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Bet on Eagles making at least one deal as NFL trade deadline approaches | Early Birds

With Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby expected back this week, has the Eagles’ trade-deadline target shifted from a cornerback to a defensive lineman?

Could Jets defensive end Leonard Williams be headed for the Eagles?
Could Jets defensive end Leonard Williams be headed for the Eagles?Read moreAdam Hunger / AP

Something’s got to give Sunday when the 3-3 Eagles and Cowboys play. The Cowboys have lost three in a row and have been outscored in the first half in those three games, 47-9.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have been masters of first-half defensive ineptitude. They’ve given up 94 of their 149 points in the first two quarters, which is the third most first-half points allowed in the league. They’ve given up points on their opponent’s first possession in five of six games, and have given up points on their opponent’s first AND second possessions four times. The Eagles are 26th in first-quarter points allowed (37) and 29th in second-quarter points allowed (57).

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Hey, brother, can you lend me a cornerback, pass rusher, wide receiver, or linebacker?

With the NFL trade deadline just 15 days away, it would be very surprising if the Eagles don’t make at least one deal by the 4 p.m. deadline on Oct. 29.

The Eagles could use help at several positions, including cornerback, defensive tackle, edge rusher, wide receiver and, after abruptly releasing Zach Brown on Monday, linebacker.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins shredded cornerbacks Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones on Sunday, completing 22 of 29 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns. But the Eagles may be getting Jalen Mills (foot) and Ronald Darby (hamstring) back this week. And Cre’Von LeBlanc (foot) can be activated from injured reserve in two weeks.

Mills hasn’t played since last November when he suffered what is believed to be a Lisfranc fracture in his foot. Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday that they "have to be careful'' with Mills because of how long he has been out. "If he can’t go 60 minutes, I don’t think it would be smart on our part to put him out there for a full 60-minute game.''

Darby has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury. If he’s cleared to play this week against Dallas, there won’t be any snap restrictions on him.

The potential returns of Mills and Darby may decrease the chances of the Eagles trading for a corner before the deadline.

A bigger trade priority likely will be a pass rusher. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s attitude typically has been that if he’s getting pressure on the quarterback with his four-man front, everything else will fall into place.

The trouble is, with the exception of the Eagles’ 31-6 Week 5 romp over the Jets when they collected 10 sacks, they’re not getting pressure on the quarterback. In their other five games, including Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, they have just four sacks. On Sunday, they had 18 total quarterback pressures of Kirk Cousins. But 14 of them were hurries. They had just one sack (by Brandon Graham) and three hits on Cousins.

Injuries to defensive tackles Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan have allowed offensive lines to focus on All-Pro Fletcher Cox, who is coming off offseason foot surgery and still is looking for his first sack of the season, and has just four QB hits. On the edge, Graham has been their only consistent pass rusher. Derek Barnett has yet to play like a guy who was the 14th overall pick in the (2017) draft. And 31-year-old Vinny Curry is just a guy.

The Eagles have been linked to New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Williams, who was the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft, will be a free agent after the season. ESPN has reported that several teams have contacted Jets general manager Joe Douglas about Williams. The Eagles are believed to be one of those teams.

"I don’t know what other teams are thinking,'' Jets coach Adam Gase said Monday, a day after his team upset the Cowboys. "But right now, I like the way our guys are rolling. Anything is possible, but I like the way our team is.''

Williams said he is prepared for the possibility of getting dealt by the end of the month.

"You see the best players in the league get traded,'' he told reporters. "it’s not like a personal thing. It’s just the way the business is. The only thing I can do is control my play, and wherever I end up, I will focus on that.''

We’ll find out soon whether the place he ends up is the NovaCare Complex.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Jeff McLane’s What We Learned column is mandatory day-after reading following an Eagles game.

  2. The Eagles abruptly released linebacker Zach Brown on Monday, reports EJ Smith.

  3. Doug Pederson insists he’s no Joe Namath; isn’t guaranteeing a win over Cowboys Sunday night, writes Les Bowen.

  4. Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones weren’t the only reasons the Eagles got pelted by the Vikings, I write in my weekly Five Reasons column.

  5. Eagles may be getting cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills back in time for Dallas game, writes EJ Smith.

  6. Mike Sielski writes that Howie Roseman’s team-building is the core problem the Eagles are struggling with.

From the mailbag

“When is it fair to begin criticizing the defensive backs’ coaches for the lack of development in their young players? Not saying everyone should be a Pro Bowler, but seeing consistent breakdowns in our secondary after three years is a coaching issue.” — @JihaDScorcese on Twitter

You mentioned two different things in your question — lack of development of their young players and breakdowns in the secondary like the one on Stefon Diggs’ second touchdown catch Sunday against the Eagles. Apples and oranges.

Defensive backs coach Cory Undlin and safeties coach Tim Hauck both are good coaches. The problems with the secondary the last two years have had more to do with injuries than anything else. Yes, Sidney Jones is starting to look like a major disappointment. But the blame for that rests with Howie Roseman and his former VP of personnel, Joe Douglas, who drafted him. Same with Rasul Douglas. Avonte Maddox, a 2018 fourth-round pick, played well at both corner and safety as a rookie, and was progressing fine before suffering a neck injury two weeks ago. Again, injuries.

As for the breakdowns, I’m going to have to take issue with your use of the word "consistent.'' They typically don’t have a lot of miscommunication or mental errors. Malcolm Jenkins, who is one of the smartest players I’ve covered in 37 years on the pro football beat, makes sure everyone in the secondary is where they’re supposed to be and knows their responsibilities. He took ownership for the mistake on the second Diggs touchdown.

Figuring the Eagles

A reader asked me why Carson Wentz has been holding on to the ball so long. On Sunday, he averaged 2.72 seconds from snap to release, which was only the 22nd-quickest release time, according to Pro Football Focus. And yes, as you suggested, it was because his receivers weren’t getting open. The Vikings’ Kirk Cousins had the eighth-quickest release time Sunday (2.44 seconds). For the season, however, Wentz is averaging 2.51 seconds from snap to release, according to PFF. That’s the seventh-fastest time in the league.