NFL Nation: Danny Watkins
PHILADELPHIA -- A day after the offensive linemen went to dinner, the veterans were still laughing. The rookies still looked a little stunned by the whole thing.
“Top shelf, top shelf,” a veteran chanted, teasing one of the rookies.
It was 1998, and the joke was that the rookies had been tricked into buying a round of drinks. The veterans all ordered Louis XIII de Remy Martin cognac. The rookies had no idea how much it cost until the check came. The bottle, they knew, came from the top shelf.
The more things change …
The Eagles' offensive line went to Del Frisco’s, a Center City steakhouse, on Friday night. The check included a couple of rounds of Louis XIII, as well as a few expensive bottles of wine. The total, including tax and gratuity: $17,747.86.
We know this because Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson posted a photo of the check on Twitter Saturday. That was not an issue in 1998. It wouldn’t be that much of an issue even now, except for the little episode in Miami last year. After offensive lineman Jonathan Martin accused teammate Richie Incognito and others of hazing him -- including making him pay for expensive dinners -- the entire NFL is just a bit more sensitive to these sorts of activities.
“Since that Miami scandal, everybody’s on high alert,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said Monday. “I’m not going to get into who bought what. Bottom line, it was a team function.”
Rookie dinner pic.twitter.com/2pCRsC9Al8— Lane Johnson (@Lanejohnson65) June 7, 2014
Johnson’s image of the check was retweeted over 1,200 times. The second-year player issued a followup tweet Sunday, saying “For those of you so concerned with MY business, I am grateful to be able to treat my O-line to such a great evening VOLUNTARILY.”
After Monday’s OTA practice, Johnson said that several of his teammates chipped in, as well. But it’s worth noting that Johnson was the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. His contract was worth just under $20 million, including a $12 million signing bonus. So a little perspective is important.
Still, Kelce said, it remains traditional for rookies to pay for a big dinner. Three years ago, when Kelce was a rookie, he and two fellow rookies paid for the offensive line’s meal at a steakhouse. First round pick Danny Watkins paid more than sixth-rounder Kelce or Julian Vandervelde, a fifth-round pick.
“It’s kind of like your first bonding experience after you make the team,” Kelce said. “Nobody forced Lane to do that. This was with any profession, I feel like. You get a raise or a promotion or something, the first thing you do is take out your family, your friends, the people that you care about. I just signed a big deal, I’m going to do something for these guys. We have a tight-knit group of guys and Lane was happy to do that.”
“It ain’t no big deal to me,” Johnson said. “I should probably have given it some clarity. I just tweeted out that it was our rookie dinner. During the season, we go out to dinner every Thursday and we play credit-card roulette, so we have a lot of fun with that, too.”
The more things change .... According to the receipt, Louis XIII still reigns among NFL players. A round of five drinks added $1,375.00 to the tab. The top shelf is still pretty high.
On Monday, the team signed defensive end Cedric Thornton to a one-year deal. Thornton was in that 2011 class, too. He wasn’t even drafted, signing with the Eagles as a rookie free agent. Over the course of several defensive coordinators and a major scheme change, the 6-foot-4, 309-pound Thornton emerged as a reliable starter at defensive end.
Thornton was an exclusive rights player (the term “free agent” really doesn’t fit), so it was all but a foregone conclusion that he would re-up with the Eagles.
The youth and flexibility along the defensive line give the Eagles plenty of options. They have Thornton, 25; nose tackle Bennie Logan, 24; and end Fletcher Cox, 23, at the top of the depth chart. Cox, their 2012 first-round pick, is the only one making a premium salary. Clifton Geathers, Damion Square and Vinny Curry rotated in and played situationally.
Thornton drew praise all season from coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis. He was ahead of the curve in converting from the 4-3 scheme to the 3-4 that Davis brought in. Pro Football Focus ranked Thornton third in the NFL among 3-4 defense ends as a run-stopper. Only Houston’s J.J. Watt and the Jets’ Sheldon Richardson graded higher.
Thornton’s emergence gives the Eagles the luxury of addressing other areas as needed. But his relative affordability doesn’t prohibit them from upgrading at the position if their draft board dictates they should take a defensive end.
The 2011 draft didn’t go well for the Eagles, but that class provided them good players on both lines.
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.
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 bad news?
