NFC East: Darren Sproles

PHILADELPHIA – Give yourself a pat on the back if you had Jason Avant in the wide-receiver-most-likely-to-skewer-Chip Kelly pool.

Avant
DeSean Jackson’s departure from the Eagles got all the attention, and for good reason. He was coming off a Pro Bowl season, put up great numbers and was still under contract. Avant was 31, saw his role diminish over the course of the season, and his contract expired after the season.

Avant signed with the Carolina Panthers. This week, he told the Charlotte Observer that he knew his days as a Kelly employee were numbered “maybe four games into last season. When they stop calling your number and guys start running some of the routes that you run – I knew from the beginning that I didn’t fit his style of offense, in that I’m a crafty guy that gets open in an atypical way.”

There isn’t much to see here, actually. There is nothing remarkable, really, about a coach shaping his roster to fit his vision for how the game should be played. Kelly made some changes immediately upon taking over the Eagles last year, but it takes a little time to remake an entire football program. Especially when that program had been run the same way for 15 years.

“When it came to certain things,” Avant told the Observer, “we butted heads sometimes – route running and route technique. So I knew I didn’t fit his system.”

Avant was a good soldier and did his part to help smooth the transition from Reid to Kelly. That is even more admirable when you learn that he was doing so with the knowledge he wouldn’t be here when it all came together.

Still, Avant’s comments do shed a bit more light on the Jackson situation. If the oldest, most respected leader among the wide receivers didn’t see eye to eye with Kelly, that suggests Jackson wasn’t totally on board, either. Jackson, like Avant, was steeped in Reid’s approach to the game. Clearly, that approach differs from Kelly’s.

All of that supports the theory that Kelly released Jackson because he didn’t really buy in to what the coach was trying to build here.

That’s fine as far as it goes. But Kelly immediately put pressure on himself to replace the departed talent without taking a step backward. The early signs are good. Jordan Matthews, Darren Sproles and Josh Huff seem like pieces that Kelly can plug in without missing a beat. The Eagles will have to deal with Jackson twice a year while he’s in Washington, but they won’t see Avant again unless it’s in the playoffs.

If there’s any head butting going on then, it will be on the field.

Sproles' talent, smarts excite Eagles

June, 25, 2014
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Darren Sproles has never been a wide receiver.

Sproles
He’s a running back.

Sproles, who was acquired by the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason, led the league with 2,696 all-purpose yards in 2011, but his rushing, receiving and return total numbers have decreased in the following two seasons.

Regardless, he’s a running back who can perform in a variety of roles. Don’t refer to him as a wide receiver.

“Yeah, that’s crazy,” Sproles told CSNPhilly.com. “Half the time I get my catches out of the backfield.”

Sproles has 378 career receptions in nine seasons, but the Eagles added him for assistance in the backfield.

“Everyone thinks Darren Sproles is a receiver. He's a running back and a really, really talented running back,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly told reporters last month.

Safety Malcolm Jenkins was Sproles’ teammate in New Orleans and was constantly impressed with the diminutive running back.

“He’s small, so you think you can go here and you’d think he’d be a liability but he’s really, really good at pass protection,” Jenkins told CSNPhilly.com. “He understands it. He puts himself in position to make plays. And he’s not just [cut blocking] everybody, either. He’s standing in there and taking on blocks and then holding up. That’s the thing you’d expect to be his weakness and it’s not at all.”

Kelly is looking forward to seeing how Sproles will develop within the intricate Eagles offense. Training camp begins next month.

“We heard from the coaches that coached him what an intelligent football player he is and learned that from the first day he was in this building and how sharp he is and how dedicated he is,” Kelly said. “I talked to Norv Turner [who coached Sproles in San Diego] and he remarked to me when I saw him at one of the pro days, he said, ‘You'll have to slow him down because he only knows one speed.’ And that's the same thing you see. Darren practices and trains at one speed. It's awesome. He fits in with the culture that we want in terms of preparation, but it's everything we wanted when we got him here.”

Sproles sparks possibilities for offense

June, 19, 2014
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It's easy to point to what the Philadelphia Eagles lost in the offseason -- three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

Sproles
It's also easy to forget what the Eagles gained on offense -- running back Darren Sproles.

Along with LeSean McCoy, this duo could wind up being one of the most dominant in the NFL this season.

