NFL Nation: Isaac Sopoaga

The initial hours of NFL free agency produced the expected frenzy, and the New England Patriots, as they often do, remained on the sidelines. If recent history is any indication, things should now start picking up, with a surprise or two along the way.

The biggest takeaways from the day:

All quiet surrounding Aqib Talib. With top cornerbacks Brent Grimes (Dolphins), Sam Shields (Packers) and Vontae Davis (Colts) re-signing with their teams, and Alterraun Verner (Buccaneers) inking a deal late Tuesday, it leaves Talib as the top remaining corner on the market. Verner’s reported deal (4 years, $26.5 million, $14 million guaranteed) came in low compared to the other top corners. From a Patriots perspective, it’s obviously a positive development that Talib didn’t generate an immediate market as the team is still in the mix to retain him. Talib is arguably the Patriots’ top priority based on his difference-making presence the last two seasons.

[+] Enlarge Julian Edelman
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesJulian Edelman's timing in hitting the free agent market doesn't seem to be in his favor.
Receiver market soft. Julian Edelman has to be wondering what he has to do to catch a break. Last year at this time, the Patriots were so concerned with missing out on receiver Danny Amendola that they moved quickly away from Wes Welker when the market opened and forked over a five-year, $28.5 million deal with $10 million in bonuses and guarantees. But the receiver market is much softer this year -- the biggest signing at the position Tuesday was Dexter McCluster in Tennessee (3 years, up to $12 million) -- and the timing is tough for Edelman, who is coming off a 105-catch season.

Wesley Woodyard an early target. With a top linebacker trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, the Patriots weren’t forecast to be aggressive at the position early in free agency. But Woodyard’s availability had the Patriots springing to action to bring the former Denver Bronco to town on Wednesday, and Woodyard is scheduled to visit the Tennessee Titans after coming to Foxborough, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. It’s rare to see the Patriots target an undersized linebacker this aggressively, but with more of the game being played in sub defenses (67 percent of the snaps for New England in 2013), it appears that the Patriots view a speedy, coverage-based 'backer as an important addition.

Dane Fletcher draws early visit. If you had Fletcher taking a free-agent visit (Tampa Bay) before fellow linebacker Brandon Spikes, you might consider buying a lottery ticket. That Fletcher has drawn such early interest likely punches his ticket out of town. Woodyard, if he’s signed, would immediately slide into that type of role and would represent an upgrade.

Isaac Sopoaga’s contract remains unchanged. While it seems unlikely that the Patriots will keep Sopoaga on the roster at a $3.5 million base salary, there has been no change in the veteran defensive tackle’s status. One possible reason: Until the Patriots have some clarity with Vince Wilfork’s contract situation (he’s scheduled to earn $7.5 million in base salary but the club might be looking for an adjustment of some kind), they might be more inclined to hold on to Sopoaga.

Of all the Patriots-related activity from free agency, the situation with the most layers to dissect was with Edelman. The door isn’t closed on his return, as the sides are keeping open dialogue, but it’s clear that whatever Edelman hoped would be there for him on the open market -- expectations fueled by the contract the Patriots handed out last offseason to Amendola -- hasn’t materialized at this point. The Baltimore Ravens reportedly have some interest, according to The Baltimore Sun, but it’s unclear at what level.

Edelman’s situation appears strikingly similar to the position that Welker found himself in last year, as Welker himself had to drum up interest with the Broncos and then ultimately come to grips with a contract that wasn’t as rich as what he had initially hoped for.

In the end, Welker found it easier to accept that type of contract from the Broncos than the team he felt he had given everything he had for six seasons. It stands to reason that Edelman might harbor some type of feelings along those lines as well, given that the Patriots invested big in Amendola last year, and not with him.

So the Patriots have some sensitive ground to navigate as they’d still like to retain Edelman. All told, that’s probably the biggest difference between Welker/2013 and Edelman/2014; there doesn’t seem to be as much urgency from the team to move on to Plan B this year, in part because it’s a buyer’s market for receivers.

Perhaps there will be a breakthrough on Wednesday.

As has often been the case with the Patriots, the activity usually picks up after the initial flurry of moves.
PHILADELPHIA -- If the question was whether or not Jerry Azzinaro's approach would work with NFL players, the answer wasn't quite what you might expect.

