Doug Pederson

15 leftover Eagles notes and observations from 2019 NFL owners meetings

15 leftover Eagles notes and observations from 2019 NFL owners meetings

Now that I’m back from Phoenix and the annual NFL owners meetings, it’s time to clean out my notebook. 

First, here are the major stories from covering the meetings. Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson all spoke during the week.  

Explaining why Eagles added so many older players

Eagles will host Ravens for joint practices this summer

Optimism Wentz will be ready for OTAs

5 tidbits from Pederson’s hour with reporters

Is kelly green still in the works?

Eagles are preparing for Wentz’s big deal

Lurie explains why they let Foles free

Pederson, Wentz need to keep offense balanced

OK, now that we got all that out of the way, now it’s time to get to some other notes and observations that are left over. Sometimes leftovers are the best. 

1. The Eagles submitted a proposal to change the tradition that has the Cowboys and Lions hosting Thanksgiving games every year. The proposal, which was withdrawn before the owners meetings kicked off, would have still allowed the Cowboys and Lions to play every Thanksgiving, but would make them alternate between home and away games. 

Lurie explained they submitted the rule not to tinker with tradition but on the terms of competitive balance. It may have been viewed as petty for the Eagles to submit a rule that would hurt the Cowboys, but Lurie is right. That’s a decided advantage that those two teams don’t have to travel on short weeks like the teams who have to go to them. The Eagles have played in Detroit and Dallas on Thanksgiving in recent years and there are rumors they’ll be in Minnesota this coming Thanksgiving. 

“There wasn’t enough support at this point, but you have to start the conversation somewhere,” Lurie said. “On behalf of our fans, we start that conversation.” 

2. The biggest rule change to come out of these meetings was to make pass interference reviewable whether it was called or not. This rule change proposal wasn’t even on the docket, but things moved quickly and Lurie was at the forefront of getting it passed. He spoke to the group of owners and stressed the importance of integrity and getting the big-impact plays correct. 

“You’re asking people to devote their heart and soul,” Lurie said. “You’re asking your players, your coaches and your fans to devote [their] heart and soul to it. … If you’re asking people to deliver their emotions to the product you’re presenting, then you owe it to everybody you’re presenting it to, to be as accurate as humanly possible.”

I didn’t realize how big of a proponent Lurie is of expanding replay. He said he even supported Bill Belichick’s proposal a couple years ago that would have expanded it to every play. 

It also seems like Lurie is well established as an influential leader among the owners. He’s owned his team for just about 25 years and the organization is one of the most respected in the league. He isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. 

3. This is the second year in a row that the biggest rule change to come out of these meetings wasn’t even a proposal going in. Last year it was the helmet rule; this year it was replay. Lurie said he thinks the two pillars of the NFL should be player safety and integrity. Based on how quickly coaches and owners worked to get these two rules accepted in consecutive years, he’s not alone in that belief.  

4. Got a chance to chat with Frank Reich on Monday night. To let you know how humble of a guy he is, I congratulated him on his team’s success last season and he responded, “Thanks … we got off to a slow start.” They did. The Colts were 1-5, but finished with a 10-6 record and then beat their division rival in the wild-card round. Nothing against Mike Groh, but I think the Eagles just miss having Reich around. 

Before the Colts played the Titans on Sunday night in Week 17 for a chance to get into the playoffs, Reich said he was watching the Eagles’ situation, hoping for his former team to get in first. Both ended up getting into the playoffs and winning a game. 

5. When asked about players who might not be ready for OTAs, Pederson mentioned that it will be a chance for younger players to get more reps. He named a few: Matt Pryor, Sidney Jones and Tre Sullivan. 

• Pryor —> Brandon Brooks 

• Jones —> Jalen Mills/Ronald Darby 

• Sullivan —> Rodney McLeod  

6. Something Lurie said in his lengthy opening statement caught my attention. He said Pederson’s coaching job in 2018 was “as impressive as the year we won the Super Bowl.” 

Lurie has been impressed by Pederson’s resiliency and stoicism in the face of adversity. There has been plenty of it in his three years as head coach.  

7. But Pederson wasn’t perfect in 2018. In fact, he admitted he probably wasn’t as aggressive in certain situations as he might have been the previous year. I’d expect that to change in the coming season. 

8. Since the meetings ended early again this year, the commissioner’s press conference and the competition committee press conference got molded into one. It was convenient if the league would have rather talked about a rule change than one of its most influential owners’ getting arrested for soliciting prostitution. But maybe that’s just the conspiracy theorist in me. Anyway, eventually Roger Goodell was asked about Robert Kraft and said Kraft will be subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy but not until all the facts are gathered. 

9. Pederson was asked about hiring women for coaching positions in the NFL and said he’s totally on-board. It came up because Bruce Arians was very outspoken about gender not mattering and the Bucs recently hired two female assistants. 

