Eagles

Eagles Stay or Go Part 1 — Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett

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Eagles Stay or Go Part 1 — Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett

In the first part of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the world champion Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro try to figure out who will be on the roster in 2018. We'll go alphabetically  Part 1 is Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett. 

Nelson Agholor
Roob: Agholor has gone from being a giant question mark going into last season to a relative bargain in 2018 with a $2.983 million cap figure in a contract year. Agholor was one of many heartwarming stories on the 2017 Eagles, with a breakthrough season and a dynamite Super Bowl. At some point in the next year, the Eagles and Agholor will agree on a long-term, multi-million deal. He's only 24 years old and he's going to be the centerpiece of this receiving corps for years to come.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: In a year, we've gone from talking about possibly moving on from Agholor to now starting to think about a contract extension. Really. Because of the slow start in his career, Agholor is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2018; he'll have a cap number of just under $3 million, which is now a steal. Remember, the Eagles can use a fifth-year option to keep him in town in 2019 if they can't reach a new deal. Agholor was that good in 2017. He caught 62 passes for 768 yards. He had just 21 fewer receiving yards than Alshon Jeffery. And in the Super Bowl, Agholor caught nine balls for 84 yards. He offers the Eagles a shifty, quick player in the slot and he became a dynamic player after the catch in his third NFL season.  

Verdict: STAYS

Jay Ajayi
Roob: It will be interesting to see how the Eagles' running backs all line up next year. When training camp started last summer, LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey were the main guys, and by the end of the season, only one of them was on the field. My hunch is that Ajayi and Corey Clement will be the lead backs in 2018. Ajayi was very good after joining the Eagles, but he really sold me with his postseason performance — 184 yards and a 4.4 average in the three playoff games. Eventually, the Eagles will have to make a decision, since his contract is also up after 2018. But I'd love to see what he can do behind this offensive line with a full training camp and a full season.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He came into the fold during the season and picked up everything pretty quickly. Now just imagine how much better he'll be with an entire offseason in Doug Pederson's scheme. He's going to be the Eagles' feature back in 2018 and he'll be the feature back for cheap as he enters the final year on his rookie contract. Now, trying to figure out an extension with him might be tricky, especially because of his chronic knee issue, but that's a problem to deal with later. 

Verdict: STAYS

Beau Allen
Roob: Allen became a pretty significant part of the Eagles' defensive line the second half of the year and played almost as many snaps as Tim Jernigan the last couple months of the season. He's a no-nonsense run stuffer but a solid interior lineman. He'll become an unrestricted free agent this spring, but I would think the Eagles could get him back with a cap-friendly deal. It's possible there's a team out there that will bowl over Allen with a big-money offer, but I doubt it. And if the numbers are equal, I'd expect him to re-sign here.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It's a shame that Allen tore his pec while working out last spring because before that, the Eagles were working on an extension with the rotational defensive lineman. But since then, the team has re-signed Jernigan and has a ton of money locked up in the defensive line. And now Allen is going to be an unrestricted free agent. While it's true that the Birds really value their D-line, how much can they really spend on a backup player? It might be time for them to draft one instead and let Allen walk. After proving himself in Jim Schwartz's 4-3 scheme, Allen should have plenty of teams with his choice of scheme. 

Verdict: GOES

Kenjon Barner
Roob:
 If the Eagles cut ties with Blount, Sproles and Pumphrey, Barner could be back as a returner and third running back behind Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. Barner actually finished 10th in the NFL at 8.9 yards per punt return after joining the Eagles a month into the season. He's not a bad guy to have around. But I think Sproles wants to be here and would be willing to give the Eagles a hometown discount to play one final NFL season and serve as a third back and returner.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Barner was on the street to start the season until Sproles went down and the Eagles brought Barner back. He became the team's top punt and kick returner but put up modest numbers in both areas. Barner will be 29 before the 2018 season starts and he's never really made a huge impact in the NFL. If he was able to really take control of the returner jobs and be great at it, maybe the Eagles would sign him again to bring him back. Hey, maybe there will be some goodwill after winning the Super Bowl, but it's probably not worth it. 

Verdict: GOES

Derek Barnett
Roob: Barnett is going to be a stud. You could just see him get better and better as the season went on. He had a couple lulls, but every rookie does. After being held without a sack in his first five games, Barnett had five in the Eagles' last 11 games and added another sack, along with a forced fumble and a rather important fumble recovery in the postseason. His six total sacks, including the postseason, were actually fourth-most in franchise history by a rookie and most by a rookie defensive end since Derrick Burgess had seven back in 2001. Barnett's going to be around for quite a while.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: The Eagles' 2017 first-round pick didn't have a monster rookie season. He didn't go out and get double-digit sacks, but he was solid all year and showed flashes of becoming a great pass rusher. Five sacks as a rookie in a rotational role aren't too shabby either. Oh yeah, he also recovered the fumble after Brandon Graham's strip sack in the Super Bowl. Barnett is only going to get better and has the potential to be a star in the NFL. 

