Unlikely hero Wendell Smallwood becomes Eagles' hot hand in L.A.

Unlikely hero Wendell Smallwood becomes Eagles' hot hand in L.A.

LOS ANGELES — Standing against a bright red wall in the bowels of the historic LA Coliseum, Wendell Smallwood started praising Nick Foles. 

After all, it was Foles who returned from 12 weeks on the bench to lead the Eagles in their biggest win of the season in typical Foles storybook fashion. 

“He’s just always ready,” Smallwood marveled. 

Hey … that sounds familiar. 

Because for the last month, Smallwood was just a backup waiting for his chance too. With the ascension of Josh Adams into a more prominent role in the running back rotation, Smallwood had sort of become the forgotten man. A snap here, a snap there, but nothing very meaningful. 

Until Sunday night. 

“That’s a part of this game,” Smallwood said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what’s going to go down. No matter where you are on the depth chart, it don’t matter. Guys get hurt. It’s just how the games go. When your number gets called, you gotta stay ready. We’re professionals, that’s what you gotta do. When an opportunity presents itself, you have to take advantage of it.” 

The unlikeliest of heroes entering Sunday night’s 30-23 road win over the Rams, Smallwood led the Eagles’ running back rotation with 10 carries for 48 yards and two touchdowns (see snap counts). Smallwood hadn’t gotten double-digit carries since the first Giants game back on Oct. 11. He hadn’t been in the end zone since Sept. 23. 

And entering Sunday’s game, Smallwood had just three career rushing touchdowns — one in each of his first three NFL seasons. On Sunday night, he had two in the third quarter, about nine minutes apart. 

In his last five games, Smallwood had a total of five carries and didn’t have a single carry in two of those games. That’s after he spent the first half of the season as a pretty big part of that running back rotation. On Sunday, Adams missed time as he was evaluated for a concussion and later because of a back injury. Smallwood took the opportunity and made the most of it. 

“If you get hot and you’re out there making plays, they’re going to keep you in,” Smallwood said. “They’re not going to take you out. They’re just not going to stop giving you the ball. That’s how it was for me tonight. I found myself on the field more than I thought I would be and it’s just because I had the hot hand. It felt good.”

Smallwood did admit it wasn’t easy for him to take a backseat in the running back rotation, but he claimed he never knows how much he’s going to play. The team can have a plan entering a game, but things change. That’s why he just tries to stay ready. 

Smallwood said when he isn’t playing, he tries to watch the other running backs and pick up things from their games. He even watched last year’s game in L.A. to see how Jay Ajayi attacked the Rams.  

“It’s just staying ready and preparing as if you’re going to be that guy,” he said, “and it just so happened the opportunity presented itself to me today.”

It’s not clear if Smallwood’s performance Sunday night will earn him more playing time going forward. But the one thing that’s clear is he’ll be ready if that opportunity presents itself. 

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NFL trade rumors: Why Stefon Diggs makes sense for the Eagles

NFL trade rumors: Why Stefon Diggs makes sense for the Eagles

On Tuesday night, receiver Stefon Diggs sent the internet into a tizzy when he apparently erased any mention of the Vikings from his Instagram account. 

We’re taking a bit of a leap here (gotta love 2020) but if this is Diggs’ somehow voicing his frustration with the Vikings it wouldn’t be the first time. And it would also basically be a Bat Signal to the other 31 NFL teams: “Come and get me!” 

The Eagles should. 

It’s funny. Before all those rumors began to swirl on Tuesday night, I was on NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Quick Slants and was asked for one potential trade target for the Birds. The name I gave was Diggs. He made sense even before this. While there’s no guarantee the Vikings trade him, it’s worth finding out. 

If you haven’t noticed, the Eagles are in desperate need of help at receiver. It’s why about 85 percent of mock drafts have them taking one in the first round of the draft in a couple months. But any player they pick in the draft is an unknown. Diggs is not. 

There are three big reasons why Diggs should be attractive to the Eagles: 

1. He just turned 26 back in November

The Eagles are committed to getting younger this offseason and getting Diggs now would kind of be like signing a free agent after his rookie deal. The Eagles have been getting older but Diggs would help them get younger. No, he’s not a 21-year-old anymore but he is arguably entering his prime. 