“If someone’s qualified, if a woman is qualified to handle a position, then I would be all for it,” Pederson said. “Right now, my staff is full obviously. But I’m encouraged by the direction in which we’re going.”

This is going to be a slow progress. The NFL has been a boys club for a long time, but it’s encouraging to see two of the top coaches in the league speak out in favor of hiring women in the NFL.

10. It’s encouraging that the Eagles are still completely committed to their approach with analytics. Lurie said they’re “obsessed” with it. But he also mentioned it’s not enough to just have raw data — the important part of the puzzle is understanding how to use it. I also like that he wants more of that data accessible to the public. He also (wisely) mentioned the rise of legal gambling in that explanation. It’s so refreshing to hear professional sports leagues and teams acknowledge that gambling is a big part of fandom. 

11. Lurie seemed to like the idea of the NFL’s international expansion. The Eagles played in London in 2018 and he is open to playing in Mexico and even China in the future … but he won’t give up a home game. 

12. When talking about the Michael Bennett trade, Pederson mentioned that new defensive tackle Malik Jackson will play on third downs. That’s an important development because it means the Eagles will keep Brandon Graham at defensive end in those situations. The Eagles’ starting defensive end can also be their best on third downs. 

13. The Eagles have been in a unique quarterback situation in the last couple of seasons, but maybe this is the year they start drafting QBs again. Pederson once said he’d like to draft quarterbacks every year and develop them. Lurie this week seemed to be on board with that idea. Pederson said the Day 3 crop of quarterbacks is “really good.” 

14. My favorite part of the owners meetings, and I think I say this every year, are the families who just happen to be on vacation at the same resort while it’s going on. The resort is almost always near-full with NFL folks, but imagine being poolside and John Elway just strolls by. Has to be a little confusing. 

15. You’ve probably already seen plenty of images of Pederson and his Roll-A-Bout in Phoenix. He had a surgery to get a bone spur shaved on his left ankle. It had been rubbing his Achilles and the surgery was preventative before a more serious Achilles tear. He’s in the boot for 10 weeks total but has just four more weeks of non weight-bearing. He says he’ll be good to go for OTAs, but he’ll have to be careful when he’s on the field. At the owners meetings reception, I sat next to Pederson for a short chat. Poor guy couldn’t get away. 

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Onus on Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz to balance out Eagles' offense

Onus on Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz to balance out Eagles' offense

PHOENIX — There are going to be a lot of mouths to feed in the Eagles’ offense in 2019.

It’ll be up to Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz to feed them.

After all, the Eagles’ offense seems to be at its best when it stays balanced.

As far as problems go, having a bunch of offensive weapons who catch the ball is a pretty good one to have. But since signing DeSean Jackson, the Eagles do have to find ways to get the ball to five very talented pass-catchers this season, while making sure egos don’t get in the way.

The egos won’t be a problem when things are going well, but if the Eagles’ offense sputters like it did in 2018, it’s a pretty natural reaction for a player who isn’t getting passes thrown his way to think he can help. These are extremely confident professional athletes we’re talking about.

At his annual hour-long media session at the owners meetings in Arizona, I asked Pederson if it puts pressure on him as the play-caller to get everyone involved:

Well, listen, you’ve got one football and a lot of times, defenses dictate where the ball goes. I can sit here and tell you we have a play designed for Alshon (Jeffery) but it ends up going to Nelson Agholor. Or it’s designed for Zach (Ertz) and it ends up going to Dallas (Goedert). It’s hard to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to get X amount of touches, here, here, here, here.’ It just doesn’t work that way. We’re going to scheme and we’re going to plan the way we always have and we teach the quarterbacks the progressions. And Carson gets through his reads and the ball ends up where it ends up.

Without including running backs — because it seems like there is still an addition coming at that position eventually — here’s a look at the Eagles’ top five receiving threats for the upcoming season, along with their stats from last season. The list includes the top four receivers from 2018, plus Jackson. All five will factor heavily into the 2019 offense.

Alshon Jeffery: 65 catches, 843 yards, 6 TDs (13 games)
*DeSean Jackson: 41 catches, 774 yards, 4 TDs (12 games)
Nelson Agholor: 64 catches, 736 yards, 4 TDs
Zach Ertz: 116 catches, 1,163 yards, 8 TDs
Dallas Goedert: 33 catches, 334 yards, 4 TDs

*with Tampa Bay 

If those five players were to duplicate their 2018 stats in 2019, they would combine for 3,850 receiving yards — more than 12 NFL teams had total last season.

There’s more to this issue than just who gets balls thrown their way. Depending on personnel groupings, these guys aren’t going to be on the field together. In 11 personnel, Jeffery, Jackson, Agholor and Ertz will be on the field. In 12 personnel, it’s likely that Jeffery, Jackson, Ertz and Goedert will be on the field together.

