Corey Graham

Looking at the wild, injury-plagued year for Eagles' secondary

Looking at the wild, injury-plagued year for Eagles' secondary

The Eagles overcame a ton of injuries during the 2017 season on their way to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, but the 2018 season was a lot different. 

For a while, all their injuries happened to the same position group. 

By the time the season ended in New Orleans on Sunday, the Eagles had incredibly used 15 defensive backs on defense during the season. No team in the NFL used more and the NFL average was 11.8. 

Of the five starting defensive backs this season, only Malcolm Jenkins remained by season’s end. Three of the five were on IR. 

So here’s a look at all 15 defensive backs the Eagles used this season with their snaps in the regular season and in the playoffs:

Malcolm Jenkins: 1039/141
Jenkins was clearly the glue this season. It’s scary to think about where this team would have been without his play and leadership. He played every single defensive snap in the regular season and playoffs. He was very deservingly named to his third-career Pro Bowl for his efforts this season. He’s under contract for two more seasons. 

Corey Graham: 656/141
Graham was close to retiring before this season, but ended up playing the second most snaps of everyone in this secondary. That was not ideal and Jim Schwartz admitted as much. But after Graham’s fatal error on 4th-and-15 in Nashville, he actually played better. Safe money is on the 33-year-old retiring this offseason. 

Rasul Douglas: 543/118
By the end of the season, Douglas had done enough to warrant serious consideration to be a starting cornerback next season. Sure, he had a shaky start to his season, but ended up leading the team with three interceptions and was a really good tackler. He dealt with some minor injuries too, but played in every game. The defense struggled when he was forced to leave in the divisional round. 

Ronald Darby: 542/0
One of the initial starters, Darby tore his ACL in Week 10 against the Cowboys. The Eagles have an interesting decision to make on Darby. He’s still just 25 and is a free agent, but is also coming off a serious injury. 

Avonte Maddox: 540/135
Maybe Maddox started to get picked on some late in the season, but he had a tremendous rookie season, especially for a fourth-round pick. He played in 13 games as a nickel corner, safety and outside corner. The Eagles missed him when Maddox was out for three games with a knee injury. It’s likely Maddox will be a big part of the secondary in Year 2; we just don’t know where yet. 

Jalen Mills: 457/0
Another starter when the 2018 season began, Mills hurt his foot in London against the Jaguars and was never able to return. In fact, it seemed like his foot kept getting worse and worse. Mills is entering Year 4 in 2019 and is still a Jim Schwartz favorite, so don’t count on him going to the bench. 

Cre’Von LeBlanc: 351/108
Strap was one of the greatest surprises of the 2018 season and the Eagles might have found a hidden gem. They claimed him off waivers on Nov. 5 and he eventually become the Eagles’ nickel corner. He played so well that he ought to be the frontrunner to win that job next season. His INT in the Saints playoff game was incredible. 

Sidney Jones: 322/0 
A really disappointing season for the former second-round pick. After missing most of his rookie season as he recovered from an Achilles tear, he played in just nine games this season because of hamstring injuries. The lasting image of his 2018 season will be from the first Saints game, when Drew Brees kept picking on the injured corner. But it’s too early to call him a bust. Jones is still just 22 and will be in the mix for a job next spring and summer. 

Tre Sullivan: 219/87
Sullivan ended up being another pleasant surprise. He was on the initial roster, but then spent a month on the practice squad before rejoining the 53. By the end of the season, the Eagles felt comfortable enough to use him frequently at safety while Jenkins slid into the box. Big strides from Sullivan this season. 

Rodney McLeod: 162/0
The Eagles lost McLeod to an ACL injury in the third game of the season and he was missed the rest of the year, but stayed as involved as he could. The Eagles might ask him to restructure his contract, but they could definitely use him back next season. 

De’Vante Bausby: 147/0
There was a time in the spring where Bausby was getting first-team nickel reps, but he didn’t make the Eagles’ initial roster and didn’t last long on the practice squad the first time. Eventually in November, the Eagles added him to the practice squad and called him up on Nov. 17. But he was waived on Dec. 24 after a few subpar performances. He started against the Giants along with Chandon Sullivan. That really happened. 

