NFC East: matt barkley

PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Barkley is getting a one-week reminder of what it’s like to be the No. 1 quarterback.

Barkley
For all of his high school and college years, Barkley was the starting QB. Last year, his rookie season with the Eagles, was the first time he was exposed to the diminished practice reps and weekend solitude of a No. 3 quarterback.

For Thursday night’s preseason finale, Barkley is preparing as the starter while Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez have already begun preparing for the regular-season opener against Jacksonville.

“It’s a little different because our ones are getting their looks at the Jaguars,” Barkley said. “It’s kind of a split practice. But the fact that you know you’re going into the game, starting, and getting reps with the guys you’re playing with -- it does kind of feel like it was in the past. Different in ways, the same in some ways.”

The Eagles drafted Barkley out of USC in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. He spent the early part of his tenure here rehabbing from a shoulder injury suffered during the season. He also had a front-row seat for the competition between Foles and Michael Vick for the starting quarterback job.

Twice last season, injuries forced Barkley to finish games started by Vick and Foles. Barkley completed 61.2 percent of his passes (30 for 49), but threw four interceptions and no touchdowns.

When the offseason rolled around, Vick left for the New York Jets, and the Eagles signed Sanchez, the former Jets starter. He was supposed to come in and compete with Barkley for the No. 2 spot behind Foles, but there wasn’t much of a competition. Sanchez has had a very good preseason and locked down the No. 2 spot early on.

For Barkley, then, this game is his last chance to make an impression for a while.

“This is a really good opportunity for Matt,” Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He’s able to know days in advance that he’s starting, so he’s out here preparing to play the Jets just like it’s a regular-season game. That’s good for him, and we’ll be able to evaluate him in a really good way for a preseason game.”

Sanchez is under contract for only this season, so Barkley is still playing for his NFL future.

“He needs to play a good, efficient game at quarterback,” Shurmur said.

Barkley understands the stakes.

“I don’t have an agenda,” he said. “I want to be consistent, like I try to do every week. I’m going into this game just because I’m starting and getting more reps. I just want to be consistent. I think I’ve made big strides [since last season]. My knowledge of the offense has grown.”
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 NFL Nation's Phil Sheridan examines the three biggest issues facing the Philadelphia Eagles heading into training camp.

Can Nick Foles repeat, even improve on, his 2013 success? A year ago, Foles went into camp trailing Michael Vick in the starting quarterback competition that Vick eventually won. After leading the NFL in passer rating, throwing 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions, Foles has a pretty high bar to clear in his first full season as a starter. It is perfectly reasonable to expect Foles to be further from perfect than he was in 2013. But Foles can do that while still being very productive. If he throws a few more interceptions by taking some risks that also produce more touchdowns or big plays, the Eagles can live with that. Foles could even raise his game to an even higher level. It won't be easy, but with a coach like Chip Kelly, it's not out of the question, either. Foles looked very sharp -- accurate and confident -- during June practices. He seems buoyed, not intimidated or cowed, by being the clear No. 1 QB ahead of Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley. Training camp and the preseason will give everyone a chance to see whether he's making progress or heading toward a major regression. Best guess: Foles will be fine. Not otherworldly, but just fine.

Who will replace DeSean Jackson's production? That became the Eagles' most urgent question after Kelly decided to part ways with the guy who caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns. Since we have no evidence Kelly is a madman, we have to conclude the coach had reason to believe he could get Jackson's production from other players. Jeremy Maclin was never the big-play guy that Jackson was, but he is a solid receiver who is hugely motivated to prove he can excel after a second ACL tear. Riley Cooper may come back to the pack a bit after his breakout 2013 season, but he also might rise to the occasion after experiencing success. The Eagles' additions are intriguing. Darren Sproles figures to be as versatile and unpredictable under Kelly as he was in New Orleans for Sean Payton. Second-round draft pick Jordan Matthews had people at organized team activities comparing his physique to that of Terrell Owens and could be a star in the future. Meanwhile, tight end Zach Ertz is expected to take that key second-season leap in production and reliability. Would the Eagles have been better with Jackson? Probably. Can they be as successful with strong seasons from Maclin, Sproles, Matthews, Cooper and Ertz? Kelly clearly thinks so.

Did the Eagles do enough to improve their defense? Looked at one way, the answer seems like a big "no." The Eagles didn't go out and sign a star defensive back or draft an elite, quarterback-eating pass-rusher. It would be easier to sell this defense if they had. What the Eagles are counting on is an across-the-board rise in experience and comfort in Bill Davis' defense. That isn't as glittery as marquee free agents or high draft picks, but it may prove to be more reliable than either of those. And there is some foundation for hope. The Eagles' defense really did improve over the course of the 2013 season. It looked a lot better in December than in September, and that is why the Eagles may have more new starters on offense than on defense. The front seven looks like it will be the same as it was at the end of 2013. First-round pick Marcus Smith will play as he proves he's ready, but there is no reason to rush him when Trent Cole is playing as well as he did last season. Malcolm Jenkins is a smart and reliable safety, and that should help the secondary immeasurably. The best guess is the starting cornerbacks return. If not, it will be because Nolan Carroll shows that he is better than one of them.

