Cody Kessler

Eagles failed trying to duplicate Super Bowl blueprint

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Eagles failed trying to duplicate Super Bowl blueprint

When you look at the Eagles’ Super Bowl roster, it’s remarkable how much of an impact older veteran acquisitions made on that team.

They were Band-Aids, but they were really, really good Band-Aids who all wound up riding a float up Broad Street.

Most were only here briefly. Most were near the end of their careers. Most are out of the league already or playing minor roles with their new team.

But they contributed in a huge way to the Eagles’ first championship in 57 years.

During the three-week period from March 10 to April 4 of 2017, the Eagles acquired Nick Foles, Stefen Wisniewski, Chris Long, Torrey Smith, Patrick Robinson and Tim Jernigan. LeGarrette Blount arrived in May, Corey Graham and Ronald Darby in August, Jay Ajayi in late October.

It’s no secret the Eagles’ drafting has been uneven since 2014. And uneven is putting it nicely.

But general manager Howie Roseman and the Eagles’ pro personnel department nailed those veteran acquisitions. The impact those guys made was enormous. 

Foles was Super Bowl MVP. Wiz started at left guard. Long was one of the team’s best pass rushers and locker room leaders. Robinson held down the slot and made one of the biggest plays of the postseason. Smith gave the offense a dimension of speed and was huge in the playoffs. Blount and Ajayi led the NFL’s No. 3 rushing offense. Graham and Darby were key parts of a top-10 secondary. Jernigan was a force in the middle.

Without those guys? There is no Super Bowl. There is no 41-33. There is no parade. 

The Eagles cut ties in some way, shape or form with every one of those guys, although they did bring back three of them — two of whom are still here.

Ajayi, Blount, Graham, Long and Smith are all out of football, although Ajayi hopes to play again.

Robinson is back with the Saints but is barely playing. Foles is hurt in Jacksonville. The Eagles brought Jernigan and Darby back this offseason, but both have been hurt and neither has been productive since 2017. Wisniewski came back for a bit but was released and is now with the Chiefs.

But the poor drafting has continued. The Eagles have drafted one Pro Bowler since the Lane Johnson / Zach Ertz draft in 2013, and that’s Carson Wentz, who didn’t even play in the Super Bowl.

The Eagles this past offseason again tried to use the Super Bowl blueprint, stockpiling free agents to offset the lack of homegrown talent.

The results have been dramatically different.

Consider these names: Paul Worrilow, Malik Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Vinny Curry, Zach Brown, Blake Countess, Orlando Scandrick, Cody Kessler, Johnathan Cyprien, Charles Johnson, Andre Sendejo and L.J. Fort. Along with Wisniewski, Jernigan and Darby.

Brown, Countess, Kessler, Cyprien, Johnson, Fort, Worrilow and Wisniewski are gone. Scandrick was released, then brought back out of necessity. Malik Jackson, DeSean Jackson, Darby and Jernigan have all been hurt. Curry and Sendejo are here but haven’t exactly made a big impact.

Jordan Howard has been fine and Hassan Ridgeway is eating up a lot of snaps at defensive tackle with Jernigan and Malik Jackson out. 

You can’t totally blame the front office for injuries, but when you rely on a 32-year-old as your speed receiver and he gets hurt, or when you rely on oft-injured guys like Darby and Jernigan and they get hurt, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Some of these failed moves didn’t cost the Eagles a penny. Most of them did.

But the bottom line is the Eagles’ pro scouting evaluations this year have been nowhere near what we saw two years ago, and it's reflected in their record.

Instead of forming the nucleus of a Super Bowl champion, this year’s crop so far has done very little on a 3-3 team struggling to find its way.

Let’s take a look at the Eagles’ Veteran Class of 2019.

Zach Brown: The Eagles paid Brown a guaranteed $1.4 million and made him a starting linebacker. He was released on Monday. The full $1.4 million counts against their cap.

Blake Countess: The Eagles claimed their former draft pick on waivers in May and released him in August. He counts $180,000 against their cap.

Vinny Curry: The Eagles’ one-time second-round pick returned after a year in Tampa. He counts $2.1875 million against this year’s cap.

Johnathan Cyprien: The Eagles signed Cyprien early in training camp and traded him to the Falcons a few weeks ago for Duke Riley. He counts $151,764 against the cap.

Ronald Darby: Darby was a free agent when the Eagles re-signed him to a one-year contract. He played two games before getting hurt again. He’s only played in 23 of a possible 43 games since coming here. He counts $2.825 million against the cap.

L.J. Fort.: The Eagles released Fort after the Packers game, and he signed with the Ravens, where he’s now starting for the NFL’s No. 6 defense. He counts $1.335 million against the cap.

DeSean Jackson: Jackson had a huge opener against the Redskins but got hurt a few snaps into the Week 2 game in Atlanta and hasn’t played since. The Eagles do expect him back soon, but he's been ruled out for Sunday. He counts $3.164 million against the cap.

