Philadelphia Eagles: Hakeem Nicks

Top free-agent roundup: NFC East

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
Here are the top 15 free agents, followed by their rankings, entering Tuesday's signing period as compiled by NFC East reporters Dan Graziano, Todd Archer, Phil Sheridan and John Keim. There are some strong options at the top, but there is not a lot of depth in the NFC East when it comes to free agency. And if Dallas' DeMarcus Ware gets released, he vaults to a top spot on this list. As always, ESPN's free-agent tracker will keep you updated during this period.

1. LB Brian Orakpo, 8.5: The Redskins used the franchise tag on him, so barring a surprise, he’ll be back. It’s a controversial move among fans, but the Redskins need his pass rush and promise to unleash him more often. His career best for a single season is 11 sacks.

2. DT Linval Joseph, 8: A very big, strong and young (25) interior run-stuffer who has also shown the ability to create pressure from the interior, Joseph could be available because of the Giants’ depth at defensive tackle and their many needs.

3. DT Jason Hatcher, 8: He is coming off an 11-sack season, but he turns 32 in July and Dallas doesn’t have much cap space.

4. LB Jon Beason, 7: The Giants are working hard to sign him before free agency opens, as his leadership and high-energy play at middle linebacker helped transform their defense during the 2013 season.

5. WR Hakeem Nicks, 7: This grade is based on talent and past accomplishments, and a feeling that he was being overly careful in 2013 in order to hit free agency healthy. Lacks his early career speed, but knows how to play the position as well as anyone.

6. WR Jason Avant, 7: For a team in need of a third-down possession guy, the sure-handed Avant will be a great value.

7. P Donnie Jones, 7: The Eagles are expected to re-sign Jones, who was an underrated contributor to their NFC East title team.

8. DE Anthony Spencer, 6: He is coming back from microfracture surgery, so the cost won’t be high.

9. LB Perry Riley, 6: The Redskins need to re-sign him because they already have a hole at inside linebacker after London Fletcher retired. But they won’t break the bank for Riley, who needs to improve in coverage.

10. DE Justin Tuck, 6: Coming off an 11-sack season that came out of nowhere after two down years, Tuck turns 31 later this month but is a locker-room leader and a 4-3 defensive end who can set the edge against the run.

11. QB Michael Vick, 6: With Nick Foles' ascension, Vick is looking for a chance to start elsewhere.

12. RB Andre Brown, 5: He played very well in his first few games back off a broken leg, but faded down the stretch and fumbled too much in the final few games. He is likely not a guy who can be relied on as a starter, but potentially a valuable piece.

13. TE Brandon Myers, 5: A huge disappointment in New York after catching 79 passes as a Raider in 2012, Myers also contributed little as a blocker. The Giants are likely to let him go. He could fit better with a different system.

14. CB Terrell Thomas, 5: He played all 16 games after missing the previous two seasons because of ACL tears in the same knee. Thomas believes he can hold up as a starter off a real offseason, and would like to cash in.

15. S Danny McCray, 5: He is a core special teamer only, so the Cowboys could find value here.
PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Eagles let two young cornerbacks go as part of the roster shuffling made necessary by injuries at other positions. Naturally, with their depth depleted at corner, they have an injured starter at that position.

Bradley Fletcher hyperextended his right knee in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He remained in the game, but experienced swelling Monday and Tuesday and did not take part in practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

With the long-tossing Eli Manning and the New York Giants coming up, that could be a bad sign.

“I’ll have myself together for Sunday,” said Fletcher, who missed the second game of the season with a concussion. “I feel like I’ll be fine.”

When the Eagles and Giants played three Sundays ago, Manning tested the Eagles’ revamped secondary with plenty of deep throws. He completed a 49-yard pass to Hakeem Nicks early, and hit Rueben Randle for a 26-yard touchdown.

“I think it comes with attempts,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Shots on goal. They threw 11 or 12 deep on us and you're going to hit a couple. Right now, we're averaging 45 passes against us a game, and we're glad that we're keeping all these deep ones off of us. But the Giants threw a lot deep and hit a couple.”

Fletcher, Cary Williams and nickel corner Brandon Boykin give the Eagles three solid cover guys. The only backup corner on the roster right now is Roc Carmichael, a special-teamer who has played only 11 defensive snaps. Safety Patrick Chung, who missed three of the last four games with a shoulder injury, can play nickel corner if needed.

The Eagles waived rookies Jordan Poyer and Shaun Prater in the past week when injuries forced them to create roster space for running back Matthew Tucker and linebacker Emmanuel Acho. Poyer was claimed by Cleveland, Prater by Minnesota.

“All the different injuries that happen to the team affect the bottom of the roster and who is on the practice squad and who is not,” Davis said. “Each week we go into it with a plan of saying, who can step in? Who has played corner? Who hasn't played corner? We train different guys in nickel positions because you always have an issue there that you have to be on top of. So it's a moving target. Every week it changes, and this week we have a couple things we're working on.”