Overall, the Eagles added a bunch of players who will push last year's starters. If they're better, they'll see the field. If not, it will mean the incumbents have fended off the challenge. Either way, the defense should be better.

Eagles' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
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Jones
Kelly
The elephant in the room when discussing the Philadelphia Eagles' prospects for the next few years is named Nick Foles. If Foles continues to be the quarterback who threw 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions last season, who led the NFL in passer rating in 2013, then the Eagles should be in fine shape for the foreseeable future.

But I don’t think that’s really the question we should be asking. To me, the Eagles’ chances for continued success under Chip Kelly depend largely on the coach himself.

Remember, Foles went 1-5 as a starter under Andy Reid in 2012. He certainly benefited from that experience, but the single most important reason for his big 2013 season was Kelly’s offensive strategy. Foles performed at an elite level while LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing. That doesn’t happen by accident. It happens as a result of good coaching that finds ways to get the most of the players available.

As long as that is Kelly’s approach, the Eagles have a chance to contend for the next few seasons. And there is no reason to believe Kelly will change his approach.

Consider the worst-case scenario regarding Foles. If he regresses significantly in 2014, the Eagles are under no obligation to sign him to a long-term contract. They would be free to see if Mark Sanchez or Matt Barkley can excel in Kelly’s system. If the answer is no, they could draft a quarterback in 2015 -- Marcus Mariota, anyone? -- and let Kelly work with him.

If Foles is able to replicate his success, or even build on it, then the Eagles will be fine. So it’s easy to conclude Foles is the key. But in truth, the No. 1 determining factor for this franchise in 2015, 2016, 2017 and beyond is Kelly.
PHILADELPHIA – Nick Foles is Chip Kelly’s quarterback after all.

That’s how it looks as the Philadelphia Eagles conduct their first full-squad, padded practices of the 2014 season. A year ago, when Kelly was bringing his Oregon offense and his uptempo approach into the NFL, Foles looked like the odd man out.

No hard feelings, kid. Just the wrong skill set for the new way of doing things.

And sure enough, Michael Vick was named starting quarterback midway through training camp. Foles was an afterthought -- until Vick pulled a hamstring early in the season and Kelly had to turn to the tall, less-than-mobile backup. Foles claimed the job with his performance, leading the Eagles to the NFC East title.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Matt RourkeCoach Chip Kelly said that Nick Foles has been far from complacent after leading the Eagles to the NFC East title in 2013.
But then came the offseason, when Kelly would get several chances to add a quarterback who fits the profile a little better. Free agency? The Eagles signed Mark Sanchez, who was released by the New York Jets, to be Foles’ backup. The draft? Over the course of three days, the Eagles made trades, adding picks and prospects, but none of them played quarterback.

When the team took the field for the third day of practices Thursday, Foles was the first quarterback out there.

“The great thing about Nick, and what you love about him, he knows he’s never going to arrive,” Kelly said. “It’s a great trait to have. Some guys get to where they’ve won a job and they kick their feet up and go on cruise control. That’s not him.”

Kelly showed just how little time he’ll waste before he makes changes. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson put up great numbers in 2013, but he didn’t fit the culture Kelly was trying to instill here. Jackson was unceremoniously released in March.

Foles endured. He is now the senior guy in the Eagles’ quarterback meetings. Even the coach, Bill Musgrave, is new. Musgrave replaced Bill Lazor, who was hired to be the offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins.

Sanchez replaces Vick as the veteran backup. Matt Barkley, who played in a couple of games as a rookie last year, is still likely the No. 3 guy. G.J. Kinne is back for his second summer as the No. 4 QB.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Barkley said. “I just trusted the coaches, figured they knew what was best for the team. I don’t have a say in it, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Sanchez hosted Barkley when he was a high school player visiting Southern Cal.

“We’ve crossed paths many times,” Barkley said. “I’ve known him for quite a while now.”

Sanchez took the Jets to two consecutive AFC title games. By last season, he was dealing with a shoulder injury and being replaced by Geno Smith. The Jets released him and, just to keep the circle unbroken, signed Vick to compete with and back up Smith.

“I was ready to get to a new place after I was released,” Sanchez said. “This looked like the best opportunity to come in, to play as hard as I can and do whatever I can to help the team.”

Sanchez has slid into the backup role without a word of complaint. He knew Barkley and Kinne, who was in the Jets’ camp in 2012.

