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Eagles keep options open as NFL trade deadline nears | Early Birds

The deadline is Tuesday, and the Eagles need a pass-rushing defensive tackle to team with Fletcher Cox. Will they make a move for one?

Eagles defensive tackle Anthony Rush, whom the Eagles signed off of the Oakland Raiders' practice squad earlier this week, does stretches during his first day of practice at the NovaCare Complex.
Eagles defensive tackle Anthony Rush, whom the Eagles signed off of the Oakland Raiders' practice squad earlier this week, does stretches during his first day of practice at the NovaCare Complex.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Tick, tick, tick.

Just four days and counting until Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline. Will the 3-4 Eagles make a move? Or will they stand pat, hang on to their draft picks and take their chances with the players they’ve got on the roster? More on the possibility of the Eagles making a move below.

Meanwhile, the Eagles put defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway on injured reserve Wednesday, two days after they released another DT, Akeem Spence. That means one of the two practice-squad players they signed earlier this week — Anthony Rush (Raiders) or Albert Huggins (Texans) — will be starting alongside Fletcher Cox on Sunday in Buffalo in a game the Eagles can ill-afford to lose.

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Eagles need to find Fletcher Cox an interior pass-rushing pal

Until not very long ago, the NFL trade deadline was just an insignificant date on the league calendar.

Trades were Major League Baseball’s thing, not the NFL’s.

But as the salary cap kept growing, and evaluating college talent continued to become more and more of a crap shoot, NFL teams began to warm to the idea of in-season trades for veteran players who could potentially help bolster a playoff run.

The drop-dead day and time for trades this season is next Tuesday at 4 p.m. There already have been a number of trades, including cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey (from Jaguars to Rams), Marcus Peters (from Rams to Ravens) and Gareon Conley (from Raiders to Texans); safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick (from Dolphins to Steelers) and Quandre Diggs (from Lions to Seahawks); and wide receivers Mohamed Sanu (from Falcons to Patriots) and Emmanuel Sanders (from Broncos to 49ers).

Which brings us to the Eagles.

They head into Sunday’s road game against the Buffalo Bills with a 3-4 record after losing back-to-back games to Minnesota and Dallas by a total of 45 points.

Their defense is a mess. While they are starting to get some of their injured cornerbacks back — Jalen Mills returned last week, and Ronald Darby is expected to play this week for the first time in more than a month — they need an interior pass rusher to help take the pressure off of constantly double-teamed Fletcher Cox, who has just one sack and four quarterback hits in seven games.

After losing another tackle — Hassan Ridgeway — to injury against the Cowboys, and giving another one — Akeem Spence — his walking papers, the desperate Eagles signed two defensive tackles off of other NFL practice squads this week — Albert Huggins (Texans) and Anthony Rush (Raiders).

But Huggins and Rush are just bodies. Neither one ever has played in an NFL game, though that is expected to change Sunday since Cox is the only other healthy tackle on the team and one of them is going to have to start against the Bills.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and vice-president of player personnel Andy Weidl have had conversations with a number of teams about pass-rushing linemen, including the Jets’ Leonard Williams. Williams, the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft, is in the option year of his rookie contract. League sources say Jets GM Joe Douglas probably isn’t going to re-sign Williams. Would he be willing to trade him to his former employers for a reasonable price?

“We’re always going to look to add value and talent and depth,’’ coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday. “We understand our injury situation, especially at defensive line. So if we just start there, let’s say, and look and see what’s available, see what we can do.

“But we’re going to do what’s best for the Philadelphia Eagles. I think that’s where we start.’’

Roseman and Weidl need to determine whether this season is salvageable. The ugly losses to the Vikings and Cowboys likely has given them pause about whether they can repeat their 2018 turnaround, when they bounced back from 4-6 to make the playoffs. But the reality is, no matter what you think of this Eagles team, they are just one game out of first place in the NFC East.

But their problems aren’t limited to defensive tackle.

Even with the returns of Mills and Darby, cornerback still is a problem. Their 2018 second-round pick, Sidney Jones, couldn’t even get into the game last week and is looking more and more like a Danny Watkinsesque mistake.

They are getting little production from the wide receiver position, and God knows when DeSean Jackson will feel well enough to play or whether he’ll even be able to stay healthy if/when he does return.

Nelson Agholor has seven catches for 86 yards in the last four games. Alshon Jeffery is averaging a career-low nine yards per catch and appears to have zero chemistry right now with his quarterback, Carson Wentz. Rookie second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside can’t get on the field.

Would the Eagles consider trading Jeffery right now if a team would take him and his contract? In a New York minute.

“The thing Howie and I are on the same page about is he sees the same injuries that we see, and he knows the bind that we’re in at certain positions,’’ Pederson said.

“He’s constantly with his team of guys, working to find players that are out there, whether they’re on other team’s practice rosters or, with the trade deadline coming up, if it’s through that, whatever it might be.

“He is in tune with all of that. We’re in direct communication a lot, especially these past few days, in trying to get the best players in here that we can.’’

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Trouble in Eagles paradise? Not according to Carson Wentz, says Les Bowen.

  2. Jeff McLane’s film breakdown shows that Wentz isn’t the reason the Eagles are 3-4.

  3. Erin McCarthy reports on the latest roster moves at defensive tackle.

  4. Les Bowen talks to Donovan McNabb about how to deal with the slings and arrows of anonymous criticism from teammates.

  5. Marcus Hayes compares the Eagles’ latest locker room turbulence to the Year of T.O.

  6. The latest Eagles podcast with beat writers Jeff McLane, Les Bowen, and myself.

  7. Erin McCarthy and Rob Tornoe report on Fletcher Cox, a shotgun, and a bat-wielding intruder.

From the mailbag

Are the problems with the defense scheme-based or talent-based? If scheme-based, who would you hire as DC for next season? Is DeMeco Ryans available? — @Born_to_yeet via Twitter

More than anything, they’re injury-based. I mean, if defensive tackles Malik Jackson and Tim Jernigan didn’t get hurt, if cornerbacks Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Avonte Maddox and Cre’Von LeBlanc all didn’t get hurt, you probably wouldn’t be asking me that question. Instead, you’d be asking me if Jim Schwartz was going to get a head-coaching job in 2020.

There’s nothing wrong with Schwartz’s scheme. It has served him and the teams he’s coached well for a lot of years. If there is a flaw to his approach, in my opinion, it’s that everything is based on his front four being able to rush the passer. When the rush isn’t effective, as has often been the case this season, there are problems. Particularly when he doesn’t have adequate corners. He doesn’t like to blitz, doesn’t have a lot of elaborate blitzes, doesn’t have many players that are even good at blitzing. So that’s really not an option.

Bottom line, even if the defense continues to struggle this season, I’d be shocked if Doug Pederson got rid of Schwartz. As for Ryans, he’s in his third season as the 49ers’ linebackers coach. I think he’ll be a defensive coordinator at some point in the near future. But I doubt it will be here.