Eagles

'In a better place,' Nelson Agholor has chance to show progress in Green Bay

'In a better place,' Nelson Agholor has chance to show progress in Green Bay

Last time the Eagles faced the Packers, Nelson Agholor wasn't even in uniform.

It was late last November, and Agholor was struggling so badly — seven yards in his previous two games, just 83 in his last five — that Eagles head coach Doug Pederson benched him when the Eagles faced the Packers at the Linc.

It was quite a blow for the former first-round pick, who had been a starter for two years.

"I respect the decision that Doug made," Agholor says now. "At the end of the day, Doug wants what's best for the team and myself and I appreciate whatever comes at me. Things like that happen and they make me hungrier."

Agholor didn't exactly finish strong — nine catches for 101 yards and a TD the final five weeks of the season. But the Nelson Agholor that will face the Packers Thursday night in the Eagles' preseason opener at Lambeau Field sure seems like a different guy.

"I think I have a good feel for my body and my awareness of the game right now," he said after practice Monday in the bubble. "I think I'm in a better place today than I was a year ago."

Agholor, now in his third year, has enjoyed a very good preseason, and one of the most intriguing questions facing the Eagles this summer is whether he can transfer that progress onto the football field on game day.

Thursday night is the first small step in that process.

"I've been building good habits and that's what's going to carry me come Thursday," he said. "The habits I've already built. My technique, my understanding and my speed for the game. That's what I want to show Thursday and let the plays come from that."

If Agholor can become a significant contributor to this team — still a big if — it will mark one of the greatest transformations in Eagles history.

Through two seasons, Agholor has only 59 catches for 648 yards and three touchdowns. But he's won over a lot of people inside and outside the organization with his unflinching work ethic, positive attitude and accountability.

"I really do think Nelson has gotten over the hump and had a great spring and a great training camp," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.

"He's just making a ton of plays out there. I mean, we're always going to have a miss or two. Every position does. But we're very pleased with how he's playing.

"You know when he's on the field. I think the defense knows when he's on the field. He's been a threat."

But this is also likely Agholor's last chance. Because of his salary situation — it would cost the Eagles $2 million more under the cap to release him than keep him — he was essentially guaranteed one last chance.

That seems like a lot of pressure, but Agholor shrugs it off.
 
"I don't feel pressure," he said. "It's my job. My job is to focus. I'm hard on myself already. I like to be perfect.

"That's the thing about me. A lot of people want me to perfect also, but I want to be perfect. I want to be 10-for-10 in the game, catch 10 balls, no drops, that's great. But things happen and it's about bouncing back and responding. I can't let one play stop me because the next play that I catch might be the game-winner. That's my mindset.

"I've dwelled on it too long. Now I'm trying to make sure that I continue to have that next-play mentality. Because I know I'm a good receiver and I think I have great hands and when the ball comes my way, I'm going to pluck it."

How did Agholor get to this point?

He still hasn't done it on Sunday afternoons, but he legitimately does look like a different guy this summer.

"Preparation and hard work, man," he said. "It breeds results. The harder you work and the more prepared you are, (the more) you're able to play fast and you're able to get good results. I'm really excited about that and I want to continue to have those habits continue to carry me throughout the season."

Just about everybody agrees that the change in position coaches — from Greg Lewis to Mike Groh — has helped all the receivers but in particular Agholor, who always had the tools to be a good player but never could put it all together.

"Groh's always just been about wanting me to be a special player because he sees that in me," Agholor said. "So every day he coaches me hard and he expects nothing but greatness from me. I respect that from me so I try to respond every day.

"The game of football's tough, but it's for tough people and I'm a tough person. I haven't played the greatest football yet but I want to continue to work hard to play my best football. That's my mindset.

"It's just about playing fast and making plays and being prepared, and this offseason the only thing on my mind was hard work. Just work hard every day and I'm not stopping now. I started something and I'm going to finish it."

Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

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Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss Darren Sproles' upcoming retirement. Does it put the Eagles in an awkward position on game days? Why do players care so much about their ratings in Madden? Also, Barrett shares how he decided on his jersey numbers throughout his football career?

1:00 - Derrick is back! What did he do with his time off?
5:30 - Barrett spent time with his grandson ... who ate pancakes with ketchup.
10:00 - Darren Sproles says 2018 will be his final year.
15:00 - Why do players care so much about their Madden ratings?
19:30 - If you can script your career, how would you want to retire?
22:30 - How did Barrett decide on his jersey numbers?

