malik jackson

After wasted season, Malik Jackson determined to come back stronger

After wasted season, Malik Jackson determined to come back stronger

There was a lot of excitement when the Eagles signed Malik Jackson last offseason and rightfully so. The Eagles finally found the perfect complement to play next to Fletcher Cox.

He lasted 32 snaps.

Jackson had to watch the rest of the season, all the ups and the downs, as he rehabbed.

It sucked,” Jackson said on Monday. “It was a big eye-opening experience. Nobody ever wants to get injured, but to be on IR, especially for the whole year, for the first time, it was a lot. But I learned a lot, I learned a lot about myself. Ready to come back next year stronger.

Jackson suffered a Lisfranc injury in the season opener and had season-ending surgery shortly after. He didn’t even last a full game into his three-year, $30 million contract.

But the good news is that Jackson, who turns 30 in a few days, fully expects to be ready for the start of the 2020 season. And he's "super motivated" to return to top form.

While he wouldn’t commit to being ready for OTAs, he thinks he’ll be good to go between April and June, which means he should be on the field at the start of training in the summer.

Jackson will spend the next several months splitting time between Philadelphia and his home in California during rehab. He’ll be back in town for several doctor visits.

This trip to IR was a new experience for Jackson, who hadn’t missed a game since his rookie season back in 2012. He had stacked six straight complete seasons before coming to Philadelphia, where it seems like just about no one is safe from injury.

“It does suck, but it’s an eye-opening experience,” Jackson said. “Something you have to go through. You think you’re invincible because you go through every season and then this happens.”

While Jackson was brought in to play next to Cox, the pair didn’t get much on-field time together this year. Cox was rehabbing a foot injury all spring and all summer. Cox didn’t begin practicing with the team until the week before the opener.

So Cox and Jackson have been on the field together for just a few days in practice and part of one game.

“On a personal level, I got to know [Cox] real well,” Jackson said. “Now I just want to go out there and play football with him.”

Jackson said the team did a good job of making him feel included throughout the lost season but he was still away rehabbing a good deal.  

While Jackson was obviously disappointed about his lost season, he tried to make the most of it. He got into art, he spent more time with his family. He even got to celebrate his 4-year-old daughter’s birthday with her in California.

All that helped him get through a season during which he often thought about how good the rotation of him, Cox and Tim Jernigan could have been. It helped him to survive what was probably the toughest professional season of his career.

“I think the first two weeks were the hardest,” Jackson said. “But then you just kind of take a breath and understand it’s OK, it happens and I can come back from it. It’s not career ending. It’s OK.”

For most of the season, Jackson was kind of a forgotten man. But getting him back in 2020 could be a huge boost for the Eagles.

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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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Fletcher Cox isn’t himself right now and it’s killing the Eagles

Fletcher Cox isn’t himself right now and it’s killing the Eagles

When he’s at his best, Fletcher Cox is a no-doubt All-Pro, one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL and the Eagles’ best player. 

Cox is clearly not at his best right now. 

And, boy, do the Eagles miss him. 

In Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions, Cox played 46 defensive snaps and didn’t register a single statistic in the box score. No tackles, sacks, QB hits, batted passes, nothing. Not a one. 

Just twice before in his career has Cox recorded a blank stat line in a start: Once in 2012 in 20 snaps and once in 2017 when he left after just three snaps. 

So Sunday was the worst statistical game so far in what might end up being a Hall of Fame career. 

“I think Fletcher, he's coming [along] and I'm not concerned with him at all,” head coach Doug Pederson said Monday. “I'm excited actually of where he's at health-wise and how he's practicing and things like that. He's obviously a top defender, top player for us, and I think his best ball's ahead of him.”

His best ball better be ahead of him. And it better be in the not-so-distant future. If it isn’t, the Eagles are in trouble. 

Cox, 28, had offseason surgery on his toe from an injury suffered in the divisional round playoff game against the Saints. While he returned for Week 1 after missing the entire summer, he hasn’t looked like the guy who has been a Pro Bowler for four years running. So the slow start isn’t his fault, but his play needs to pick up. 

On Monday, when asked about Cox’s slow start, Pederson brought up Brandon Graham, who had a similar situation last year. Graham had offseason ankle surgery and stumbled out of the gate in 2018, failing to record his first sack until Oct. 5. But without Graham, the Eagles at least had other rushers, including Cox, to pick up the slack. 

Through three games, the entire Eagles defense has just two sacks. Cox had more than that on his own in the first three games of 2018! 

And look at the difference for Cox year to year: 

First 3 games of 2018: 3 sacks, 12 tackles, 3 TFLs, 8 QB hits

First 3 games of 2019: 0 sacks, 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 QB hits 

Heck, the entire Eagles team through three games in 2019 has just two sacks, 11 TFLs and 17 QB hits total. Without pass rush from the front four, Jim Schwartz has been forced to send more pressure. Cox is supposed to be the motor that gets that line going. 

After Sunday’s game, Cox acknowledged that the Eagles' pass rush isn’t getting to the quarterback and said he knows he isn’t getting there fast enough. 

“I can’t be disappointed in myself, because at the end of the day, I’m out there giving everything that I have,” Cox said Sunday night. “I’m just doing my job and doing what the coaches have asked me to do. Sometimes a player can try to do so much and he can end up making a mistake or you feel the pressure and end up doing way too much. I just try to do my job and be as disruptive as I can be. At the end of the day, I have to get to the quarterback, and I’m not doing a good job there right now.”

Aside from Cox not being himself, the two players who were supposed to play next to him went down in the first two weeks of the season. Malik Jackson suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 1 and Tim Jernigan broke his foot in Week 2 and will miss at least a month. So now when Cox gets doubled — and it’s happening quite often — there’s less of a chance the other guy will be able to take advantage of a 1-on-1. 

And because Cox isn’t himself, he’s going to have trouble beating the now near-constant doubles teams. 

Cox is not the only Eagle coming back from injury. The Eagles also have Nigel Bradham, Ronald Darby, Derek Barnett and Brandon Brooks returning from injuries that required surgery and some of them don’t look quite back either. But with Cox, it’s just been very apparent because he’s normally so, so good. 

The Eagles desperately need him to get back to that level soon.

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