Malik Jackson: Suffered a season-ending injury just 32 snaps into the season. He’s signed through 2021 but will be 30 in January coming off a season-ending foot injury. Cap figure is $2.8 million.

Tim Jernigan: Hasn’t played since the Atlanta game but is expected back at some point. Cap figure is $1.25 million, but he still also counts $6 million in dead money from when the Eagles declined his contract option in March.

Charles Johnson: CJ2 had caught 670 balls for 834 yards for the Vikings, but he ultimately made less of an impact than CJ1 and didn’t survive training camp. Minimal cap hit of $50,000 in dead money.

Cody Kessler: He was supposed to compete with Nate Sudfeld for the No. 2 QB job. Turns out he can’t throw a football. Counts $127,058 against the Eagles’ cap.

Orlando Scandrick: Eagles released the veteran cornerback as part of final cuts then re-signed him two weeks ago. He counts $787,647 against the cap. Because his initial deal didn’t have a bonus, he doesn’t have any dead money counting against the Eagles’ cap.

Andre Sendejo: The veteran safety is a favorite of the coaches, but he’s made more of an impact injuring his teammates than anywhere else. He has a $1.3 million cap hit.

Stefen Wisniewski: Wiz’s first go-around with the Eagles ended with a Super Bowl ring. His second ended with $958,334 in dead money.

Paul Worrilow: After missing all of last year, Worrilow rejoined the Eagles in January but was released in August with lingering knee issues. He did work out for the Eagles recently so he could be back. Because his 2019 contract didn’t have a signing bonus, he doesn’t count against the Eagles’ cap.

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Carson Wentz sits again, Josh McCown and JJ Arcega-Whiteside shine in Eagles' lightning-shortened preseason loss to Ravens

Carson Wentz sits again, Josh McCown and JJ Arcega-Whiteside shine in Eagles' lightning-shortened preseason loss to Ravens

BOX SCORE 

One quarterback was impossibly bad and another was impossibly good. And another one is just healthy.

Here’s your 10 instant observations from the lightning-shortened Eagles-Ravens preseason game Thursday night at the Linc, a 26-15 Ravens win that was called with 11:43 to go in the fourth quarter.

1. Best thing about this game? Carson Wentz didn’t get hurt. I know a lot of people think Doug Pederson should have played him at least a few series, and I understand the concerns about rust. But honestly, what’s the point? He hasn’t missed a snap in training camp, he just got two really strong days of work against a terrific Ravens defense in joint practices and he’s healthy and looks great. Remember, Wentz didn’t play in the last three preseason games his rookie year and then threw for 278 yards, two touchdowns and no INTs in his NFL debut against the Browns. After not playing in a month. As a rookie. If he’s rusty for a series or two against the Redskins — and I doubt he will be — it’s worth it to guarantee that he’s 100 percent healthy going into the game. Completely, absolutely worth it.

2. I would have cut Cody Kessler after he got sacked on 4th-and-3 in the first quarter. Doug Pederson gave Kessler every imaginable chance to succeed and to atone for his disappointing performances against the Titans and Jaguars, giving him the start with most of the starters. But a fourth-year quarterback — really no quarterback — can't let himself get sacked on fourth down. You have to have enough court awareness to at least throw the ball somewhere and give a receiver a chance to make play. Letting yourself get sacked is just giving up. Which is what the Eagles need to do now with Kessler.

3. Josh McCown got off to a little bit of a slow start, understandable for a guy who just came out of retirement and didn’t have OTAs or a training camp. His first five snaps were a fumble, three incompletions and a sack. But after that, holy cow. After that slow start he was 17-for-21 for 192 yards and two TDs — a sweet 20-yarder to JJ Arcega-Whiteside and 9 yards to tight end Alex Ellis. The 40-year-old McCown really saw the field well, made smart decisions and put the ball where he wanted. Considering that a week ago he was coaching high school football in Charlotte, it was a remarkable performance.

4. Put together instant observations Nos. 2 and 3, and there is absolutely no reason on Earth for Kessler to still be on the roster by the time you wake up Friday.

5. This is why I’m concerned about Jake Elliott. We know he has a huge leg — he’s made 52- and 53-yard field goals this preseason — but he’s also missed from 40 and now 41 yards, and those are kicks you just have to make. This is his third year with the same snapper and holder. Calm night. There’s just no excuse. Elliott got off to a slow start last year — he was 11-for-15 through the Carolina game — and then went 15-for-16 the rest of the way. So we’ll see. I’m not saying cut him or bring in other kickers for workouts. Just concerned. Just something to keep an eye on.

6. What Arcega-Whiteside did Thursday night — 8-for-104 and a terrific TD catch — is what he’s been doing every day since the start of OTAs. I know conventional wisdom is that with Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and DeSean Jackson he won’t play on offense. But knowing Pederson and having seen what this kid can do, I’m telling you, they’re going to find a role for him, even if it’s just situationally on third down or in the red zone. The kid can flat play.

