NFC East: Brent Celek

Eagles' top plays: Miracle II

July, 9, 2014
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DeSean JacksonDrew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images
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This is the last of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. In the previous two days, we featured the first Miracle at the Meadowlands against the Giants in 1978 and Wilbert Montgomery's touchdown in the 1980 NFC Championship Game. Please vote for your choice as the Eagles' most memorable play.

Score: Eagles 38, Giants 31
Date: Dec. 19, 2010 Site: New Giants Stadium

When Kevin Boss scored on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning, the New York Giants had a 31-10 lead with 8:12 left in the fourth quarter. That gave the Giants, according to the formula, a 100 percent win probability for that game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

When Michael Vick hit tight end Brent Celek for a 65-yard touchdown a couple of minutes later, the Giants’ win probability stayed at 99.9 percent. When Vick ran 4 yards for a touchdown with 5:32 left in the fourth quarter, the Giants still had a 97.8 percent chance to win the game. Even after Vick tied it with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin with 1:16 to play, the Giants had the ball with a chance to win. But two incomplete passes and a sack later, New York had to punt with 14 seconds left.

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You get the point. The Giants had the game in the bag. The Eagles came back from 100 percent dead in the water and won it thanks to what was quickly dubbed Miracle of the New Meadowlands, for the new Giants stadium had just opened across the parking lot from the site of Herman Edwards' 1978 miracle fumble recovery.

This time around, the winning play itself was almost as improbable as the three-touchdown spree that set it up. Giants punter Matt Dodge was kicking from his own 29-yard line. All he had to do was avoid Eagles return man DeSean Jackson. Instead, Dodge kicked it right to Jackson, who fumbled the punt, picked it up at his own 35-yard line and started to run. He didn’t stop until he was approaching the goal line, where Jackson changed his course of approach to make sure the clock ran down to zero before he crossed the line.

"I was thinking to myself, like, 'They're not going to kick it to me,'" Jackson said. "I was thinking he was going to kick it out of bounds. But it got to me. From there, I just used my instincts and my speed to get into the end zone."

The 65-yard return ended a 28-point Eagles comeback rally and gave them a tiebreaker edge on the Giants for the NFC East title. That meant Jackson’s return contributed to the last of Eagles coach Andy Reid’s nine playoff appearances with the team.

An era was ending, but it was delayed by Jackson’s improbable return and the Eagles’ statistically impossible comeback.

Losing Jackson hurts, but how much?

March, 28, 2014
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The sad part of the DeSean Jackson mess is this: He was, and still is, a terrific talent. A Chip Kelly offense with Jackson ... and LeSean McCoy ... and a healthy Jeremy Maclin ... and Darren Sproles? That would have entertained one set of fans and scared the heck out of another.

Perhaps defensive coordinators can sleep a little better the night before facing Philadelphia now that the Eagles released Jackson. That is, unless the Eagles prove that life without Jackson is still a difficult one for defenses.

There's no way to sugarcoat the release of a talent such as Jackson. There's no need to get into the off-field aspects of the decision, other than to say it's a shame it came to this. And before the latest story broke on the receiver, prompting his release, some teams already considered him to be a walking red flag.

Still, my focus deals with his on-field performance and what it means for the Eagles. He was a dynamic receiver who helped make this offense dangerous. I don't care what system you run, or who's calling the plays, it's playmakers such as Jackson who can make any playcaller look good.

But the Eagles knew trouble was coming, which is why they were still able to construct an offense that should remain strong. Just as scary? It's hard to take out a guy such as Jackson and think it will just be the same. Quarterback Nick Foles targeted Jackson more than any other receiver last season (70 times) and completed 71.4 percent of those passes to him, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Nobody had more touchdown catches of 30-plus yards since 2008 (Mike Wallace shared the lead with 21).

Jackson was a guy who could open up the rest of the offense with his presence. One play by him could change a game, even if he didn't do a whole lot the rest of the way. The problem for defenses: They never knew which play it would be. Will the Eagles have anyone like that next season? Then again, given the depth of talent, do they need to?

Of course, the Eagles also were dangerous at times last season without Maclin (or Sproles, for that matter). If Maclin returns to form, he can be a dynamic threat. Two years ago he led the Eagles with 69 catches for 857 yards and seven touchdowns, but he's also never had a 1,000-yard season. However, he did have 46 more catches and five more touchdown receptions than Jackson in their time together with the Eagles.

And remember last summer? When Maclin was excited to be part of Kelly's offense because, he said, the previous one only wanted to feature Jackson's position -- and, therefore, Jackson?

"When Marty [Mornhinweg] was here, we tailored it around the flanker position," Maclin told CSN Philly in July. "That's just how it was ... The fact that I was able to personally accomplish what I accomplished, I think as far as the position I was playing, I think that's above what that guy normally does."

But, he said, there was no tailoring to one position in Kelly's offense. Indeed, part of what made their scheme dangerous is the multiple options to defend on a play. Run, by the quarterback or the running back, or pass. Bubble screen or hitting the tight end down the seam. Defenses had to worry about the multiple options available to Foles. Overplay one way and they could hit you the other. So the scheme works well when it has the right talent. And they should still have the right talent with not only Maclin but McCoy, Sproles, receiver Riley Cooper, and tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz.