“Getting to know Nick, he’s one of the best guys I’ve been around,” Sanchez said. “Strong Christian guy. Loves football. Loves his teammates. Great player to play with. I’m excited to come out and compete. I love the system.”

Kelly juggled Vick and Foles last year without allowing a controversy to develop. He doesn’t see much chance of trouble from this group.

“With quarterbacks,” Kelly said, “you better have two. There’s not many that make it through an entire season. You look at Aaron Rodgers (in 2013), Peyton Manning a year ago, Tom Brady.”

Foles had not earned the untouchable status of Rodgers, Manning and Brady. But Foles did throw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions while going 8-2 as a starter.

“You reflect for, like, five seconds and then you move on,” Foles said. “That season is not going to help me for this year. When I look back on seasons, I always look at the guys I do it with. I don’t remember the score or the stats from any games. I just remember winning the game with those guys.”

As important as the season was for him, though, the offseason was maybe even more so. Being named MVP of the Pro Bowl was nice. Holding his job through free agency and the draft was better.

“He’s more comfortable,” Kelly said. “I think you can sense that when you see him out there on the field.”

There are four quarterbacks in the meeting room. There’s only one running the first-team offense. That’s Kelly’s quarterback. That’s Foles.

“Chip’s cool,” Foles said. “He’s a fun coach to play for. You just continue to grow. I’ve got to keep getting better. If I don’t play well, it’s the NFL. I’ll be gone. I know that. That’s why last year’s stats don’t mean anything. The most important thing is for the team to be successful. To do that, the quarterback has to be sharp.”

Barkley's role in offense still developing

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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In last year’s NFL draft, the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to select USC quarterback Matt Barkley in the fourth round.

It was an interesting decision since Barkley didn’t seem to be the type of quarterback coach Chip Kelly would like to run his offense. Then again, neither is Nick Foles and he had a record-setting season in Kelly’s offense.

Barkley
Barkley’s grade has to remain incomplete. He didn’t get many snaps and was pushed into playing time when Foles and Michael Vick went down with injuries. Barkley attempted 49 passes and threw four interceptions.

Since the Eagles signed Mark Sanchez, it’s hard to figure out where Barkley fits this season.

But Barkley was worth a fourth-round pick since he had so much success in college. Having a full offseason of organized team activities and training camp should be even more beneficial.

“If you want to take that and jab me with that, that’s fine,” Barkley told CSNPhilly.com of his numbers last season. “I’m not going to make excuses. I know what I did wrong, and I’m going to learn from it, but at the same time, I’m capable of a lot more. I’m a better quarterback than that, and I know that and the people who have watched me and know me and watched me play the last four years -- and even the last eight years, going back to high school -- know that I’m a better quarterback than that.”

When the Eagles make their fourth-round pick in next month's draft, it remains to be seen what direction they'll head. At this stage, they’ll be looking for the best player available.

Sometimes, it takes a few years to really determine if the pick was the right one. That's certainly the case with Barkley.
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

SanchezAndrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsAs a quarterback who played in two AFC title games, Mark Sanchez brings experience as a backup.
Mark Sanchez is one of those players whose negatives have come to define him. We forget that he was a first-round pick, that he went to the AFC Championship Game in each of his first two seasons. We associate him with the butt-fumble, with bad interceptions, with the futility that is the New York Jets. When his name is suggested in connection with your favorite team, your first reaction is something along the lines of, "Jeez. Really? Why?"

But the fact is, at this point in his career, Sanchez is everything you look for in a backup quarterback. And that's what the Philadelphia Eagles see in him -- a backup quarterback. The Eagles signed Sanchez to an undisclosed contract on Thursday. He's not being brought in to compete with Nick Foles, whose monster second half of the 2013 season solidified him as the team's starter going into 2014. It's possible that Sanchez is being brought in to compete with second-year man Matt Barkley for the backup role, but since Barkley was and likely still is a project, it's also possible that Sanchez is being brought in to serve as Foles' backup until (or if ever) Barkley is ready to do that.

Would Chip Kelly's offense function as smoothly with Sanchez at quarterback as it did last year with Foles? Unlikely, if Sanchez were to be as inaccurate a thrower as he has been so far in his career. But that's not the point. Very few teams have ever had a backup who could step in and replicate a starter's performance, because quarterbacks who can do that tend to get jobs as starters elsewhere. The job of a backup quarterback is basically to not mess things up. And Sanchez has enough NFL experience to allow Kelly to believe he can meet that standard.

What you're looking for in a backup is a guy for whom the moment won't be too big -- a player who won't fall apart emotionally just because he suddenly finds himself thrown into an NFL game. Sanchez fits that description. There are only seven active NFL quarterbacks (and only 36 in league history, for that matter) who have won more playoff games than the four Sanchez won in his first two seasons. Of the backup options on this offseason's market, the only one with more experience as a starter was Michael Vick, who coincidentally just left the Eagles to sign with the Jets.

