As Alshon Jeffery sits, Eagles grow desperate for wide receiver help

As Alshon Jeffery sits, Eagles grow desperate for wide receiver help

You can tell how concerned they are about wide receiver not by what they’re saying but what they’re doing.

Re-signing Markus Wheaton, who they released two days earlier. Adding three receivers — including former Ohio State star Braxton Miller — to the practice squad. Reportedly working out former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman on Monday and scheduling a workout Tuesday with former Browns first-round pick Corey Coleman, who reportedly wound up signing with the Patriots before the Eagles could look at him.

If you’re an unemployed receiver, call the Eagles. They’re interested.

While Doug Pederson may say the Eagles are happy with their current group of wide receivers, it’s clear from their actions that they recognize they need help.

Which is understandable.

Alshon Jeffery remains out indefinitely. Mack Hollins is on injured reserve. Shelton Gibson looked promising in the preseason but got only four snaps on offense last Thursday night in the opener as he dealt with a huge special teams workload (22 of 27 snaps).

Mike Wallace wound up without a catch in his first game as an Eagle, although a couple better thrown Nick Foles deep balls might have changed that (see story). DeAndre Carter played 53 snaps against the Falcons and caught one ball for 10 yards.

Nelson Agholor is really the only receiver the Eagles can count on right now, and even he managed only 33 yards on eight catches because Foles kept throwing him the ball with like nine defenders surrounding him.

It’s a little tough to gauge the current state of the Eagles’ wide receiver corps because Foles was so off-kilter Thursday night. Guys weren’t catching passes but they really weren’t getting a chance to.

And here’s a weird thing: As locked in as he was during the postseason, Foles has not completed a pass to a wide receiver of 20 yards or more in his last five regular-season appearances.

That’s 134 consecutive pass attempts — in the regular season — without a 20-yarder to a wideout.

That’s almost impossible.

He had eight of ‘em in the playoffs (one every 9.5 attempts), but that just adds to the mystery of Nick Foles. What seemed so effortless in the biggest games of his life seems so difficult now.

But it’s not all Foles. The Eagles’ issues with the passing game are a reflection of both the quarterback play and the wide receivers.

Eagles wideouts combined for just 43 receiving yards Thursday night, the fewest yards they’ve gotten from their wide receivers in a season opener since 1966, when Ben Hawkins (2 for 28) was the only wideout to catch a pass from Norm Snead in a 16-13 loss to the Cards at Busch Stadium.

There’s certainly reason to be concerned about Jeffery. He told Jen Vrentas of Sports Illustrated after the game Thursday night: “Some days I feel great, and some days ... a shoulder injury is pretty tough,” adding that he’s still a few weeks away from getting back on the field.

Without Jeffery, Hollins and Torrey Smith, the Eagles are missing three of their four wideouts from last year who caught more than five passes.

Agholor can’t do it all himself. Somebody else has to make plays.

Which is why the Eagles are looking at so many receivers right now.

Here’s the challenge: It’s really difficult to just bring in a receiver who’s on the street and ask him to learn the playbook, get familiar with the quarterbacks, get into football shape and acclimate himself to the coaching staff and go out and make plays after being out of work.

That’s why there’s OTAs and training camp. It’s not going to be easy for the Eagles to find someone who can help before Jeffery does get back.

It would be nice if someone like Jeremy Maclin or Jordan Matthews, who have both played with Foles, could magically turn the clock back a few years, but Maclin is 30 now, has been banged up, and hasn’t had an elite season since 2015. Matthews still isn’t healthy after getting hurt in training camp with the Patriots.

The Eagles need help and they understand that.

Ideally, that help would come from within. With Foles calming down and firing the ball the way we saw in the postseason. With Gibson getting an opportunity to make plays, Wallace developing some chemistry with his new quarterback and Agholor getting a chance down the field.

The bad news is the Eagles desperately need improved wide receiver play. The good news is they know it.

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Eagles mailbag: Derek Barnett's potential breakout, Carson Wentz's durability and contract concerns

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Eagles mailbag: Derek Barnett's potential breakout, Carson Wentz's durability and contract concerns

Part 1 touched on Sidney Jones, Josh Adams and my pick for Eagles Rookie of the Year.

Part 2 answered questions about Corey Clement, UDFAs and Big V’s future as a guard.

Here’s Part 3:

I guess this answer depends on your definition of “break out year.” Barnett’s 2018 season ended prematurely with a shoulder injury that hampered him before the Eagles shut him down. But early in the year, I thought he was the best defensive end on the team (by that point Michael Bennett hadn’t played well and Brandon Graham was getting over his ankle injury). In six games, Barnett had 2 1/2 sacks. But before the shoulder injury, he had 2 1/2 in four games before he missed Week 5 with the shoulder injury that eventually ended his season. So Barnett was on pace for 10 sacks before the injury. With plenty of opportunity this season, I think Barnett can be a double-digit sack guy. Sure. That’s a good bar to set. Before Fletcher Cox did it in 2018, the last Eagle to top 10 sacks was Connor Barwin in 2014.