The Eagles will survive cutting Jackson. Maybe if Sproles remains a threat, as I think he will, and Maclin is healthy and close to the same, then they can continue to flourish. But there's no way to say losing a guy such as Jackson will result in anything but questions. But the Eagles will move on -- and they will still move down the field. That could be wishful thinking on the Eagles' part, but for now, they have the parts to make them believe it will be a reality.
The Philadelphia Eagles need a backup quarterback. Mark Sanchez needs a new place to restart his career.

With ESPN Insider Chris Mortenson reporting Sanchez is expected to sign with the Eagles, it brings together two sides filling a major need.

Sanchez
Nick Foles is without question the Eagles' starter. He threw 27 touchdown passes and had just two interceptions while compiling an 8-2 record in 2013. But with Michael Vick off to the New York Jets and Matt Barkley an unknown, coach Chip Kelly is dipping into the Pac-12 quarterbacks again.

Kelly was Oregon's offensive coordinator when Sanchez played at Southern Cal.

We will now get to see if he can revitalize Sanchez.

Things started so well for Sanchez with the Jets. He helped New York and Rex Ryan to two straight AFC Championship Games, losing to Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, but he never made the next step in his career.

His best statistical year came in 2011, when he threw for 3,474 yards with 26 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, but the Jets lost their final three games and that was the end of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Tony Sparano did not help Sanchez in 2012. A shoulder injury kept Sanchez out last year.

Provided the shoulder checks out, Sanchez will become the backup to Foles.

Kelly's first order of business is lifting Sanchez's accuracy. He is a 55.1 percent passer for his career. The best he has had in his career is 56.7 percent. In today's NFL with the rules the way they are, quarterbacks must complete about 65 percent to be effective.

With the Eagles, Sanchez would have better tools around him, especially on the offensive line. He could have DeSean Jackson at wide receiver, at least for a minute. He would have Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper to go with Brent Celek and Zach Ertz at tight end. And of course he would have LeSean McCoy.

He would also have Kelly, who has won with different kinds of quarterbacks along his stops at New Hampshire, Oregon and last year with the Eagles.

The Eagles are not the ground-and-pound of the Jets in Sanchez's first two years, but Kelly will run the ball to control the game and his quarterback.

Sanchez would be going to a perfect spot without the pressure to be the Sanch-ise. All he would need to be is a backup, not a savior.

New deals make players Chip Kelly guys

February, 27, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- With their new contracts, Riley Cooper, Jason Kelce and Jason Peters will remain Philadelphia Eagles, but that's not all.

They also officially became Chip Kelly guys. That's important for both the players, in terms of job security, and for the team.

New coaches often want to clear out as much of the roster they inherit and bring in their own players as quickly as possible. Kelly added just one starter, first-round pick Lane Johnson, to the starting lineup he inherited from Andy Reid. All 11 of those offensive starters are now under contract for next season.

Kelly said all season that he was impressed with how quickly the Eagles embraced everything from his X's and O's to his sports science-based conditioning program. The coach is now reciprocating, buying into some of the same key players who bought into him.

Kelce was the easiest call. The center was a sixth-round pick in 2011 who instantly became a vital cog in a very effective offensive line. He had already outplayed his original contract. Rewarding him with $13 million in guaranteed money and with long-term security sends a positive message to the locker room while also ensuring continuity at a vital position.

Cooper was the toughest call. He placed a target on his back last summer by getting caught on video using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert. The Eagles could have easily released Cooper right away or simply let him walk away as a free agent.

There are plenty of wide receivers who could catch 47 passes for 835 yards, as Cooper did last season. But Cooper established himself as a favorite target of Nick Foles, who in turn established himself as the starting quarterback. Cooper also embraced the run-blocking aspect of the position as Kelly coaches it.

In short, Cooper turned himself into a Kelly guy, and he was rewarded with $8 million in guaranteed money on a five-year deal that could be worth $25 million.

Peters presented a different kind of challenge. He proved in 2013 that he is still, after two tears of the same Achilles tendon, as good a left tackle as there is in the NFL. But he also turned 32 in December.

The five-year contract he signed all but assures that Peters will finish his career with the Eagles. He will be 36 when it expires. That's pretty old for an athletic offensive lineman, but as Peters' agent, Vincent Taylor, put it, if Peters loses a step, he's still ahead of most players.

The Eagles' starting five offensive linemen are all signed through at least 2016. They have control for the foreseeable future of Cooper, Foles, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Jason Avant. They could bring Jeremy Maclin back, as well, adding to the already considerable stability among offensive personnel.

This is Kelly's offense, and these are now Kelly's guys.
PHILADELPHIA -- When the NFL Network camera caught Chip Kelly watching wide receivers run the 40-yard dash at the combine Sunday, it brought to mind something the Eagles head coach said early this year.

The Eagles were preparing to play the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs, and Kelly was asked about Sean Payton's offense.

“He's obviously got some talent and they're a really, really talented football team, but Sean does a great job of getting his playmakers in matchups that are favorable to him and he does it week in and week out,” Kelly said, before ticking off a list of players' names.