Sure, Azzinaro had the Eagles defensive linemen he coached hitting the blocking sled every day, working on fundamentals and reinforcing techniques. But if you were looking for veteran NFL linemen to resist, you were looking in the wrong place.

Defensive ends Fletcher Cox (23), Cedric Thornton (25) and nose tackle Bennie Logan (24) aren't much older than the players Azzinarro was coaching at Oregon before Chip Kelly brought him to Philadelphia. Cox, Thornton and Clifton Geathers each had one year of NFL experience. Logan and Damion Square had none.

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Jerry Azzinaro
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesEagles defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro had a young group to work with in 2013.
The only veteran, free-agent signing Isaac Sopoaga, was traded away in midseason to make room in the starting lineup for Logan.

Point is, the Eagles have a very young group of defensive linemen who quickly became an asset in their first season in Bill Davis' system. If the truism that players make their biggest improvement between Year 1 and Year 2 holds true, this group should be a real strength in 2014.

Cox, a first-round pick in 2012, took a little time to adjust to the two-gap system Davis and Azzinaro preferred. Simply put, he had to become responsibility for both sides of the offensive lineman in front of him instead of attacking one side or the other. It is a less intuitive way to play, but Cox steadily improved.

Those techniques allowed Thornton, an undrafted free agent, to establish himself as an impact player. Kelly and Davis routinely singled Thornton out as the Eagles' most productive and consistent defensive lineman.

Logan, a third-round pick last year, made Sopoaga expendable and started the rest of the year. Logan doesn't have the massive size associated with the nose tackle -- he goes about 310 pounds -- but is expected to add some bulk in the offseason.

Square, Geathers and Vinny Curry provided depth and played well in various situations.

The youth and potential along the defensive line put the Eagles in an enviable position as they continue to build their defense. If they find a bigger, more physical nose tackle in free agency or the draft, they can move Logan to end or rotate him in on passing downs. They don't have a pressing need for an end, but their rotation system means they can always use more depth and different types of linemen.

Davis sometimes uses a 4-3 look, allowing outside linebackers Trent Cole and Brandon Graham to rush from the more familiar three-point stance. As the Eagles defense evolves, with players selected to fit the system, Davis can be more creative and maximize the potential of his front seven.

Azzinaro is the guy in charge of getting that potential from the linemen. He couldn't have done much better in his first season.

Snapshot look at Pats' salary cap

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
As the offseason begins, one of the questions many ask is how the Patriots are doing from a salary-cap standpoint.

Salary-cap assessments can be a little tricky because of the fluidity of cap space: Signing or extending a player can decrease cap space, while releasing or restructuring a deal can increase it.

But one number we can hammer home on the cap space is $4.1 million, which is how much space the Patriots will be rolling over from this year's cap to next year's. That's to say that $4.1 million of unspent money this year will be available for the Patriots to use next year on top of the salary cap.

Right now, many NFL teams are using $123 million as a conservative projected cap figure for 2014, as that is on the low end of what is realistic for it to actually be (some project it could be closer to $128 million).

If the cap were to, hypothetically, be set at $126 million, the Patriots would have a $130.1 million allowance due to their rollover space.

Now, as things currently stand, the Patriots have $128.2 million committed to their salary cap next year, which may make one say that they're in poor cap space. That's not exactly the case, as the team can easily create space with moves in the form of a release. Defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, due $3.5 million for next season, is an example of a potential cap casualty.

Also, one of the big issues of the offseason will be if the Patriots receive significant relief on the cap as it relates to Aaron Hernandez.

So for now, the answer to the question that we led off this post with is: Wait and see.

The next big thing: Patriots

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
The first focus for the Patriots in free agency will be their own key players who are set to hit the market.

The list is plentiful, and it starts with cornerback Aqib Talib. Talib's work as a shutdown cover man was as good as the Patriots have seen in Bill Belichick's 14 years as coach, which is why he is viewed as the centerpiece to the team's offseason approach.

If Talib isn't back, the Patriots are back to what we saw in the AFC Championship game ... and the drop-off was notable.

Meanwhile, receiver Julian Edelman and running back LeGarrette Blount are two others the club would likely hope to retain, with center Ryan Wendell also in that mix.

In the draft, the Patriots have their full complement of picks -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 6 and 7. The fifth-rounder went to Philadelphia in the Isaac Sopoaga trade this year, with the additional sixth coming from the Eagles in that same deal.

