We got a ton of good questions and I can tell you guys are getting pumped for training camp. It’ll be here soon.
We split up this week’s mailbag into three parts.
Part 1: John Hightower, DeVonta Smith, worrisome positions
Part 2: Joint practices, roster building, P-Rob candidate
I will limit this to when I began covering the Eagles full-time. I started in October of 2015, which leaves me most of the 2015 season, and all of 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Thanks for taking out the Super Bowl season; there were so many incredible games from that year and some we even forget about. It would have been all games from that year.
But that season aside, here were my favorite three games I’ve covered on the Eagles’ beat:
1. Sunday Night Football, Nov. 8, 2015 at AT&T Stadium: Eagles 33, Cowboys 27 (OT)
The one thought I had as Jordan Matthews crossed into the end zone in overtime and hurled the football into the stands at AT&T Stadium: That’s a fine. Yeah, not proud of how my brain works.
But what an absolutely thrilling ending and huge victory for the Eagles in Week 9 of the 2015 season. We didn’t know at the time that Chip Kelly wouldn’t even make it out of the season and at the time it sure seemed like this would be the game to turn things around.
The Eagles entered the SNF contest with the hated Cowboys with a 3-4 record so they needed this one. And it was a one-score game the entire night. It was 14-14 entering the fourth quarter when Jordan Hicks had that 67-yard pick-6 but the Cowboys kept matching, 21-21, 24-24 and then 27-27 with a 44-yard field goal with just 2 seconds remaining in regulation.
Lucky for the Eagles, they won the coin toss in overtime and a play after the Eagles converted on a 4th-and-1 from just beyond midfield on a Ryan Mathews run that was initially ruled to be a fumble (the refs were brutal). On the next play, Sam Bradford hit a streaking Matthews who went 41 yards for the score.
2. Dec. 29, 2019 at MetLife Stadium: Eagles 34, Giants 17
This was the regular season finale in the 2019 season and the Eagles capped it off with a win over the Giants to clinch the NFC East and win their fourth game in a row to sneak into the playoffs. Before that four-game winning streak, the Eagles had a 5-7 record when they left Miami.
I was tempted to list the 23-17 win over the Giants on Monday Night Football in Week 14 because the Eagles came back from a 17-3 deficit but they just narrowly avoided what would have been an embarrassing loss. This other game was close but the way the Eagles won it really embodied the spirit of that late-season run. They won this game with a dazzling Carson Wentz and a bunch of practice squad callups.
In this game, Boston Scott, Greg Ward, Deontay Burnett and Josh Perkins all had big performances, while Wentz made some spectacular plays. And on defense, the biggest play came when Malcolm Jenkins stripped the ball out of Daniel Jones’ hand and Fletcher Cox recovered it at the 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
The next week, the Eagles played the Seahawks in the wild card round and Wentz was knocked out of the game after a handful of plays as the Birds went on to lose and their season was over. But this win over the Giants was a lot of fun.
3. Wild card game, Jan. 6, 2019: Eagles 16, Bears 15
In all honesty, most of the Double Doink game was pretty boring. It was a game that featured a total of 31 points and 12 of them came from field goals. But ultimately, the ending to this game is what made it so incredible.
With the Bears up 15-10 late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles were faced with a 4th-and-goal from the Bears’ 2-yard line. With the season hanging in the balance, Nick Foles hit midseason pickup Golden Tate for a touchdown to give the Eagles a one-point lead. Tate’s stay in Philly was mostly disappointing but this was the absolute peak. He later admitted to not even hearing the alert on the play. He ended up running a great deceptive route because he didn’t break until he saw Nick Foles rolling.
Anyway, the Eagles actually tried for the 2-point conversion to give them a three-point lead but Wendell Smallwood was stuffed and that set up the wild Double Doink finish.
With 10 seconds left, former Eagles kicker Cody Parkey missed a 43-yarder that hit the upright and the crossbar before popping out and the Eagles held on to win. My favorite part about the postgame celebration was all of Treyvon Hester’s teammates making sure everyone knew he got a fingertip on the football before it did a pinball show at Soldier Field. They wanted him to get his credit.