“There's a ton of them,” Kelly said. “That's what Sean and Drew (Brees) have -- a lot of toys.”

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsChip Kelly is eager to add offensive toys from this year's rookie class.
There was just a hint of envy in Kelly's voice. That's what resonated as he and general manager Howie Roseman looked down upon the wideouts, running backs and quarterbacks doing drills in Indianapolis. As good as Kelly's offense was in his first season, it figures to be that much more varied and explosive as the Eagles add new toys for him to play with.

And that is why it wouldn't be shocking for the Eagles to allow both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper to walk in free agency. If they also part with veteran Jason Avant, who is due $3 million, that could mean huge turnover at a vital position.

At the same time, Roseman has said he is open to bringing both Cooper and Maclin back at the right prices. The Philadelphia Inquirer, citing unnamed sources, reported over the weekend that Maclin was the team's first priority. That report followed a Pro Football Talk report last week that there is expected to be a robust market for Cooper.

Frankly, until March 11, nothing that is leaked out anonymously should be taken too seriously. It would benefit Cooper for someone in his camp to predict that he will draw a lot of interest from other teams. And it would benefit the Eagles to send the message that Cooper is not their No. 1 priority.

Meanwhile, Roseman's on-the-record remarks can be taken at face value -- and there is certainly reason to believe he is open to drafting wide receivers from this talent-rich draft -- and read as coded messages for the agents he will have to negotiate with. The Eagles have “walkaway” numbers for the players they'd like to sign, and it doesn't hurt for agents to know that, and to know Roseman has other attractive options.

While the Eagles are still looking to upgrade the talent on their defense, they remain very likely to draft and sign offensive talent. Kelly went into the 2013 season with almost no additions to the offensive personnel he inherited. Rookies Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz were the only notable exceptions.

Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, Avant and Cooper produced the vast majority of the Eagles' yardage and points in 2013. Kelly has had a full season to learn their talents as well as their limitations. He knows where he had to cut corners while devising his weekly game plans and where a key addition or two could add octane to his schemes.

He may just want some new toys to play with, and the combine is like the world' biggest toy store.

Eagles set at tight end, or are they?

February, 19, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- Zach Ertz was the living, breathing evidence that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman meant what he said. The Eagles would draft the best player on their board, regardless of their perceived need at a given position.

Going into the 2013 draft, the Eagles desperately needed talent on defense. They already had tight end Brent Celek and had added James Casey in free agency. Nevertheless, with the third pick of the second round, they took Ertz, a tight end from Stanford.

[+] EnlargeZach Ertz
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsEagles rookie tight end Zach Ertz caught 36 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns last season.
There were rumblings the Eagles tried to trade Celek, but nothing came of that. During the preseason, new coach Chip Kelly teased fans (and opposing defensive coordinators) by showing some formations with three tight ends. It was assumed that the selection of Ertz would be more than justified when Kelly unleashed his versatile group of tight ends on the rest of the league.

It didn't really happen that way. The Eagles lined up with three wide receivers and one tight end some 70 percent of the time during the 2013 season. Celek, the guy who was there all along, started 16 of 17 games, including the playoff loss to New Orleans.

With his dedication to blocking as well as his pass-catching skills, Celek was virtually indispensable. He was on the field for 77 percent of the offensive snaps. Celek caught 32 passes, his fewest since becoming the fulltime starter in 2009. But he was as adept at cutting back across the line to take out a defensive end as he was at picking up yards after the catch.

Casey, signed away from Houston for $12 million over three years, played only 14 percent of the offensive snaps and caught only three passes. To his credit, Casey didn't complain and devoted himself to his special teams responsibilities. But his lack of playing time underscored the puzzlement caused by the drafting of yet another tight end in the second round.

This would be the part where we conclude it was a mistake to draft Ertz, but that is not the case. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound rookie made that impossible with his promising performance -- 36 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns. In a league where athletic tight ends are in vogue, Ertz's basketball-honed ball skills and smart route running give Kelly plenty to work with in the coming years.

If they had it to do over again, the Eagles and Casey probably would have made different decisions in free agency. But there are no regrets about drafting Ertz.

Going into 2014, Celek is still the more complete tight end. Ertz figures to add a little strength in order to improve his blocking. His playing time will grow accordingly.

It will be intriguing to see how Kelly approaches the position in the future. His wide receiver corps could look very different next season. Celek, Ertz and Casey could give him some alternatives to the three-wideout sets Kelly relied on so much in his first season.

The Eagles certainly seem set at the tight end position. It does not appear to be an area they will have to address in either free agency or the draft. But as we learned when they drafted Ertz last April, you never know.

Eagles should be in win-now mode

January, 31, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- It is a word the Eagles hated using for years and it's a word that doesn't really apply to the franchise now, just one year into Chip Kelly's tenure.

Rebuilding.

In evaluating the decline of the team in Andy Reid's final years, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman have said the big mistake was thinking the team was always one move away from a championship. In trying to make that one decisive win-now move, the Eagles instead made mistakes that weakened their infrastructure.