"You know, first thing that sticks out is just how well he [Sproles] trains," Eagles coach Chip Kelly told reporters Wednesday during the three-day mandatory minicamp. "He's one of the guys that you point out to the younger guys on film as that is what it's supposed to look like. That's the effort and that's what we're looking for on a daily basis from him, very, very intelligent football player. He's got a great knowledge of the game and I think he's really shared that with Duce [Staley] and myself kind of how he sees things and has helped out some of the younger running backs at that position. Besides Darren, we are pretty young. LeSean is the next oldest guy at 25 and the rest of them are younger than he is. Been a great mentor to the younger guys and has really showed how they want them to perform out on the field."

Sproles led the league with 2,696 all-purpose yards in 2011, but his rushing, receiving and return total numbers have decreased in the following two seasons. He joined a team which doesn't need him to put up those kinds of numbers.

Quarterback Nick Foles had one more yard rushing (221) than Sproles did (220) last season. But Sproles can contribute in many ways, though, between rushing, catching passes and special teams.

Training camp is still more than a month away, but it's natural to wonder exactly how Sproles will fit into the high-powered offense.

"I've said that since Day 1: We are just trying to get reps and get plays and we are not game-planning anybody," Kelly said. "That's the fortunate thing for us is let's see how much work we can get done, get everybody on film and then when we start to get into the season we'll start to see how we can deploy our personnel in appropriate manners to win games."
PHILADELPHIA – DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy joined the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of consecutive drafts. Jackson arrived in 2008, McCoy in 2009.

Jackson, the undersized wide receiver from Cal, and McCoy, the running back from Pitt, earned Pro Bowl appearances during the final, declining years of Andy Reid's tenure. Then they returned to Honolulu after putting up big numbers in their first season under new coach Chip Kelly.

Jackson
McCoy
Within a few months, Jackson was gone, unceremoniously released. It's no wonder that move gave McCoy plenty to think about.

"For myself, I took out of that, no matter how good a player is, it's a team," McCoy said Wednesday. "If you can't buy in, anything is possible. I'm not sure what the rest of the team took out of that. I was speaking for myself."

McCoy told the NFL Network last week that Jackson's release sent a message to the rest of the team.

"A player like that, who's done so much for this franchise -- even the year Chip was here, the stuff he did -- some players may think, 'Well, he produced on the field. That's the only thing that matters,' " McCoy said. "But it's small things I take out of everything, and that's what I took out of that."

Not that McCoy saw a need to change very much. If Jackson's behavior or attitude indicated he wasn't buying in to Kelly's approach, McCoy has been a model citizen.

"I like to do things the right way, anyway," McCoy said. "I don't think it changed too much. But it's the small things that you think about, that you think nobody cares about, when in reality, they do. Take care of the small details, do your work and have fun doing it."

McCoy led the NFL in rushing in Kelly's first season. The Eagles have added some offensive weapons, including running back Darren Sproles and wide receivers Jordan Mathews and Josh Huff. There is a chance McCoy won't amass the kind of rushing yards he did in 2013.

"I never think about that," McCoy said. "I'm productive. I look to make plays and be productive. I look forward to those things. I think Coach Kelly knows the type of guy I am, the player I want to be. If it does change, I know whatever role I get, I can be productive in it.

"The most important thing is the value you bring to the offense. I feel like my value is high. I'll do whatever it takes to be productive. If it's running more, catching less, or catching more and running less, whatever that role may be, I know what type of player I am."

With another typical season, McCoy would break Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record of 6,538 rushing yards. McCoy is 1,065 yards behind Montgomery.

"Nothing's a given," McCoy said. "That's another goal to put on my list of things to get done. The guys up front will block the way they did the last two years, and this offense will get it done."
PHILADELPHIA – In the aftermath of the Eagles' decision to release wide receiver DeSean Jackson, there was more speculation than explanation available. That's how wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell got drawn into the conversation.

During a mid-December game in Minnesota, Bicknell and Jackson were seen shouting at each other on the sidelines. It was the kind of scene that plays out every week in the NFL. But when a player gets released just a month after playing in the Pro Bowl, a scene like that suddenly seems more important.

