kenjon barner

What NFL kickoff rule changes mean for Eagles

usa_corey_clement_eagles_kickoffs.jpg
USA Today Images

What NFL kickoff rule changes mean for Eagles

The NFL is changing the kickoff rules again in an attempt to make the most dangerous play in the game a little safer.

There will be a trial run in 2018 and the league will take a look at its findings next spring.

For now, here are the basics of the new kickoff rules:

• No more running starts for kicking team

• Eight of 11 kick returning players must be in setup zone (15 yards from the ball)

• No blocking in setup zone before the ball is touched

• No more two-man wedge blocks

• Kickoff team must have five players on each side of the ball

So what does this mean for the Eagles and Dave Fipp’s unit, which has been considered one of the best in the league since he took over?

Well, we’ll start with the Eagles when they kick off because that’s where we might see the most drastic change. Last season, Jake Elliott kicked off 84 times and had 42 touchbacks. There were 16 kickers in the league (at least 35 kickoffs) who had a higher touchback percentage. And it’s no coincidence.

During last season, in October, Malcolm Jenkins actually challenged Fipp to allow players to make plays (see story). Basically, the Eagles kicked the ball short of the goal line, betting that they could bring players down before the 25-yard line.

The rule restricting that running start might make them think twice.

When the Eagles are returning kicks, maybe they’ll try to return more. Last year, the Eagles were 26th in the league in kick return average at 19.7 yards per return. And they returned just 18 kicks, the fewest amount in the NFL.

The Eagles lost their primary kick returner, Kenjon Barner, in free agency. So they’ll have a new returner, who might have some extra space to work with.

It has been argued that these rules will actually increase the number of kick returns, while also making the play safer. We’ll see.

Eagles Stay or Go Part 1 — Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett

usa2-agholor-allen-barner-eagles-slide.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles Stay or Go Part 1 — Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett

In the first part of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the world champion Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro try to figure out who will be on the roster in 2018. We'll go alphabetically  Part 1 is Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett. 

Nelson Agholor
Roob: Agholor has gone from being a giant question mark going into last season to a relative bargain in 2018 with a $2.983 million cap figure in a contract year. Agholor was one of many heartwarming stories on the 2017 Eagles, with a breakthrough season and a dynamite Super Bowl. At some point in the next year, the Eagles and Agholor will agree on a long-term, multi-million deal. He's only 24 years old and he's going to be the centerpiece of this receiving corps for years to come.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: In a year, we've gone from talking about possibly moving on from Agholor to now starting to think about a contract extension. Really. Because of the slow start in his career, Agholor is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2018; he'll have a cap number of just under $3 million, which is now a steal. Remember, the Eagles can use a fifth-year option to keep him in town in 2019 if they can't reach a new deal. Agholor was that good in 2017. He caught 62 passes for 768 yards. He had just 21 fewer receiving yards than Alshon Jeffery. And in the Super Bowl, Agholor caught nine balls for 84 yards. He offers the Eagles a shifty, quick player in the slot and he became a dynamic player after the catch in his third NFL season.  

Verdict: STAYS

Jay Ajayi
Roob: It will be interesting to see how the Eagles' running backs all line up next year. When training camp started last summer, LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey were the main guys, and by the end of the season, only one of them was on the field. My hunch is that Ajayi and Corey Clement will be the lead backs in 2018. Ajayi was very good after joining the Eagles, but he really sold me with his postseason performance — 184 yards and a 4.4 average in the three playoff games. Eventually, the Eagles will have to make a decision, since his contract is also up after 2018. But I'd love to see what he can do behind this offensive line with a full training camp and a full season.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He came into the fold during the season and picked up everything pretty quickly. Now just imagine how much better he'll be with an entire offseason in Doug Pederson's scheme. He's going to be the Eagles' feature back in 2018 and he'll be the feature back for cheap as he enters the final year on his rookie contract. Now, trying to figure out an extension with him might be tricky, especially because of his chronic knee issue, but that's a problem to deal with later. 

Verdict: STAYS

Beau Allen
Roob: Allen became a pretty significant part of the Eagles' defensive line the second half of the year and played almost as many snaps as Tim Jernigan the last couple months of the season. He's a no-nonsense run stuffer but a solid interior lineman. He'll become an unrestricted free agent this spring, but I would think the Eagles could get him back with a cap-friendly deal. It's possible there's a team out there that will bowl over Allen with a big-money offer, but I doubt it. And if the numbers are equal, I'd expect him to re-sign here.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It's a shame that Allen tore his pec while working out last spring because before that, the Eagles were working on an extension with the rotational defensive lineman. But since then, the team has re-signed Jernigan and has a ton of money locked up in the defensive line. And now Allen is going to be an unrestricted free agent. While it's true that the Birds really value their D-line, how much can they really spend on a backup player? It might be time for them to draft one instead and let Allen walk. After proving himself in Jim Schwartz's 4-3 scheme, Allen should have plenty of teams with his choice of scheme. 