[+] EnlargeHowie Roseman
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsGM Howie Roseman has said the Eagles will avoid lavish free-agent deals.
But it would also be a mistake to go too far the other way. The Eagles are not a rebuilding team right now. They were 10-6 and are defending NFC East champions. They have an offensive team with key skill players in the prime of their careers: LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek. The offensive line, which is vital to the team's success, has three starters over the age of 30.

The goal should be simple: Keep adding talent around those core players until the Eagles are at the elite level of the teams that will play in the Super Bowl Sunday. That means using every tool available, including spending money on free agents when it is warranted.

The Denver Broncos weren't exactly thinking about a five-year plan when they signed Peyton Manning two years ago. The Seattle Seahawks splurged on a quarterback in free agency that same offseason. They signed Green Bay's Matt Flynn to a three-year, $26 million contract.

Manning had one of the great seasons ever and will start for the Broncos Sunday. Flynn is back in Green Bay as a backup. Russell Wilson became Seattle's starter and quickly emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.

If the Broncos had ruled out high-priced, quick-fix free agents, the Patriots would be in the Super Bowl. If the Seahawks had avoided drafting a quarterback that high after signing Flynn, San Francisco or New Orleans would be preparing for Tom Brady.

This isn't to say the Eagles should go crazy and throw big money at every flavor-of-the-month free agent on the market. But they also shouldn't rule out the occasional bold move. Yes, they were burned by Nnamdi Asomugha a few years back, but Reid's era of success was made possible partly by acquisitions like Hugh Douglas (in a trade, with a new contract included), Jon Runyan and, well, let's just admit it, Terrell Owens.

Roseman has said repeatedly that the Eagles will avoid huge free-agent deals. That would seem to rule out difference-making players like Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo and safeties Jairus Byrd of Buffalo and T.J. Ward of Cleveland.

And that's fine, provided the Eagles are able to obtain high-quality players in other ways. Seattle got 16-1/2 sacks in the 2013 season from free-agent pickups Cliff Avril (two years, $13 million) and Michael Bennett (one year, $5 million). Smart shopping is the key, whatever the price tag.

The key point is that the Eagles didn't make a mistake by signing marquee free agents. They made mistakes in player evaluation in both free agency and the draft. You don't stop drafting because you selected Danny Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett, so you shouldn't rule out free agency because you signed Asomugha and Vince Young.

The Eagles made huge strides in one year because Kelly made excellent use of the considerable offensive talent he inherited, and because his overall approach in all phases reinvigorated a stale franchise. To make those next steps toward a championship-caliber team will require better players in a few key spots.

If Byrd, Orakpo or some other elite player can further that process, the Eagles shouldn't hesitate to go after him. There is no rebuilding, only building, and that process should be constant. The well-run organizations of the last decade understand that. The Eagles should know -- a few missteps aside, they're one of them.

The next big thing: Eagles

January, 23, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- With the draft so far off this year – May! – the next major item on the Eagles’ to-do list is deciding on a strategy for free agency, which begins March 11.

General manager Howie Roseman has repeatedly said the team will continue to avoid huge free-agent deals in favor of making a number of smaller, less risky investments on the open market. That approach brought Connor Barwin, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Donnie Jones last offseason. It also brought Patrick Chung, James Casey and Kenny Phillips, moves that didn’t hamstring the franchise when performance didn’t equal compensation.

Before getting to March 11, though, the first order of business is deciding how to handle the current Eagles with expiring contracts. That group includes Michael Vick, who wants to explore opportunities to start, wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, and safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson.

The Eagles could have extended any of those contracts before now, so they’re clearly willing to risk losing any or all of those players once the market opens. The best guess here is the team will wait and see if the market convinces Cooper, Maclin and Allen that their best option is to remain in Philadelphia on reasonable contracts. If not, then adios.

There are a handful of veteran players whose contracts could dictate some action. Will the Eagles hang on to players like Williams, Casey, Trent Cole, Brent Celek and Jason Avant?

Once those decisions are made, the Eagles can move on to the next Next Big Thing, signing free agents and preparing for the May (May!) draft.
PHILADELPHIA -- There was a time a rookie offensive tackle would be eased into NFL action. He might even start out at guard and gradually move outside as he became more comfortable.

Of course, there was also a time a quarterback might sit for all or most of a season before becoming a starter.

That time, in the ever faster-moving NFL, is gone.

So it should be no surprise that Lane Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, played 1,103 of a possible 1,104 offensive snaps for the Philadelphia Eagles in his first season. Johnson was given one down off to catch his breath in the first game against the Giants in October.

It still takes more than a season to evaluate a draft class, but the process is being sped up all the time. Here’s a look at Johnson and the rest of the Eagles’ rookies -- or as first-year coach Chip Kelly puckishly dubbed them, “My favorite draft class for the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Johnson
First round: Lane Johnson, offensive tackle, Oklahoma. The fourth overall pick, Johnson was one of the three offensive tackles taken at the top of the draft. He arguably had a better overall rookie season than No. 1 pick Eric Fisher (Kansas City) and No. 2 pick Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville).

Perhaps inevitably for a guy who had played quarterback and defensive end before being shifted to the offensive line in college, Johnson had some growing pains. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed seven sacks in the first eight games of the season but just three the rest of the way. He was solid in run blocking, as well.