The other aspect to consider is the fluid nature of salary-cap space. One important offseason storyline will be if the team gets salary-cap relief from Aaron Hernandez's contract, which would play a major role in building the team.
PHILADELPHIA – It makes for interesting discussion -- Manning vs. Brady, Kaepernick vs. Wilson -- but if you really want to know who will win Sunday's championship games, count the former Eagles.

Baseball has that thing about ex-Cubs never winning the World Series. The NFL playoffs, at least this offseason, have the Eagles jinx.

[+] EnlargeHightower
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaWhat's a sure way to predict who won't advance in the playoffs? Just count the number of former Eagles -- such as the Colts' Stanley Havili (39) -- on the rosters.
It's simple enough. Whichever team has the most significant connection to the Eagles will lose. The formula has worked for six of the seven postseason games for which it was applicable.

Start with the first round. The Eagles obviously have the most significant Eagles connection of all. They lost to the Saints. Kansas City, coached by former Eagles head coach Andy Reid, lost to Indianapolis.

San Franscisco/Green Bay really is a push. Neither team has an ex-Eagle on its roster. But each has the brother of a current Eagle: San Francisco's Garrett Celek and Green Bay's Clay Matthews. The ex-Eagles jinx did not apply here.

The exception was San Diego's victory over Cincinnati. The Chargers have a handful of ex-Eagles, including tackle King Dunlap and running back Ronnie Brown. Apparently, the ex-Eagles jinx isn't as powerful as the Andy Dalton jinx.

In the second round, the jinx was a perfect four-for-four. Carolina, with ex-Eagles assistants Ron Rivera and Sean McDermott coaching a defense with Quintin Mikell at safety, lost at home to the Eagles-free 49ers. The Chargers' ex-Eagles caught up to them in a loss to Denver (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie notwithstanding).

The Saints/Seahawks game was another close one. The Saints have Brodrick Bunkley, the Seahawks have Chris Clemons. Bunkley was a first-round pick and spent more time in Philadelphia. The Saints lost.

It was ex-Eagle Stanley Havili who bobbled a pass into the arms of a defender in the Colts' loss to New England. As if he needed to prove his genius one more time, Patriots coach Bill Belichick kept his only former Eagle, Isaac Sopoaga, on the inactive list.

If Belichick does the same Sunday, the Patriots will have the edge over the Rodgers-Cromartie laden Broncos.

In the NFC, the 49ers remain Eagles-free. Clemons, who spent two seasons in Philadelphia, puts the jinx squarely on the Seahawks.

If form holds, then, the 49ers will face the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and the outcome may depend on whether Sopoaga plays.

Preposterous, you say? About as preposterous as a franchise failing to win a single Super Bowl in the 48-year history of the game.
PHILADELPHIA -- There was a time a rookie offensive tackle would be eased into NFL action. He might even start out at guard and gradually move outside as he became more comfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also on board: Almost everyone.

Good pick or bad pick? Very good pick.

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

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

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

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

Good pick or bad pick? Good pick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good pick or bad pick? Curious pick.

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

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

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

Good pick or bad pick? Good pick.

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

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

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

Also on board: A bunch of guys.

Good picks or bad picks? Oh, come on.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

December, 8, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing some halftime thoughts as the New England Patriots trail the Browns 6-0:

Uninspiring performance from Patriots: Dropped passes. Missed blocking assignments. Substitution issues on the sideline with the coaching staff and players that lead to 12-men-on-the-field penalties and general confusion. Simply put, it’s been uninspiring football from the Patriots. At the same time, credit also goes to the Browns in some areas (e.g. D'Qwell Jackson's range on an interception of a throw that was forced), who certainly haven’t quit after last week’s loss to the Jaguars.

Not as much about adjustments as execution: Unlike last week, when the Patriots altered their offensive plan at halftime, this game doesn’t strike us as much about being adjustment-based. It’s more about execution. There are opportunities there if they can make the plays. The Patriots looked like one of the NFL's worst teams in the first half.

Charting Ridley’s usage: The Patriots have eased running back Stevan Ridley back into the mix after he was a healthy scratch last week because of ball-security issues. He played five snaps in the first half.