7. Josh Adams has virtually no chance of making this team. But I give the kid credit. He’s gotten better. He’s made huge strides as a receiver, and instead of looking at Adams as a guy who led the Eagles in rushing last year but won’t make the 53-man rister this year, look at him as a 22-year-old second-year undrafted running back who’s getting better. Another year on the practice squad wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Bucks County native.

8. Forget Corey Clement’s rushing numbers. They were OK (7-25). More important than the stats, he looked quick, strong and healthy. Pederson doesn’t gameplan in preseason games, the Eagles had no passing game to speak of in the first half and the Ravens pretty much knew when he was running, so throw out the numbers. The main thing is he looked fine in his 2019 preseason debut, his first game since he tore his ACL last December. I know a lot of people don’t think Clement will have a major role on offense or that he is even in jeopardy of getting cut. Wrong and wrong. With his ability to block, run and catch — and play special teams — he’s going to have a role.

9. All Greg Ward has done since camp started is catch everything. He’s done it at practice, he’s done it in games, and to me he’s earned a roster spot. The Eagles obviously like the former Houston quarterback. This is his third training camp here. Here’s the thing: Mack Hollins is a better special teamer, and the biggest priority for a fifth wide out is special teams. But if a couple receivers get hurt, you’d rather have Ward available than Hollins. Then you see the Eagles acquire Rudy Ford on Thursday, and the third-year safety has played nearly 500 special teams snaps over the last two years, so that’s a move that’s made with special teams in mind. Also keep in mind that Hollins is an outside receiver and Ward is mainly a slot, and because of Arcega-Whiteside, the Eagles have more of a need for a backup slot. Hollins and Ward have value but in different ways. Interesting call for Pederson and Howie Roseman.

10. Did I forget to mention how bad Cody Kessler was?

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Cody Kessler back at practice, but is it too late?

Cody Kessler back at practice, but is it too late?

Cody Kessler has gone from competing with Nate Sudfeld for the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback job to clinging to a roster spot.

Such is life in the NFL.

Kessler returned to practice Monday, just four days after suffering a concussion seven plays into the Eagles’ preseason game against the Jaguars in Jacksonville.

According to NFL concussion policy, if he experiences no additional symptoms 24 hours after practice — which is early tomorrow afternoon — he’ll formally be cleared out of concussion protocol.

It was a quick recovery, but it may be too late.

With Kessler’s struggles, the Eagles adding veteran Josh McCown and rookie Clayton Thorson putting together a strong preseason performance against the Jags, Kessler is on thin ice.

And he knows it.

I can’t think, ‘What’s the plan here, what’s going to happen,’ and start playing all these scenarios in my head, which is tough to do,” Kessler said after practice. “I’ve just got to come out and practice, keep going, getting ready to play Thursday and hopefully next week and then just go from there.

Doug Pederson was clear before training camp that there was open competition between Sudfeld and Kessler for the No. 2 job.

But since Sudfeld broke his wrist in the preseason opener, Kessler has only hurt his chances. 

He was a combined 4-for-10 for 23 yards in two preseason games before suffering the concussion in Jacksonville.

I was looking forward to that game, I was excited, had that first drive moving a little bit, had a little rhythm going, and then obviously things that were out of my control happened and you’ve kind of just got to go with it,” Kessler said. “The best thing is I’ve known Josh for a long time, he’s one of the closest people to me through football that I’ve met. I understood it with me being out.

Kessler and McCown were teammates with the Browns in 2016. Both began the season backing up Robert Griffin III, who ironically was at the NovaCare Complex as well on Monday as he starts his second season with the Ravens.

Now what? Sudfeld won’t be back for a while, McCown just came out of retirement and Thorson is a rookie fifth-round pick.

But Kessler hasn’t done anything to take ownership of a roster spot, and as of now, he’s on the outside looking in.

You can’t think about all those scenarios,” he said. “You can play out different things that could happen: ‘What if this, what if that, what are they going to do,’ trying to think about that, but at the end of the day it’s completely up to the front office, and my role is to come out here and compete and hopefully Thursday get a chance to compete again.

The Eagles finish the preseason Thursday at the Linc against the Ravens and a week from Thursday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford against the Jets.

With Carson Wentz not expected to play in either game and Sudfeld hurt, Kessler should get a chance to redeem himself. But with Thorson and McCown both likely to play extensively, it’s not a lock.

I’ve seen a lot of things happen,” Kessler said. “My rookie year in Cleveland with Josh, we had RG(3), who’s here also today, he got hurt, Josh got hurt, I come in, something else happened - we had like five or six quarterbacks by the end of the year. Stuff like that is crazy. … I felt like I put a really good camp together. Unfortunate really didn’t get to show that Thursday. It sucks, something you can’t control, but just trying to pick up where I left off and look forward to this week.

Kessler is with his third team in three years, and he’s running out of time to give the Eagles a reason to keep him.

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