It’s worth noting, too, that few rookie tackles (if any) are asked to line up split wide and block on bubble screens. Johnson took everything thrown his way with a smile and a shrug. He’s got a chance to be anchored at tackle for this franchise for a decade.

Also on board: Almost everyone.

Good pick or bad pick? Very good pick.

Ertz
Second round: Zach Ertz, tight end, Stanford. Taking Ertz here, 35th overall, was an expression of GM Howie Roseman’s commitment to taking the top-graded player regardless of need. The Eagles already had signed James Casey in free agency and and had Brent Celek on the roster.

Would they have improved their overall team more by drafting cornerbacks Darius Slay or Johnthan Banks, or linebackers Manti Te’o or Kiko Alonso, or running back Giovani Bernard?

Maybe. But Ertz is going to be making plays in Kelly’s offense for years to come. He’s smart, driven and possesses excellent hands and good size (6-foot-5, 250). Like most young tight ends, he has to improve as a blocker and said he plans to spend time in the weight room in the offseason.

Also on board: Slay, Bernard, Te’o, Geno Smith and Tank Carradine were the next five players drafted. Alonso, who earned defensive rookie of the year consideration, went 11 picks later to Buffalo.

Good pick or bad pick? Good pick.

Logan
Third round: Bennie Logan, defensive tackle, LSU. The 6-foot-2, 309-pound Logan’s development allowed the Eagles to trade veteran Isaac Sopoaga at the deadline. Logan started at nose tackle the last eight games, which corresponded with the overall defense’s improvement.

Oddly, Logan had his only two sacks in the first half of the season, when he was playing limited snaps. It remains to be seen if he’s the true anchor/nose tackle of the future, but he has enough versatility to play in different fronts as needed.

Also on the board: Tyrann Mathieu, Mike Glennon, Terrance Williams, Terron Armstead, Keenan Allen.

Good pick or bad pick? Good. Best possible? A few of the guys taken right after Logan look pretty good, too.

Barkley
Fourth round: Matt Barkley, quarterback, USC. The Eagles traded up to take Barkley at the top of the fourth round. It seemed an odd move at the time -- everyone thought Kelly would prefer more mobile quarterbacks -- and is still easily debatable.

It wouldn’t be fair to read too much into Barkley’s limited playing time. He was pressed into service when Nick Foles and then Michael Vick were injured. Barkley had little practice time to draw upon. He threw four interceptions and zero touchdowns in 49 attempts.

If he’s the No. 2 quarterback here or eventually flipped to another team looking for a potential starter, he was worth the 98th pick in the draft. If he winds up starting here some day, he was a steal.

Also on board: Nico Johnson, Akeem Spence, Ace Sanders, Josh Boyce, Ryan Nassib.

Good pick or bad pick? Curious pick.

Wolff
Fifth round: Earl Wolff, safety, NC State. By this point in the draft, there’s an element of luck involved. The Eagles desperately needed safety help and took a shot on Wolff with the 136th pick. It was a good shot.

Wolff took the starting job from veteran Patrick Chung early in the season. He had his growing pains, but was starting to settle into the job when he hurt his knee Nov. 10 in Green Bay. Wolff made one brief appearance after that, aggravated the knee and didn’t play again.

Also on board: Jesse Williams, Tharold Simon, Montori Hughes, Stepfan Taylor and Oday Aboushi were the next five players taken.

Good pick or bad pick? Good pick.

Seventh round: Joe Kruger, defensive end , Utah. He spent the season on injured reserve. Should be an interesting guy to watch in training camp.

Seventh round: Jordan Poyer, cornerback, Oregon State. Poyer made the team coming out of camp, but was released when the Eagles needed to clear roster space for a running back in October. Cleveland claimed Poyer off waivers and he finished the season with the Browns.

Seventh round: David King, defensive end, Oklahoma. Released in camp.

Also on board: A bunch of guys.

Good picks or bad picks? Oh, come on.

Philadelphia Eagles season wrap-up

January, 8, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 11
Preseason Power Ranking: 25

Biggest surprise: Easy. Nick Foles. He started six games as a rookie in 2012, winning one of them and pretty much disappearing amid the debris of a 4-12 season. He seemed like a terrible fit for new coach Chip Kelly's offense, especially in contrast to the mobile Michael Vick. When Vick pulled a hamstring, Foles seized the starting job with epic numbers: 119.2 passer rating (third best all time), 27 touchdowns and two interceptions (best ratio ever). Foles won eight of his 10 starts and led the Eagles to the NFC East championship. Anyone who says they saw Foles' season coming is fibbing.

Biggest disappointment: The outcome of Saturday night's playoff game against New Orleans -- which says something about how thoroughly Kelly changed the culture here. No one expected the Eagles to win their division and reach the playoffs, but once they did, plenty of people expected them to win the first-round home game. But LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, didn't have his best game, and the Saints caught the Eagles off guard by running the ball so much themselves. The Eagles appeared capable of beating almost anyone, including the Saints, which made the loss hard to swallow.

