Michael Bennett trade creates new challenge for Eagles

Michael Bennett trade creates new challenge for Eagles

I love what Michael Bennett brought to the Eagles last year. Incredible energy, a healthy dose of swagger and big-time pass rush over the second half of the season.

That said, this was a no-brainer (see reported trade).

Once he said these words on NFL Network Friday morning, he was done here:

I’m not willing to take a pay cut. I actually want a pay raise at this point.

He can still play. He had 10 sacks last year, including one in the playoffs.

But the last thing the Eagles need is a disgruntled Michael Bennett. And the last thing they could afford to do was give a raise to a 33-year-old part-time player who’s already on the books for a $7.2 million cap hit this year and $8 million next year.

Any time any player starts making demands, it’s the beginning of the end. Because no competent GM is going to let a player threaten his way to a new contract. Give in, and 52 other players are going to be at the GM’s door the next morning making similar threats.

Howie Roseman is navigating the Eagles out of salary cap hell, not back into it.

And if shedding Bennett leaves them with a huge cap savings, not a penny of dead money and a draft pick or picks, that is one heck of a move.

Bennett turns 34 halfway through the 2019 season, and as productive as he was last year, he’s at an age in which the end is likely near.

He projects right now as one of the 30 highest-paid defensive ends in the NFL for 2019, and only 11 defensive ends in NFL history have ever hit double figures in sacks in a season in which they’ve been 34.

Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Chris Doleman and Too Tall Jones are in that group.

So the analytics tell you to move on and common sense tells you to move on and the salary cap tells you to move on.

But moving on from Bennett does leave the Eagles with a hole on the D-line.

And the key to all of this is Derek Barnett.

He has to become what Michael Bennett was.

Really, all we know about the defensive end position is that Brandon Graham will be back doing his thing, and Barnett will be here for his third season after a promising rookie year and an injury-shortened second year.

As for Chris Long, if he’s back, it’s a bonus. And maybe Bennett leaving makes Long's return more likely, since there will be more reps to go around. Fourth-round pick Josh Sweat comes back, but he’s an unknown quantity.

The whole key to sustaining success in the NFL is constantly getting younger and cheaper without losing production. Every time you lose a veteran because of financial considerations, you have to be able to replace him with a cheaper version who is just as good.

This is why the draft is the lifeblood of every elite NFL team and why Joe Douglas is such a crucial part of the Eagles’ front office.

Barnett, the 14th pick in the 2017 draft, has to be a stud. 

Has to be.

Barnett is on the books for 2019 and 2020 with cap numbers of $3,504,815 and $4,088,882, which is a good dose of cap money, but he’s a first-round pick and now he has to play like one.

There’ve been some good signs so far with Barnett. He had five sacks as a rookie, and his 7½ sacks are fourth-most ever by an Eagle in his first 21 games, behind only Mike Mamula (11½), Corey Simon (11½) and Trent Cole (11).

Other than Marcus Smith in 2014, the Eagles have done pretty well lately in the first round — Fletcher Cox in 2012, Lane Johnson in 2013, Nelson Agholor in 2015 and Carson Wentz in 2016.

All key guys on a Super Bowl championship team.

Now it’s Barnett's turn to take the next step.

He needs to become that 10-to-12 sack guy playing alongside B.G. If he can do that, nobody will remember Michael Bennett and his contract demands.

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Eagles bringing back receiver Marcus Green

Eagles bringing back receiver Marcus Green

The Eagles are bringing back wide receiver Marcus Green, who spent last season on their practice squad, a league source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

Green, 23, was among four Eagles released a week and a half ago. And now he’s coming back. NFL Network first reported the news.   

Green (5-8, 191) was a Falcons 6th-round pick out of Louisiana-Monroe last year. After he was waived at final cuts, Green joined the Eagles in early September and spent the entire 2019 season on the Birds’ practice squad. 

In four years at Louisiana-Monroe, Green caught 202 passes for 2,698 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also had 51 rushing attempts for 492 yards (9.6) and 1 touchdown. He also returned kicks and punts in college. He’s less of a pure receiver and more of a playmaker. 