"It’s a different league," Kelly said. "This isn't recruiting where you can go out and offer and try to get them to come. There's a selection in the draft process and we're not going to pick until the 22nd [spot in the first round]. There's 21 other guys that we may covet, but we don't have an opportunity to get them."
If a team drafted 22d every year and did well, it could be awfully good. Based on the last 10 years, drafting only players taken between No. 22 and No. 32 (the end of the first round), a team could have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, wide receivers Dez Bryant and Santonio Holmes, running backs Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson, linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, safety Brandon Meriweather and defensive linemen Cameron Jordan and Sharrif Floyd.
You could do worse. Plenty of teams did do worse. Cleveland took two quarterbacks, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden, at No. 22.
Later we’ll look at some possible players the Eagles could consider at No. 22 in this year’s draft. For now, here’s a quick look at the 22nd pick in each of the past 10 NFL drafts, along with a few players that were on the board at the time (I didn’t go beyond the end of the first round out of fairness; just looking at first-round graded players):
2013: Cornerback Desmond Trufant from Washington, selected by Atlanta.
On the board: Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, WR/Returner Cordarrelle Patterson, defensive end Datone Jones.
2012: Quarterback Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State, selected by Cleveland.
On the board: Linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Nick Perry, running back Doug Martin.
2011: Offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo from Boston College, selected by Indianapolis.
On the board: Offensive lineman Danny Watkins, defensive end Cameron Jordan, running back Mark Ingram.
2010: Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas from Georgia Tech, selected by Denver.
On the board: Wide receiver Dez Bryant, quarterback Tim Tebow, cornerback Devin McCourty.
2009: Wide receiver Percy Harvin from Florida, selected by Minnesota.
On the board: Offensive tackle Michael Oher, cornerback Vontae Davis, linebacker Clay Matthews.
2008: RB Felix Jones from Arkansas, selected by Dallas.
On the board: Running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson, cornerback Mike Jenkins.
2007: Quarterback Brady Quinn from Notre Dame, selected by Cleveland.
On the board: Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, safety Brandon Meriweather, linebackers Jon Beason and Anthony Spencer, offensive tackle Joe Staley.
2006: Linebacker Manny Lawson from N.C. State, selected by San Francisco.
On the board: Offensive lineman Davin Joseph, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, running back DeAngelo Williams, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.
2005: Wide receiver Mark Clayton from Oklahoma, selected by Baltimore.
On the board: Cornerback Fabian Washington, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Roddy White.
2004: Quarterback J.P. Losman from Tulane, selected by Buffalo.
On the board: Defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, running back Steven Jackson, defensive end Jason Babin.
S Kemal Ishmael
RB Steven Jackson
S Zeke Motta
LB Jamar Chaney
G Harland Gunn
LT Sam Baker
DT Travian Robertson
QB Pat Devlin
CB Jamar Taylor
CB Dimitri Patterson
LB Josh Kaddu
G Danny Watkins
G Dallas Thomas
DT Paul Soliai
As expected, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (right shoulder), receiver Mike Wallace (groin) and center Mike Pouncey (ankle) will all play for the Dolphins. Wallace and Pouncey were listed as questionable on Friday.
- LB Josh Kaddu
- QB Pat Devlin
- CB Jamar Taylor
- CB Will Davis
The biggest change on the lineup card this week is cornerback Nolan Carroll is listed as starting in place of Dimitri Patterson, who is active but injured. Patterson may be limited to nickel duty Sunday due to his groin injury. That could present a problem for Miami's defense against Indianapolis' passing attack led by quarterback Andrew Luck.
Here are the players you won’t see in the game:
- QB Pat Devlin
- CB Will Davis
- CB Jamar Taylor
- RB Mike Gillislee
- LB Josh Kaddu
- OL Danny Watkins
- OL Dallas Thomas
Here are some notes and observations from Miami’s session:
- Third-string quarterback Pat Devlin remained out of practice with an undisclosed injury. The last we saw of Devlin was in the preseason finale against New Orleans. Devlin made the 53-man roster but hasn't practiced since. The Dolphins must release their first injury report of the season later this evening to clarify Devlin's situation.
- Also on the injury front, rookie cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis did not practice, instead continuing to work with trainers. Both rookies have missed every practice this week, and it seems unlikely either will play Sunday against the Browns. Long-snapper John Denney also returned to practice.