If something happens to Foles and he has to sit out a couple of plays or a quarter or a game or a few weeks, Sanchez gives Kelly the ability to put a quarterback into the game who's not going to be overwhelmed. And there's peace of mind in that. Sanchez might not play well, and the Eagles might struggle if they have to go with him for a few weeks, but the same can be said for any backup anywhere.

The best-case scenario for Sanchez in all of this is that he gets an opportunity at some point to put on a positive performance and rebuild his career as an NFL starter. But if all he's going to be is a backup, the fact that he used to be a starter makes him a valuable one.

 
When it comes to Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, the only thing that has changed is the date.

We are days away from the start of NFL free agency, when we will find out for sure whether (and where) Vick gets his chance to be a starting quarterback. Whatever happens, it has been clear since Jan. 6 that Vick’s time in Philadelphia is almost certainly over.

As those other Eagles sang, he's "already gone."

Nick Foles is the starter. Matt Barkley is going to be here. The team could very well draft a quarterback again this year. If coach Chip Kelly feels he needs a veteran backup, there will be several attractive options in free agency that aren’t named Vick: Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Kellen Clemens among them.

None of those names may excite your imagination, but they’re not supposed to. They’re potential backup quarterbacks. Signing any one of them would provide competition for Barkley without what we’ll call the Vick Factor -- a guy some percentage of the fans will be clamoring for the moment Foles has a bad game, or even a bad half.

Going into last season, I thought Kelly should have moved on from Vick. He judged him only on what he did in training camp and the preseason, ignoring the pre-Kelly history of injuries and turnovers. Lo and behold, Vick pulled his hamstring running out of bounds on Oct. 6.

When the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point, and had gone two games in a row without a single offensive touchdown, Kelly explained the problem in five words: “instability at the quarterback position.”

Anyone can get hurt. Foles missed a game with a concussion. But after a firsthand experience with Vick, the walking definition of “instability at the quarterback position,” it’s hard to see Kelly bringing him back for his age-34 season, especially when he has invested serious coaching time in Barkley.

But that was obvious on Jan. 6, when Vick gave what amounted to a farewell speech to the media and posed for photos with his soon-to-be former teammates. The only reason to report that Vick isn’t coming back is that the calendar says March, and his departure is imminent.

Where will he go? It was fascinating to see Adrian Peterson tweet his interest in bringing Vick to Minnesota. That seemed like a possible fit all along, although the hiring of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator didn’t exactly line up with that. Peterson is 29 and has bounced back from a torn ACL. He wants to win now. It wouldn’t be surprising if new head coach Mike Zimmer, who waited a long time for this opportunity, feels the same.

There are a number of teams that could use Vick as a quick-fix starter and a bridge to a young quarterback.

The Eagles aren’t one of them. They’ve already crossed that bridge.

Eagles need depth behind RB McCoy

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
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PHILADELPHIA -- You learn a little bit about what coaches are thinking by listening to them speak. You learn a lot more by watching what they do when the pressure is on.

All season, Eagles coach Chip Kelly had positive things to say about Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, his backup running backs. They were coming along. They would get some carries as Kelly sought to lighten the load on LeSean McCoy.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Al Bello/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy rushed for 1,607 yards and had 539 yards receiving last season.
When the Eagles played Dallas in the final game of the season with the NFC East title on the line, Brown got exactly two carries when McCoy desperately needed a blow late in the game. Polk had zero carries and one catch.

The next week, in the Eagles' playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, neither Brown nor Polk touched the ball. No carries, no catches, no nothing.

That tells you that the Eagles, the team with the NFL's leading rusher and No. 1 overall running game, need an upgrade at the running back position.

McCoy, who is still just 25, is and will be the man. Part of the reality here is that it is just plain tough to take him out of a game. He's that good. But his career is going to be longer if the Eagles can find a way to lessen his workload.

McCoy carried the ball 314 times in 2013 and caught 52 passes for a total of 366 touches. That's more touches than anyone in football (Chicago's Matt Forte was close with 363 -- 289 rushes and 74 receptions). When you add pass blocking, that's a lot of contact.

But sheer volume isn't the only factor. There were several games in which the run game just wasn't clicking. The offensive linemen talked about not being “on the same page” with McCoy at times. McCoy himself admitted to being too fine at times and not just hitting the holes that were there.

That might be an opportune time to get another back a series or two. See if things start working better. Once the run game gets into a groove, McCoy just might slide right into it and produce as he normally does.

The two most notable of those not-on-the-same-page games were the touchdown-less losses to the Giants and Cowboys in consecutive weeks. Brown got a total of five carries in those games. Polk was inactive for one and had zero touches in the other.