Siliga’s presence highlights focus on interior rush defense: One of the areas prioritized defensively during the week of practice was the Browns’ inside running game. Along those lines, the Patriots started nose tackle Sealver Siliga (6-2, 325) over Joe Vellano (6-2, 300), electing for more bulk and power (and choosing Siliga over veteran Isaac Sopoaga to provide it). That was a notable personnel shift, and the results have been good. The inside running game, outside of the first few plays of the game, hasn’t been a big factor.

Closer look at cornerback usage: The Patriots started Aqib Talib and Logan Ryan at cornerback in the base defense, with Talib shadowing receiver Josh Gordon all over the field. When the Browns go to a three-receiver package, the Patriots are taking Ryan off the field and adding cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington as the fourth and fifth defensive backs. Something different, with Talib and Ryan two of the bright spots in a half with few of them.

Patriots open the half with ball: After winning the opening toss and deferring the choice to the second half, the Patriots will receive the opening kickoff of the half.

Dobson (foot) out; five Pats limited

November, 27, 2013
New England Patriots rookie receiver Aaron Dobson, who played just two snaps in the second half of Sunday’s win over Denver, has a foot injury, according to the team’s injury report. Dobson didn’t practice Wednesday.

Elsewhere, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga weren’t listed on the injury report despite not playing in the second half Sunday. So their absence seemed to be less health-related and more a result of performance.

As the report shows, the Patriots are banged up in the secondary, with five players limited in practice.

Locker Room Buzz: New England Patriots

November, 3, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Players erupt in celebration after earning 6 days off: When Bill Belichick stood in front of players after the resounding win, he shocked them by over-delivering on their expectation for the bye week. Some players had apparently been positioning to earn Thursday as an "extra" day off, so Belichick told them they had earned six straight days off -- Wednesday through the following Monday. Players described a scene in which everyone erupted in celebration. The general message was to rest up and that there is a lot of football ahead.

Inspired by the Red Sox? The Patriots honored the World Series champion Red Sox before the game, with pitcher Jon Lester carrying the World Series trophy to midfield for the opening coin toss. "Maybe we got our inspiration from the Red Sox," Belichick said.

Brady couldn't have envisioned this: After eight weeks in which the offense has struggled for long stretches, quarterback Tom Brady called it a fun day, and obviously the best day the offense has had execution-wise. "You don't wake up in the morning and think they are going to be like that," he said. "It was pretty sweet."

Smiling Sopoaga represents Moses Malone: Newly acquired nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who has a collection of authentic NBA jerseys, donned a Philadelphia 76ers Moses Malone jersey after the game. Sopoaga started and played about 24 snaps in a situational role, and made his mark by holding his ground on a fourth-and-1 stop and also batting down a pass. "I feel like today is my birthday again. Winning and playing with Tom Brady? Come on," he said, with a laugh.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

November, 3, 2013

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick thoughts from the New England Patriots' 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers:

What it means: The banged-up Patriots enter their bye with a 7-2 record. For much of the first half of the season, it was the defense that picked up the struggling offense. But the offense found its groove in this game, with quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and receivers Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson playing starring roles. This was an offensive explosion against the NFL's No. 2-ranked pass defense in terms of yards allowed per game.

Injuries continue to add up: This was a physical game that left a mark. No. 4 receiver Austin Collie left with a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return. ... Starting safety Steve Gregory left with a right thumb/wrist injury in the third quarter and did not return. ... Starting left defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich left in the third quarter with a foot injury and did not return. ... Starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard came off on the final drive and was being looked at by the medical staff and didn't finish. Ninkovich seemed to dodge a bullet as he returned to the sideline and gave a thumbs-up to his teammates. It might have been a case where the Patriots just decided to play it safe by not putting him back in the game.

Ridley is the workhorse: One week after being limited to just 20 snaps, which sparked media-based discussion on why the Patriots aren't playing their best running back more, Stevan Ridley was used as the workhorse and responded with his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. It almost makes one wonder if the coaching staff was out-thinking itself at times in limiting Ridley, who we charted on the field for 51 snaps (including penalties).

Gronkowski impact in full effect: Playing in his third game since returning from five surgeries since November, tight end Gronkowski was immense. He had seven of his nine receptions in the first half and quite simply, the Patriots' offense is a much different unit when he's at full health. He's a true difference-maker.

Any more questions about Brady? His age is showing. He can't throw the deep ball. He's not the same quarterback we've seen in the past. All those storylines that have surrounded Brady can be tossed out the window after a game like this. Same old Brady.