Verdict: STAYS

Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

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Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss Darren Sproles' upcoming retirement. Does it put the Eagles in an awkward position on game days? Why do players care so much about their ratings in Madden? Also, Barrett shares how he decided on his jersey numbers throughout his football career?

1:00 - Derrick is back! What did he do with his time off?
5:30 - Barrett spent time with his grandson ... who ate pancakes with ketchup.
10:00 - Darren Sproles says 2018 will be his final year.
15:00 - Why do players care so much about their Madden ratings?
19:30 - If you can script your career, how would you want to retire?
22:30 - How did Barrett decide on his jersey numbers?

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Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

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Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

One thing Andy Reid was spot on about during his long tenure with the Eagles was the importance of building around both lines. 

Big Red always made the offensive and defensive lines a priority, and during the Eagles’ stretch of deep playoff runs — from 2000 through 2009 — the O-line was anchored by guys like Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Jermane Mayberry and Todd Herremans and the D-line by Corey Simon, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Hugh Douglas.

During that 10-year stretch, the Eagles had the most wins in the NFC and the third-most wins in the NFL, and the one constant during that stretch was solid line play. 

Donovan McNabb was very good when healthy most of those seasons, and the Eagles always had good running backs and corners, but the heart of those teams was up front.

Just look at how Big Red drafted. Eight of his 11 first-round picks were linemen. After taking McNabb in 1999, all six of Reid's picks in the first half of the first round were linemen.

They obviously didn’t all work out, but Reid was committed to both lines, and Howie Roseman, then a young, rising personnel executive, was paying attention.

The Eagles have done a lot of things differently in the five years since Reid's final season here, but one thing Doug Pederson and Roseman believe in is building around the lines, and it sure paid off last year.

According to figures on salary cap website Spotrac, the Eagles in 2017 were the only team ranked among the top five in the NFL in both offensive line and defensive line spending.

And the only team that had a parade in February.

And they’re only going to spend more this year.

The Eagles will spend 22.36 percent of their 2018 cap money on the offensive line, fourth most in the league, and 28.84 percent to the defensive line, fifth most.

That’s more than half their 2018 payroll on the big guys up front.

The Jets — sixth in O-line spending, 10th in D-line — are the only other team in the top 10 in both.

Seven of the Eagles’ 10 highest-paid players last year were linemen, as are eight of their 13 projected highest-paid players in 2018.

And five of those guys — Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Vinny Curry and Jason Peters — are actually holdovers from the Reid era.

Think of them as Reid’s parting gifts to the 2017 championship team.

Creating a Super Bowl roster was a complicated process for Roseman, and to be able to make this sort of financial commitment to the two lines means you just don’t have much money left for everything else. 

The only way to make that work is to build with cheap labor elsewhere. 

And that means younger players on bargain-basement rookie contracts, cheap but productive quarterbacks and low-round picks and undrafted players with cheapo contracts excelling.

It means drafting well and making exceptional free-agent decisions without overspending.

It’s a crazy juggling act, and Roseman juggled all those things magnificentely last year.

In fact, according to Spotrac’s data, the two lines are the Eagles' only positional groups ranked even among the top 15 in the NFL.

The secondary and QB positions rank 16th in cap allocations, tight end 18th, running back 21st, wide receiver 27th, linebacker 31st and special teams 32nd.

These numbers are all based on the 53 highest-paid players currently under contract, so they will change slightly once the final roster is set, but they won’t change much.

The Eagles were very good in a lot of areas last year — really, in every area — but their offensive line was the best in football and the best in Eagles history, and the defensive line was easily one of the two- or three-best in football.

Everything the Eagles did, everything they accomplished, started up front.

Put Peters back on the O-line and add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett to the D-line with an increased role for Derek Barnett, and both lines could conceivably be even better this year.

It’s going to get harder for Roseman to keep paying the Eagles’ linemen the way he has. Once Carson Wentz signs his next contract, the Eagles’ entire salary cap balance will change. 

Those $25 million annual cap hits for one guy have a tendency to make roster decisions way more challenging.

So it will be tricky for the Eagles to re-sign Graham. He wants a fortune, and he deserves a fortune. 

But even if Roseman can’t get that done, Barnett has three more years on his rookie deal, and that’s the key to making this whole thing work. 

You can’t re-sign everybody, so if you want to remain elite, you have to draft well so you can replace the people you invariably lose.

You lose Patrick Robinson, you have Sidney Jones waiting. You lose LeGarrette Blount, there’s Corey Clement ready to go. You lose Mychal Kendricks, you hope a Nate Gerry can contribute. Trey Burton leaves, and Dallas Goedert is cheaper and better.

You get what you pay for. And the Eagles right now are paying for the best in the business.

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