Eagles

Remarkable what Eagles' D-line has been through together

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Remarkable what Eagles' D-line has been through together

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — There are six players on the Eagles' active roster who've been here since 2012.

Three of them are Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.

Which goes a long way toward explaining what makes this Eagles defensive line tick.

They've been through everything together. Reid's firing. Chip's hiring and the Eagles' ascent to playoff team, then the ensuing collapse and Chip's firing. Doug Pederson's arrival and another ascent, this time to Super Bowl team.

Through it all, Cox, Graham and Curry have been together, stuffing the run, rushing the quarterback and forming the nucleus of a team that on Sunday will play for the NFL championship.

"We've all been together so long, and we've all been friends for so long, and we have fun out there," Graham said. "And it's not fake. We all enjoy each other, we respect each other as far as our personalities and what we each bring to the team.

"When you can embrace a guy like that and your trust is based on so many years together, in moments of adversity we already know how to deal with each other, how to stay focused on what we're trying to do."

Graham was the Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2010 and Cox and Curry arrived in the first and second rounds in 2012. The only other guys on the roster who got here during Andy Reid's tenure are Brent Celek in 2007, injured Jason Peters in 2009, Jason Kelce in 2011 and Mychal Kendricks in 2012.

There are only 29 active defensive linemen in the NFL who have played 80 or more games all for the same team. The Eagles have three of those 29. 

"I think it's great when you've got guys that have been around for a long time," Cox said. "The chemistry that we have, the communication that we all work on. I think having been here for so long that on the field it just helps us play that much faster knowing where each guy will be.

"It's a blessing. Me being able to play besides B.G. for so long, man, it's, I mean, there is just so much stuff that we do together. The little things that people don't see, like timing. We're running 3rd and long, I may be outside, he may know I'm outside, and he comes inside and makes the play. I think the little things right there have got us to where we are right now."

Beau Allen arrived in 2014, so he's in his fourth year with this group. Chris Long, Tim Jernigan and rookie Derek Barnett arrived this past offseason.

"Being together this long? It's rare and it's a big positive," Graham said. "It just goes to show you how much the organization values their draft picks and values players that work well together.

"That continuity is big. And me and Vinny both went through adversity early on. Fletch, he didn't go through any adversity, he just jumped right into it.

"But it's cool to be able to stay together this long and overcome adversity. It makes it this much sweeter."

Cox is a two-time second-team all-pro and three-time Pro Bowler and Graham made second-team all-pro this year and should have been on the Pro Bowl team. Curry's stats don't show it, but he had his most consistently productive season this year.

"The biggest art of it is their ability to want to help one another," said Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who coached Cox at Mississippi State in 2010 and 2011.
 
"There's power in helping each other, and they complement each other very well in that regard, and that's really been their mantra since I've been here: How do we improve and get where we need to.

"The biggest thing is they all have the potential to get sacks, to get turnovers, to make a big play at any point in time."

There are a lot of reasons the Eagles reached Super Bowl LII and will face the Patriots Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

One of the biggest is the dominant performance of this defensive line. The Eagles finished No. 1 in the NFL in rush defense and No. 4 in total defense, takeaways and scoring defense.

"When you've been together as long as we have, we all know what each other is thinking," Curry said. "If we run a crazy stunt, it's natural. You know that guy, how he rushes, where he's going to rush. Fletcher's on my side, I know what he's going to do even before he knows what he's going to do, so I know what I can't do.

"And if I'm wrong, I'll wait till he bitches on the sideline."

Like the Eagles' last great defensive line led by Reggie White, Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons, this group is as competitive as it is close-knit.

"It's a competitive room," Wilson said. "From who's the best dressed to who can bench the most or who can make the most shots in the Pop-a-Shot game in the back of our locker room. And I think that's necessary. These guys really push each other."

Cox, Graham and Curry have been at the bottom of the football world … two different times, in fact.

So leading this team to within one game of a championship is incredibly special to them.

"Just the chemistry, it's unbelievable," Curry said. "At any given moment any player on this d-line can get hot, you know? That's the sweet part about it. It's almost like Golden State. Anybody on that team could make the All-Star team, and they could be, 'Me, me, me, me, but they're not.' They play together.

"And that the one thing about us. We play together. It's bigger than us. It's about getting to the point where we'll be next Sunday. That's all it's about."

Malcolm Jenkins reacts to settlement in Colin Kaepernick collusion case

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Malcolm Jenkins reacts to settlement in Colin Kaepernick collusion case

In the wake of news that the NFL had settled collusion cases brought forth by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, fellow activist and Eagle Malcolm Jenkins has weighed in. 

Despite some disagreements between the men in the past, Jenkins has always maintained that Kaepernick and Reid belonged in the league and thought NFL owners colluded to keep Kaepernick and Reid out of the NFL. 

Reid is now employed by the Carolina Panthers, but Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. 

You’ll remember in October, Jenkins and Reid got into a heated exchange before the Eagles-Panthers game at the Linc. And after the game, Reid called Jenkins a sellout and a coward (see story).  

That day, Jenkins refused to get into a war of words. 