[+] EnlargeBob Bicknell
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images"I never had a problem with DeSean Jackson," Bob Bicknell said. "I enjoyed coaching him."
Like most of coach Chip Kelly's assistants, Bicknell is not available to the media most of the time. All of the assistants talked Monday, so it was the first time Bicknell was asked publicly about Jackson.

“Honestly, I don't remember too much about that [Minnesota] situation,” Bicknell said. “It wasn't something that was carried too long. I think it does happen from time to time [on the sideline].

“I never had a problem with DeSean Jackson. I enjoyed coaching him. I enjoyed the year I had with him. As a coach, you move on so quickly. Once that decision was made, I moved on. I wish him nothing but the best. He did everything I asked him to do.”

Jackson produced career highs in catches (82), yardage (1,332) and touchdowns (nine) in his only season under Bicknell and Kelly. Now it will be Bicknell's task to replace that production without Jackson or slot receiver Jason Avant, who left as a free agent.

“I think it comes from everybody,” Bicknell said. “It comes from everybody being a little bit more comfortable in the offense. We've always had good guys in that [meeting] room. I have great confidence we have a lot of guys in that room who can make plays.”

Riley Cooper returns as one starter. Jeremy Maclin, who tore an ACL in training camp last season, returns to the starting lineup. Draft picks Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff provide different skill sets. Arrelious Benn and Brad Smith are veterans with chances to contend for playing time.

“A lot of guys are fighting for that position now,” Bicknell said. “They're all out there making a lot of plays. Jordan Matthews is a pretty fast guy. Brad Smith is really good with the ball in his hands. I don't look at it like, we can't go deep.”

The Eagles also added running back Darren Sproles, who has excellent speed. He's not in Bicknell's meetings, but he's one more player who will get the chance to help replace what the Eagles got from Jackson.

As for Bicknell, he said he had no issues with Jackson.

“I never had a problem with DeSean,” Bicknell said.
PHILADELPHIA -- Jordan Matthews, the second-round pick from Vanderbilt, has gotten a fair amount of attention during the past two weeks of OTA practices.

He’s gotten quite a bit from quarterbacks, who like throwing to a 6-foot-3 target with good hands. He’s gotten attention from defensive backs, who go where the ball is going. And Matthews has gotten a fair amount of attention from reporters working the who-will-replace-DeSean-Jackson angle.

[+] EnlargeSproles
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsAs the Eagles search for ways to replace DeSean Jackson's explosive plays, new running back Darren Sproles will be part of the solution.
That is understandable enough. The release of Jackson, a Pro Bowl receiver in his prime, was the most puzzling move yet during Chip Kelly’s tenure as head coach. Whatever you think of the move, and the explanations or lack of same, the Eagles created a need for themselves and Matthews is the draft pick destined to be seen as the solution to that problem.

But that’s not really fair. The truth is, the Eagles have to replace the element of speed that Jackson provided. They can do that a number of ways. Matthews might not have quite that elite speed himself, but he can be part of the mix in Kelly’s offense.

“I can see Matthews has a quick first step,” veteran cornerback Cary Williams said. “I can see him being very explosive out of breaks. And once he gets his hands on the ball, he looks like someone who can break a couple tackles and take a simple, six-yard curl into an 80-yard play.”

For now, Matthews is running with the second team as the slot receiver. That has more to do with Kelly’s approach to teaching rookies than anything. Chances are, Matthews will replace Jason Avant in the slot, with Jeremy Maclin, back from a torn ACL, stepping into Jackson’s spot on the outside.

Maclin has good speed, but not Jackson speed. The Eagles added elite speed when they acquired Darren Sproles in a trade with New Orleans. But as Kelly was quick to point out last week, Sproles is a running back. He’s not a wide receiver.

Still, Sproles’ speed can have the same effect on defenses as Jackson’s did. He can force defensive coordinators to account for him, and that is half the battle. Kelly’s ability to deploy his other weapons, to take advantage of the space created by that speed, is the other half.

“We knew [Sproles] was a really, really talented player, and when he got here, he showed that right from the jump,” Kelly said. “We heard from the coaches that coached him what an intelligent football player he is and learned that from the first day he was in this building, and how sharp he is and how dedicated he is.

“I talked to Norv Turner (who coached Sproles in San Diego) and he remarked to me when I saw him at one of the pro days, he said, ‘You'll have to slow him down because he only knows one speed.’ And that's the same thing you see. Darren practices and trains at one speed. It's awesome. He fits in with the culture that we want in terms of preparation, but it's everything we wanted when we got him here.”