Biggest need: Defensive difference-makers, especially in the secondary. The cornerbacks were solid and improved steadily by season's end, but a shutdown corner or legitimate playmaking safety would help a lot. A close second would be a pass-rushing threat, preferably from the outside. Trent Cole had a good year making the transition from defensive end to linebacker, but he's not going to play forever. Funny: For the midseason version of this, I listed quarterback as the biggest need. That's how shocking Foles' performance was.

Team MVP: LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing and in total yards from scrimmage, setting Eagles franchise records in both categories. No one could argue with you if you named McCoy MVP of the team, or even of the NFC. But McCoy was the running back when the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point. It wasn't until Foles took over the starting quarterback spot that the Eagles began winning games. That seems like the very definition of "most valuable." Nevertheless, the Eagles' first NFL rushing title since Steve Van Buren probably earns McCoy the team MVP award.

 

PHILADELPHIA -- There is roster change every year for NFL teams. The Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in pretty good shape going into the 2014 offseason. They have control over most of their roster and can, for the most part, make only the changes they want.

Here's how the roster shapes up:

Unrestricted free agents: Wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin; safeties Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson; quarterback Michael Vick; defensive end Clifton Geathers, punter Donnie Jones.

The Eagles could lose all of those players without taking a major hit. That doesn't mean those players aren't valuable, merely that they're not irreplaceable. It's not as if LeSean McCoy or Mychal Kendricks or Jason Kelce were free to leave.

My guess is general manager Howie Roseman will make solid market offers to Cooper, Maclin, Allen, Geathers and Jones. He will not overpay for any of them. If some other team does, the Eagles will move on without the player in question.

Players due for contract extensions: Defensive end Cedric Thornton (exclusive rights free agent) and center Jason Kelce.

Let's project to the year 2022. The 35-year-old Kelce announces he is playing his final season after 13 years with the Eagles. That's how things should go with this guy. He's smart, physical, athletic and exactly the kind of player teams should commit to. So yes, extend Kelce.

Thornton was one of the delightful surprises of 2013. An undrafted rookie from Southern Arkansas, he hung around for a couple years without anyone paying much mind. But he's living proof of Chip Kelly's no-expectations approach. Kelly judges based on what a player does, and Thornton was very good this year.

Players who could be gone: Vick, Anderson, Coleman, wide receiver Damaris Johnson, kicker Alex Henery, linebacker Brandon Graham, safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Phillip Hunt (restricted free agent on IR), wide receiver Arrelious Benn, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly.

Mostly self-explanatory. Vick wants to find a place where he can start. Even if he doesn't, the Eagles really like Matt Barkley and may well prefer a younger (read: cheaper) No. 2 behind Nick Foles.

Henery will have competition for the kicking job next summer. Not sure he'll answer that bell. Graham belongs at end in a 4-3 defense and may get a chance to return to one. The Eagles tried to replace Chung over and over but injuries kept him in the lineup.

Johnson lost his return job and never played on offense. Anderson has been a solid special teams guy, but Kelly likes versatility and may prefer a replacement who can fill in on defense, too.

Veterans on the salary-cap bubble: Tight end Brent Celek, linebacker Trent Cole, guard Todd Herremans, wide receiver Jason Avant. They are all good enough players to stay. That, not their cap numbers, should be the deciding factor.

Youth movement: The Eagles signed their practice squad and one other player to futures contracts. They are linebackers Emmanuel Acho, Josh Kaddu and Travis Long; offensive tackle Michael Bamiro; defensive end Brandon Bair; wide receivers Will Murphy, B.J. Cunningham and Ifeanyi Momah, and tight end Emil Igwenagu.

The takeaway here: The Eagles staff spent a lot of time coaching these guys and one or three of them just might become contributors.

Defense saves game for Kelly, Foles

December, 30, 2013
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Chip KellyMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Boykin's interception sealed a playoff berth for Chip Kelly and the Eagles.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Whatever Chip Kelly and Nick Foles accomplish together as coach and quarterback of the Eagles, in these playoffs and beyond, they will look back on Sunday night's 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys as their first big game together.

And they will know, deep in their hearts, that those unheralded guys on the Philadelphia defense saved their postseason lives.

With a combination of smarts, sports science and magic, Kelly turned the 4-12 Eagles team he inherited into a 10-6 division title winner. Foles, who took over at quarterback in October, went 8-2 as a starter and finished the season as the NFL's highest rated passer.

The Eagles came to Foles' native Texas for a virtual playoff game against the Cowboys. Win and the Eagles would be NFC East champions. They would host the New Orleans Saints in a first-round playoff game Saturday night. They would have a puncher's chance to be that hot team that burns its way to the Super Bowl seemingly every year.

For a half, they had things in hand. Foles threw two touchdown passes, giving him 27 for the season against just two interceptions. His passer rating was 155.5. The Eagles had a 17-10 lead and possession of the ball to start the third quarter.

And then it started unraveling. The offense was brutal in the third quarter. Foles looked overwhelmed, completing 3 of 8 passes for 41 yards and fumbling the ball away at his own 20. It was so bad, Kelly had Foles throw exactly two passes in the entire fourth quarter.