I was also very tempted to put next week’s playoff loss to the Saints on the list too. While that game wasn’t all that exciting for most of it either, the Eagles played a close game with a team that smoked them earlier in the season. And they were a few plays away at the end of the game from nearly getting back to the NFC Championship Game.
This is one of the biggest storylines as the Eagles prepare to enter training camp in less than two weeks. So let’s take a quick look at each of those questions.
1. Yes, I absolutely think Mailata has what it takes to become a long-term starter. I still don’t think we’re all quite as amazed by his progression as we ought to be. Mailata was a physical freak when the Eagles drafted him in the seventh round back in 2018 but he knew almost nothing about football. To go from that to being an adequate starter in the NFL in just three years is almost unfathomable. If Mailata never played another down in the NFL, I’d already consider him a success story. Honestly. But now that we’ve seen him start 10 games at left tackle, it’s obvious to me that he has a long career in the NFL ahead of him. Remember, he’s still just 24 too.
The most impressive thing I noticed from Mailata last season was how natural he looked. When he first arrived in Philly, he was understandably mechanical. He was learning all the motions and it was like you could almost see him thinking as he kicked in pass protection. And pass protection was the toughest thing for him. The idea of moving backward and still maintaining strength and anchoring is a really tough thing to learn for someone who has never done it before. It was amazing watching how smooth Mailata looked last year.
None of that is to say he was perfect. He wasn’t. Mailata gave up 4 sacks, 6 QB hits and 23 total pressures last year. There’s still room to improve. But with how early it still is in his football — not even NFL — career, there’s still so much untapped potential, Pro Bowl potential left in him. There’s no guarantee he continues to develop at his current rate but the possibility he does so is incredibly intriguing. And if he does, he doesn’t just project as a longterm starter, but he projects as a really good left tackle in the NFL.
2. I’m less sure about Dillard but that’s just because we have a smaller sample size and a lot has changed since we last saw him play. I still think he has the ability to become a franchise left tackle, but I’m less sure of that than I am that Mailata will be that if he continues to progress at his current rate. Even if we put aside that disastrous start at right tackle in 2019, we’ve seen Dillard for just three starts at left tackle and that was during his rookie season. We’ve saw much more of Mailata last year.
I give Dillard a ton of credit for his growth but unlike Mailata’s growth, we haven’t been able to see the payoff for Dillard yet. After his rookie season, the Eagles told Dillard he needed to come back stronger and he did. He worked out insanely hard to put on weight and muscle entering his second season but never got to play because he tore his biceps last summer. And we’ve also heard about how much more mature he’s become during his brief stay in the NFL; that’s extremely important too. If Mailata hadn’t had a good season last year, the Eagles would simply be handing this job to Dillard, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing that he’ll have to fight for it now.
In any case, I think the Eagles are in a pretty good position. Because, in a way, it’s a numbers game. While there are questions left to be answered about both of these players, the odds of it working out for the Eagles have to improve because there are two of them. I’d give an edge to Mailata for now but I like the Eagles’ chances of finding their franchise left tackle between the two of them, no matter how it shakes out.
Without knowing any specifics offers they’ve received, I actually think they’ve played it fairly well. They have praised Ertz publicly and basically let other teams know he’s available for a price but they have also made it pretty clear they’re not interested in giving him away for nothing.
Of course, as we get closer to training camp, this gets a little trickier. Are they going to be willing to force Ertz to show up? That doesn’t seem ideal for either party. But I definitely understand Howie Roseman’s plan to try to maximize value.
The problem is that Roseman doesn’t seem to have a ton of leverage right now. If I’m a team that might want Ertz, why would I give up a premium pick and then have to pay Ertz $8.5 million when I think there might be a chance the Eagles might release him. In that case, I could get the player without giving up an asset and without being on the hook for that salary. It seems like any teams that are interested in Ertz have called Roseman’s bluff pretty effectively so far.
The other side of this that’s tricky is about the relationship between Ertz and the organization, a relationship that already seems plenty strained. While it shouldn’t govern Roseman’s actions, Ertz is an all-time great Eagle and it wouldn’t be ideal to completely ruin that relationship for a Day 3 pick. At a certain point, it might be worth it to cut their losses and just move on if they’re going to move on.
I heard he’s been popping wheelies on his dirt bike in Montgomery County.
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