Defense limps to the bye: How many more hits can the defense take? Playing without cornerback Aqib Talib for the third straight game, the unit hung tough, with newly-acquired nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga showing up with a few plays in limited work (he held his ground on a fourth-and-1 stop and nearly had an interception on a batted ball). Losing starting safety Steve Gregory would be a blow as he's been playing well and leading the defensive huddle the past two weeks.

What's next: The Patriots enter a long bye week as they visit the Carolina Panthers on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" on Nov. 18.

Belichick: Sopoaga primed to play Sunday

November, 1, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga has practiced with the New England Patriots each of the past three days since being acquired in a trade from the Eagles, and coach Bill Belichick said Friday that there is a good chance Sopoaga will play Sunday against the Steelers.

“We have a couple more days to clean up a few things, but if he continues to progress through the week, I don’t think there’s any reason why he shouldn’t be ready to play,” Belichick said.

Belichick made the point that acquiring Sopoaga at this point of the season is different from signing a free-agent, as he’s in “football shape” from having played in every game (39 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps).

“He’s in good condition, his reactions are what you’d expect them to be,” Belichick noted. “He just has to get familiar with our terminology and some of the way we play certain blocks and what his responsibilities are on blitzes and that kind of thing. He’s a smart guy and he obviously has a lot of experience.”

From a big-picture standpoint, Belichick was asked what he remembers about Sopoaga from the 2004 draft. Sopoaga, who played at Hawaii, had visited Gillette Stadium and was a prospect the team had interest in selecting before he went in the fourth round (49ers).

“We talked about taking him, and we were going to take him, but we were a round late,” Belichick said, pointing out that the team had already selected defensive tackle Vince Wilfork in the first round.

“You can never have too many defensive linemen, and that was kind of the conversation. He was right there. We were ready to take him and we said ‘We think we can get him one round later,' we’d already taken a couple guys, and probably waited a little too long on that one.”

Asked if Sopoaga’s career has played out how he projected, Belichick said: “That’s a pretty good fourth-round pick, I’d say. I think if you knew what his career was going to be, he would have gone in the second. He could have gone in the first ahead of some other people that had been drafted in that round, obviously. I’d say he’s had a real good career. For a fourth-round pick that’s done what he’s done, there aren’t too many of them that have done that. I think it’s been pretty good.”

Midseason look at Eagles' free agents

October, 31, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles signed a handful of free agents last offseason. The departure of one of them, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, combined with the midway point of the season makes this a good time to see how general manager Howie Roseman fared.

"I think everything is an inexact science," coach Chip Kelly said. "Sometimes you miss on a draft pick. It's just what's available, what have you got to do, you've got to get your roster together. You always analyze at the end of the year. If this guy isn't exactly what we thought he was, why is that, and evaluate the whole process."

For perspective's sake, remember that the Eagles felt burned by free agency after the horrendous "Dream Team" crop -- led by Nnamdi Asomugha -- contributed to a 12-20 record in Andy Reid's final two seasons. And remember that Roseman was trying to stock a fairly empty cupboard on the defensive side of the ball without overpaying a la Asomugha and without a real feel for what coordinator Bill Davis was looking for.

• Safety Kenny Phillips was released in training camp after nagging injuries kept him from staking a claim to a roster spot. It speaks volumes that the former New York Giants' first-round pick, who was coming back from microfracture surgery, hasn't hooked on anywhere else.

Good deal, bad deal: Neither really. Phillips was a low-risk gamble that didn't work out. This one move was not an issue. The issue is the Eagles' inability to find good safeties over the previous four years.

• Sopoaga made a few million dollars because the Eagles had no one who could play the nose as they made the switch to a 3-4 defense. He was a solid veteran presence who, by all accounts, helped coach up the younger linemen on the team. Those linemen made him expendable, and the Eagles traded Sopoaga to New England this week for virtually nothing.

Good deal, bad deal: Bad deal, made worse when the Eagles drafted Bennie Logan in the third round out of LSU. If you're going young, go young. If they needed a vet, they could have hung on to Cullen Jenkins, who signed and is playing well with the Giants.