So a lot of times this season, the difference between 11 personnel and 12 personnel will be having Agholor or Goedert on the field. The Eagles are paying Agholor $9.4 million this year and they aren’t paying him to sit on the bench. But Goedert is coming off an impressive rookie season, he’s expected to make a jump in Year 2 and the Eagles found a lot of success in their two-tight end grouping last year.

In fact, on Tuesday, Pederson hinted toward adding more wrinkles to their 12 personnel package, which would make sense given the success they had with it in 2018.

Pederson will call the plays, but it certainly seems like it’s going to fall on Wentz to get all of his weapons involved. Remember, there was some grumbling last year that he locked in on Ertz too often.

“I don’t think you have to think of it that way,” Pederson said. “It’s still a progression offense. You just have to get through your progression, get through your reads. If you try to force the ball here, here, here all the time, you don’t allow the whole offense to work for you. So we just continue to teach progressions. The ball’s going to go where the ball’s going to go. That’s why we continue to progress forward and prepare our guys the same way each week.”

On paper, this passing attack seems to have all the pieces needed to be dynamic, but it can only be truly dynamic if everyone gets involved. So as much as Pederson says it’ll happen naturally, he and Wentz would benefit from trying to keep as much balance as possible.

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5 quick tidbits from Doug Pederson’s hour with reporters

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5 quick tidbits from Doug Pederson’s hour with reporters

PHOENIX — As has become customary, Doug Pederson sat down in front of a round table overflowing with reporters and jokingly checked his watch. It’s an hour-long media session and he wants to time it himself. 

Pederson is hobbled this week at the owners meetings taking place at the luxurious Arizona Biltmore. He had surgery on his left ankle, where a bone spur was rubbing his Achilles tendon. The operation shaved down the bone and has Pederson in a boot for 10 weeks. Just a few more weeks with the Roll-A-Bout. 

The two biggest pieces of news to come out of the hour-long breakfast session: 

1. Pederson is optimistic about Wentz’s availability for OTAs (see story).

2. The Eagles will host the Ravens for joint practices in the third week of training camp (see story).

But there were plenty of other nuggets in the lengthy session. Here are a few more takeaways. 

Corners in the mix

The Eagles brought back Ronald Darby on a one-year contract, so they now have a group of six talented and young cornerbacks: Darby, Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc. 

Doug seemed excited to get Darby back. He said Darby was having a “really good season” before his injury in 2018. 

After that, the lineup seems far from figured out. Pederson mentioned Avonte Maddox can play in a lot of different spots. One of them is as the nickel cornerback, so that’s a possibility for 2019. But Pederson also mentioned LeBlanc’s name a few times, so he’s still in the mix at that position. 

With Mills and Darby coming off injuries, we might not get a good sense of the Eagles’ starters at corner for a while. There will likely be some competition in training camp. 

DeSean TD story 

When DeSean Jackson signed his contract with the Eagles after being traded, he shared a story about Pederson from Week 2 in Tampa when the Eagles played DeSean and the Bucs. Pederson filled in the blanks of the story on Tuesday morning. 

Earlier in the game, first quarter, after he had just scored there was another play on our sideline. He looks at me and says something like ‘You never should have let me go, you never should have let me go!’ And I was like ‘I wasn’t even there, I wasn’t even there!’ And then that play happened, I think Corey Clement got dinged down by the goal line, and I walked out and DeSean was there and I was asked him like ‘Why you mad at me, why you mad at me?’…So we had a little exchange that game, it was fun.

Pederson and Jackson have a relationship that dates back to 2009. That will be important. 

Mulling retirement

While they are in different situations from a contract perspective, Darren Sproles and Chris Long are both mulling over the possibility of retiring. Sproles, 35, is a free agent, while Long, 34, is still under contract. 

Pederson said he would like to have Sproles back. Likewise with Long, who hasn’t given the Eagles any indication yet. 

Pederson didn’t seem like he’s in a rush to get an answer from either player. He said they are veterans who will take care of themselves even if they are away from the team. 

Wiz and Bennett are gone 

The Eagles traded Michael Bennett and didn’t pick up the option on Stefen Wisniewski’s contract, so both veterans are now off the team. 

Pederson said similar things about both — they’ll get opportunities to start elsewhere and play more than they would have with the Eagles. It was still somewhat questionable to let both of them go, but Bennett will be a starter in New England and there’s a chance Wisniewski will find a starting job elsewhere. He’s still a free agent. This will give the Eagles a chance to get their younger players more playing time, Pederson said. 

Harper video 

When he was asked about Bryce Harper, Pederson revealed he made a recruitment video to help lure Harper to Philly. What did he say in the video?

“I can’t remember. I did say this. He is my father-in-law’s favorite player, so I said, ‘If you come to Philly, maybe I’ll see my father-in-law more than once a year.’”

For some, that wouldn’t be a good thing, but Pederson clarified that he likes his father-in-law.

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