2. Diggs is already one of the best receivers in the NFL

Despite his targets dropping from 149 in 2018 to 94 in 2019 (ostensibly one of the reasons for his displeasure), Diggs still managed to have more receiving yards this past season. Since the 2016 season, Diggs has 313 catches, 3,903 yards and 26 touchdowns. There are just six players in the league with better stats in those four seasons: DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Travis Kelce and Michael Thomas. 

What has been impressive about Diggs is that he’s been successful in different ways. After averaging 10.0 yards per catch in 2018, he averaged 17.9 (a career high) in 2019 and was a tremendous deep threat. Just three players in the NFL had a higher yards-per-catch average in 2019. 

The Eagles certainly saw what he can do. In Week 6 against the Birds, he had his best game of the 2019 season. He caught seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. That was the only time this season he was targeted over 10 times in a game. 

3. Diggs is relatively cost-controlled for another four seasons

While trading for Diggs will cost draft equity (we’ll get to that soon), his salary will be cheaper than that of a free agent of the same caliber because he’s already locked up. While multiple teams will out-bid each other for free agents and end up over-paying, Diggs has a contract that runs through the 2023 season and it’s a very reasonable contract. By the end of it, there’s a very good chance he’ll be extremely underpaid. Even though he just signed the five-year extension in the summer of 2018, he’s already just the 13th highest-paid NFL receiver in terms of APY, according to OverTheCap. 

Check out his base salaries for the remainder of the contract: 

2020: $10.9M
2021: $11.4M
2022: $11.4M
2023: $11.4M

No, that’s not exactly cheap like a rookie contract would be but it’s very manageable. And once the new CBA is eventually worked out, those prices will probably look even better. And there are some performance escalators written in, but if Diggs hits them, both sides would be happy. 

So what will it take? 

This is the big question. I think we all agree that Diggs is a good player and the Eagles would love to have him. But what would they have to give up in a trade? 

Well, the Vikings are going to start any negotiation with a first-round pick at minimum. They should. All those reasons I listed above are reasons why they should have teams lining up for Diggs. It’ll be interesting to see just how bad things really are between Diggs and the Vikings, though. There was definitely frustration during the 2019 season but he finished out the year. Is it bad enough that it’s an untenable situation? If so, then the Vikings would lose some leverage. 

If it’s a second-round pick, this is an easier conversation. The real question is whether or not the Eagles would be willing to give up a first-round pick. I kind of doubt they’d be willing to but you can make a real case for it. It’s easy to say the Eagles should just focus on the draft and take one of the many talented options with the 21st pick but there’s no guarantee they’ll hit. In fact, their history picking receivers, especially in the last decade, shouldn’t instill much confidence. They have drafted four Day 1 or Day 2 receivers since 2010: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. 

None of them ever became what Diggs is right now. And there’s a good chance any player taken at 21 won’t become what he is either. 

Maybe GM Howie Roseman and the Eagles will be worried about Diggs’ fit in the building; after all, he has created enough drama in Minnesota to bring all of this up in the first place. Would that eventually happen here? Hard to say. This isn’t a no-brainer but it’s worth a call or two. 

Pick up the phone, Howie. 

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Brandon Graham, DeSean Jackson, more Eagles players react to Nigel Bradham move

Brandon Graham, DeSean Jackson, more Eagles players react to Nigel Bradham move

The Eagles decided Tuesday to decline the team option on Nigel Bradham's contract (see story), cutting the 30-year-old linebacker loose after four years in Philly. From the highs of winning a Super Bowl to the lows of his multiple run-ins with law enforcement, Bradham's time with the Eagles was nothing if not entertaining.

Bradham's teammates received the news Tuesday, just like fans did, and a number of his now-former teammates shared their reactions to the team's move on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Brandon Graham lamented the end of his time playing alongside Bradham:

DeSean Jackson and Kamu Grugier-Hill wished Bradham luck in his next NFL stop:

Nate Gerry thanked Bradham for teaching him the ins and outs of the linebacker position, and of life as pro football player:

Rodney McLeod and Nelson Agholor, two players who might not return to Philly in 2020, also shouted Bradham out on Instagram:

One particularly interesting reaction, to my eye, was that of cornerback Rasul Douglas, who opted to use the head-slap emoji in a quote tweet of a report about the move:

Whether that signifies surprise or displeasure, it seems like Douglas would've preferred Bradham return to Philly in 2020.

Instead, free agency is off and running, and the Eagles' sleepy offseason is finally about to heat up.

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