- No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan fully participated in practice and appears all set to play Sunday. Jordan also is getting work on special teams this week. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said in a conference call that Cleveland is preparing this week for the rookie to play.
- Finally, I've been monitoring the progress this week of Miami’s two newcomers: fullback Tyler Clutts and guard Danny Watkins. Both are trying to pick up a new offensive system. One early impression is that Clutts has caught the ball well. Watkins has quick feet and appears to be moving well; he will be the backup behind starting guards John Jerry and Richie Incognito.
The Dolphins have an off day Thursday. The team will return to the practice field on Friday for a walk-through.
“It’s huge for me,” Watkins said of the change of scenery. “I’ve struggled in Philadelphia. I don’t want to dwell too much on the past, but there’s definitely some issues there. This is huge for me. It’s a very exciting time for me and my family.”
In some ways, Watkins says he feels like a rookie again. The Dolphins signed him to a one-year contract after Philadelphia released him earlier this week.
Watkins has been questioned on everything from his ability to his toughness in two years in Philadelphia. However, the slate is clean for Watkins in Miami. Watkins is a backup guard simply learning a new system behind starters Richie Incognito and John Jerry.
“He has a lot of football left in him," Watkins' agent, Joe Panos, told ESPN.com Tuesday morning. "The best thing to happen to him is to get out of Philadelphia. He needs a fresh start and the Dolphins realize that."
You can see it in Watkins' face and demeanor that he's both relieved and excited. Watkins probably hasn’t felt that way in a while with all that’s gone on in Philadelphia.
Miami lacks depth on the offense line and can use Watkins at some point this year. The Dolphins cut one of their top reserves -- Josh Samuda -- to make room for Watkins.
The Dolphins will do what they can to see if Watkins can reach his potential. Rebuilding Watkins' confidence will be a good starting point.
“I got to Philadelphia and it was a rough go from the get-go,” Watkins explained. “I felt like it just got broken down to bones and just never got built back up. It was more a mental thing. It was very disappointing to myself it just never panned out the way it could.
“I know I can play physical and tough football, but I think it was more a mental aspect more than anything.”
MIAMI -- It is no secret that the offensive line is one of the thinnest areas of the Miami Dolphins entering the 2013 season. The starting lineup is OK, but depth behind the starters is a major issue.
Miami alleviated some of that concern Tuesday by signing former Philadelphia Eagles guard Danny Watkins to a one-year contract. Watkins is a 2011 first-round draft pick who struggled to reach his potential in Philadelphia. But this is a new beginning and another chance for Watkins to prove himself with a different team and a different system
“He has a lot of football left in him,” Watkins’ agent, Joe Panos, said. “The best thing to happen to him is to get out of Philadelphia. He needs a fresh start and the Dolphins realize that.”
To make room for the move, the Dolphins released backup center/guard Josh Samuda.
It remains to be seen if Watkins can turn his career around in Miami. But he immediately brings both depth and competition to Miami’s offensive line.
Earlier this summer, Miami lost starting guard John Jerry to a knee injury and it sent the offensive line scrambling. The team even considered moving stud center Mike Pouncey to guard, which was a bad idea. Bringing Watkins on board means he can be the first guard off the bench in the event that Jerry or 2012 Pro Bowler Richie Incognito get injured. Watkins also has the potential to eventually push Jerry for reps once he learns the Dolphins’ offense. Jerry has had issues with his weight and recently with injuries.
There will not be nearly the same pressure for Watkins in Miami. He starts fresh this week as a backup for the Dolphins. Miami has provided Watkins a solid opportunity to put past struggles behind him. It's up to Watkins to take advantage.
It remains to be seen how much of Watkins' issues had to do with his ability or Philadelphia as a organization. But we are about to find out in Miami.
Crowded quarterback room: The Raiders are keeping four quarterbacks. The team kept both fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson of Arkansas and undrafted free agent Matt McGloin of Penn State. It would be highly unusual for a team to keep four quarterbacks. Some just keep two. That’s three players who most likely won’t be playing on game day. That is not ideal for a team with major depth issues. McGloin outperformed Wilson and became the No. 3 quarterback. But the decision to keep Wilson comes down to the Raiders not waiting to give up on a quarterback who was a fourth-round pick. I understand. It would be admitting a huge mistake, and perhaps Wilson (many thought he could push to start as a rookie during the offseason) will figure things out. Keeping four quarterbacks adversely affects this roster. The truth is, none of the current quarterbacks in Oakland -- including Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor -- may be the ultimate answer for the franchise. But the Raiders are reluctant to make any decisions now.
