Jason Kelce

Compiling most beloved Eagles team of last 20 years

Compiling most beloved Eagles team of last 20 years

It’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s get a little lovey-dovey with the Eagles. 

Looking back at the last 20 years, I wanted to put together an Eagles team with the most beloved players of the generation. I went back to the 1999 season, the first under Andy Reid for this list. So when you’re frantically searching for Reggie White or Randall, that’s why they’re not there. 

Now, a lot of the time, it’s pretty simple: The best player is the most loved by fans. But that’s not always the case. 

Here’s a look at the team I put together. If you have an addition or subtraction, leave it below: 

QB: Nick Foles 
It’s amazing to think that Foles nearly retired a couple years before he led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl win and took home the MVP trophy. But since he did that, he’s going to be a legend in this town forever. Many still think Donovan McNabb is the greatest QB in team history, but he was never universally loved the way Foles is right now. And I expect Carson Wentz to be a great quarterback, but it’s hard to imagine this love affair between city and player ever being duplicated. 

RB: Brian Westbrook 
This was a tough one because LeSean McCoy is the best running back in franchise history, but that’s not what this list is. When we talk about the most-beloved players, Westbrook is atop the list. He had a tremendous career as an undersized back out of Villanova, which only helped fans fall in love with him. 

WR: Alshon Jeffery 
No, Alshon hasn’t been here for long, but he helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl and played all of that season with a torn rotator cuff. He also consistently told everyone they were going to win. It became clear how much fans love him when after Alshon dropped a ball in these last playoffs, many of them rushed to his defense. T.O. is probably the most talented receiver we’ve had in town over the last 20 years, but he was as divisive as he was great. 

WR: Rotating cast of training camp guys 
This is kind of a cop out, but I wasn’t going to go through this list without a nod to the annual love affair with a relatively unknown wide receiver. From Na Brown to Paul Turner to Rasheed Bailey, these guys become huge stories in August, but never really have much of an impact when the games matter. 

TE: Brent Celek 
Zach Ertz is the better player, but everyone loves Celek. He missed just one game in 11 seasons and retired a champion. He sort of embodied that blue collar work ethic we all want from our athletes in this city. 

FB: Leonard Weaver 
Big Weave really only played one season with the Eagles before an ACL injury ended his career, but it was a great year. He was an All-Pro, but more importantly, he immediately connected with fans. Hard to be a fan favorite in one season, but Weaver did that. 

LT: Jason Peters 
This came down to Tra Thomas or Peters, but I gave the nod to JP. Although plenty of fans were frustrated by Peters’ nagging injuries this past season, the period of time when he became The Bodyguard was pretty cool. How many offensive linemen get fans to wear t-shirts with their nicknames? 

LG: Evan Mathis 
Things got contentious between Mathis and the organization at the end of his run, but he was a Pro Bowl left guard and was a really affable guy. For fans on Twitter, Mathis became a must follow for his jokes and wit. 

C: Jason Kelce
Yeah, he happens to be the best center in the NFL, but even if he wasn’t, he’s on this list. We all saw the speech. 

RG: Brandon Brooks 
I thought about giving this spot to Todd Herremans, who played a bunch of different positions, but I have to give the edge to Brooks, who is a part of the Super Bowl team and immediately became accepted in Philly. For those of you on Twitter, you’ll remember when Brooks got to town and slowly learned about Broad Street and Wawa. 

RT: Jon Runyan 
If Runyan played anywhere else, Eagles fans would have probably hated him. And it’s pretty funny he’s in charge of rule enforcement in the NFL because he didn’t have a pristine reputation. But he was a tough dude and played nine seasons with the Eagles and didn’t miss a game. 

DE: Hugh Douglas 
He didn’t have a particularly long career in Philly, but Hugh was jolly and funny and definitely connected with the fanbase. It should come as no surprise that Douglas has been working in sports media since his career ended in 2005. 

