Eagles

Zach Ertz was determined not to let Miami disaster happen again

Zach Ertz was determined not to let Miami disaster happen again

Zach Ertz didn’t hesitate to say after the Miami disaster that it was one of the worst games of his career.

And he promised it wouldn’t happen again.

A week after the nightmarish loss to the Dolphins, the Eagles rebounded, and so did Ertz.

He followed one of the worst games of his seven-year career with a typical Zach Ertz game.

“It was tough last week physically and mentally,” Ertz said. “It was probably the worst game that I’ve played in a long time. And so being able to just come out … and rebound and have the coaches and the guys kind of trust in me and never lose faith, obviously it means a lot to me.”

Ertz scored the tying touchdown against the Giants with a couple minutes left in regulation and the winning touchdown five minutes into overtime, and the Eagles turned a potential second straight catastrophe against a two-win team into a dramatic win.

And Ertz became the first Eagle to score the tying and go-ahead TDs in the fourth quarter or later since Brian Westbrook against the Redskins in 2007.

“It was kind of the message after the (Dolphins) game that our best players and our leaders – we have to be playing our best at this point in the year,” said Ertz, a lock for his third straight Pro Bowl this year. “A lot of guys took it hard last week. Obviously the performance wasn’t us, me in particular. But it definitely feels great to find a way to win and be a big part of it. It was definitely fun out there.”

The Eagles kept their improbable playoff hopes alive with that 23-17 overtime win Monday night.

And they did it without most of the skill players they began the season with. Among the missing were DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Howard, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles.

And with an assortment of late-season pickups and practice squad alumni and Ertz shifting from position to position, they rallied back from 14 points down in the third quarter to win a game they had to win.

Ertz played everywhere. Almost everywhere.

“I think every spot at the skill position besides running back,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever line up there. But I’ve been in this offense for four years now and I take a lot of pride in being able to help the guys line up. We just had to find a way and obviously with three receivers and losing Alshon early, it was tough. But Greg Ward, J.J (Arcega-Whiteside), Josh Perkins, Boston Scott, those are the guys that allowed us to make plays at the end of the game. Those guys are freakin’ studs and I’m so proud of all of them.”

And Ertz did his usual thing, with 9 catches for 91 yards and two TDs.

He has 42 catches in the last five games, the third-most in franchise history over a five-game span (behind two of his own streaks) and 10th-most in NFL history by a tight end in a five-game stretch.

He’s now up to 79 catches for 827 yards and five TDs and has 19 more catches than any other NFC tight end. 

He’s been consistently and routinely making big plays for this team for seven years and on Monday night, when his team desperately needed him, he showed up once again.

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Figuring out likelihood Eagles free agents return in 2020

Figuring out likelihood Eagles free agents return in 2020

The Eagles have over a dozen pending unrestricted free agents and if they want to bring some of them back, they have a few more weeks of exclusive negotiating rights.

Free agency begins on March 18 and the legal tampering window opens on March 16. Until then, the Eagles won’t have to bid against other teams. Just last year, the Eagles signed pending free agent Brandon Graham to a contract at the combine.

All of the following players are pending UFAs except Nigel Bradham, who was released a few days ago and is already a free agent. Any team can negotiate with him now.

Here’s a look at all the Eagles’ free agents (in alphabetical order) — Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro try to figure out how likely they are to return:

Nelson Agholor

Roob: Everybody seems to understand it would be best for both Nelly and for the Eagles if he finds a new home. The ultimate guy who needs a change of scenery. I'm not going to put 0 percent but ... 1 percent.

Dave: Agholor’s career in Philadelphia was a perfect bell curve. He struggled early, helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl and then struggled mightily last season. It’s best for everyone to move on and I think we all understand that. 0 percent

Nigel Bradham

Roob: A lot of people seem to think the Eagles are going to bring Bradham back at a lower salary, but I think he’s gone. I think they want to get younger and they’re concerned about his level of play dropping the last couple years. 28 percent

Dave: The Eagles want to get younger and faster and bringing back Bradham wouldn’t help either area. I’ve heard Bradham is open to a return but I don’t think it’s very likely. 15 percent

Vinny Curry

Roob: He wasn’t awful last year. He actually had a team-high 4.0 sacks over the second half of the season. He won’t cost much, he loves playing here, he wants to be here, and they need pass rushers. But he’s 31 and it's probably best if they move on. 41 percent