With Matt Barkley forced to play quarterback because of injuries to Nick Foles and Michael Vick, the run game was needed even more. It produced even less.

Polk had surgery on his shoulder after the season, so it's possible he was limited by that injury in the second half of the season. Brown and Polk both got in on the snowy rout of Detroit in December, but neither made much of a mark otherwise.

So yes, the Eagles have arguably the best running back and the most productive running game in the NFL. But they are still very likely to look to upgrade the running back position during this offseason.

There are a number of backs available in free agency, including Minnesota's Toby Gerhart -- a player Kelly went out of his way to praise and who played for new Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave.

If Kelly is sentimental, he could look at New England's LeGarrette Blount, who played for Kelly at Oregon. If Kelly is feeling mischievous, he could bring in Denver's Knowshon Moreno, who was on the receiving end of some barbed comments from McCoy back in September.

More likely, the Eagles will keep an eye out for a back they like in the draft. Another Oregon product, De'Anthony Thomas, could be an interesting match. Thomas is just 5-9, 176 pounds, but has elite speed and could be the answer to the Eagles' need for a big-play return man as well.
Nick FolesDrew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesNick Foles will enter the 2014 season as the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback.
PHILADELPHIA -- Let's move to the offensive side of the ball this week in our position-by-position look at the state of the Eagles.

Since it's Presidents Day, let's look at the leader of the offense, the quarterback. This should be the easiest position on the team to assess, but in classic Eagles fashion, things are not as clear as they might seem.

Here's a mental exercise worth trying: Imagine the Eagles traded up in the 2012 draft and took Nick Foles with, say, the 12th pick in the first round. In this version of events, Andy Reid spent the summer of '12 talking about his plan to start Michael Vick early and ease Foles into the job -- just as he did with Donovan McNabb back in 1999.

When Chip Kelly took over, his approach would reflect Foles' status as a recent first-round pick. He might have the same competition between Vick and Foles that he had last summer, but Foles would have the edge in anything approaching a tie. Vick clearly had the edge in real life (and he played superbly in the preseason to claim the job).

Now put Foles' 2013 performance into the context of this alternate reality. The 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. The 8-2 record as a starter. The NFL-best passer rating. Offensive MVP of the Pro Bowl.

All that from a heralded first-round quarterback? Folks would be rushing to anoint Foles the starter for life instead of debating whether Kelly deep down wants a different style of quarterback to run his offense. When general manager Howie Roseman left open the possibility, however slight, of taking a quarterback in the first round of this year's draft, you would have checked him for a fever.

Imagine that kind of talk in Seattle, Indianapolis and Carolina, where young franchise quarterbacks are in place.

In Foles, the Eagles have their starter for 2014. Period. If he continues to perform at his 2013 level, Foles will get the kind of contract that establishes him as the franchise guy. If not, then we'll be talking about the true Kelly-style quarterbacks available in the 2015 draft.

There are legitimate reasons to withhold judgment on Foles. When things were going great, there was an unmistakable sense that he was very lucky as well as very good. When underthrown passes bounce off a defensive back's hands and into DeSean Jackson's for a touchdown -- which happened in Green Bay -- there is more than a little luck involved. On his record-tying seven touchdown passes in Oakland, Foles' receivers were almost comically open thanks to blown coverages and falling defenders.

In his final two games, Foles was frustrated by the defensive strategies deployed in Dallas and against New Orleans. He is going to see variations of those schemes next season until he and Kelly prove they have solved them. And he is going to face some pretty good defenses, Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina among them.

So 2014 will be Foles' acid test. He will be the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback all year, a first for him. As for his backups, that's another area where things get a little murky.

Roseman has said the Eagles would welcome Vick back if the veteran can't find a starting opportunity in free agency. The feeling here, though, is that everyone concerned feels it is best for Vick, and the Eagles, to move on.

Matt Barkley was a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft. He played in three games as a rookie. In the first two, he was forced to play because of injuries to the starter and without the benefit of any meaningful practice reps.

So take Barkley's stats with the appropriate grain of salt. He completed 30 of 49 passes (61.2 percent) for 300 yards. Those numbers are actually pretty encouraging. But Barkley threw four interceptions and fumbled away one red zone opportunity. Those plays tend to stick in the memory better than the rest.

Can Barkley be the No. 2 quarterback behind Foles? Absolutely. If he's forced to play? Well, a midround pick from a major Pac-12 program in his second season -- that description would have applied to Foles in 2013 just as it applies to Barkley in 2014. G.J. Kinne, who was on the practice squad, knows the offense, but is not likely to be in the mix. Of course, the media hasn't seen him practice since training camp, so information is limited.

If the Eagles want to bring in a veteran free agent to compete with Barkley for the No. 2 spot, they will have good options: Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Tarvaris Jackson, Josh McCown. Remember, we're talking about a solid veteran who would be competing with Barkley for the backup spot.