Kelly’s ability to move Sproles around, and to mix and match all his other offensive weapons, will give the Eagles plenty of versatility this season. It is that, more than Matthews or any other one player, that will replace Jackson’s speed.
PHILADELPHIA -- All things considered, last season was a pretty successful one for the Philadelphia Eagles. With a new head coach, Chip Kelly, and with radically different offensive and defensive schemes, they managed to win the NFC East and reach the postseason.

Sure, they lost 26-24 to New Orleans in the wild-card round, but that was a pretty good rookie campaign for Kelly and his team, right? That’s one point of view. Cornerback Cary Williams had a different one.

[+] EnlargeCary Williams and Darren Sproles
AP Photo/Julio CortezCary Williams' horse collar tackle on Darren Sproles proved costly -- it gave the Saints a short field on the game-winning drive.
“The way we went out last year,” Williams said this week, “it wasn’t necessarily something we could be proud of. ...Every season, every team wants to focus on winning the Super Bowl. When you fall short like that, it leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. So I think everyone that’s here is hungry. I think everybody that’s here is motivated. Everybody here wants to win.”

Immediately after the playoff loss, Williams bristled at questions about a penalty he drew late in the game. While covering a kickoff, Williams found himself alone behind Saints' return man Darren Sproles (who is now with the Eagles). Williams said he had to find a way to bring Sproles down, and the result was a horse-collar penalty that gave the Saints the ball at the Eagles 48-yard line. Williams was fined $15,750 for the tackle.

Right after the game, Williams was annoyed by questions about the play. Five months later, he has a different outlook.

“Even myself, getting that horse collar,” Williams said, “I felt I could have made a better tackle than that. There were times I felt I could have stopped a running back in a tackle. I ended up letting a guy drag me along instead of taking out his legs. There were some plays that left a bad taste in my mouth. There are several guys out here who feel the same way.”

How the players respond to that sense of disappointment means everything. For Williams, it means being at every day of organized team activities. Last year, after signing with the Eagles, he missed a lot of offseason work.

“It was no offense to anybody out here,” Williams said. “I was just doing some personal things. Last year was last year. Coach understood. I’m here now. I’m in meetings, participating. All I needed to get done in the offseason last year is done.”

Williams clearly feels like a part of this team in a way he couldn’t have felt just by signing a contract last offseason. There is an investment involved now.

“I just think that everybody’s hungry,” Williams said. “We left a bad taste in our mouths last year losing at home. We lost a lot of games at home. Those are things that we want to right this season. It starts here in OTAs. We’ve got to continue to work. We’ve got to take every opportunity as an opportunity to better yourself, individually. It’s about camaraderie, about building that trust in your teammates. Once we get that down, we can have a pretty good season.”

The Eagles had a pretty good season in 2013. One of the most encouraging signs for 2014 is the sense 2013 wasn’t good enough.

“To me,” Williams said, “that’s not very impressive. We’ve got to do better than that. We’ve got to improve. I think we’re on the right path.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Jeremy Maclin got up. The moment of hushed concern passed, and everything shifted back to normal in the Philadelphia Eagles' world. The wide receiver walked off the field as practice ended, reporting his knee was fine.

In that moment, though, much was revealed about the state of this team as it begins Chip Kelly's second season as head coach.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Maclin
Matt Rourke/AP PhotoThe Eagles' offense will depend on more players than just wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in 2014.
The immediate reaction: that another injury to Maclin could be devastating because of his perceived status as the replacement for DeSean Jackson in Kelly's scheme. But in reality, that is not the case and it never was. The Eagles will try to replace Jackson's production with Darren Sproles, with draft picks Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, with second-year tight end Zach Ertz, with Arrelious Benn and, yes, with Maclin.

The Eagles won 10 games and the NFC East title last year without Maclin, who tore an ACL during training camp last summer. The former first-round pick has been a solid starter during his tenure here, but he has not had the kind of impact Jackson had. That's why, when the Eagles released Jackson in March, it was fair to worry that they were expecting too much from Maclin. Not only has he not been the big-play guy Jackson was, but Maclin would now be playing on two surgically reconstructed knees.