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

October, 6, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few observations from the Philadelphia Eagles' 36-21 victory over the winless New York Giants on Sunday:

What it means: The NFC East really is as terrible as it looked while the Eagles were enduring that three-game losing streak against AFC West teams. The Eagles are 2-3 overall, but 2-0 within a division that could be won with an 8-8 record. They dropped the sloppy Giants to 0-5 despite losing starting quarterback Michael Vick with a hamstring injury late in the first half. After the Eagles blew a 19-7 halftime lead, Nick Foles directed three scoring drives to secure the win. Mychal Kendricks came up with a game-turning interception to set up Foles' fourth-quarter, 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brent Celek.

Vick vs. Foles: Vick ran the ball seven times for 79 yards before injuring his hamstring. He had completed just 6 of 14 passes for 105 yards, and the Eagles' red zone issues continued while he was in the game. Foles took over with 1:25 left in the half and the ball on the Eagles' 7-yard line. He completed 7 of 8 passes for 68 yards to drive for a late field goal, then threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to put the game out of reach. The run game wasn't as effective without the threat of Vick running, but Chip Kelly adjusted and got Foles into a rhythm, and the Eagles finished with a season-high 36 points. Durability is always an issue with Vick, and now his inevitable injury may have opened the door for Foles.

Stock Watch: Rising -- Eagles defense. It looked like another disaster in the making when Eli Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for 49 yards on the Giants' third play from scrimmage. But the Giants lost running back David Wilson to a neck injury and Manning started throwing the ball to the Eagles, when he wasn't intentionally grounding it, in the second half. The three fourth-quarter interceptions were the Eagles' first since Week 1 against Washington. They set up two Eagles touchdowns and changed the entire tone of the game.

What's next: There will be a lot of discussion about Vick's hamstring and whether it allows him to practice for next Sunday's game against Tampa Bay -- the Eagles' second consecutive game against an 0-4 team. If Vick can go, the guess here is that he will start. Kelly made a point of saying Vick would not have to look over his shoulder after he won the starting quarterback job in the preseason. But if Vick can't play, Foles will get a chance to show what he can do with a full week of practice against a not-particularly-good team.
PHILADELPHIA -- The sign posted near the players' exit was unintentionally funny. Read one way, it was a simple reminder of a seminar scheduled for Friday: “Mandatory Rookie Success,” it read.

Read another way: Ah, if only it were that easy.

The Philadelphia Eagles have six rookies dressing for games (most weeks), but this is really only about two of them. That's because, frankly, not all positions are created equal when it comes to learning on the job in the NFL.

Defenses will cover rookie tight end Zach Ertz because he's on the field and he's eligible to catch the ball. Offenses will block nose tackle Bennie Logan when he's in because he's lined up over the center. Linebacker Jake Knott and cornerback Jordan Poyer are playing mostly on special teams.

But being a rookie means being a target for right tackle Lane Johnson and safety Earl Wolff. That's because of who they are and who they are not.

If you're a defensive coordinator, you can line up your best outside pass-rusher across from Pro Bowler Jason Peters, the left tackle, or across from Johnson, who has played four NFL games. It isn't a tough choice.

“They do flip (defensive ends and linebackers),” Johnson said. “It's just kind of the process for rookies. It's like if a quarterback sees a rookie cornerback. He might attack him.”

Same for a rookie safety like Wolff. Quarterbacks can go after veteran cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher or freeze Wolff with their eyes and then throw where he's supposed to be. Wolff made his first start against Peyton Manning and could make his second Sunday against Eli Manning. Even if veteran Patrick Chung (questionable, shoulder) plays, Wolff will see considerable action.

“I feel like I'll be more prepared and more ready, just knowing what happened last week,” Wolff said. “Everything I did wrong -- small things like getting leveraged on a couple plays, not being deep enough in coverage -- I've been working on all that this week.”

Wolff was supposed to be deeper on Peyton Manning's 52-yard pass to Eric Decker on Sunday. Considering deep threats Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, that is an important area to shore up against the Giants.

“I see improvement in Earl,” coach Chip Kelly said. “But you're not, in the short amount of time since he's been here, able to put him through every single route combination, sets, recognition, all those things that a guy who has been in the league for two or three years can recognize.”

Likewise, Johnson said he has gotten better at studying film of the players he's likely to face. But there's still dealing with that player's quickness and strength in the flesh, and then there's the twists and stunts defenses do to confuse young blockers.

“I think Lane knows exactly what to do,” Kelly said, “but at times, the game has to happen just a little bit quicker for him.”

Every rookie has to go through that process. It's just that, at certain positions, opponents will apply extra pressure on rookies until they prove they can deal with it.

“You have no choice,” Johnson said. “You just have to go through it.”