Eagles

Lucky for Nick Foles, his go-to guy is back

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Lucky for Nick Foles, his go-to guy is back

Nick Foles won't see many familiar faces when he makes his first start for the Eagles in over three years, but at least one of his go-to receivers is still around.

Foles hasn't been in the lineup for a week, and the Eagles quarterback is already getting reinforcements. Zach Ertz cleared the concussion protocol on Wednesday and is expected to play against the Giants on Sunday, adding a valuable weapon to the offense, and reuniting a dynamic duo in the process.

"I feel good, ready to go," Ertz said Wednesday following his first practice back. "Tough week last week obviously not being able to play, but it was the right decision at the time and I'm excited for this week."

Ertz was a rookie when Foles took over as the starting quarterback in 2013, posting a modest 36 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns. Yet Ertz really only began to flourish once the job belonged to Foles permanently.

The fifth-year tight end — perhaps on his way to his first Pro Bowl this season — even caught his first NFL touchdown from Foles.

"That was a long time ago, against the Raiders when he was fricking throwing everyone touchdowns," Ertz said this week. "We had a lot of good games together."

Their connection was almost instantaneous. At the time, Brent Celek was still the starter at tight end and getting the bulk of the snaps. Ertz still managed to catch five touchdowns in the Eagles' remaining nine games, including one against in the Saints in the playoffs. Ertz had five or more receptions three times during that span.

"That's my first year in the league, his second year in the league," Ertz said. "He was playing at an unbelievable level. He's still the same quarterback, and we're excited to have him."

Their rapport continued into 2014. Ertz had 25 receptions for 358 yards with two touchdowns when Foles was lost for the season with a broken collarbone.

Ertz acknowledged a quarterback change at this stage of the season can be difficult. Clearly, It's not uncharted territory, either. Even when Foles finally nailed down the job in '13, it was already Week 9, after weeks of going back and forth with Michael Vick.

It took time for the Eagles to make the right decision under center, but they eventually got it right, and it wound up being a historic season. Foles tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a game against the Raiders, and made NFL history at the end of the season with a 27-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

The transition from Carson Wentz to Foles may not go that smoothly, but Ertz has reason to feel confident everything will be fine.

"It's definitely not the easiest thing switching quarterbacks, but there's a lot of familiarity with Nick," Ertz said. "The coaches understand what Nick does well. (Eagles coach Doug Pederson) has been with him for a long time.

"With Nick, he throws such an easy ball to catch that there's not a real adjustment period in terms of catching the ball. Some quarterbacks throw a tough ball to catch, but Nick's ball is really easy to catch and it makes it easy for receivers."

Foles already survived his first relief appearance, and that was without Ertz. With the tight end and security blanket inactive against the Rams, Foles was able to lead the Eagles on two scoring drives that ended with field goals, including the game-winner.

Again, that was sans Ertz. Imagine what Foles might be able to do with one of the Eagles' top receivers.

Ertz has 57 receptions for 663 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He was on pace for 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns earlier in the campaign but missed a game for the concussion, and another with a hamstring.

Maybe Ertz can still get there over the final three weeks with Foles at the helm. He certainly isn't afraid to push the ball down the field anyway.

"He loves the slinging the ball," Ertz said. "That's what he's been doing his whole career.

"He's a great quarterback. We're excited to have him. I don't think there's anybody else in this situation that we would rather have."

Either way, Foles-to-Ertz is going to feel like a blast from the past. Maybe that connection can help keep the Eagles rolling in December and through the playoffs.

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?

Subscribe and rate Eagle Eye: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

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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