But here's the other twist. Any attempt to project Maclin's production based on his performance under Andy Reid is a waste of time. Kelly's scheme turned Riley Cooper, a former fifth-round pick, into a valuable asset and favorite target of quarterback Nick Foles. It will be fascinating to see what Kelly can do with Maclin.

"I was really excited about how he would fit into what we do because of what he can do," Kelly said of Maclin. "And then to lose him that early in camp was disappointing. You got a taste of him. But having him out there full speed, running out there right now, he's doing a really good job."

Maclin has good speed, but not Jackson's speed. So one issue is whether Maclin or someone else can provide enough of a deep threat to create space for LeSean McCoy to run the ball and for the other receivers to work underneath the coverage. The addition of Sproles by trade and of Matthews and Huff in the draft should help there.

But even McCoy wonders. He led the NFL in rushing last season. But McCoy said this week that he would have to see how the offense functions now before he could assess the impact of Jackson's departure.

The suspicion is that Kelly has all of this worked out in his busy mind. It is clear the coach made the decision to release Jackson. He wouldn't have done so without a sound plan for his offense to remain effective. And that is the objective. It isn't about replacing exactly what Jackson did, it's about building a balanced, varied attack with the players who are here.

All of those players stopped suddenly when Maclin went down at the end of Monday's practice. But that's because they were concerned for a teammate who is coming off a serious knee injury. They were not concerned about the fate of their offense. That is in too many hands this season.

McCoy, Sproles will give Eagles options

April, 9, 2014
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LeSean McCoy turned into one of the most durable and dependable running backs in the league last season.

McCoy
McCoy should be even fresher in 2014 with the addition of Darren Sproles.

Sproles was acquired by the Philadelphia Eagles last month and then was signed to a two-year contract extension through 2016. Sproles, 30, will give the Eagles multiple options out of the backfield and on special teams. Sproles' speed may not be what it was three or four years ago, but it's still good enough for him to be an impact player.

With McCoy and Sproles in the backfield at the same time, defenses won't be able to focus on one player. It will give coach Chip Kelly plenty of options, especially on third down.

The change of scenery will give Sproles a fresh start.

Sproles
“I just wanted a choice,” Sproles told reporters. "I didn't want them to put me on a team or wherever that really didn't fit me. That's why I wanted to be released, so I could really choose. ...When I heard it (was Philadelphia), I was just happy. They could have traded me somewhere where I didn't want to be. So I was real happy about it."

Sproles led the league with 2,696 all-purpose yards in 2011, but his rushing, receiving and return total numbers have decreased in the following two seasons. Yet he’s coming to a team which doesn't need him to put up those kinds of numbers. The Eagles just need him to be a consistent element in their offense and special teams.

Amazingly, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles had one more yard rushing (221) than Sproles (220) last season. But Sproles' contribution won’t simply be on the ground. He can catch passes and turn them into huge gains. He can stretch the field. He can return kickoffs and punts. And he can block.

If Sproles can perform at a fairly high level, it will be a major benefit to McCoy.
The Philadelphia Eagles were active in keeping their own players, such as Jeremy Maclin, Jason Kelce and Riley Cooper. They were active in signing free agents, such as safety Malcolm Jenkins, and trading for running back Darren Sproles.

But the biggest move was cutting wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who stayed in the NFC East by signing with the Washington Redskins.

In ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's Grade A draft, he plays general manager for the Eagles, not Howie Roseman or Chip Kelly. What would Mel do as GM?

Find out here. Insider

What now for the Eagles at WR?

March, 30, 2014
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When the Philadelphia Eagles signed Riley Cooper to a long-term deal and brought back Jeremy Maclin on a one-year deal earlier this offseason, some took it as one of many signs they were thinking about moving on from DeSean Jackson. They were, and I'd argue that the Darren Sproles trade should have been seen as evidence of same.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly, DeSean Jackson
AP Photo/Matt RourkeWithout DeSean Jackson to stretch the field, Eagles coach Chip Kelly has to find other options and strategies at wide receiver.
On the face of it, the release of Jackson leaves the Eagles precariously thin at wide receiver. Maclin is recovering from a torn ACL that cost him the entire 2013 season, so it's hard to know for sure that he can be counted on. And I don't think it's insulting Cooper to suggest that he benefited from having Jackson on the field with him last year. The 2013 Eagles used Jackson in motion all over the formation, often as bait to force the defense into showing where the coverage was going. And Jackson's rare speed has always led defenses to commit at least some double coverage to him.

