching them and developing them so they can become that next generation of Malcolms and Fletchers and Jasons. That next generation of guys who can lead this franchise to more deep playoff runs and maybe another championship.

That’s why it’s imperative that Pederson figures this coaching thing out.

We all remember what happened when Reid struggled to replace that brilliant initial staff he put together 20 years ago this month. As those guys left for head coaching jobs or coordinator positions – John Harbaugh, Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier, Brad Childress, Pat Shurmur, Steve Spagnuolo – he replaced them with long-forgotten, over-matched assistants.

There are a lot of reasons the Eagles were essentially a .500 team in Reid’s last eight years here (66-61-1), but a huge one was the inability of that second wave of coaches to develop the young players who had replaced the nucleus that made the 2000 through 2004 team such a powerhouse.

Pederson was there for that decline as part of Reid’s staff, so nobody understands better than him just how critical it is to find people who can teach promising young players how to become pros, how to take their game to the next level.

The challenge now is finding an offensive coordinator with fresh ideas and a vision for the future, a wide receivers coach who’ll stay more than a year, a secondary coach who can salvage Sidney Jones’ career and a defensive line coach who can make Barnett more than just an average pass rusher.

It’s easy to fire coaches. It’s a lot harder to find bright, motivated, capable replacements who can mold young players into big-time pros.

Pederson needs to prove he can do that.

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Eagles Stay or Go: Breaking down the three specialists

Eagles Stay or Go: Breaking down the three specialists

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp bring back Stay or Go with the 2020 version, trying to figure out the future of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Today, we’ll look at their specialists: 

Jake Elliott

Roob: Elliott’s not going anywhere, but his late-season misses are a bit troubling. Elliott made his first 17 field goal attempts – only two longer than 43 yards – then missed four of his last nine (from 47, 49, 53 and 55 yards). They weren’t easy kicks, but league-wide in 2019 kickers were 54 percent from 53 to 55 yards. Elliott was 43 percent beyond 43 yards (3-for-7). The rest of the league was 66 percent beyond 43 yards. Elliott has been clutch, but his inconsistency is a tad concerning.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: In the regular season, Elliott was 22 of 26 and actually improved his career field goal percentage. And then in the playoffs, he made all all three of his field goal attempts in the loss to Seattle and is now 11-for-11 in his career in the playoffs. And the Eagles signed him to an extension during the season, so he's not going anywhere. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Elliott probably doesn't get enough appreciation from the fan base, but he isn't exactly elite, either. He's made a lot of huge, clutch kicks in three seasons, more than making up for the occasional game that's hinged on his misses. It's moot anyway, unless the 25-year-old suddenly becomes completely unreliable, because he just signed an extension. 

Verdict: Stays

Rick Lovato 

Roob: The dude can flat-out SNAP. Lovato made the Pro Bowl as a long snapper, joining Mike Bartrum and John Dorenbos as the Eagles’ third consecutive Pro Bowl long snapper. Hey, the Steelers have always had tremendous linebackers, the 49ers have a history of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, the Rams always have big-time receivers. The Eagles have great long snappers.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Good season for the long snapper. First, he signed a four-year extension and then he was named to the Pro Bowl. In the first year players voted on long-snappers, Lovato got the nod, which must mean he’s pretty good. I’ll defer to those guys. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: What can you really say about Lovato? No, I'm asking. The best compliment you can probably pay a long snapper is admitting you don't really notice his work -- it implies things are running smoothly. Anyway, he too signed an extension, and at 27, he could be around for awhile. 

Verdict: Stays

Cameron Johnston 

Roob: Johnston had another big year, averaging 46.4 yards per punt with a net of 42.3, which is 2nd-best in franchise history (behind Johnston in 2018) and very good for an outdoor punter in the Northeast, where weather conditions are often challenging. Johnston is the Eagles’ career record holder in punting average (47.2) and net average (42.5). His net average would be 12th-highest in NFL history if he had more attempts.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: He’s the only guy of the three specialists who didn’t get a contract extension. That might be coming. For now, he’s an exclusive rights free agents, which basically means as long as the Eagles want him back, he’ll be back. As far as his play, this season Johnson was ninth in the NFL in average (46.4), eighth in net average (42.3) and 13th in punts inside the 20 (28). He’s pretty good. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Eagles fans may realize it, but Johnston is quietly one of the better punters in the league, even if it hasn't produced any trips to the Pro Bowl just yet. Not sure what the hold up is on getting a new deal done. He's an exclusive rights free agent, so he's not going anywhere or anything. Still, the team should just lock him up for the long haul already.

Verdict: Stays

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