DT: Hollis Thomas 
Tank spent 10 seasons with the Eagles and parlayed his popularity into a career with WIP in his post-football days. 

DT: Fletcher Cox
It actually feels like Cox’s popularity hasn’t quite caught up to his level of play. Because he’s an All-Pro, one of the best defensive players in the league and it still feels like he’s not as beloved as other players. But if he keeps playing like this, fans are gonna love him forever. 

DE: Trent Cole
The lasting image of Cole in Philly will be his archery sack celebration that we saw plenty of times during his career with the Eagles. 

LB: Jeremiah Trotter 
The Axe Man! Trotter became a Pro Bowl linebacker, went to Washington for two years and then came back and became a Pro Bowler again. Then after one year in Tampa Bay, he came back for one more season. That’s three different stints with the Eagles and he was a fan favorite for a decade. 

LB: DeMeco Ryans 
Mufasa came in before Andy Reid’s last year and then became a favorite during the Chip Kelly seasons. The Eagles released him after the 2015 season, ending his NFL career, but he was a bright spot on a defense without a ton. 

LB: Connor Barwin 
I’m cheating a little bit because Barwin was an edge rusher in a 3-4 and then played DE in 2016, but he needs to be on this list. Few athletes go to a new town and immediately immerse themselves as quickly as Barwin did. He’s still raising money for parks in the city. 

CB: Troy Vincent 
Vincent came to the Eagles in 1996, but from 1999-2003 he was a Pro Bowler. He was so good for so long. He’s arguably the best free agent pickup in franchise history. 

CB: Sheldon Brown 
Lito Sheppard and Asante Samuel were better players, but Brown was known to get a huge hit here or there. His hit on Reggie Bush will always be remembered. 

S: Malcolm Jenkins 
I didn’t know whether or not to put Jenkins on this list because he was slightly divisive for a while simply because of his anthem protests; some people simply want their football players to play football. But I’m not leaving him off because of that. When we look back at Jenkins in 10 years, he’ll be thought of as one of the greatest players in franchise history and a guy who helped bring a Super Bowl to Philly. 

S: Brian Dawkins 
I don’t think I need to say much here. We get it. 

K: David Akers
Not exactly a ton of competition. Maybe Jake Elliott will eventually overtake him, but he’s got a long way to go. 

LS: Jon Dorenbos
Dorenbos has to be the most beloved long snapper in NFL history. He’s already well on his way to an impressive post-NFL gig and has been wowing again on America’s Got Talent. How many fan bases even know the name of their long snapper? 

P: Donnie Jones 
He’s the best punter in franchise history, but he was also a really likable guy too. Jones never took himself too seriously. 

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Breaking down where Eagles ranked on Pro Football Focus' top 101 list

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Breaking down where Eagles ranked on Pro Football Focus' top 101 list

The annual list of the 101 best NFL players came out in full this week from Pro Football Focus and four Eagles made the cut.

Some people love the evaluation site, some people hate it. But it’s still fun to take a look at how the Eagles ranked on the list. 

5. Fletcher Cox

What they said: There’s an argument to be made for Fletcher Cox having the very best, second-best season of all time, and more people would be talking about his 2018 campaign if it weren’t for the sheer domination of Aaron Donald. Cox ended the year ranked second among interior defenders with an overall grade of 92.5, and his 101 quarterback pressures were the most we’ve ever seen from a defensive tackle not named Donald.

My take: It’s nice to finally see Cox get his due. For years, he had been an underappreciated player in the NFL, but now everyone is noticing just how good he really is. The only defensive player ranked higher than him was Aaron Donald, who was again named the Defensive Player of the Year. That was Cox’s goal coming into this season and while he didn’t achieve it, he had a tremendous season, breaking double digits in sacks for the first time while playing with a revolving door of defensive tackles next to him. 