Verdict: GOES

Kenjon Barner
Roob:
 If the Eagles cut ties with Blount, Sproles and Pumphrey, Barner could be back as a returner and third running back behind Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. Barner actually finished 10th in the NFL at 8.9 yards per punt return after joining the Eagles a month into the season. He's not a bad guy to have around. But I think Sproles wants to be here and would be willing to give the Eagles a hometown discount to play one final NFL season and serve as a third back and returner.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Barner was on the street to start the season until Sproles went down and the Eagles brought Barner back. He became the team's top punt and kick returner but put up modest numbers in both areas. Barner will be 29 before the 2018 season starts and he's never really made a huge impact in the NFL. If he was able to really take control of the returner jobs and be great at it, maybe the Eagles would sign him again to bring him back. Hey, maybe there will be some goodwill after winning the Super Bowl, but it's probably not worth it. 

Verdict: GOES

Derek Barnett
Roob: Barnett is going to be a stud. You could just see him get better and better as the season went on. He had a couple lulls, but every rookie does. After being held without a sack in his first five games, Barnett had five in the Eagles' last 11 games and added another sack, along with a forced fumble and a rather important fumble recovery in the postseason. His six total sacks, including the postseason, were actually fourth-most in franchise history by a rookie and most by a rookie defensive end since Derrick Burgess had seven back in 2001. Barnett's going to be around for quite a while.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: The Eagles' 2017 first-round pick didn't have a monster rookie season. He didn't go out and get double-digit sacks, but he was solid all year and showed flashes of becoming a great pass rusher. Five sacks as a rookie in a rotational role aren't too shabby either. Oh yeah, he also recovered the fumble after Brandon Graham's strip sack in the Super Bowl. Barnett is only going to get better and has the potential to be a star in the NFL. 

Verdict: STAYS

Super Bowl win would be extra special to these 4 Eagles

usa-ap-kenjon-barner-bryan-braman-dannell-ellerbe.jpg
USA Today Images/AP Images

Super Bowl win would be extra special to these 4 Eagles

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- At one point this season, Dannell Ellerbe, Kenjon Barner, Will Beatty and Bryan Braman were all free agents on the street.

Now they're in the Super Bowl.

All three — from the different times they've joined or rejoined the team — have helped them get to this point. And there's a decent chance all four will be able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night. It's been a crazy few months.

"It has [been crazy]," Braman said. "I feel like it's just all a part of the job. But this was the first time I've experienced this situation. But it's pretty special, man. It's kind of how they say the thing can go. One minute you can be jobless, the next minute you're playing in the Super Bowl.

Braman, 30, is a career special teams player. This week, he admitted it was tough for him to watch most of the 2017 season until he was signed on Dec. 12. As the season went on, he couldn't help but think about his future as the situation became more and more stressful.

Barner has a much different story. The running back was released on Sept. 2, but on the very next day, he went to Lake Havasu in Arizona to go wakeboarding and wakesurfing. He obviously wanted to be back in the NFL, but the 28-year-old was strangely at peace.

"Everybody was asking me, 'how are you at ease?'" Barner recalled. "'How are you doing what you're doing? You should be upset.' About what? Something I can't control? I'm not going to sit here and worry about anything I can't control. Me having faith, that's what made it so peaceful."

Twenty-four days later, the Eagles placed Darren Sproles on injured reserve and Barner's phone rang. He's been their return man ever since.

Ellerbe, 32, was pretty calm as well. He played just last season, so he patiently waited for the right call to come in. According to Ellerbe, other teams were interested in him, but he waited until he found the right situation. That came with the Eagles on Nov. 13.

Since then, the former Super Bowl champion has gone from a backup to the team's starting middle linebacker in its base package.

"It's definitely a blessing," Ellerbe said. "I knew the call was going to come. ... I never once got discouraged because I didn't go through a whole season without getting picked up. I knew I was eventually going to get picked up."

Just one day after the team added Ellerbe, it brought in depth on the offensive line in Beatty. Another former Super Bowl champ, Beatty joined the team and has been trying to make the most of his second chance.

A former second-round pick, many think Beatty never lived up to his potential with the Giants. Since joining the Eagles, he's been working with the team's scout team and tries to give the team's defensive ends the best possible work he can in practice. He takes pride in knowing he's elevating their play.

While he didn't boast confidence like Ellerbe, he tried to not let his time without a team wear on him.

"You never know what the future's going to hold," he said. "You have to make sure you're mentally strong. ... When I had time to sit and wait to see where I'm going to go, I had a lot of time for reflection. Ever since I got with this team, I'm like 'how can I let this team know I'm thankful for the opportunity? Thankful for the second chance and for what they saw in me.' Whatever you saw in me, it was only a glimpse of what I can do. Show them I can do more. How can I help this team each and every week?"

The group of players watched plenty of the Eagles from afar, so when they joined the team, they thought there was a decent chance they might end up in Minnesota in February for the Super Bowl.

"That's always the hope," Beatty said. "That's always the dream, that you're playing in this game on the big stage. You're working every week to be in the playoffs. I had that opportunity to experience that but I didn't take full advantage of that moment. I want to make sure that I'm living in the moment now, I'm embracing the moment."