Friday, February 28, 2014

The Eagles Pay Some Holdovers

Aw Yeah
So my laundry went out and spent money to extend Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Riley Cooper, tying up to $113 million in future contracts to three players. The clubs is also said to still be open to bringing back injured WR Jeremy Maclin, which seems like an either/or move, especially with WR DeSean Jackson still getting paid.

Which leads me to the following points.

> Most people that I read thought the team preferred Maclin to Cooper, so this news comes as a surprise. Maclin has a higher ceiling as a former first round pick, has produced at a higher level, isn't infamous from social media, and is likely to be pursued by more teams. But what he is not, and has not been for a good long while, is healthy. Coach Chip Kelly doesn't seem to go for injury-prone; he does not draft or sign smaller personnel, and either got incredibly lucky last year, or has some winning ideas on keeping personnel healthy.

There's also this: Maclin was terrible in 2012 (drops, missed snaps and games, bad body language and more more more), missed all of 2013 with the camp knee injury, and might have a half dozen teams trying to pay him in 2014 for a multi-year deal that he doesn't really deserve. Given how many good moves the team has made in the past 12 months, I'm fine with whatever they want to do with him, even if that means letting him walk to a division rival.

> What I think really happened here is that Cooper came in at the club's number, and maybe even under market level. Five years for $25 million isn't exactly break the bank numbers, and more or less solidify Cooper's self-valuation as a 2/3 guy and red zone target, rather than a guy who thinks he can make it to a Pro Bowl or two. It's also probably more than a little bit discounted for Kelly's move to stand by the player during last year's videobomb problem, as well as the slow start that Cooper saw when Mike Vick was the QB. And it's the NFL; if he tanks, they'll cut him. It's not like this is MLB, and the Eagles have just signed up for multiple years of post-35 year-old what the hellness.

> The bigger question about Cooper isn't if his contract makes sense; it's what his true value is to the team. When he wasn't catching balls last year, we heard a lot about his blocking ability, and he certainly looks OK in space, particularly given his size. But he struggles in press coverage, doesn't have a full route tree, and made a back-breaking drop in the Saints playoff loss. He's still young enough to get better, and a third-year guy who posts 47/835/8 isn't chopped liver. There's also no denying that he made a lot of plays with Foles, and did real damage on deep balls. But the history of the NFL is that deep ball dependent guys struggle with consistency, year over year. But the nice part is that at 5/25, he doesn't have to do more than what he did in 2014 to avoid ire.

> By the way? The club still needs help at the position; it just doesn't need it right away. DJ isn't likely to be better as he gets older, they never really had an explosive slot guy last year (Damaris Johnson was a washout, and Brad Smith is, well, Brad Smith). Unless TE Zach Ertz turns into Jimmy Graham (fewer drops would be a big help), they still don't really have the guy who is always open to convert third and five. It's said to be a deep draft for wideouts, and Kelly's reliance on the running game isn't likely to make them go early in the draft to staff this position. But honestly, if you can't find a slot guy / 4-5 WR / KR / PR cheaply, you aren't doing it right.

> This more or less ends the Jason Avant Era in Philly, and while the man has some fans for what he's done here over the years, it's time to move on. Blocking and hands only get you so far when you never make yards after the catch, because your separation skills are mostly theoretical. The homeless man's Anquan Boldin will be on some other roster in 2014, another one after that, and out of the league in 2-3 years. I wouldn't be surprised if you see him coaching soon after.

> They probably aren't done, independent of Maclin. P Donnie Jones was an utter stud last year, even to the point of some people talking about using the franchise tag on him. While it's always odd to franchise a specialist, it's not like punters get huge jack, or that the team should be willing to roll the dice on punts in 2014. The kicker, of course, is a whole 'nother bucket of bus ticket.

> On to the OL. Kelce grades out highly, but is a little undersized, which leads to issues on things like QB sneaks and short yardage dive plays; combine this with Nick Foles' lack of fast-twitch and you take that play out of their arsenal, at least when the defense has any kind of idea it's coming. In general, I'm fine with that, because having your QB take that hit and having no upside to a bigger play, or shedding a tackle, seems like a miss to me. And there's always the possibility that Kelce gets better in Year Two of Kelly, if for no other reason that he's got six months of off-season cardio to do to make sure that he can handle the pace.

> Peters was, along with the coaching change, the biggest reason why the Eagles improved so much in 2013; the jump from street meat to a nearly 100% All-Pro tackle is just, well, game-changing. He's been a rock when healthy ever since coming here from Buffalo, and even if he's not as demonically quick for a large man at the end of his contract, he'll still be able to handle a tackle position on brains and size. Offensive line is secretly the best place in the NFL to age gracefully, and while we might never see the unbridled joy that was 2011 Peters rolling downfield and obliterating defensive backs for LeSean McCoy's amusement, the current version is more than acceptable.

> If you are seeing these moves as the team is fine with having the #2 ranked offense in 2013 back to try to do the same or better in 2014, and is now free to fire all draft barrels at the defense... well, from your words to God's ears, or something. But I seriously doubt that they are going to prioritize position over player just yet. Look at Seattle and San Francisco, and then back to the Eagles, and beyond maybe the top 5 players, the Eagles do not compare. We all want to see competent safety play, depth at corner, better edge rushing, a bigger nose tackle to add to the mix, and an overall upgrade from improving to tolerable to monstrously potent... but they need help and levelling up at a lot of places to, say, win a road game against the NFC West survivor. Patience, people. Even in the now Now NOW! world of the NFL, the fastest build to the SB is generally a 3-year curve.

> None of the deals done were over the top, just before deadline, or subject to media speculation... and honestly, there's no better sign for the franchise than this. We all read the happy talk about how players appreciated Kelly's innovation and vision last year, not to mention the fact that he didn't willy-nilly gut the parts of the roster that were good, just because the players predated him. All of these signings are Andy Reid picks, and the organization doesn't seem to give a damn about that.

If you are looking at tea leaves, the signs are favorable -- players want to stay here, don't want to fight for every dollar, and think better days are coming, especially in a division that might be the NFL's weakest. As far as February football news goes, it's all good.

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