That said, Chip Kelly surely has a plan, or more likely many plans, for how to make up for the on-field loss of Jackson. It's easy to imagine Sproles being a part of it. He's not a wide receiver, but he's a running back the Saints used almost exclusively on passing downs and can play some of the roles Jackson played last year when he lined up in the backfield. Sproles can also be split out wide or used in the slot. He does not have Jackson's speed, because no one does, and he's not a candidate to stretch the field deep or draw double coverage. But when the Eagles run those package plays where they force the defense to commit coverage one way before Nick Foles throws the ball, Sproles can be a helpful piece close to the line of scrimmage and can make things happen when he catches the ball in space.

Maclin is a question mark. If healthy, he likely replaces Jackson to the extent that Jackson was used last year on the outside. Maclin used to have elite speed, so we'll see the extent to which the effects of the ACL surgery have changed that. But Kelly surely had specific plans for Maclin last year before Maclin got hurt, so there are elements to the offense involving him that we probably haven't even seen yet.

If Maclin isn't healthy, the Eagles have a major issue. They like Arrelious Benn, whom they acquired last offseason in a trade with Tampa Bay, but he himself is coming off ACL surgery. Damaris Johnson is seen as a potential playmaker in space, but we haven't seen it translate on the field very much yet. And it's worth noting that this year's draft is considered to be an excellent draft for the wide receiver position. The Eagles could find a receiver in the early rounds to add to their stable, and if that guy were to develop quickly, he could be a potential solution as well.

One thing of which I'm sure is that Kelly didn't release Jackson without first considering, in painstaking detail, myriad ways of attempting to replace his production on the field. Kelly does nothing without a plan and extensive preparation. He has created for himself a puzzle that will be more difficult to solve without Jackson than last year's was with him. But he does still have a decent number of good-looking tools at his disposal to help him solve it.

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.
A few thoughts on Darren Sproles after signing his two-year contract extension Friday and then meeting with Philadelphia reporters:

1. He's clearly excited to be in Philadelphia's system, which by all accounts seems to fit him perfectly. He was able to accomplish quite a bit in New Orleans and it would be hard to match some of the numbers he posted in the past. But he doesn't have to be other than one of several weapons with the Eagles. He told the media Friday that, "I feel that it could get real crazy."

2. Sproles was not happy the Saints were going to trade him rather than release him. "I just wanted a choice," he said. "I didn't want them to put me on a team or wherever that really didn't fit me. That's why I wanted to be released, so I could really choose. ...When I heard it [was Philadelphia], I was just happy. They could have traded me somewhere where I didn't want to be. So I was real happy about it."

3. Sproles' two-year extension means the Eagles have just about every key player locked up for a few years, allowing them to build continuity with their attack. Here's a good look on Philly.com at when key Eagles become free agents. Quarterback Nick Foles is up after the 2015 season, and if he plays well would be expensive to re-sign. But he has the weapons to put up strong numbers to make a case for himself the next two seasons.

4. Defending this Eagles' attack will provide a headache for defensive coordinators the next few seasons.

5. The Eagles also now have the flexibility to perhaps make other trades and recoup some draft picks, stocking up in what is widely considered a deep year. That's a topic that the Philadelphia Daily News' Paul Domowitch examined. It makes sense, too. The Eagles do have options, too.

6. In New Orleans, Sproles at times drew the attention of two defenders, particularly when he went to the flat. That would leave others free to create a bigger seam for quarterback Drew Brees. With the other weapons on this offense, it's hard to imagine him getting that sort of attention too often. That could put him in more favorable positions. "I think it'll be fun," he said. "For me, watching [Chip Kelly] last year from a distance, they do a lot of good stuff, [create] a lot of space. So I like that."

7. Sproles knows where he likes to be used: "Anywhere in space."
The impact of the Darren Sproles trade will linger for a while, right up through the season when the Philadelphia Eagles can showcase yet another weapon in Chip Kelly's offense.

Sproles
Though Sproles is on the downside of his career, as any running back who turns 30 would be, that doesn't mean he's no longer dangerous. And that's why this move was largely applauded. The only thing that he can't do is improve a defense that struggled, though the Eagles have started to work on that side of the ball a little bit as well, with safety Malcolm Jenkins and corner Nolan Carroll having been signed.