What’s next: The Raiders are thin and will likely look for players for the next several weeks. I would not be surprised if this team adds four or five players this week. Prime need areas are tight end, the offensive line and pass-rusher. There are a lot of interesting tight ends available, including Tony Moeaki (talented, but injured), D.J. Williams (who was in Green Bay with Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie) and Clay Harbor. Possible offensive line targets include Jake Scott and Danny Watkins.
Players cut: DE Andre Carter, LB Omar Gaither, CB Joselio Hanson, T Tony Hills, S Reggie Smith, DL Ryan Baker, DE David Bass, LB Billy Boyko, CB Chance Casey, G Jason Foster, TE Richard Gordon, WR Greg Jenkins, S Shelton Johnson, TE Brian Leonhardt, G Lamar Mady, K Justin Medlock, DT Kurt Taufa'asau, LB Chase Thomas, WR Conner Vernon, RB Deonte Williams and T Willie Smith. G Tony Bergstrom was put on injured reserve. WR Andre Holmes is serving a four-game NFL suspension.
Going young: This is a team that is rebuilding and the 53-man roster shows it. All six draft picks (cornerback Steve Williams is on the injured reserve) made the team and three undrafted free agents -- safety Jahleel Addae, nose tackle Kwame Geathers and defensive end Brandon Moore -- made the 53-man roster. U-T San Diego reports it’s the first time since 2007 that every draft pick made the team and the first time in 10 years that three undrafted free agents made the roster. Telesco is looking for youth to make an impact. The opportunity is there for these youngsters.
What’s next: This roster is far from set. The Chargers are going to be a work in progress. I expect Telesco will tinker with the bottom of this roster for the next several weeks, maybe even all season. As an executive in Indianapolis, Telesco was known for his eye for talent and for being able to pick up pieces off the street. Thus, this is his time to shine. He has plenty of work to do in San Diego. The Chargers could use depth on the offensive line, at receiver, on the defensive line, at outside linebacker and in the secondary. The team’s special teams was weak in the preseason. That’s a telltale sign of poor depth. So, more players are needed. Among the players San Diego could potentially look at are receivers Lavelle Hawkins, Chris Harper, Russell Shepard, Tavarres King, linemen Ben Ijalana, Fernando Velasco, Jake Scott and Danny Watkins and defensive tackle Drake Nevis.
Players cut: CB Cornelius Brown, OT Nick Becton, DE Frank Beltre, S Sean Cattouse, TE Ben Cotton, CB Marcus Cromartie, LB Phillip Dillard, CB Greg Gatson, CB Logan Harrell, DE Jerrell Harris, RB Michael Hill, CB Josh Johnson, LB Thomas Keiser, WR Robert Meachem, CB William Middleton, LB Dan Molls, WR David Molk, OT Randy Richards, TE David Rolf, G Steve Schilling, OT Max Starks, WR Luke Tasker.
It’s ironic, because those precise qualities are prized by Philadelphia fans. Instead of winning hearts and minds, Watkins had fans, coaches and Roseman scratching their heads. He was a 26-year-old rookie, a former firefighter from British Columbia, and he seemed lost from the beginning.
“He never let himself go here,” Roseman said. “I don’t know why that was. I told him that was one of the things I was so confused by. It all goes back to the pressure he put on himself here. At the end of the day, for him to have success in this league, we felt he had to have a fresh start.”
That 2011 draft has turned out to be disastrous for the Eagles. Watkins is a bust. Second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett, a safety from Temple, was cut last year and is now starting for the New York Jets. Only two players, center Jason Kelce and kicker Alex Henery, from that class are in the Eagles’ starting lineup.
The 2010 draft wasn’t much better. First-round pick Brandon Graham is a backup trying to make the move from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. Second-round safety Nate Allen appears to have survived a challenge to hold onto his starting job. Riley Cooper and Kurt Coleman are the only other players from that class on the roster.