Dave: Curry ended up having a much better season than anticipated, finishing with 5.0 sacks. He was a productive player but again … time to get younger. If other options are too expensive, it’s possible. 25 percent

Ronald Darby

Roob: I never got why they brought him back for 2019 at $5 million, and I definitely would be shocked if he’s back in 2020. Has averaged 8 1/2 games in his three years here and lately on the rare occasions he’s been healthy hasn’t played well. 9 percent

Dave: The Eagles brought back Darby in 2019 and it was a mistake. When healthy, Darby was an OK player but he struggled to stay on the field and it’s time to move on. 6 percent

Kamu Grugier-Hill

Roob: Kamu has played four years on a rookie 6th-round contract and wants to get paid. He’s not going to get a big deal here, so I’d expect him to at explore the open market and see what he can get. If it doesn’t happen for him I could see him coming back. 38 percent

Dave: Last season was supposed to be a breakout season for Grugier-Hill and it didn’t happen. And then it was kind of odd how his season ended with the concussion and surgery. Seems like the marriage might be broken, which is a shame because he still has potential and fits what the Eagles want in their linebackers. 22 percent

Jordan Howard

Roob: I think I’m in the minority on this one, but as much as I like him as a player I don’t think it makes sense for him to come back to a team where Miles Sanders has established himself as the lead back, and I don’t think it makes sense for the Eagles to spend significant money on a back that needs carries to shine. 32 percent

Dave: The Eagles need to move forward with Miles Sanders as their lead back, which means Howard should probably find another landing spot. But he seems to like it here and if a strong market doesn’t develop, the Eagles could certainly use him as thunder to Sanders’ lighting. 54 percent

Timmy Jernigan

Roob: It all depends how much $$$ Timmy wants. The Eagles would love to have him back at another reasonable deal. But who knows what the market is for a guy like Jernigan, who is clearly talented but can’t stay healthy. 51 percent

Dave: I understand the Eagles want to get younger and I understand that Jernigan has struggled to stay on the field. I like the idea of bringing him back as a third DT in the rotation. 50 percent

Josh McCown

Roob: As much as I respect his effort in the playoff loss and what he means in the locker room, I don’t want a 41-year-old backup quarterback. But the Eagles love him, so I’d expect him back as No. 3 and a sort of unofficial player-coach. 67 percent

Dave: I think McCown is going to hang ‘em up. After getting hurt in the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine him signing up for another year of this. 10 percent

Rodney McLeod

Roob: It just makes sense for him to stay where he’s played at a solid level for four years and it makes sense for the Eagles to spend a few bucks at a position where there's no depth. When it makes sense for both sides it usually gets done. But they still need to draft a safety or two. 68 percent

Dave: This is a tough one because if the Eagles can’t figure out the situation with Malcolm Jenkins, they’d probably really like to keep McLeod. And I’m not sure they can find a better value or a better player on the open market. 65 percent

Jalen Mills

Roob: Another one whose greatest value is here. The Eagles absolutely need to bring in a stable of young, fast corners. But Mills won’t cost a ton, he’s a known quantity, he’s popular in the locker room and he's a functional player at a position where the Eagles don't have many. 71 percent

Dave: This is a case where I think the Eagles value the player way more than the rest of the league. Jim Schwartz loves him some Jalen Mills. He’s the one I’m most confident will be back but there’s no guarantee. 75 percent

Jason Peters

Roob: One of the most intriguing roster questions. Can the Eagles really bring back a 38-year-old left tackle who’s had injury issues in an offseason where one of the GM identified getting younger as a major priority? Peters is still a good player when healthy. But he’s not a great player. And Andre Dillard is waiting in the wings. 42 percent

Dave: It’s time to move on. The rest of us know that but I wonder if there’s a chance the Eagles don’t. Eventually, though, I think they come to their senses and Andre Dillard is the starter at left tackle in 2020. 19 percent

Hassan Ridgeway

Roob: Ridgeway was giving the Eagles some productive snaps before he got hurt. He’s only 25, they need interior line depth, and it would make sense to have him, especially if Jernigan is looking for a big deal. 59 percent