Dexter McDougle: 106/0
Remember this guy? He was actually on the team this season and was briefly the Eagles’ starting nickel corner. He was on the roster for just a month, though, and was released to make room for LeBlanc. McDougle’s performance in London was awful and he was released before the next game. 

Chandon Sullivan: 87/0
Thanks to other injuries, Sullivan was promoted from the practice squad on Oct. 25 and was on the roster until he was waived on Dec. 24. In those two months, he played in five games and had one start. Even Sullivan suffered an injury this season. 

Deiondre’ Hall: 6/0
The Eagles traded a seventh-round pick for Hall, who was primarily a special teams player for the Eagles. It was probably a little telling that the Eagles refused to play Hall at safety even when they had a need for healthy defensive backs. He seemed to be a pretty important teams player though. 

Josh Hawkins: 0/21  
Hawkins was signed to the practice squad on Dec. 11 and was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 24. His only playing time came in the divisional round game, when he was thrust into action against the Saints and Brees immediately threw to his side for a touchdown. Tough spot for the young defensive back. But that’s how things went all season. 

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A recap of all 17 pending Eagles unrestricted free agents

A recap of all 17 pending Eagles unrestricted free agents

At the end of every season, players lament the fact that it’s the last time this exact NFL team will be together. That holds true for the 2018 Eagles. There’s going to be plenty of turnover going into next season. 

We’ve already explored the Nick Foles situation (see story), but the Eagles also have 17 players who will become unrestricted free agents on March 13 at 4 p.m. The Eagles will have exclusive negotiating rights with these players until March 11. 

Here’s a rundown of every Eagles player set to become a free agent in March: 

Brandon Graham
We all know about Graham. He’s probably the most high-profile free agent the Eagles are going to have. He’ll be 31 by next season after spending the first nine of his NFL seasons in Philadelphia. The Eagles would probably like to have him back but the price needs to be right. This is his last chance to earn some real money in this league, so he might not be willing to give a big discount. He had just four sacks this season and has never gone over 9 1/2, so not sure exactly what type of market he’ll see. Spotrac estimates his market value at five years, $80 million, which breaks down to $15.8 annually. That might be too much for the Birds. 

Golden Tate 
On Monday, Tate said he would like to be back in Philadelphia. He liked it here during his 10 games in an Eagles uniform, but his production didn’t exactly match what a lot of us expected. Another 30-year-old player, Spotrac estimates he’ll get a contract worth around $10 million per season. With Alshon Jeffery under contract for a $14M cap hit this year and Nelson Agholor right now on his fifth-year option, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles spending that much on Tate. I guess there’s a chance, though. 

Jordan Hicks 
Of all the free agents on this list, Hicks might be the toughest to figure out. When he’s on the field, he’s a good player. But he can’t stay on the field. His entire four-year career has been riddled with injuries and I don’t know how any team can really commit to him. If the Eagles want him back, they will probably be able to get a bargain. But can they really depend on him? It’s a tricky situation. 

Jay Ajayi 
Even when the Eagles traded for Ajayi during the 2017 season, there were already serious concerns about his knees. Now, he tore his ACL and is set to become a free agent. He was a good player in Philly, but they need to upgrade the RB position and I’m not sure this is the way to do it. They have a few of these guys coming back from injuries. 

Ronald Darby
Darby is another one. When healthy, he was probably the Eagles’ best cornerback, but the Eagles can’t just sign a bunch of guys who are hurt. Of the injured free agents, though, I’d probably feel the most comfortable with Darby returning. I know the Eagles shored up their cornerback group with Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox and Cre’Von LeBlanc and Jalen Mills should be back next season, but adding Darby couldn’t hurt. We’ll see how much other teams are interested. Maybe if a market doesn’t develop, he can come back on a prove-it deal. 

Haloti Ngata
He was here on a one-year deal worth $3 million in 2018. He had a slow start to his season but did play better down the stretch. The Eagles need to upgrade the DT position and Ngata is about to turn 35. 