"We made it a game," Eagles left tackle Jason Peters said. "Not scoring, stalling out a couple times on offense. We let them back in the game."

The defense took the game back.

After Foles' fumble, Dallas ran three plays for a total of 2 yards. Linebackers Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans and Connor Barwin made one-on-one tackles to stop Jason Witten once and DeMarco Murray twice. The Cowboys kicked a field goal and the Eagles clung to their slim, 17-16 lead.

After another three-and-out by Foles and the offense, the Eagles' defense allowed 1 yard on the Cowboys' next possession. That forced a punt that DeSean Jackson, who was held to three catches, returned 23 yards to the Philadelphia 48-yard line.

That was the spark the Eagles needed. They were at midfield instead of their own 20. LeSean McCoy ran three times for 24 yards. Foles completed a short pass that Brent Celek took 22 yards down to the 6-yard line.

That's when Kelly almost outsmarted himself. He couldn't resist bringing Brad Smith in for another of those gimmick plays that look so clever on the dry-erase board. The halfback option pass went incomplete.

"Trying to score," Kelly said. "We thought we would be in man coverage down there. We had a throw back to the quarterback [called]."

Foles threw incomplete on second down. On third down, Jackson caught a ball at the 1-yard line and was held out of the end zone by Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr.

Fourth-and-less-than-a-yard, late in the third quarter.

The book says kick the field goal. Kelly decided to go for it.

"We felt like with the ball on the half-yard line, we've got to be able to punch it in," Kelly said.

They couldn't. Foles was stuffed on the quarterback keeper.

If the Cowboys had seized the momentum there and won, Kelly would have had a very tough time living down the gadget play, the failed fourth down and the non-use of McCoy. That didn't happen, because the Eagles' defense wouldn't let it happen.

"That was an interesting fourth quarter," Kelly said. "Those guys didn't flinch."

The Cowboys drove 59 yards to a fourth-and-1 of their own at the Philadelphia 40-yard line. Jason Garrett decided to go for it. He had a good play call. The Eagles expected a run, so Murray slipped into the flat for a flare pass from Kyle Orton.

Barwin thought it was a run, saw that Orton still had the ball and closed in on him. Orton tried to get it over the 6-foot-4 linebacker's head. He couldn't. Barwin swatted it away. Eagles ball.

"I thought I could catch it," Barwin said. "I knew we were off the field. But I knew there was still some game left to play. I knew it was a big play in the game, but I knew we would be back out there on defense."

It was the first of several signature plays the defense made to save this game for the Eagles. The next was cornerback Cary Williams, breaking up a 2-point conversion pass for Dez Bryant that would have tied the game at 24.

Foles and the offense got the ball back with a chance to run down the clock. Instead, it was another three-and-out, another punt, another save required by the defense.

As it turns out, the Eagles' defense had been through this drill a few times this season. Those home wins against Washington and Arizona came down to late defensive stops.

On first down, needing maybe 30 yards to get within field goal range, Orton threw a pass intended for Miles Austin. It was a little behind him. It wasn't behind Brandon Boykin.

The nickel corner caught it and the Eagles were NFC East champions, Kelly had a division title in his first season and Foles won the first elimination game of his career.

"There's going to be adversity in games," Foles said. "We overcame it today as a team and it was an exciting game to win. I had a blast out there. Our defense was coming up big, special teams played really good ball, and our offense was able to put some points on the board. In those times of adversity, the game's not over. There's still time on the clock. That's how I've always looked at it -- I'm going to play until that clock says zero."

Earlier this season, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said he wouldn't judge Kelly strictly on wins and losses. That was before Lurie knew there would be 10 wins and a home playoff game.

But his larger point still holds true. Lurie hired Kelly because he believed the unorthodox college coach with the cocky grin could build a winning program. His Eagles, on offense and defense and special teams, made a pretty good case this year that Lurie was correct.

"This team has character," Peters said.

That seems clear. And it's just as clear the coach is a character.

"He's a little different than what most coaches are," said Williams, who won a Super Bowl with John Harbaugh in Baltimore last year. "He goes against the grain. It's great."

 

Halftime thoughts on Eagles

December, 29, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas – The Philadelphia Eagles lead the Dallas Cowboys 17-10 at halftime in their game to determine who wins the NFC East and hosts the New Orleans Saints in a playoff game next weekend.

Some quick thoughts:

Nick Foles told the truth. That first Dallas game was not stuck in his craw. Foles was accurate, authoritative and not afraid to take some risks. He threaded two defenders for a 16-yard throw to Riley Cooper in the first quarter. His jump balls to Jason Avant and Brent Celek set up the Eagles’ second-quarter touchdowns.

LeSean McCoy set the Eagles’ franchise record for rushing yards in a season on a 16-yard run in the second quarter. Wilbert Montgomery’s 1979 record of 1,512 yards lasted 34 years. McCoy had 51 rushing yards in the first half for a season total of 1,527.

Mychal Kendricks was the Eagles’ defensive MVP. He ended the Cowboys’ first drive deep in Eagles territory by knocking the ball out of DeMarco Murray’s hands. (Cornerback Bradley Fletcher recovered.) In the second quarter, Kendricks caught a ball that tight end Jason Witten dropped. The Eagles scored 10 of their 17 points off the two turnovers.