Dave: I think either Ridgeway or Jernigan will be back for the 2020 season as a rotational defensive tackle so I’m giving them both the same chance. 50 percent

Richard Rodgers

Roob: He wasn’t even in the league most of the year, so it’s not like there’s a market for him. If the Eagles want to bring him into camp they will. 40 percent

Dave: I really don’t see the need to bring Rodgers back. Sure, he knows the offense but there has to be a younger guy who can do the same thing. 7 percent

Nate Sudfeld

Roob: Sudfeld can’t be thrilled he remained No. 3 after his wrist healed. It just kind of feels like both sides are ready to move on. 36 percent

Dave: This is a really tough one for me. The Eagles would have rolled with Sudfeld as the backup last season but then he got hurt and they brought McCown in. Would they feel comfortable enough rolling with Sudfeld as their backup in 2020? I’m not sure. 45 percent

Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Roob: I think somebody is going to look at Big V as a versatile 26-year-old who’s started on a Super Bowl team and pay him significant dough to be a starter. And he’ll probably do fine. The Eagles can’t compete with that when he’d only be a backup here. 27 percent

Dave: I think the Eagles would love to have Big V back as their swing tackle and key backup but I still think there’s going to be a team that will give him more money to sign as a starter or at least to compete for a starting job. 36 percent

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NFL Draft 2020: Top analyst has a ‘home run’ pick for the Eagles

NFL Draft 2020: Top analyst has a ‘home run’ pick for the Eagles

The Eagles have a pretty obvious and pressing need at wide receiver as the 2020 NFL Draft nears and here’s some good news: 

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, on a national conference call Friday afternoon, called this class of receivers “phenomenal,” adding that he has 27 (!) receivers with top-three round grades. 

With all that in mind, I asked Jeremiah which receivers might be available when the Eagles pick at No. 21 and which players of that group would really fit what they do offensively. 

One name rose above the rest. 

If you were to say, ‘Home run pick for the Eagles, who is it?’ Henry Ruggs. Just because how much speed and juice he would give to that offense.

In his first mock draft of the season released on Jan. 21, Jeremiah actually had the Eagles taking Ruggs with the 21st pick. But on Friday said he expects Ruggs to be “long gone” by the time the Eagles on on the clock at 21. 

Ruggs (6-0, 190) didn’t put up monster numbers at Alabama but there’s a chance the Eagles this year won’t care about college production as they have in the past. And Ruggs certainly has one key attribute: speed. 

Jeremiah, who was once a scout with the Eagles, said he thinks the Birds will prefer the element of speed, which Ruggs certainly has. There’s a chance Ruggs might blow the doors off the combine, which would only hurt the Eagles’ odds of landing him. 

An interesting thought is a possible trade up. The Eagles are expected to have a total of 10 picks in this draft and perhaps they could use some of those picks to move up and take a player like Ruggs. 

But if they don’t, Jeremiah said the Eagles could use different styles of receivers and had some other options with that No. 21 pick: 

Justin Jefferson: The 6-3, 192 LSU receiver is coming off an incredible junior season. He caught 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. 

“I think Justin Jefferson has got a chance to be a high, high volume slot receiver who is a lot like Keenan Allen,” Jeremiah said. “He can fill that role, he can work in traffic, he’s really good down in the red zone. He led the entire draft class down in the red zone this year. He had 12. He’s a point producer and he’d be a great fit for them.”

Brandon Aiyuk: At 6-1, 206 pounds, Aiyuk is known for his YAC ability. He averaged 18.3 yards per catch in 2019 (65 catches, 1,192 yards, 8 touchdowns). 

“I love Brandon Aiyuk from Arizona State,” Jeremiah said. “I think he’s a stud. He’s tough, competitive, run after catch guy. Needs a little polish but he can return as well so has some value there.”

Tee Higgins: At 6-4, 215, Higgins is a very different player than a guy like Ruggs. He did catch 59 balls for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns in his junior season at Clemson. 

“And then Tee Higgins will probably be there, who’s long, tall and rangy,” Jeremiah said. “You’re hoping you’re drafting A.J. Green but I don’t think he’s on that level. But that’s the style which he plays. There’s a little bit of concern with him just getting off press. Some of the better competition he played later in the year, he struggled a little bit with that. 

“I would say that group of wide receivers is the one they’ll be staring at.”

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