Subscribe and rate Eagle Eye: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

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Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

One thing Andy Reid was spot on about during his long tenure with the Eagles was the importance of building around both lines. 

Big Red always made the offensive and defensive lines a priority, and during the Eagles’ stretch of deep playoff runs — from 2000 through 2009 — the O-line was anchored by guys like Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Jermane Mayberry and Todd Herremans and the D-line by Corey Simon, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Hugh Douglas.

During that 10-year stretch, the Eagles had the most wins in the NFC and the third-most wins in the NFL, and the one constant during that stretch was solid line play. 

Donovan McNabb was very good when healthy most of those seasons, and the Eagles always had good running backs and corners, but the heart of those teams was up front.

Just look at how Big Red drafted. Eight of his 11 first-round picks were linemen. After taking McNabb in 1999, all six of Reid's picks in the first half of the first round were linemen.

They obviously didn’t all work out, but Reid was committed to both lines, and Howie Roseman, then a young, rising personnel executive, was paying attention.

The Eagles have done a lot of things differently in the five years since Reid's final season here, but one thing Doug Pederson and Roseman believe in is building around the lines, and it sure paid off last year.

According to figures on salary cap website Spotrac, the Eagles in 2017 were the only team ranked among the top five in the NFL in both offensive line and defensive line spending.

And the only team that had a parade in February.

And they’re only going to spend more this year.

The Eagles will spend 22.36 percent of their 2018 cap money on the offensive line, fourth most in the league, and 28.84 percent to the defensive line, fifth most.

That’s more than half their 2018 payroll on the big guys up front.

The Jets — sixth in O-line spending, 10th in D-line — are the only other team in the top 10 in both.

Seven of the Eagles’ 10 highest-paid players last year were linemen, as are eight of their 13 projected highest-paid players in 2018.

And five of those guys — Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Vinny Curry and Jason Peters — are actually holdovers from the Reid era.

Think of them as Reid’s parting gifts to the 2017 championship team.

Creating a Super Bowl roster was a complicated process for Roseman, and to be able to make this sort of financial commitment to the two lines means you just don’t have much money left for everything else. 

The only way to make that work is to build with cheap labor elsewhere. 

And that means younger players on bargain-basement rookie contracts, cheap but productive quarterbacks and low-round picks and undrafted players with cheapo contracts excelling.

It means drafting well and making exceptional free-agent decisions without overspending.

It’s a crazy juggling act, and Roseman juggled all those things magnificentely last year.

In fact, according to Spotrac’s data, the two lines are the Eagles' only positional groups ranked even among the top 15 in the NFL.

The secondary and QB positions rank 16th in cap allocations, tight end 18th, running back 21st, wide receiver 27th, linebacker 31st and special teams 32nd.

These numbers are all based on the 53 highest-paid players currently under contract, so they will change slightly once the final roster is set, but they won’t change much.

The Eagles were very good in a lot of areas last year — really, in every area — but their offensive line was the best in football and the best in Eagles history, and the defensive line was easily one of the two- or three-best in football.

Everything the Eagles did, everything they accomplished, started up front.

Put Peters back on the O-line and add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett to the D-line with an increased role for Derek Barnett, and both lines could conceivably be even better this year.

It’s going to get harder for Roseman to keep paying the Eagles’ linemen the way he has. Once Carson Wentz signs his next contract, the Eagles’ entire salary cap balance will change. 

Those $25 million annual cap hits for one guy have a tendency to make roster decisions way more challenging.

So it will be tricky for the Eagles to re-sign Graham. He wants a fortune, and he deserves a fortune. 

But even if Roseman can’t get that done, Barnett has three more years on his rookie deal, and that’s the key to making this whole thing work. 

You can’t re-sign everybody, so if you want to remain elite, you have to draft well so you can replace the people you invariably lose.

You lose Patrick Robinson, you have Sidney Jones waiting. You lose LeGarrette Blount, there’s Corey Clement ready to go. You lose Mychal Kendricks, you hope a Nate Gerry can contribute. Trey Burton leaves, and Dallas Goedert is cheaper and better.

You get what you pay for. And the Eagles right now are paying for the best in the business.

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