50. Brandon Graham 

What they said: Brandon Graham had yet another great year as the Eagles’ premier pass-rusher. He earned an overall grade of 88.1 last season, tying for ninth out of 113 edge defenders, while his 70 total pressures (56 hurries, nine hits, five sacks) were the fourth-most for an edge defender in 2018.

My take: I’ll be honest. I thought Graham was really hindered by that ankle injury early in the season. He just didn’t look like the same guy. Later in the year, he started to get the kind of pressure we’re more accustomed to. Still, I think Michael Bennett was, overall, the Eagles’ best defensive end in 2018. That doesn’t take anything away from Graham, who had a big season despite a low sack total of four. 

64. Jason Kelce

What they said: Kelce may very well be the best all-around center in the NFL, and his 2018 season further proved that point. The Cincinnati grad turned Philadelphia legend led all centers in run-blocking grade (80.6) while ranking second behind Oakland’s Rodney Hudson in pass-blocking grade (88.0).

My take: Kelce was the seventh offensive lineman on the list, but the first center. Kind of like Graham, I thought Kelce was visibly struggling while dealing with his knee injury early in the year. But once he got healthy, he was back to his normal, dynamic self. I think Kelce is the best center in the league and when he’s full-go the Eagles offense is tremendously better. 

91. Zach Ertz 

What they said: Ertz finished his record-setting 2018 season with the most ever receptions by a tight end, with 116 on 154 total targets. In his sixth season, he finished as the sixth-highest graded player at the position with an overall grade of 76.0 and a 79.5 receiving grade.

My take: Like in the All-Pro voting, Ertz finished behind George Kittle (13th) and Travis Kelce (23). Kelce was first-team All-Pro and Kittle was second-team. It’s just a shame two other tight ends had great seasons this year because it makes Ertz’s year seem less special; it wasn't. Simply put, Ertz put together one of the greatest seasons ever for a tight end and I’d certainly argue he should be much higher on this list. 

The snubs: Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Malcolm Jenkins, Michael Bennett

Everyone can’t make these lists, but these four players would have been deserving of spots too. Johnson is the best right tackle in football. Brooks was the Eagles’ most consistent OL and one of the best guards in the league. Jenkins never gets the respect he deserves as being one of the best and most versatile players in the league. And Bennett got great pressure at end and tackle after a slower-than-usual start.

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NFL free agency 2019: A comprehensive look at Eagles' interior offensive line

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NFL free agency 2019: A comprehensive look at Eagles' interior offensive line

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

Today, they look at interior offensive linemen. 

Brandon Brooks

Roob: The Eagles are in a tough position with Brooks, who suffered a torn Achilles in the playoff loss to the Saints and could miss the start of the regular season. When he’s healthy, he’s the best guard in the NFL. The Eagles desperately missed him after he got hurt against the Saints. They really need him to come back healthy.

Verdict: Stays 

Dave: Tough to see Brooks go down with a torn Achilles in the Saints playoff game. He was the Eagles’ most consistent offensive lineman in 2018, but he’s in danger of missing some time in 2019. Still, I expect him to eventually return and be back on his Pro Bowl path. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: No way Brooks is ready Week 1 after suffering a torn Achilles in the Eagles’ final game, but his spot will be waiting whenever he’s available to return. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest he’s been quite possibly the best guard in the NFL over the past two seasons.

Verdict: Stays

Isaac Seumalo

Roob: Seumalo’s actually become a valuable backup interior lineman, starting 15 games over the years, including nine last year at left guard. His versatility —  he can also play tackle —  makes him a guy the Eagles really can’t afford to lose. 

Verdict: Stays 

Dave: Some folks still think Seumalo stinks, but he doesn’t. He’s actually turned himself into a pretty good left guard. Stefen Wisniewski did an admirable job in the Super Bowl run, but Seumalo is younger, stronger, more athletic and has more upside. He started to show that potential this season. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: I think everybody was surprised when Seumalo was reinserted into the starting lineup after last year’s benching. Yet, for whatever reason, things seemed to click for the former third-round pick when he jumped back in — and the offensive line improved, too. Seumalo came a long way. He went from working as a third-string center over the summer to somebody who will be in line for a contract extension soon.