The draft should provide more possibilities. Using a first- or second-round pick would change the dynamic too much -- while shorting the many other areas the Eagles need to improve. But another midround pick? Certainly. Training and developing quarterbacks in the Kelly system should be a priority for as long the coach is here.
PHILADELPHIA -- Midway through the 2013 NFL season, SI.com’s Peter King took a look at a league-wide trend and concluded, “Kicking field goals is too easy.”

King didn’t spend that much time in Philadelphia.

It wasn’t so much that Alex Henery did a terrible job as the Philadelphia Eagles' kicker. He made 23 of 28 attempts, a success rate of 82 percent. But the more telling number wasn’t the 23. It was the 28.

[+] EnlargeAlex Henery
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelAlex Henery has attempted just five field goals of at least 50 yards in his three NFL seasons.
The best kickers in the league don’t just make 90 percent of their attempts. Their range and success rate give coaches the confidence to turn to them in all kinds of situations, at ever greater distances. New England’s Stephen Gostkowski didn’t just make 15 more field goals than Henery; Gostkowski attempted 13 more.

Henery attempted just two field goals of 50 yards or longer, making one. Gostkowski attempted six. Baltimore’s Justin Tucker attempted seven. So did Green Bay’s Mason Crosby and Dallas’ Dan Bailey.

When the Eagles lost to the New York Giants at home in October, Matt Barkley was playing quarterback in relief of Michael Vick. Late in the second quarter, Barkley drove the Eagles to the Giants’ 27 before being sacked for a 5-yard loss.

Instead of trying a 50-yard field goal with wind swirling, coach Chip Kelly decided to go for a fourth-and-12. Barkley dropped the snap and threw an incompletion.

Now it goes without saying that Barkley could have made better plays on third and fourth down. Taking the sack probably changed Kelly’s strategy. But would the Patriots, Packers, Ravens, 49ers or Cowboys have balked at trying a 50-yard field goal?

The guess here is no. A week earlier, Kelly had made the second-guessable decision to have Henery try a 60-yard kick late in the first half against Dallas. He missed.

A coach without complete confidence in his kicker is like a baseball manager with a shaky bullpen. The ripple effect on his decision-making is constant.

Henery also missed a 48-yard field goal in the Eagles’ 24-22 playoff loss to the Saints. His kickoff to the shallow end zone resulted in a long return that set up the Saints’ game-winning score.

Henery presents a bit of a conundrum for the Eagles. They invested a fourth-round pick in him in the 2011 draft. At 26, he is still at the point in his career when many kickers find themselves. Is it better to take the risk that he will do just that with the Eagles, or the risk that he will do it for some other team?

Most of the top kickers in the league right now were undrafted. Gostkowski, like Henery, was a fourth-round pick. Green Bay’s Crosby was a sixth-round pick. The more typical route is to be signed as a rookie free agent and bounce around until finding the right combination of opportunity and success.

Seattle is Steven Hauschka's sixth team. Denver is Matt Prater's third.

So the Eagles will almost certainly bring in a kicker to compete with Henery, something they didn’t do last year. But it seems unlikely they will use a draft pick, unless somebody they really like -- Chris Boswell from Rice or Anthony Fera of Texas, maybe -- is sitting there in the sixth or seventh round.

Hauschka is to become a free agent, but will likely remain with the defending champions. Veterans Adam Vinatieri and Phil Dawson should be on the market. One intriguing name is Dan Carpenter, who had a good season in Buffalo. If the Bills re-sign Carpenter, that could make Dustin Hopkins, their sixth-round pick from Florida State last year, available.

Kickers are out there. The Eagles have a decent one. The question is whether that’s good enough.

Eagles still smart with salary cap

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
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PHILADELPHIA -- Long before he was at the center of stunning events in Cleveland, Joe Banner was by all accounts the best salary-cap manager in the NFL. Banner’s innovative ideas helped the Philadelphia Eagles remain a contending team throughout most of the 2000s.

The cap has changed. Banner left for the Cleveland Browns job two years ago. General manager Howie Roseman took over primary responsibility for cap management. For all the change, the Eagles are still among the teams that best manage their salary cap.

Quick aside: If you’re thinking you’d prefer a Super Bowl to cap space, you’ll get no argument here. But cap space allows teams the flexibility to be aggressive in free agency, to hang on to their own veteran players and generally make personnel decisions for football reasons first, money reasons second.

It’s how a team can avoid what happened Wednesday in New Orleans, where the Saints released four defensive stars from their 2009 Super Bowl season.

