Cameron Johnston

NFL free agency 2019: A comprehensive look at Eagles' special teamers

NFL free agency 2019: A comprehensive look at Eagles' special teamers

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp continue the 2019 edition of Stay or Go, trying to figure out the future of the Eagles.

Today, they’ll look at the specialists. 

Jake Elliott

Roob: The PAT miss in Dallas was brutal, but Elliott is very good — 86 percent on field goal attempts in his career (13th highest all-time), perfect in the postseason (8 for 8), an NFL all-time-best 22 for 24 in his career from 40 to 49 yards (91 percent) and 19 for 21 in the fourth quarter (91 percent), eighth best all-time. 

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Elliott is an exclusive rights free agent, which means he can’t negotiate with other teams. If the Eagles tender him, he doesn’t have anywhere else to go, so once he signs the tender, he’ll have a one-year deal at a minimum salary or the Eagles can just sign him to a different deal. That stuff is boring and it doesn’t really matter. Just know he isn’t going anywhere. Elliott has been pretty good in his two years in Philly and has made all eight of his postseason field goals. He seems to be clutch. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: Percentages-wise, Elliott is roughly league average on field goals and extra points. The misses inside 40 yards are frustrating, but he’s been a weapon from distance and in clutch situations. Elliott is an exclusive rights free agent, too, which pretty much means the Eagles can pay him peanuts for another year. This is not the time to get cute and look elsewhere.

Verdict: Stays

Cameron Johnston

Roob: The Eagles lost the greatest punter in franchise history and may have landed one that’s even better. Never thought I’d say that, but Johnston averaged a franchise-record 48.2 yards per punt this year, the 22nd-highest average in NFL history, and although he wasn’t technically a rookie, his average was fourth-highest ever by a punter 26 or younger. The Eagles are lucky to have him.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: It wasn’t technically his rookie season, but Johnston was great as a first-year player. He had a gross punting average of 48.1 and a net of 42.7 in 2018 — both were single-season franchise records. And he also got better with directional punts. He’s under contract. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: He needs to improve his directional kicking, for sure, yet there was a lot to like about Johnston’s first season. Finished third in the NFL with a 48.1 average per punt and tied for third with a 42.7 net average. He also tied for second with seven touchbacks and had the fewest punts of the eight players with six or more, so there’s work to be done. Still a strong debut overall.

Verdict: Stays

Rick Lovato

Roob: There aren’t any stats for long snappers, but Lovato seems to get the ball there just fine, so he must be doing a good job. Lovato is following a legend in Jon Dorenbos, but he’s done a nice job since replacing Dorenbos late in the 2016 season and there’s certainly no reason to change now.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Lovato is a restricted free agent, but there won’t be a ton of teams banging down the door. And he really …  you know … long-snapped well in 2018. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Lovato is a restricted free agent, though I’m not sure what the alternative is here. He’s been getting the job done the last two seasons and built a rapport with the kickers. He’s 26. Long snappers tend not to move around a lot, and the pay sort of is what it is, usually maxing out around $1 million per year for the established guys. No real reason to expect any change.

Verdict: Stays

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Projecting which Eagles player is next to make the Pro Bowl

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AP Images

Projecting which Eagles player is next to make the Pro Bowl

In one hallway in the NovaCare Complex there are giant Fathead-like images of every Eagles Pro Bowler and the years they made the team. 

It only counts the Pro Bowls as Eagles, so, for instance, a guy like Haloti Ngata didn’t retroactively get put on the wall when he signed here. But there are, by my count, 10 current Eagles on the wall: Brandon Brooks, Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, Nick Foles, Malcolm Jenkins, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles and Carson Wentz. 

There are no new entries for the wall this year as Cox, Brooks, Ertz, Jenkins and Kelce had all made a Pro Bowl before. 

A few times a year, I’ll find myself in that hallway and ask a fellow media member, “Who is the next guy on the wall?” It’s something I like doing and it probably annoys my fellow reporters, which makes me like doing it more. 

Anyway, in honor of this year’s Pro Bowl on Sunday, here are my top five guesses for the next Eagle to make his first Pro Bowl and get added to the wall:  

Alshon Jeffery 

His last Pro Bowl appearance was in 2013 when he was still with the Bears, but Jeffery clearly has the talent of a Pro Bowler, although his numbers in his first two seasons with the Eagles have been modest. In the two years, he’s averaged 61 catches, 816 yards and 7.5 touchdowns per season. Another year like that and he won’t be a Pro Bowler. But he played through a torn rotator cuff in 2017 and then missed three games to start 2018 because of it. If he can stay healthy and play a full season with a healthy Carson Wentz, there’s a good chance he could take a spot in the annual All-Star showcase. 