One thing is for sure: this is a big year for Barnett. The Eagles traded away Bennett, Chris Long just announced his retirement (see story) and the Eagles passed on taking an edge rusher early in what was supposed to be a historically deep class. Barnett needs to not just be a starter, but be extremely productive in Year 3.

This is an interesting question and there really aren’t many contracts from this offseason that even qualify. So many of these contracts done by Howie Roseman are one-year deals. The long-term ones were: DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson, Brandon Graham, Isaac Seumalo. Seumalo’s deal is cheap enough that I won’t count him.

If I had to pick the most likely, it would be DeSean Jackson’s deal. He’s 32 and his game is predicated on speed. So even though we haven’t seen it, there’s a chance that speed disappears and the Eagles are left with a speed receiver sans speed. That’s possible. For the record, I’d be willing to take that risk, as the Eagles did, because Jackson’s speed was exactly the element the Eagles needed. I was tempted to say Graham because the Eagles did kind of overpay him, but even if he can’t get after the QB, he can at least stuff the run. If Jackson loses his speed, what good is he?

Yeah, eventually they’ll return as an alternate in my lifetime, which would make me thrilled because I could finally stop reporting on a jersey color. (Just kidding, love you guys.) The hold-up here is that the NFL has this antiquated rule that won’t allow teams to have more than one helmet for each player. It’s an old safety rule. Jeff Lurie says he wants kelly green jerseys, but they don’t want them without matching helmets. Before you bring up the Rams, they use the same helmets with different decals. The Eagles say decals aren’t an option for them. It’s alternate helmets or bust. A couple of years ago, competition committee chairman Rich McKay told me he was optimistic this rule would eventually be changed. For now, we wait.

I’ll say 14 or 15. I really don’t know. I think he’ll be healthy at the start of the season but maybe he gets hurt during the year and misses a game or two. I can’t see the future.

It’s fair to say the Eagles are in win-now mode, but none of their contracts really tie their hands long-term. That’s the interesting thing about what the Eagles have done. They have some real flexibility with their roster. They are clearly playing to win a Super Bowl this year, but they’ll have the ability to keep signing free agents and should have plenty of draft picks coming up. That’s important because they’ll need cheap talent to surround Wentz when he’s making $30+ million per year soon enough.

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Eagles defensive end Chris Long announces retirement

Eagles defensive end Chris Long announces retirement

After a few months of contemplation, Eagles defensive end Chris Long has made his decision.

He’s calling it a career.

The 34-year-old announced his official retirement from the NFL on Saturday night and he did it, of course, on Twitter.

Not long after his official announcement, the Eagles congratulated Long, who became a fan favorite in Philly during the two years he played here.

Back in 2008, Long was the Rams’ No. 2 pick in the draft out of Virginia. He played his first eight years in St. Louis, before winning a Super Bowl in 2016 with the Patriots and then winning again in 2017 with the Eagles. He reached legend status in Philly during that Super Bowl run for helping create the dog mask phenomenon and for then rocking out during the parade down Broad Street.

And it was Long who pressured Case Keenum to throw that pick-6 to Patrick Robinson in the NFC Championship Game. In two seasons in Philly, he had 11 1/2 sacks and forced six fumbles.

In his 11 years in the NFL, Long piled up a clean 70 sacks to go along with 15 forced fumbles.

The Eagles will miss Long on the field and off it. Aside from being a highly productive player in his two seasons with the Eagles, Long was also a very highly respected member of the locker room. He was a favorite among teammates and his sense of humor — he created a Nick Foles shrine last year — was infectious at the NovaCare Complex. (The funniest part of the Foles shrine was watching Long’s mischievous smile as he watched a bunch of reporters gobble it up.)

Long had a long and productive football career, but, really, his legacy will be the work he’s done off it. That work is not finished.

Long was named the 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his charitable efforts through the Chris Long Foundation. He clearly deserved the honor.

He’s given away his salary, raised millions for educational initiatives in cities across the country and, through his Waterboys initiative, has provided access to clean water for communities in East Africa for years.

While his teammates and coaches will be happy for Long, his departure does leave the Eagles a little light at defensive end. To his credit, Long told the Eagles to plan as if he wouldn’t be back. Long wasn’t interested in returning for a reduced role, which the Eagles told him he would have in 2019.

Without Long, the Eagles have Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat and Shareef Miller, Daeshon Hall and Joe Ostman as their defensive ends. Malik Jackson, signed this offseason, will play on third downs as a defensive tackle, taking stress off the ends, but the Eagles will still miss Long, who had been a third-down specialist during his time with the Eagles.

Last season, the Eagles entered the year with Long and Michael Bennett as their top rotational defensive ends. That was incredible depth they won’t have this season unless they make another move.

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