My colleague Kevin Seifert published a chart showing the cap status of all 32 teams. The Eagles are one of five teams that rolled over more than $10 million in 2013 salary-cap space into 2014. While their 2014 commitments of roughly $123.4 million bring them close to the projected cap ($126-128 million), that $17 million gives them a spending limit of nearly $144 million.

That means the Eagles don’t have to release any players from their 10-6, division-title-winning team just to get into compliance with the cap. And it means they have more space to add talent than their rivals in the NFC East.

Washington and the New York Giants are two of the three NFL teams that carried over zero cap space from 2013. The Dallas Cowboys carried over $1.28 million, but have a cap-busting $152 million in 2014 commitments that must be severely reduced by March 11, when the new cap goes into effect.

It must be restated that the Eagles have an edge on many teams because of their quarterback situation. With Michael Vick’s contract expiring, the Eagles will have just $1.4 million tied up in cap space for quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. Teams typically commit 10 to 16 percent of their cap space to their starting quarterback (Vick’s $12.2 million cap figure was nearly 11 percent of the 2013 cap).

That won’t last forever. Sooner or later, the Eagles will have to commit that kind of money to Foles or another starting quarterback. For now, they have the freedom to build the best possible team around the quarterback while setting themselves up with contracts that don’t hamstring them later.

Having cap space isn’t as important as wisely using cap space. But the Eagles remain one of the teams that consistently give themselves space to work with.
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles general manager Howie Roseman made a couple of media appearances last week that were worth reviewing for the insight provided into the team’s offseason plans.

At first glance, the most eyebrow-raising aspect might have Roseman’s declaration that the Eagles wouldn’t rule out taking a quarterback with the No. 22 pick in May’s NFL draft.

“If we have a significant gap on who the best player on the board is and the next best player, it’s not really not going to matter the next best position because we don’t know where we’re going to be two, three, four years from now,” Roseman told CSN Philly.

Upon further review, that position isn’t as startling as it first appears. Roseman has said consistently for the past couple years that the Eagles would not draft for need again after picks such as guard Danny Watkins and safety Jaiquawn Jarrett fizzled out. Starting in 2012, the Eagles’ policy has been to stick to their grades and take the best player on their board.

That was the explanation when they took tight end Zach Ertz and quarterback Matt Barkley in last year’s draft.

But it’s one thing to take a second-round tight end after signing James Casey in free agency or picking up a young quarterback prospect in the fourth round. It’s another thing entirely to draft a quarterback in the first round. That changes the temperature in the team’s facility -- for Nick Foles, for Chip Kelly, for everyone involved.

Roseman knows that. I suspect he also knows already there is not likely to be a can’t-pass-up quarterback sitting there when the Eagles draft. Quarterback-hungry teams are apt to overvalue the handful of legitimate prospects and snap them up early. If anything, that should help push a couple of higher-graded players down toward the Eagles.

As long as it’s purely a hypothetical, Roseman is smart to repeat his best-player-on-the-board mantra. It is a message worth sending to every player on the roster. After all, every draft pick represents a threat to somebody’s job.

Earlier in the week, Roseman talked to Reuben Frank on 94.1 WIP-FM. A couple takeaways:
  • While he maintains the stance the Eagles don’t want to splurge on overpriced free agents, Roseman acknowledged the team might have to open its checkbook for a safety. And the main reason is that very same draft philosophy. “Ideally, you don't want to go into the draft with a huge hole, because that puts you more susceptible to forcing things or kind of pushing guys up,” Roseman said in the interview. It just happens because you look at the depth chart and you go, ‘I don't have someone at that position. Who's in the draft?’ “ Three Eagles safeties, including starter Nate Allen, are due to become free agents next month. Another starter, Patrick Chung, could be released after an unimpressive first season with the team. The draft is not expected to provide a lot of depth at the safety position.
  • As far as wide receivers, the Eagles face the opposite of their safety dilemma. They really like their free agents-to-be, Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, but there is a lot of draft depth at that position. “I think it is complicated, because you have guys that you want to have back,” Roseman said on WIP. “Also, what resources are you going to devote to that position with the guys who are already on the roster? And then you look at it in the draft, obviously a very strong position. It's a complicated situation but we've never ruled out bringing both of those guys back.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Cassel reportedly is opting out of his contract with the Minnesota Vikings, which could directly affect Michael Vick’s situation.

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Cassel, 31, will be another veteran quarterback on the free-agent market. But his departure from Minnesota also creates another opening. Christian Ponder will be the only quarterback the Vikings have under contract.

With a new head coach, Mike Zimmer, and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the Vikings are strong candidates to take a quarterback high in the 2014 draft. But sitting at No. 8 in the first round puts them at the mercy of seven other teams. So it would be smart for the Vikings to add a veteran quarterback they have confidence in.