With Green back, the Eagles have a full roster at 80, although that includes Brandon Brooks and Alshon Jeffery who are both on Active/PUP and are not healthy enough to practice. That 80 does not include Matt Leo who has an International exemption. 

Still, the Eagles are at the 80-man limit to keep them from going split-squad at practices. The Eagles are still in the Acclimatization Period of their collectively bargained training camp. They won’t hold non-padded practices until Aug. 12 and the first padded practice won’t be until Aug. 17. 

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Eagles' Fletcher Cox keeps getting better and it's scary

Eagles' Fletcher Cox keeps getting better and it's scary

He’s going into Year 9 now, he’s made five straight Pro Bowls, and he’s at the point now where some veterans just coast through the rest of their career and pile up the honors and pocket millions of dollars and are OK with just being OK.

Not Fletcher Cox.

This guy will never be content.

“I just want to get better at everything,” Cox said Wednesday.

There’s a lot to admire about Cox. The intensity he plays with. The way he attacks practice. The ferocious physical nature of his game that rubs off on the rest of the team. The team-first mentality that’s built into his personality.

And there’s an impossibly high standard he’s constantly trying to live up to, a standard that drives him no matter how many honors he gets, no matter how many sacks he records.

The great ones all share that trait. Whether it was Reggie White, Seth Joyner or Eric Allen, they all had that burning determination to be even better, that refusal to be content with where they’re at as players.

And that’s the company Cox is in. One of the best in Eagles history. 

If you’re a young player or any player really and you see the highest-paid or most-honored players working their ass off every day, you’re going to follow in line.

That's what leadership really is. Not all that rah-rah stuff. It's setting an example for the people around you.  

That’s why veterans who mail it in are so damaging to any team. 

Because young guys are always going to follow the lead of the established veterans, and if those guys are taking shortcuts and not fully committed, that’s when you get disasters like the 2011 Dream Team.

Cox was at work at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday, self-scouting, watching tape of himself, and that’s all he could think about.

The plays he didn’t make.

I was watching film yesterday, we were all in there, and I saw some things I can get better at, and I’ve got to work on those things during training camp,” he said. “I feel like if I can get off of blocks [better], there are three or four or five [more] sacks out there for me. When you look at it on tape, man, if I would have gotten off a second sooner it’s a sack. Just little things like that. But not only me getting better but the whole group getting better.

Think about Cox’s career.

He’s got 48 sacks in eight seasons despite dealing with constant double teams. And he stuffs the run as well as anybody in the game.

And for a lot of his years here, he’s been a one-man wrecking crew. 

The Eagles haven’t had a double-digit edge rusher since Cox was drafted, although Brandon Graham has been close a couple times. 

And the defensive tackles he’s played next to the most — Bennie Logan, Timmy Jernigan, Cullen Jenkins, Haloti Ngata, Beau Allen, Derek Landri and Isaac Sopoaga — have all been either average, injured, disappointing or washed up. 

He’s never had the benefit of elite talent around him. 

In fact, the only Pro Bowlers Cox has ever taken the field with here are Malcolm Jenkins in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and Connor Barwin in 2014.

Reggie had Jerome, Seth, Clyde, Byron Evans, Wes and Andre and Eric Allen around him.

Cox has carried this defense for almost a decade. 

And all he talks about is getting better.

Last year wasn’t Cox’s best year. He spent the offseason rehabbing the toe injury he suffered in the Saints playoff game and wasn’t really himself until the last month or so.

He still made his fifth straight Pro Bowl just because he’s that good.

But this offseason, he was able to get back to his normal offseason routine, and now he has a healthy Malik Jackson and newly acquired Javon Hargrave next to him, more interior talent than he’s ever seen.

If there is football this fall, the NFL is going to see a Hall of Fame talent wearing No. 91 for the Eagles.

A healthy, motivated, driven Fletcher Cox is scary news for opposing offenses. 

We're lucky to have him.

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