Still, Sproles is the one worth taking more of a look at -- even a day later. Here's what others had to say about the move:
    • ESPN NFL writer Kevin Seifert wrote that Sproles and running back LeSean McCoy can be on the field at the same time: "Sproles proved especially productive in New Orleans when lined up somewhere other than the backfield. His 89 receptions in those situations since 2011 is twice that of the next-closest running back, Marcel Reece (44). Such familiarity with the slot and outside receiving positions give the Eagles a scary potential to use Sproles and McCoy on the field at the same time."
    • ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett said New Orleans letting him go makes sense. “The Saints are still well-stocked at the running back position with Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. And Sproles is 30 years old and has shown signs of declining production in recent years. I still believe Sproles can be a dangerous weapon in a limited role. And I'm sure he will be in Philly. But he probably wouldn't have come close to replicating his remarkable 2011 season in either city -- which is the biggest shame of all.”
    • Jeff McLane likes a lot of what Sproles offers, but does not think he plugs any holes for the Eagles. There's also concern because of his age, cap hit ($3.5 million) and having surrendered a draft pick in addition to a lot of cash. But he recognized that Sproles can help, as he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Sproles isn't the player he was in 2011 when he had an NFL-record 2,696 all-purpose yards, but he is still one-on-one trouble for defenses. Kelly took full advantage of running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson's quickness and lateral agility by designing one-on-one matchups."
    • Few spend more time breaking down X's and O's than Sheil Kapadia of Birds 24/7. His take? “The Eagles bid farewell to Jason Avant earlier this offseason. Look for Sproles to rotate in at multiple spots. Per PFF, he lined up in the backfield 60.9 percent of the time last season. On the other occasions, he was out wide or in the slot. Remember how Kelly used Jackson in the backfield last season to create mismatches? He can do the same with Sproles."
    • In USA Today, writer Lorenzo Reyes took a look at some reaction to the trade. "The big benefit that Sproles adds, however, is an option in the flat and in short-to-intermediate routes in the passing game for Foles. Last season, Sproles caught 71 passes for 604 yards and two touchdowns."
    • Finally, from New Orleans, Times-Picayune writer Larry Holder wrote that, “A pick and salary cap space helps the Saints, plus New Orleans won't face the Eagles in the 2014 regular season. The division-rival Carolina Panthers will, though. And a fresh start with a team on the rise like the Eagles, along with no cut in pay, is about the best Sproles could have asked for from the Saints. But it doesn't come without hurt feelings.”
IRVING, Texas -- About three days into free agency and the Dallas Cowboys are not a better team today than they were on Monday.

They cut DeMarcus Ware. They cut Miles Austin. They have signed two defensive linemen in Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain that figure to be rotation parts, not cornerstone pieces.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the NFC East …

The Philadelphia Eagles have added Malcom Jenkins and Noland Carroll and traded for Darren Sproles. The Eagles also did some nice special teams' shopping with Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman and also re-signed their punter, Donnie Jones.

The New York Giants added a piece to their offensive line in Geoff Schwartz and brought in running back Rashad Jennings. The key move, however, was re-signing linebacker Jon Beason. They backed out of a deal with O'Brien Schofield.

The Washington Redskins have added wide receiver Andre Roberts, guard Shawn Lauvao and linebacker/special teamer Adam Hayward. Bruce Campbell is a low-risk help to the offensive line.

Too often we get caught up in the splashes in free agency only to see them not live up to the billing down the road.

Before free agency started Stephen Jones said the Cowboys would be efficient with their spending in free agency. To see them sit back and wait should not be surprising, but that doesn't mean fans can't be aggravated.

There are good players still to be had. The Cowboys could still re-sign Jason Hatcher or add Henry Melton. While they can afford both, I don't think signing both would make sense. They could keep Anthony Spencer and hope his repaired knee comes around. They could take fliers on some of the bigger names you want if those prices come down as free agency rolls along.

As maddening as the 8-8 finishes have been, the Cowboys have been the only team in the NFC East to compete for a division title the last three years. It's a hollow accomplishment for sure, especially when stacked up against the franchise's history, but spending for spending sake is not the best solution.

There is a plan and it has to be more than Mincey and McClain, right?

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