Michael Bennett 

I actually think Bennett should be a Pro Bowler this year. Olivier Vernon replaced Khalil Mack in the game and the case was really much stronger for Bennett. Vernon played just 11 games in 2018. Meanwhile, Bennett had nine sacks and was the best defensive end on a playoff team. Oh well. This year will snap Bennett’s streak of Pro Bowls after he made the last three in Seattle. If he’s back in 2019, he should start the whole season and could get to double-digit sacks for the second time in his career. 

Nigel Bradham 

After a slow start in 2018, we saw Bradham really pick it up toward the end of the season, even with that broken hand. Even if the Eagles get Jordan Hicks to come back, Bradham has to be the top linebacker, which means he doesn’t leave the field. Once that happened last year, he really started to play well. It’s tough to make this team as a linebacker though. This year’s are Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner and then Leighton Vader Esch subbed in for Kuechly. Tough competition. But if Bradham can be consistently good for a full season, he might get some recognition. 

Cameron Johnston 

Yeah, I’m giving you the punter. Because in his first NFL season, Johnston had a gross average of 48.1 (third in the NFL) and a net average of 42.7 (fourth in the NFL) and both were single-season franchise records. The problem is that the guy clearly in Johnston’s way in Seattle punter (and fellow Australian) Michael Dickson, who was drafted in the fifth round, put up even better numbers in his rookie season. But Johnston is good and young and I’d bet on him being good for a while. 

Derek Barnett 

He has just 7 1/2 sacks through the first two years of his career, but he was at least a starter in Year 2 and we’ve seen flashes of why the Eagles made him the No. 14 pick a couple years ago. His second season was off to a promising start before he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 4. His stat line says he had 2 1/2 sacks in six games, but he was healthy for four of them, so I think he was on pace for a nearly double-digit sack season. Granted, there’s some more projection in this one, but Barnett still has two more years left on his rookie contract (plus a fifth-year option) and is still just 22 years old. He has a shot. 

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Eagles injury update: Tim Jernigan and Jordan Hicks return in limited fashion

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USA Today Images

Eagles injury update: Tim Jernigan and Jordan Hicks return in limited fashion

As we have been nearing the end of a long season, Doug Pederson took his foot off the pedal on Wednesday. Instead of a normal day of practice, the Eagles instead held a walkthrough. 

This comes after a Dallas game where the defense played nearly 100 snaps and after two consecutive lengthy flights to and from road trips. 

Pederson said he wants to “make sure our guys are fresh for Sunday.” 

Because of the walkthrough, today’s official injury report is an estimation based on what would be likely if the team held a full practice: 

Did not practice: Carson Wentz (back), Michael Bennett (foot), Alshon Jeffery (illness), Sidney Jones (hamstring), Isaac Seumalo (pec)

Limited: Fletcher Cox (hip), Zach Ertz (ankle), Jordan Hicks (calf), Tim Jernigan (back), Cameron Johnston (back), D.J. Alexander (hamstring)

Full: Stefen Wisniewski (thumb)

Some thoughts: 

• Good sign that Jernigan and Hicks are listed as limited. We haven’t seen Jernigan in the last two games after his return against the Giants when he played 20 snaps. He’s been dealing with back spasms. If they could get him back on the field for these last two games it would help. 

Hicks has missed the last four games with a calf injury he suffered in New Orleans. Without him, Nigel Bradham has taken over that role and has been playing well. Hicks’ return might hurt Bradham, but Hicks is still an important part of the defense when he’s on the field. The possibility of getting two starters back for a must-win game with playoff implications is a big deal. 

• No surprise that Wentz was listed among the guys who didn’t practice. Pederson, when asked this morning, said Wentz would do the same amount he did last week and Wentz didn’t practice last week. He has a stress fracture in his back, so the only thing the Eagles can do is give him rest. It’s not like it’s an injury where they have to get him back slowly. The back fracture just needs time to heal

• Bennett has been missing practice for a few weeks with that foot injury but has been able to play through it. That’s unlikely to change this week. It’s just about getting him to Sunday each week. 

• Jones and Seumalo seem unlikely to play this week. Without Seumalo, Wisniewksi played pretty well against the Rams. 

• Cox hurt his hip in the Rams game and needed to leave briefly before returning. He’s limited today, but I can’t imagine this injury would keep him out or even limit his workload on Sunday. The Eagles need him and he knows it. 

• A few new injuries: Ertz, Johnston and Alexander. Not sure when Ertz hurt his ankle, but it presumably happened in the game. This game on Sunday is to keep the season alive, so unless his foot is falling off, he’s going to play. 

• Wisniewski was seen leaving the locker room today with a wrap on his left hand, but he should be fine to play through the injury. 

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