Mike Wallace
He was supposed to be the speed guy opposite Jeffery, but he didn’t get a single catch before breaking his fibula. At 33, he made $4 million last season. The Eagles still need a speed receiver, but I have my doubts it could be Wallace. But he really seemed to enjoy being here and if he still wants to play, maybe the Eagles see if they can get him on the cheap. 

D.J. Alexander 
An injury kept him out of a good portion of the end of the season, but he did return for the New Orleans game. He didn’t play on defense this year but was a big special teams guy. He was a special teams Pro Bowler with the Chiefs back in 2016. The Eagles claimed him off waivers earlier this season. He’s still just 27. 

Jordan Matthews
Our old friend Jordan Matthews came back during this season and actually made an impact. He had a few big plays. I don’t think he did enough to warrant a big contract, so maybe he’s back. The problem is that he’s not much of a special teamer. But he and Carson Wentz seem to play well together. 

Darren Sproles
I think if Sproles wants to come back next season, the Eagles will bring him back. It’s really up to him. He has to decide if he wants to give himself one more season to end his career better. If the Eagles bring him back, they can’t rely on him to be anything close to a featured guy. He just needs to be a role player who can still help the offense when healthy. 

Richard Rodgers
The Eagles have Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert established as their top two tight ends, so unless they draft another one, they’ll need a veteran to fill out the room. Rodgers is a possibility. Maybe Will Tye, who was on the practice squad, could also fill that role. 

LaRoy Reynolds
A big special teams contributor who played sparingly on defense. There’s a chance he’s back, but he’s also 28. We’ll see if the Eagles draft any linebackers this season. That could be bad for him or Alexander even if they sign a minimum deal. 

Chance Warmack
He barely played in 2018 and was inactive for a lot of the season. This hasn’t been the reclamation project the Eagles hoped it would be. The former first-round pick got paid a lot of money to sit on the bench in 2018. With Brandon Brooks’ injury, the Eagles might need to get an interior lineman, but I think the Warmack experiment might be over. 

Corey Graham
Everyone is going to remember that 4th-and-15 in Tennessee, but Graham actually played pretty well down the stretch. He almost retired after the 2017 season, so I have a feeling he’s going to hang ‘em up this time. 

Paul Worrilow
He tore his ACL in the Spring but stayed around the team all year. He was a staple of early, early pregame warmups, running around the field. He wasn’t a lock to make the roster last year. The Eagles have some decisions to make at linebacker. 

Chris Maragos 
We don’t know the extent it, but Maragos had another knee surgery late in this season and missed the entire 2018 season. He’s a great leader and a great guy to have around the team, but there seems to be a good chance his playing days (at least with the Eagles) are over. 

Rick Lovato
The Eagles' long-snapper did a good job this year and should be back for the 2019 season. No reason to split up that group of specialists. 

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Roob's 10 observations: Jason Peters' future, Nick Foles stats, give Sidney Jones a chance

Roob's 10 observations: Jason Peters' future, Nick Foles stats, give Sidney Jones a chance

A bust at 22? Washed up at 36? More astounding Nick Foles facts and Corey Graham's bounce-back.

It's all here in this week's Roob's 10 random Eagles observations! 

1. After watching Jason Peters last Sunday, I want him back at left tackle next year. I don’t care how old he is, I don’t care what his salary is, I don’t care that he left a couple games early during the regular season. The way Peters neutralized Khalil Mack, one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushers, tells me there’s plenty left in Peters’ tank. Doug Pederson has handled Peters perfectly this year, giving him plenty of time off during the week and saving him for games. And Peters has responded, playing through a couple significant injuries — a torn biceps and a nagging quad — to help the Eagles get to the conference semifinal round. At some point, it’ll be time for Peters to hang ‘em up. I don’t think he’s there yet.

2. In the wake of Cody Parkey’s missed field goal Sunday, I was thinking about David Akers, who owns the NFL record of 19 consecutive postseason field goals. I know people still blame him for the Packers playoff loss in 2010 — he missed a 34-yarder and a 41-yarder and the Eagles lost by five — but don’t forget that after the 2003 conference semifinal win over the Packers (the 4th-and-26 game) and until the 2008 NFC Championship Game, he didn’t miss a postseason kick. A 19-kick streak in the postseason is remarkable. Still the greatest kicker in Eagles history.