• Safety Patrick Chung has been a mixed bag. The former Patriots defensive back earned a starting job (against a relatively weak field, to be sure) but injured his shoulder in the third game of the season. Chung tried to come back too soon and has missed a total of four games. Meanwhile, rookie Earl Wolff has given the coaches a reason to believe he's the eventual starter.

Good deal, bad deal: For $3 million? Bad deal. There's no way to anticipate injuries, of course, but Chung hasn't given the Eagles much they couldn't have gotten from Kurt Coleman while Wolff was learning on the job.

• Tight end James Casey was the only significant free agent pickup on the offensive side of the ball. His three-year, $12-million deal made sense when it appeared Roseman was stockpiling versatile weapons for Kelly's offense. After eight games, in which Casey caught 2 passes for 23 yards, and was on the field for just 5 percent of offensive plays, the deal makes much less sense.

Good deal, bad deal: Bad deal, as much for Casey as anyone. You could also say that drafting tight end Zach Ertz in the second round was a mistake after spending so much on Casey. Either way, Roseman expended more capital than was wise on a position Kelly hasn't really utilized.

• Cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams feel like a single entry. After parting ways with Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (the right move, regardless of DRC's play in Denver), Roseman needed somebody who could line up across from opposing wide receivers. He got the fire-and-ice duo of Williams, a mercurial ex-Raven, and Fletcher, a softspoken former Ram. Grading on a curve because of the overall inconsistency of a defense in transition, they have been better than expected. Or maybe competent play at the position just looks so good after two years with those other guys.

Good deals, bad deals: Good deals. Roseman paid more for Williams, who was coming off a Super Bowl title with the Ravens, but got a terrific bargain with Fletcher.

• Outside linebacker Connor Barwin was an intriguing signing. He had a huge 2011 season, with 11.5 sacks for the Houston Texans. He had only three in 2012, though, purportedly because he was used differently by coordinator Wade Phillips. As with Sopoaga, the Eagles really needed someone with the demonstrated ability to play OLB in the 3-4, and Roseman got Barwin for six years, $36 million. Unlike Sopoaga, they are getting production as well as a bell-cow for younger players to follow.

Good deal, bad deal: Good deal. The money sounds like a lot, but the majority of it ($23 million) comes after the third season and is not guaranteed. Barwin is earning his money.

Kelly talks QB reps, Sopoaga trade

October, 30, 2013

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles coach Chip Kelly offered a bit more insight than usual into how he prepares his quarterbacks during the week.

That became an issue Sunday, when rookie quarterback Matt Barkley was forced into action for the second week in a row. Even though starter Michael Vick was nursing a cranky hamstring that had kept him sidelined for two weeks, Barkley got only the usual limited practice time with the first team.

Kelly’s practices are closed to the media, so there is some uncertainty about how he conducts them.

“When you go into a game, your backup quarterback doesn’t get a lot of snaps on a daily basis,” Kelly said. “Today we have 60 snaps for our offense. Our starting quarterback will get 48 of them and our backup quarterback will get 12 of them.”

Kelly received some criticism for calling a naked bootleg for Barkley on first-and-goal from the 2-yard line. Barkley revealed Tuesday that it was a play he’d never run in practice.

“He may not have run that play,” Kelly said, “but it’s a naked play. The route combination doesn’t matter. We’re always just trying to dress it up and do it in different ways. Has he run 'naked' since he’s been here? Yes, he’s run 'naked' since he’s been here. There’s a guy in the flat and a guy on the drag. Was it specifically that call? He may not have run that rep in practice.”

Kelly said the offense runs four “low red zone” snaps in practice and the starter gets all four of them.

Ultimately, Kelly called a play that asked more than his rookie quarterback was capable of handling, and a turnover resulted.

Serving youth: The trade of Isaac Sopoaga Tuesday was more about the young players behind the veteran nose tackle, Kelly said.

“We felt like we had a couple of younger guys that we had to continue to get in there,” Kelly said. “Clifton Geathers is a great example. He played 13 snaps on Sunday against the Giants and he had three contacts with the ball. He’s a guy that just keeps getting better. Bennie Logan is a guy we need to see more of. Damion Square is a guy who was up for the first two games -- when you watch practice, Square, Logan and Geathers need more reps.”

Sopoaga was credited with 18 tackles, one for a loss, and three quarterback hurries in eight games. The 32-year-old was dealt to New England before the trade deadline, along with a sixth-round draft pick, in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

No tear for Vick: Kelly said the MRI of Vick’s left hamstring showed no new injury or more severe tear.

