Eagles

NFL free agency 2019: What will the Eagles do at running back?

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NFL free agency 2019: What will the Eagles do at running back?

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp continue the 2019 edition of Stay or Go, trying to figure out the future of the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Today, they’ll look at running back: 

Jay Ajayi

Roob: I love the way Ajayi runs and nobody can ever take away what a big part of the 2017 Super Bowl run he was. But the knees. I really worry about the knees. The Eagles could sign Ajayi to a risk-free deal and bring him back to see if he can stay healthy, but my gut feeling is they draft a back in the second round and maybe also sign a free agent and move on from Ajayi.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: If Ajayi could get healthy and there were no problems with his knees, he could still be a good running back in this system. But he had knee concerns before his trade to the Eagles and now he’s coming off a torn ACL. Maybe they work out a prove-it deal to keep him in town, but I just don’t think the Eagles can rely on him being healthy. Tough to say goodbye, but I think that’s where we’re heading. 

Verdict: Goes 

Kulp: The Eagles could use a vet ball carrier, and Ajayi’s price will be discounted coming off a torn ACL. That said, the injury is why I ultimately believe the team moves on. Stability is needed in the backfield, meaning healthy bodies, and while Ajayi should be ready Week 1, there’s no telling what you’re getting from a guy who had a bum knee in the first place.

Verdict: Goes

Corey Clement

Roob: Looks like Clement’s the only back I’m keeping. The Eagles really missed him this year. He’s a perfect fit in this offense — a tough runner, a very good receiver, a willing blocker and also a solid special teamer. I don’t think Clement will ever be a lead back, but I do think he’ll be a significant part of the offense in 2019.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: I don’t think Clement is really the answer as a feature back, but I think he can be a nice piece to the puzzle. He never looked truly healthy in 2018 and it showed even before the knee injury that ended his second season. I expect him back in 2019 as a part of the rotation. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Don’t know the precise nature of Clement’s injury, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he misses games in 2019. Still, he’s only 24 and under contract for basically the league minimum. Even if he started the year on the physically unable to perform list and consequently fell out of the mix, Clement could return mid-season and contribute on special teams.

Verdict: Stays

Wendell Smallwood

Roob: Smallwood runs hard, catches the ball pretty well and has had some big games, and he finally proved this year he can stay healthy for a full season. It wouldn’t shock me if he’s back for a fourth season with the Eagles as a reserve back, but I just think the Eagles need to get better across the board at running back, and I don’t think he’s back.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: I’ve counted out Smallwood before. Not going to make that mistake again. I know many Eagles fans have seen more than enough of Smallwood, but he ended up having a big role for the Eagles in 2018 and became the guy in the playoffs. He’ll be battling for a back-end-of-the-roster spot again in 2019. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: Fully anticipate the Eagles adding two backs — a free agent and a draft pick — and those are the primary ball handlers. Yet, Smallwood may have done enough to carve out a role as the No. 3. He is serviceable in a pinch, plays special teams and basically makes the league minimum. And if the backfield gets crowded, he probably has some trade value in August, too.

Verdict: Stays

Darren Sproles

Roob: Tough one. Will Sproles come back for a 15th NFL season or retire? The Eagles counted heavily on Sproles in the postseason, but he averaged only 1.6 yards on 16 carries and had 35 yards on seven catches. Sproles did help down the stretch, but what can the Eagles get out of him at 36 years old? If Sproles does want to play it’s a tough call for the Eagles. Gut feeling is he retires.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: This is all on Sproles. If he wants to come back, I’m sure the Eagles would like to have him. His whole reasoning for coming back in 2018 was because he didn’t want his career to end with an injury. Not sure if he thinks he did enough to feel ready to move on after an injury-plagued season last year. I have a hunch, he’ll want one more chance and if he can stay healthy, he can really help the Eagles. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: I don’t know how Sproles can retire after watching the final seven weeks. He makes one or two big plays seemingly every game. It shouldn’t cost the Eagles a ton of money to keep him, either. Sproles turns 36 and earned less than $1.5 million for 2018, which is a deal for the spark he provides.

Verdict: Stays

Josh Adams

Roob: Adams has some ability and spent a chunk of the fall as the Eagles’ lead back, and had some big games. I think he’ll get every opportunity to make the team next year. But I also expect the Eagles to remake the running back position in 2019, and nothing is guaranteed. Adams isn’t a polished receiver and doesn’t play special teams, and his postseason benching isn’t a good sign for his future here.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: For a short stretch of time in 2018, Adams was the Eagles top running back after not even making the 53-man roster at the beginning of the season. And then he didn’t even play in the playoffs. I think the Eagles are going to draft a running back that can run between the tackles and makes Adams expendable. 

Verdict: Goes

Kulp: Wonder how much Adams’ diminished performance was a result of wearing down and injuries. Even if that were the case, it’s not a great sign given the 22-year-old’s relatively modest workload (157 touches, including preseason). With only one postseason carry, looks like he’s fallen out of favor regardless.

Verdict: Goes

Boston Scott 

Roob: Eagles’ mid-season pickup returned some kicks but was really only here because of injuries to Ajayi and Clement and never got any touches on offense. Scott could be a practice squad type of guy, but I don’t see him playing any sort of role with the Eagles moving forward.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: Scott came to the Eagles late in the 2018 season and I haven’t really seen enough one way or the other. He barely played on offense and didn’t blow me away as a returner. He’ll get his fair shot in training camp, but for now, I’m not sold. 

Verdict: Goes

Kulp: The fact that the Eagles plucked this kid off the Saints’ practice squad in December and he was active two weeks later and every game thereafter says something. I just don’t see a spot. Might think better about his chances if Sproles is out of the picture, but that scat back role is likely filled. Scott is a practice squad candidate.

Verdict: Goes

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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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