3. Hey, please don’t ever call a 22-year-old a bust, OK? Sidney Jones has been rehabbing and injured since he got here, but defining any football player by what he does and who he is at 22 years old is silly. Mike Quick caught 10 passes as a rookie. Brian Westbrook barely played. Brandon Graham and Nelson Agholor were supposedly busts. Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown weren’t even starters until their third seasons. I could go on all day. It takes time to find your way in any job. I probably wasn’t a very good sportswriter as a 22-year-old covering high school tennis for the Gloucester County Times. There’s a reason Jones was a second-round pick. Give him a chance before you give up on him.

4. I found it interesting that rookie Josh Adams, who had averaged 14.3 carries over the last six games of the regular season, was only on the field for one play Sunday in Chicago. The Eagles were pretty clear that Adams had won the job as the team’s lead back after he had big games against the Giants and Redskins. But he averaged only 2.7 yards per carry the last three regular-season games and Pederson went with Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood instead against the Bears. I’m OK with this. Adams has looked a little tentative lately, and the playoffs isn't the time to let a young kid gain experience. I also imagine the Eagles are worried about Adams’ ball security. Unusual for a team to essentially bench its leading rusher for the playoffs, but in this case, it does make sense. Will be interesting to see if Adams has a role Sunday in New Orleans. 

5. This is a truly astounding Foles fact: Even though he didn’t become the Eagles’ starter until Week 14, he’s recorded the third-most wins among all NFL quarterbacks this year over 10-win teams. Foles has beaten the 13-3 Rams, 11-5 Texans and 12-4 Bears this year. Only Tom Brady (4-0) and Jared Goff (4-2) have more wins over 10-win teams, and both started all year. In all, Foles has won six straight starts over 10-win teams, including postseason wins last year over the Falcons, Vikings and Patriots.

6. One more Foles nugget: He has played five postseason games now. His second-half numbers in those five games: 63 for 86 (73 percent) for 667 yards, 7 TDs, 0 INTs and a 122.6 passer rating. That’s highest in the last 25 years (and probably ever). Second highest? Drew Brees with a 110.1 rating. 

7. I really like the matchup Sunday between Zach Ertz and Saints safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams. Ertz hasn’t been putting up those crazy numbers lately — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since the ball has been spread around more since Foles took over — but I think this could be a big game for him and Dallas Goedert.

8. The Eagles have 10 guys on the roster in their 30s and all 10 have been contributing:

30 — Golden Tate, Brandon Graham
31 — Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Kelce
33 — Michael Bennett, Corey Graham, Chris Long
34 — Haloti Ngata
35 — Darren Sproles
36 — Jason Peters

That really speaks volumes about Pederson’s feel for his players and his knack for prioritizing classroom work over practice time later in the year, especially for the older guys. Pederson believes getting guys off their feet as much as possible this time of year is crucial. Wednesday practices the last month and a half have been easy walkthroughs. It’s paying off now with a playoff run and a large contingent of 30-something guys who have had a big role in it. One other guy turns 30 a week from Sunday. That’s Foles. He’s been contributing a little bit, too.

9. Since 2011, five rookie tight ends in the NFL have caught a postseason touchdown pass. Three of the five are Eagles: Ertz against the Saints in 2013, Richard Rodgers with the Packers against the Cowboys in 2014 and Goedert Sunday in Chicago.

10a. Graham has quietly rebounded very nicely from that disastrous 4th-and-15 against the Titans. The Eagles didn’t sign Graham until a week into training camp, and maybe that had something to do with his slow start. Then he got hurt and didn’t play for a month. But during the Eagles’ 6-1 stretch, he’s played 454 of a possible 456 defensive snaps and he’s looked like a different guy. The Eagles definitely miss Rodney McLeod, but Graham — like so many guys in the secondary — has really picked up his game.

10b. I wouldn’t be shocked if all four road teams win this weekend.

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