Send a text: Zach Ertz is coming on

December, 20, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Zach Ertz had to shut his phone down. The Philadelphia Eagles rookie tight end had been getting texts and calls all Sunday evening, but it was getting late on the East Coast.

Back at home, on the West Coast, "SportsCenter" was about to come on. Ertz knew that catch would prompt another round of messages from friends too excited to remember the time difference.

[+] EnlargeZach Ertz
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsEagles tight end Zach Ertz extends over Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo to bring in the ball for a touchdown in their Week 15 game.
"I had to put my phone on silent," Ertz said. "My girlfriend is in town. She always tells me to shut it off, too. It’s fun. Just seeing how many people look up to me at home, it’s kind of neat. I never would have expected that growing up."

Ertz has been coming on for the past month or so, getting more playing time and more balls thrown his way. But his one-handed touchdown catch in Minnesota on Sunday was the kind that gets replayed over and over.

"My mom was probably the most excited about it," Ertz said. "She sent me about four texts after the game, letting me know how sweet it was. That was probably the initial reaction."

Ertz was a basketball player in high school. He fits a trend where big, physical tight ends with basketball skills are making an impact in the NFL.

"I never really played football until my freshman year of high school," Ertz said. "I was a big basketball guy. Going up for a rebound is a lot like going up for a football. There’s a lot of traits that kind of convert from basketball to football.

"You’ve got to be able to attack the ball. You've got guys that are just as fast as you, but you're bigger than them. If you’re able to outjump them, or get leverage on them, you have a good chance to come down with the ball."

The touchdown in Minnesota was a good example. Nick Foles floated a pass toward the back left corner of the end zone. Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo, who at 6-foot-1 gives up 4 inches to Ertz, jumped. As he did, he held Ertz's left arm for just a moment.

Ertz reached out with the right and pulled the ball in like a long rebound.

"Nick has such good touch on the ball when he throws it that it's easy to catch," Ertz said. "Fortunately, I was able to make it with one hand."

Catches like that bring in the texts and phone calls. But it is in the other parts of the game, run blocking and pass protecting and route running, that a young tight end has to do the most work. Ertz is putting the time in and being rewarded with more offensive snaps.

Sunday’s was the first game he was on the field more than veteran Brent Celek, although that was partly due to the game plan's emphasis on throwing rather than running the ball.

"The game has slowed down for me," Ertz said. "I've gotten more comfortable each and every week. Hopefully, that continues. I think you have to be a complete tight end. Tony Gonzalez is a very good blocker; Jason Witten is a very good blocker. Those are kind of the two that stick out. Jimmy Graham is kind of formulating his way into the record books, as well."

The second-round pick from Stanford isn't afraid to chase greatness.

"That’s the goal," he said. "I want to be one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. That's the goal I set out for myself, and I’m going to hold myself to that standard."
PHILADELPHIA -- On Sunday, the Eagles were talking about how that snow-blown 34-20 victory over the Detroit Lions was a game to remember.

By Tuesday, it was just another game to forget.

“Short memory,” quarterback Nick Foles said. “Ron Jaworski said it best. You've got to have amnesia. You've got to be able to just forget about it and move forward.”

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions
Hunter Martin/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesThe Eagles have put Sunday's come-from-behind victory in the snow over the Lions behind them.
Foles has talked all season about his personal “24-hour rule” for putting games behind him, win or lose.

“I deal with the emotions of the game after the game and then Monday,” Foles said. “Monday night, I'm thinking about my next opponent, how I'm going to approach the week, what I want to work on and get better at, what do I think are their strengths. You really just forget about the last game.”

That is a little more challenging this week. The excitement of Sunday's comeback win in the snow had barely started receding when the Dallas Cowboys took the field against the Chicago Bears Monday night. When that game was over, the Eagles held sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

“I didn't even watch the game,” tight end Brent Celek said. “I don't have TV. But I woke up this morning, I was excited.”

“It's a good position to be in,” wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. “We feel good about that, but there's still three games left in the season. It's the NFL. There are great teams out there fighting just as hard as we're fighting.”

The Eagles are one of the few teams in the NFL that practice on Tuesday. It is part of Chip Kelly's program designed to aid rest and recovery each week. It also serves to force the Eagles to turn the page on the previous game more quickly.

“Honestly, I never really liked it,” Jackson said. “But you've got to buy in and do what you've got to do. That's one of the challenges. I do miss going into the locker room Sunday and saying, 'See you Wednesday.' But here we are in December and we're fresh and ready to go out there and get the soreness out.”

All coaches emphasize taking one game at a time, but Kelly's “one-week season” approach and emphasis on each day's to-do list has kept this team focused. The challenge this week isn't just the nature of Sunday's win, but of next Sunday's opponent.

For the first time since they were 3-3, the Eagles have the much better record. They are 8-5 while Minnesota is scuffling along at 3-9-1. This would be a perfect setup for a team to let down.

“There's nothing really in our sights other than playing Minnesota,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “Our guys have done it and displayed to us in the last few weeks that they can do it, so it's just hit the reset button and let's go.”

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