Eagles

What if Jason Kelce disappeared before the Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl?

What if Jason Kelce disappeared before the Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl?

Imagine it’s two days before the Super Bowl. 

It’s Feb. 2, 2018, the Friday before the Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl in Minneapolis. 

Doug Pederson comes out for his press conference at the Mall of America in Bloomington and announces that Jason Kelce has left the team.

Gone.

Imagine finding out that Kelce had been spotted across the border in Canada drinking when he should have been preparing for the biggest game of his life. Imagine if Stefen Wisniewski, who hadn’t taken a snap at center in two years, had to move from left guard to center and Isaac Seumalo, who had been benched two weeks into the season, had to start at left guard.

Now imagine learning that Kelce was being treated for mental illness in a nearby hospital while the Eagles were playing that Super Bowl.

Do the Eagles still beat the Patriots?

That’s pretty much exactly what happened with the Raiders in 2003. 

Barret Robbins had been the Raiders’ center for eight years and was coming off the best season of his career, resulting in his first Pro Bowl and first-team all-pro honor. He was 29 years old and in the prime of his career.

But he went AWOL from the Raiders’ team hotel prior to the Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego and was hospitalized in the San Diego area and being treated for bi-polar disorder and depression.

The Raiders were forced to start long snapper Adam Treu at center and lost 49-21, scoring seven points fewer than their season average against Tampa’s No. 1 defense.

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How much did Robbins’ disappearance hurt the Raiders? It’s impossible to say. But Robbins did later blame himself for the loss.

Both head coaches - Tampa’s Jon Gruden and Oakland’s Bill Callahan – were assistants with the Eagles under Ray Rhodes and were neighbors in Mount Laurel. 

Robbins played one more year for the Raiders before he was released after his name surfaced on a list of clients at BALCO and he tested positive for performance-enhancing steroids.

After football, his life has been marked by arrests, prison stays, parole violations and drug problems. 

It’s been 17 ½ years since Robbins went AWOL in San Diego, and there have been numerous unanswered questions in the years since.

Many of them are answered now. 

In the fifth installment of the Sports Uncovered podcast series, “The Mysterious Disappearance That Changed a Super Bowl,” NBC Sports Bay Area examines Robbins’ Super Bowl disappearance through numerous interviews with Raiders players and others who knew him.

We’ve come a long way since 2003 in terms of being open about mental health and depression and how important it is to get help. Brandon Brooks is proof of that.

And the Robbins story is evidence of what can happen to a football team when one of its key players disappears 48 hours before kickoff.

The Raiders lost that day, Callahan was fired just one year later, they didn’t have a winning record again for 14 years and they haven’t won a playoff game since. 

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Chad Johnson geeked up about these DeSean Jackson clips from training camp

Chad Johnson geeked up about these DeSean Jackson clips from training camp

DeSean Jackson is 33 years old now and he’s coming off a sports hernia surgery that basically wrecked his 2019 season. 

But he still has it. 

On Friday afternoon, former NFL receiver Chad Johnson shared some 1-on-1 practice video that Jackson sent his way from the Eagles’ ongoing training camp practices. Johnson was pretty excited to get these clips and posted a couple on his Twitter account. 

That one is Jackson going against Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay, in his first training camp with the Eagles. This will be a fun battle all camp long. Last year in training camp, DeSean dominated but he didn’t have a top tier cornerback to go against. 

It was fun to watch Jackson do this to the DBs in camp last year, but now he’s going against a three-time Pro Bowler and one of the best corners in the game. And Slay still stood no chance. 

That little hesitation step from Jackson and the explosion out of it is pretty wild. In a regular foot race no one is going to beat Jackson; if he gets the DB flat-footed, forget about it. And Jackson is going to beat corners as long as he’s healthy. That’s why so many defensive coordinators slide any help they can that way. 

And then there’s this hitch route that Johnson posted with some NSFW language.

On that one, you can see that Slay has to respect the deep ball and Jackson has that change of direction ability. One of the misconceptions about Jackson is that he’s just a go route deep threat; but that’s not the case. He can run short and intermediate routes well and it’s all set up from his ability to burn corners deep. 

The Eagles won’t be in pads until Monday, which is also when reporters are allowed to watch practice. I can’t wait to see this battle in person and report back. 

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Jon Gruden's curious comparison of Nelson Agholor and Randall Cunningham

Jon Gruden's curious comparison of Nelson Agholor and Randall Cunningham

Twenty-five years ago, Randall Cunningham retired after a dismal final season with the Eagles. 

Two years later he came out of retirement, signed with the Vikings and a year later had one of the greatest quarterback seasons ever, earned MVP honors and would have taken the Vikings to the Super Bowl if not for some terrible coaching by Dennis Green.

Cunningham’s offensive coordinator his last year in Philly? Jon Gruden.

Gruden today is head coach of the Raiders, and one of his pet projects is Nelson Agholor.

“A change of scenery worked for Randall Cunningham, maybe it will work for him,” Gruden told the Athletic.

Interestingly, Cunningham, who settled in Las Vegas after playing college football at UNLV, is now the Raiders’ team chaplain.

As for Agholor, he’s trying to rebuild a career that despite some great moments in 2017 and a brilliant Super Bowl never lived up to expectations.

"I trust him and I think he was picked high in the draft for a reason,” Gruden said of Agholor. "He’s a good player. You can pick up the Philadelphia Inquirer and they will probably say something different, but this guy has caught over 200 passes, he’s a young guy, he has played split end, flanker and in the slot. He caught eight or nine passes in a Super Bowl (9-for-84) and won a Super Bowl. So he's a world champion. He's a great person.”

Agholor caught 224 passes for 2,515 yards and 18 touchdowns in five seasons with the Eagles, who made him the 20th pick in Chip Kelly’s 2015 draft.

He never caught more than 768 yards in a season and he surpassed 64 yards in only nine of his 76 games here.

Agholor said he and Gruden actually have a family connection that goes back to when he was in high school at Berkeley Prep in Tampa and Gruden had just finished coaching the Buccaneers.

“He actually used to hang around after his days coaching in Tampa, he still lived in Tampa, and he would always go to a racetrack near his home, and my brother worked at that racetrack so him and my brother spent a lot of time talking every morning when Jon was getting his coffee about football and about my college career and things like that,” Agholor said in a Zoom call with Raiders writers. 

“So it’s a blessing to be in this opportunity having a previous relationship. But at the end of the day I chose this relationship because he knows the game and all I want to do is learn and be a better player.”

The Eagles, who paid Agholor nearly $19 million over the last five years, made no attempt to re-sign the 27-year-old after last season ended.

He signed a one-year minimum salary benefit deal with the Raiders worth barely above minimum wage - $1.0475 million.

In Vegas, he’ll likely compete for slot reps with Hunter Renfrow, who had 49-for-605 with 4 TDs as a rookie 5th-round pick last year.

“Honestly, this is a beautiful opportunity for me to get a chance to play with a guy like Jon Gruden, who has a background in coaching receivers,” Agholor said. “I chose this opportunity to make myself a better player. There’s no better opportunity to play for a head coach that knows receiver play and can articulate ways you can get better.

“My No. 1 goal is to progress as a player.  Lot of things that happened in the past, some really good things and some things I wanted to grow from. I told myself this opportunity is to be 2 percent better than the player I was in my previous five years.”
 

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