When he fired head coach Andy Reid after 2012 season, owner Jeff Lurie made a point of absolving Roseman for those drafts. To his credit, Roseman seized the opportunity to change the way the Eagles do business. That included adding veteran personnel men Tom Gamble, Rick Mueller and Tom Donahoe to his staff.
“We’ve been able to evaluate ourselves and make some substantial changes in how we do things,” Roseman said. “We’ve changed a lot of people in our personnel department. We’ve changed the way we look at things because we have new people in place.”
It was decisions like drafting Watkins, who was already 26 and had been playing football for just four years, that led to the Eagles’ sharp decline in Andy Reid’s final two seasons. Reid crowed that he had a stud who could step right in and dominate at right guard. After 30 months and 18 starts, Watkins is gone.
Versatility is the key. Head coach Chip Kelly and GM Howie Roseman placed a heavy emphasis on versatility in making decisions, especially at the back end of the roster.
Linebacker Casey Matthews, who plays on all four special-teams units, stayed instead of Chris McCoy, who had a good preseason. Tight end Emil Igwenagu, a strong point-of-attack blocker, beat out Clay Harbor, whose skills were similar to the other tight ends. Wide receiver Jeff Maehl, a high school safety, beat out Greg Salas and Russell Shepard because he’s a tougher special-teams guy.
“We were looking for different skill sets, especially at the back of the roster,” Roseman said. “We felt there was room for some role players on our team.”
What’s next. The Eagles have the No. 4 spot when it comes to being awarded waiver claims. Roseman plans to take advantage of that in order to fill some holes that remain on the roster.
“Sometimes that’s hard to do at this time of year,” Roseman said. “[Jaguars GM] Dave Caldwell’s probably thinking the same thing two spots ahead of us on the wire. We have a draft board set up. We spent an inordinate amount of time on guys we thought would be on the bubble.”
The most pressing needs are in the defensive secondary, where the Eagles are thin at cornerback and simply unimpressive at safety, and at linebacker. There were only three outside linebackers on the roster as of the 6 p.m. deadline.
QB: Dennis Dixon, G.J. Kinne. RB: Matthew Tucker. WR: Greg Salas, Russell Shepard, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Kelly. TE: Clay Harbor. OL: Danny Watkins, Dallas Reynolds, Matt Tennant, Matt Kopa. DL: Antonio Dixon, David King. LB: Chris McCoy, Travis Long, Everette Brown, Adrian Robinson. DB: Trevard Lindley (injured), David Sims. Placed DE Joe Kruger (shoulder) on IR.
Wide receivers Greg Salas and Russell Shepard both had very good training camps. With so many injuries at the position, including projected starter Jeremy Maclin, they looked like candidates to make the team. Both were released. That means Jeff Maehl, who played for coach Chip Kelly at Oregon, made the 53-man roster. Clay Harbor, the tight end who attempted a midsummer conversion to wideout, was also released.
Outside linebacker Chris McCoy, who stood out in Thursday's preseason finale against the Jets, was cut. Emmanuel Acho made the team, as did reserve inside linebacker Casey Matthews. Another linebacker, Travis Long, was cut.
While running back Matthew Tucker looked very good all summer, the Eagles kept just three backs. Tucker, Shepard and tackle Michael Bamiro, a 6-foot-8 behemoth, could all wind up on the practice squad.
The 53-man roster looks like this, pending late additions via trade or the waiver wire:
Quarterbacks (3): Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Michael Vick
Running backs (3): Bryce Brown, LeSean McCoy, Chris Polk
Wide receivers (5): Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, DeSean Jackson, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl
Tight ends (4): James Casey, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Emil Igwenagu
Offensive Line (9): Allen Barbre, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Dennis Kelly, Evan Mathis, Jason Peters, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde
Defensive line (7): Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Clifton Geathers, Bennie Logan, Isaac Sopoaga, Damion Square, Cedric Thornton
Linebackers (8): Emmanuel Acho, Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, Jake Knott, Casey Matthews, DeMeco Ryans
Defensive Backs (11): Nate Allen, Colt Anderson, Brandon Boykin, Patrick Chung, Kurt Coleman, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Hughes, Curtis Marsh, Jordan Poyer, Cary Williams, Earl Wolff
Specialists (3): Jon Dorenbos, Alex Henery, Donnie Jones