Eagles ready to throw young skill players into playoff-like atmosphere vs. Cowboys

Eagles ready to throw young skill players into playoff-like atmosphere vs. Cowboys

The Eagles are about to play the most important game of the season, against a bitter rival, and they’re going into it with a bunch of young and inexperienced skill position players. 

They have no choice. 

“Throw them out there, man. Seriously,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Throw them out there. That’s the only way. You can’t go back to Alshon or Nelly at this point, DeSean, you gotta put them out there, right? And they kind of grow up in a hurry.” 

Aside from Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, who is just finishing his second season, think about the rest of the Eagles’ skill position guys heading into Sunday’s do-or-die game. 

Miles Sanders: He’s been a revelation recently and is the Eagles’ most explosive offensive player. But he’s still a rookie. 

Boston Scott: Scott, in his second NFL season, was on the roster for the playoff run last year, but he played just three total offensive snaps in the playoffs. 

JJ Arcega-Whiteside: He played more snaps than any other skill guy last week, but he hasn’t had a very productive rookie season. 

Greg Ward: He’s been around the NFL since 2017 but has played his first five NFL games this year. And now he’s the Eagles’ most productive receiver. 

Robert Davis: Like Ward, Davis has played just five career games. He has never played this late in the year. 

Josh Perkins: Believe it or not, Perkins actually has the most big-game experience of this group. But it came in his rookie year with Atlanta back in 2016, when he played sparingly in that playoff run. 

“They might be young, but they don't feel young,” Pederson said. “They don't want to consider themselves as young. They are veteran players and that's a credit to them and nothing's too big for them right now.”

Sanders leads the Eagles in yards from scrimmage and took down the Eagles’ rookie record last week. He’s also been the Eagles’ most explosive player for most of this season. 

But Sanders still feels like a rookie. His teammates and coaches make sure of that. He still has to fulfill his rookie duties, which means getting his veteran teammates food and making sure the meeting rooms are stocked with snacks. 

“It’s all year,” Sanders said. “I think the way Duce (Staley) does it, you do the rookie season and then an extra three games the next year and then after that, you’re done being a rookie.”

These guys are young but they understand the stakes in this game. That can’t overwhelm them. 

Scott insists the key is for him and the other young guys to focus on the task at hand. That means worry about each day of practice at a time and then when the game comes, worry about each play at a time. You know, all that clichéd stuff that’s repeated for good reason.

“It’s something we’ve done our whole lives,” Davis said. “We’ve been through big games in college, high school. It’s not anything guys aren’t used to. Big games are big games. You approach them the same way.” 

Some of these players have played in big-time college football games. Sanders said playing in front of 100,000 people at Beaver Stadium prepared him for the atmosphere they’ll see on Sunday against the Cowboys. 

But this is different. This is the NFL with a ton on the line. 

Goedert, in Year 2, was in the same position as a lot of these guys last year. He claims he never got overwhelmed because he was able to tell himself those playoff matchups were just like any other games … even if he knew they weren’t. 

And in two years, he’s already realizing how special these moments truly are. 

“It’s cool this time of year to have something to play for,” Goedert said. “There’s a lot of teams … even, shoot. Talking to a few players on the Redskins, they were like, ‘you know, just ready to get out of here. We ain’t got nothing.’ For us, we got the division on the line, all that. Anytime you’re playing for something this time of the year, it just makes it that much better.”

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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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Brandon Graham, DeSean Jackson, more Eagles players react to Nigel Bradham move

Brandon Graham, DeSean Jackson, more Eagles players react to Nigel Bradham move

The Eagles decided Tuesday to decline the team option on Nigel Bradham's contract (see story), cutting the 30-year-old linebacker loose after four years in Philly. From the highs of winning a Super Bowl to the lows of his multiple run-ins with law enforcement, Bradham's time with the Eagles was nothing if not entertaining.

Bradham's teammates received the news Tuesday, just like fans did, and a number of his now-former teammates shared their reactions to the team's move on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Brandon Graham lamented the end of his time playing alongside Bradham:

DeSean Jackson and Kamu Grugier-Hill wished Bradham luck in his next NFL stop:

Nate Gerry thanked Bradham for teaching him the ins and outs of the linebacker position, and of life as pro football player:

Rodney McLeod and Nelson Agholor, two players who might not return to Philly in 2020, also shouted Bradham out on Instagram:

One particularly interesting reaction, to my eye, was that of cornerback Rasul Douglas, who opted to use the head-slap emoji in a quote tweet of a report about the move:

Whether that signifies surprise or displeasure, it seems like Douglas would've preferred Bradham return to Philly in 2020.

Instead, free agency is off and running, and the Eagles' sleepy offseason is finally about to heat up.

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