Could that be the 33-year-old Vick? He seems an unlikely pairing with Turner, whose history is almost exclusively with traditional pocket quarterbacks like Troy Aikman, Philip Rivers and Gus Frerotte. But Zimmer, a longtime defensive coordinator getting his shot as a head coach, may want a mobile quarterback. He also may want to win right away, while Adrian Peterson is still an elite back. Those X factors could make Vick a candidate in Minnesota.

As for Cassel, he has a history with new Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien. Cassel and O’Brien were with the Patriots at the same time. O’Brien could be looking for a veteran to play ahead of a rookie if Houston takes a quarterback with the first pick in the draft.

Cassel also has a history with Bill Musgrave, the Eagles’ new quarterbacks coach. Musgrave was the offensive coordinator in Minnesota this past season, when Cassel riddled the Eagles' defense in a 48-30 Vikings win.

“I thought Cassel played a really good game,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said the day after that game. “You go back and watch the tape, and I thought he put the ball in some tight coverage sometimes and in perfect situations. … He was decisive. He ripped it, and put the ball on the money.”

Kelly’s unusually effusive praise for Cassel rang a bell the day he hired Musgrave, and it rings the same bell now. If Kelly is looking for a veteran to slot between Nick Foles and Matt Barkley on the depth chart, Cassel would be an interesting possibility.

Of course, Cassel probably wouldn’t have opted out of a contract that would have paid him $3.7 million for 2014 if he didn’t expect to land a starting job. That’s Vick’s hope, too. They will both be vying for the same precious few opportunities. But Cassel’s biggest impact on Vick could be claiming his fallback position, with the Eagles.
PHILADELPHIA -- It’s easy to understand why Eagles coach Chip Kelly would be impressed with Bill Musgrave.

A month ago, Musgrave was calling the plays for the Minnesota Vikings when Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-30 blowout. Without Adrian Peterson or backup Toby Gerhart, Musgrave helped deal Kelly and the Eagles their only loss in the second half of the regular season.

[+] EnlargeBill Musgrave
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsBill Musgrave's work as the Vikings' playcaller likely impressed Eagles coach Chip Kelly during their December meeting.
Kelly hired Musgrave, the former Minnesota offensive coordinator, as his new quarterbacks coach on Tuesday. Musgrave, 46, replaces Bill Lazor, who left the Eagles after one season to become offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins. The hiring was first reported by Alex Marvez of Fox Sports.

Musgrave’s history is intriguing for three very different reasons.

Most important, he has deep roots in the West Coast offense, as does Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Musgrave spent most of his playing career as a backup in San Francisco, where he played under Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak. He followed Shanahan to Denver, where he backed up John Elway for a couple of years.

Kelly, of course, is not a West Coast offense guy. He dubbed the Eagles' offense the “See Coast” offense, because he and his staff borrow from things they see and like. Kelly stressed that the Eagles' offense is the product of his entire staff, not an attempt to replicate what he ran at Oregon.

After the season, rookie quarterback Matt Barkley said the Eagles’ running game was very similar to the one Barkley saw while playing for USC against Oregon. But the passing game had West Coast influences thanks to the presence of Shurmur and Lazor.

In that sense, then, Musgrave represents continuity.

Musgrave also has a history with Michael Vick, having served as quarterbacks coach for Vick’s final season in Atlanta. It isn’t clear whether that’s good or bad for Vick’s potential return to the Eagles, since the Falcons went 7-9 that year and took Matt Ryan in the first round of the 2008 draft. Musgrave worked with Ryan for two seasons.

The other interesting thing about Musgrave’s coaching career is the odd way that it began. He was hired immediately after his playing career as the quarterbacks coach for the Oakland Raiders, serving on the staff of a first-year head coach named Jon Gruden.

That job lasted for only the 1997 season.

Meanwhile, the Eagles were in utter disarray after losing Gruden, their offensive coordinator, to the Raiders. Head coach Ray Rhodes hired Dana Bible to replace Gruden, but by the end of training camp was already regretting the decision. Rhodes hired Musgrave as an offensive consultant.

By mid-October, Musgrave had unofficially taken over offensive coordinator duties. He was just 30 years old, a year younger than starting quarterback Rodney Peete. Bible remained on the staff. So did the quarterbacks coach, a young up-and-comer named Sean Payton.

The whole staff was fired at the end of that 3-13 season. Andy Reid and his crew came in as replacements.

Musgrave rebounded, coaching quarterbacks in Carolina, Jacksonville, Washington and Atlanta before becoming the Vikings' offensive coordinator in 2011. He returns to Philadelphia under much better circumstances this time around. Musgrave will work with Nick Foles, Barkley and possibly an as-yet unknown third quarterback.

One other change: Eric Chinander, the Eagles’ assistant defensive line coach, returned to the University of Oregon as a linebackers coach. Chinander followed Kelly to Philadelphia last year. Jerry Azzinaro remains the defensive line coach.

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