"I would never get up here and say anything bad about somebody who I know [their] intentions were about helping their communities, especially another black man," Jenkins said on Oct. 21, after the game. "I'll leave it at that."

The exchange between Jenkins and Reid that day stemmed from lingering animosity about the way the Players Coalition — led by Jenkins — brokered a $90 million deal with the NFL to help with projects dealing with racial inequality. 

On Friday afternoon, the NFL released the following statement: 

"For the past several months, counsel for Mr. Kaepernick and Mr. Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL. As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances. The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party."

Because of the confidentiality agreement, we don’t know how much this settlement is worth, but it’s likely to be very significant. It’s also unclear if the NFL admitted any wrongdoing in the settlement. 

The grievances began when Kaepernick and Reid claimed they had been blacklisted by the NFL for demonstrating during the national anthem. Kaepernick began those protests by sitting and then later taking a knee. 

Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem but stopped once his Players Coalition brokered that deal in 2017. Jenkins raised his fist in the Eagles’ preseason opener in 2018, but did not during the 2018 season. Jenkins has said many times he wants the focus to be on work in the community and not the demonstrations. 

A tweet earlier on Friday falls in line with that. 

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This offseason, Eagles need to finally find stability at running back

This offseason, Eagles need to finally find stability at running back

When Chip Kelly traded away LeSean McCoy nearly four years ago, he sent the Eagles down a road of complete instability at that position. In the four seasons since that move, the Eagles have had four different leading rushers. 

This offseason, it’s time for the Eagles to find a new featured back. 

There are options, of course. They can try to pick one up in free agency, they can make a trade or they can try to draft the next guy, which is probably the way I’d lean.  

I know what you’re going to say: Well, the Eagles won a Super Bowl with a running back by committee. Doug Pederson seems to prefer it.

I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. This past season, the Eagles seemed eager to find out if Josh Adams could be the lead guy. They want someone to be the starter and at least be the primary runner of the group. That guy needs to be a three-down back who can catch the ball too. 

Think about this: Before Chipper traded away McCoy, Shady led the Eagles in rushing for six straight seasons. Before then, Brian Westbrook led the team in rushing for six straight seasons. So that was 12 straight years (2003-2014) with two of the best running backs in franchise history. Before then, Duce did it in four of five seasons and, before that, Ricky Watters did it for three straight. The Eagles haven’t had this type of instability at running back since the '80s. 

Since Shady’s last season in Philly, DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount and Adams have all had their turn as the Eagles’ leading rusher. 

And in 2014, his last season with the Eagles, McCoy rushed for 1,319 yards. In the four years since, the Eagles’ top two rushers in each season added together haven’t reached that total. The closest they came was when Murray and Mathews combined for 1,241 in 2015. 

Take a look at the last four years: 

2018
Josh Adams: 120 carries, 511 yards, 3 TDs
Wendell Smallwood: 87 carries, 364 yards, 3 TDs
Corey Clement: 68 carries, 259 yards, 2 TDs
Jay Ajayi: 45 carries, 184 yards, 3 TDs
Darren Sproles: 29 carries, 120 yards, 1 TD

2017
LeGarrette Blount: 173 carries, 766 yards, 2 TDs
Corey Clement: 74 carries, 321 yards, 4 TDs
Jay Ajayi: 70 carries, 408 yards, 1 TD 
Wendell Smallwood: 47 carries, 174 yards, 1 TD
Kenjon Barner: 16 carries, 57 yards, 1 TD
Darren Sproles: 15 carries, 61 yards 

2016 
Ryan Mathews: 155 carries, 661 yards, 8 TDs 
Darren Sproles: 94 carries, 438 yards, 2 TDs
Wendell Smallwood: 77 carries, 312 yards, 1 TD
Kenjon Barner: 27 carries, 129 yards, 2 TDs
Byron Marshall: 19 carries, 64 yards 
Terrell Watson: 9 carries, 28 yards, 1 TD

2015
DeMarco Murray: 193 carries, 702 yards, 6 TDs 
Ryan Matthews: 106 carries, 539 yards, 6 TDs
Darren Sproles: 83 carries, 317 yards, 3 TDs
Kenjon Barner: 28 carries, 124 yards

In the four years since Shady has been gone, the Eagles have drafted just two running backs. They took Smallwood in the fifth round of the 2016 draft and took Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Smallwood has at least developed into a serviceable backup/rotational player, but Pumphrey hasn’t played a single snap in the NFL. 

Looking at the position now, there are obvious question marks just with the guys who were on the team last year. Ajayi is coming off a torn ACL, already had knee problems and is a pending free agent. Darren Sproles is a 35-year-old pending free agent who might retire. Clement is under contract but is coming back from a season-ending knee injury of his own. Adams was the leading rusher in 2018 but was benched in the playoffs. And Smallwood is under contract but clearly isn’t going to be the No. 1. 

The Eagles haven’t drafted a running back in the first two rounds since they took Shady back in 2009, but with two second-round picks this year, maybe that changes. Either way, it’s time to finally find some stability that hasn’t been there for the last four seasons.

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