“It’s hurt in the same spot,” Kelly said. “We’ll monitor it and see how he goes. I don’t anticipate Mike being able to play this week. The one thing I know about Mike is he’s unbelievable when it comes to rehab and listening to [the medical staff]. There’s nothing new from what happened last time.”
The San Francisco 49ers' Parys Haralson dominated against the Kansas City Chiefs' backups during a preseason game this summer. The veteran outside linebacker could presumably start for some other 3-4 teams as a contributor on early downs, but he was less important to a 49ers team featuring four 2012 Associated Press All-Pro selections, including three first-teamers.

And so the 49ers reached agreement Monday on a trade sending Haralson to the New Orleans Saints, according to reporters who saw Haralson saying goodbye to teammates before practice. The deal, not yet announced by the 49ers and for compensation that has not yet been reported, made sense for New Orleans after the team lost veteran Will Smith to a season-ending knee injury against Houston over the weekend. The Saints are implementing a base 3-4 defense under new coordinator Rob Ryan.

Trading Haralson will save the 49ers $1.3 million in cash and cap space, Brian McIntyre notes. That is more money than the 49ers wanted to pay Haralson as a backup and the same amount Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield was set to earn when his team released him earlier this offseason).

Haralson, 29, started all 16 games in 2011 before suffering a torn triceps tendon during training camp before the 2012 season. He missed the 2012 season. Haralson started between 11 and 16 games for five consecutive seasons after playing sparingly as a rookie fifth-round choice in 2006.

Haralson joins A.J. Jenkins, Delanie Walker, Dashon Goldson, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga and Alex Smith as 49ers draft choices to leave the roster this offseason. He became expendable in the team's eyes after San Francisco used a 2013 third-round choice for outside linebacker Corey Lemonier. Aldon Smith, who collected 19.5 sacks last season, replaced Haralson on passing downs in 2011 and would have started in 2012 even if Haralson had been healthy.

Haralson set a career high with eight sacks in 2008. He had two in 2011, when he played 49 percent of the snaps and played primarily at right outside linebacker in base personnel.
It is no surprise the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback competition was the dominant story of Chip Kelly’s first training camp. The untold story is the lack of other spirited battles for starting jobs, especially on the defense.

New coordinator Bill Davis is expected to start the same 11 players in Jacksonville on Saturday night as he started last week against Carolina. And with the exception of cornerback Cary Williams, who was sidelined with an injury, Davis started the same group against New England on Aug. 9.

“This is a big preseason game for us,” Davis said this week. “In the evaluation process, every game weighs a little heavier than the practices, obviously, because of the speed at which you play, and the tackles and all that. But this is a big preseason game to help us determine who the starters will be and the backups.”

Especially, it turns out, the backups.

Williams and Bradley Fletcher appear to have the starting cornerback jobs sewn up. Brandon Boykin went into camp as the nickel corner, and he’s still there. Neither Brandon Hughes nor Curtis Marsh (who had surgery on a broken bone in his hand this week) seriously challenged the top three.

Nate Allen remains a starter at safety. Injuries have kept veteran Kenny Phillips from taking the job, and fifth-round pick Earl Wolff doesn’t appear ready yet. Patrick Chung has never budged from the top of the depth chart at the other safety spot.

The starting front seven has looked the same throughout the preseason, as well. The good news there is along the line, where Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry and Damion Square have played their way into what could be a solid rotation.

The linebacking situation is another matter. It is a position that has vexed the Eagles nearly as much as safety over the past five years. There is a chance the four starters -- Connor Barwin and Trent Cole on the outside, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks on the inside -- will be adequate. But the Eagles’ Friday trade of running back Felix Jones for linebacker Adrian Robinson shows how much they need depth and competition there.

Can Phillips make a late push to replace Allen? Can Logan slip ahead of veteran Isaac Sopoaga at the nose tackle spot? Does former first-round pick Brandon Graham need to make some plays in order to show he’s completed the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker?

This game in Jacksonville is the last real chance Davis will get to see his first team in extended live action. It doesn’t help that the Eagles will be facing backup quarterback Chad Henne and a rebuilding Jaguars team. If the Eagles looked better against Cam Newton than Tom Brady, they should look much improved against Henne.




Sunday, 2/2