Verdict: Stays

Stefen Wisniewski

Roob: I would have said Wiz goes before Brandon Brooks got hurt. Now the Eagles might have to keep Wisniewski around just as an insurance policy. On the off chance that Brooks recovers quickly enough that it looks like he’ll be available for the opener, I could see the Eagles moving on from Wiz, but my guess is they’ll have no choice but to hang onto Wisniewski and that $3 million price tag.

Verdict: Stays 

Dave: The injury to Brooks makes Wisniewski much more important. There’s a good chance he’ll need to be the starter at right guard at the beginning of next season. His cap hit is $3.7 million, but they’ll need to keep him around now. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: If not for Brooks’ injury, Wisniewski might be out. He did not take losing the left guard job to Seumalo well. Whether the Eagles like it or not though, there’s a need for an experienced fill-in, likely for most to nearly all of 2019. The team stood to save $3 million from dumping Wisniewski, but would wind up spending that on a replacement anyway.

Verdict: Stays

Chance Warmack

Roob: I actually didn’t realize Warmack was on the roster this year. No, seriously, what a disappointment the former top-10 pick turned out to be in his two seasons in Philly. He’s only 27 and maybe he’ll jumpstart his career somewhere else, but at this point he’s about the least likely guy on the roster to return in 2019.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: I guess it’s possible the Eagles bring back Warmack, but I certainly wouldn’t do it. The former first-round pick barely played in 2018 while he was taking up $2 million in cap space. He wasn’t even active most weeks. 

Verdict: Goes 

Kulp: Again, Brooks’ injury increased Warmack’s odds of coming back. He’s also a free agent and — one would assume after barely playing the last two seasons — might prefer to go someplace where he could at least compete for a job. Don’t have a great read on what the Eagles want. They paid him a lot to sit. Still, probably best for both sides to move on.

Verdict: Goes

Jason Kelce

Roob: I know there have been whispers about Kelce retiring, but I’d be surprised if that happens. He just turned 31 and he’s on top of his game, a perennial all-pro. He hasn’t missed a game since 2014. I don’t think Kelce will be one of those guys who plays till he’s 40, but I think he’s got a lot of football to go.

Verdict: Stays 

Dave: Kelce at least thought about retirement, but I expect him to be back in 2019 playing at an extremely high level. He’s set to make $6.5 million (all non-guaranteed) in 2019, so it’s time for a raise for the best center in football. They can extend him a few years and take away some of the cap hit this season. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: The skeptic in me wonders if Kelce’s retirement talk is a negotiating ploy. At 31, he’s still playing some of his best football. He’ll also be playing for a relative bargain in 2019 at $6.5 million —  tied for 12th among centers —  while his salary this year and next is not guaranteed. Pay him. Pay that man his money.

Verdict: Stays

Matt Pryor 

Roob: Pryor’s got some great size at 6-foot-7, 340 pounds, but as a rookie sixth-round pick, he never got on the field this past year. With offensive tackles, you’re looking for raw tools to develop, and Pryor certainly has them. When you have a guy this big, as long as he’s not completely lost in practice, you keep him around.

Verdict: Stays 

Dave: The rookie from TCU didn’t play at all in 2018 after what was a pretty encouraging training camp. It seems like his best position is at guard, but he also has played tackle before. Not sure what the Eagles have yet, but they kept him around to find out. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: There’s no real way to evaluate Pryor’s rookie season, as he didn’t play after the preseason. We know the Eagles invested a sixth-round pick last year, stashed him on the roster all year and now need the guard depth. Having a year in the system helps Pryor’s cause. He may even wind up the top backup while Brooks is on the shelf.

Verdict: Stays

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