Good morning, Eagles fans. It’s time the turn the page after the excruciating loss to the Patriots and look ahead to Sunday’s matchup against the Seahawks. Russell Wilson and company will be a tough out, but Las Vegas has the Birds as two-point favorites. While it isn’t a stretch to think that the Eagles could upend Seattle — considering how well their defense has played recently — Jim Schwartz’s unit hasn’t played an offense as balanced and explosive in over a month.
How will the Eagles respond? Their season isn’t yet on the line. A loss, coupled with a Cowboys defeat at New England, will keep them just a game behind in the NFC East. But they could make a statement Sunday. Carson Wentz has an opportunity to rebound from his worst performance of the season. But he’s going to need help, and it’s unlikely to come from a beleaguered wide receiver corps, even if Alshon Jeffery is cleared to return from an ankle injury.
Getting running back Jordan Howard back from a shoulder injury will help, as will a quick progression through concussion protocol for tackle Lane Johnson. But Doug Pederson needs to stick to the ball-control formula that led to the Eagles’ only victories following DeSean Jackson’s abdomen injury. We’ll find out more about the injury situation Wednesday morning when the coach meets with reporters.
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Which free agents should the Eagles re-sign?
The Eagles have a whopping 17 players eligible to become free agents, 15 of whom are unrestricted, next offseason. Considering some of the names on the list, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They probably should have moved on a from a few last offseason. While there are still six games left in the regular season, it’s never too early to look ahead. The Eagles are certainly planning for the future. They already took care of one free agent, signing long snapper Rick Lovato to a four-year contract Tuesday.
They could try and shore up a few others over the next few weeks. If not, they’ll wait until just before free agency in March to retain the several they may want to keep. But which ones will they want to stick around? Here’s one beat reporter’s look at each free agent and who may stay, go, or at the least get an offer before hitting the open market.
Nelson Agholor. The Eagles probably regret bringing the wide receiver back at $9.4 million. He’s had a terrible season, for whatever the reason, and seems all but destined to be playing in another uniform (the CFL?) next year. Even if they could get Agholor on the cheap, they need to start revamping the position.
Corey Clement. The running back/returner has had each of his last two seasons cut short by injury. But Clement had lost some of his rookie magic before the injuries. He’s a restricted free agent, so the Eagles could tender him at the lowest level. I can’t imagine they’ll want to guarantee much of his salary, though, so a release is possible.
Vinny Curry. Signed to a relatively cost-effective one-year deal, he has done little to make fans forget Chris Long, the third defensive end he essentially replaced. Another return appears unlikely.
Ronald Darby. When he’s healthy, Darby’s a solid starting cornerback. But he has yet to play in more than nine games in any of his three seasons with the Eagles. He didn’t get significant offers last offseason coming off injury, so the Eagles could be in contention.
Jake Elliott. He’s a restricted free agent. The Eagles will make sure he doesn’t leave, barring a complete collapse the rest of the season.
Kamu Grugier-Hill. He’s definitely the type of player you want on your roster. Grugier-Hill’s a two-year special teams captain who has become a valuable contributor on defense. But the Eagles don’t pay linebackers, and if other teams come calling, he could walk.
Jordan Howard. He’s been everything the Eagles expected, and more. He’s not flashy and probably won’t get premier offers in free agency. But the Eagles don’t shell out the dough to running backs and they have a second-round pick invested in Miles Sanders. Would Howard want to return and see his snaps likely decrease?
Tim Jernigan. He has missed most of the season with a foot injury and hasn’t really done much since returning. Maybe you bring him back for depth.
Jordan Matthews. Why sign Mr. Reliable in March when you can probably get him again in-season after next year’s receiver injuries?
Josh McCown. He’ll be 41 next July, but he’s better than most backups. The Eagles will still need a developmental quarterback even if he returns.
Rodney McLeod. Malcolm Jenkins has a year left on his contract, but he isn’t getting any younger and the Eagles may be forced to make a decision on his future. Retaining McLeod makes sense as long as there isn’t significant competition. There isn’t a young safety in the pipeline.
Jalen Mills. He’s making a strong case to return. Mills has flaws, but he’s a solid No. 2 cornerback. And with Sidney Jones nearing bust status, the Eagles can ill afford to let known commodities leave.
Jason Peters. The athletic freak could probably play another season, but the Eagles need to transition to Andre Dillard at left tackle. Peters may explore other opportunities, but he’ll be 38 in January. He’s had a great career.
Hasaan Ridgeway. Sure. Why not? As long as the defensive tackle is affordable.
Darren Sproles. Unfortunately, neither the Eagles nor Sproles knew when to cut the cord. He’ll end up playing in only 15 out of a possible 48 regular-season games over the last three seasons. Yikes.
Nate Sudfeld. He lost the No. 2 job to McCown partly because of an unfortunate broken wrist, but also because he didn’t look trustworthy enough to back up Carson Wentz. If McCown returns, Sudfeld will go. If he doesn’t, then a decision will need to be made.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai. He’s a capable swing tackle, better than most around the NFL, believe it or not. But if Jordan Mailata is ready to step into that role, Vaitai could be expendable.
What you need to know about the Eagles
Birds’ Eye View podcast: A deep dive into the Week 11 loss to the Patriots.
From Bob Ford: As Eagles’ offense fails, defense a bright spot against Patriots.
From Mike Sielski: The Eagles aren’t the NFL’s hot, new thing anymore. That matters, and it hurts.
From the mailbag
Why isn’t JJAW playing? — Fly Eagles Fly/Go Blue (@hailmsports) via Twitter
Hey, Fly — may I call you Fly? Thanks for the question. You weren’t the only reader to ask this question, so hopefully my answer can kill a few birds, so to speak. I think the No. 1 reason why we haven’t seen more of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is that the coaches just haven’t deemed him ready enough. If he was killing the defense in practice, you can bet he’d be out there ahead of Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, etc.
But of the glimpses we’ve gotten so far, it’s clear that isn’t the case. Which is fine. Some rookie wide receivers, even ones drafted in the second round, need time. That being said, it has to be disappointing for the Eagles that he can’t supplant guys who aren’t playing at a starting-caliber level, while other rookie receivers drafted around and after Arcega-Whiteside are playing and contributing more.
The Eagles’ public reason for not playing more of the rookie earlier in the season was that he was strictly learning Jeffery’s job as his backup. So when DeSean Jackson went down, it was Mack Hollins as his backup who took his snaps. But Hollins clearly wasn’t getting the job, so the Eagles started to cross-train Arcega-Whiteside at all three receiver spots.
He has played more snaps the last two games — 34 total — than he did the previous five games combined, but he was still behind Agholor and the recently-acquired Jordan Matthews against the Patriots. Arcega-Whiteside did catch a 29-yard pass on a broken play, but that was the extent of the damage he did on offense. He could get more opportunities down the stretch, though.