Good morning, Eagles fans. Your team ended a four-game losing streak with a 24-21 upset over the Saints. Are you happy or sad? Are you elated that the Eagles were finally worth watching, that rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts showed some promise in his first career start, and that the NFC East crown is still possible?
Or are you despondent because the Eagles hindered their odds to get a top-5 draft pick, because Hurts’ relative success further muddles the quarterback situation, and because a possible four-game winning streak to end the season increases the chances that owner Jeffrey Lurie could bring back either/or coach Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman?
Or do you have mixed feelings about the whole thing?
I’d imagine most fans fall somewhere in the middle. The 2020 season has been a giant disappointment, but Sunday at least provided some excitement about the future even if it proves to be an anomaly. My guess is Carson Wentz feels like most fans. He’s happy his team finally won, but it had to hurt (pun intended) watching his backup lead the Eagles to their best win of the season. He’s got at least another week of carrying a clipboard and hoping the Birds win (or lose).
And people say players and fans have little in common.
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What should the Eagles do with their 2021 free agents?
The Eagles’ roster looks significantly different every year. That’s just life in the NFL. But there’s a chance for more than one-third turnover with so many free agents and the team likely to part with some veterans still under contract to get under the salary cap.
One quick look at their list of free agents and it might seem like the bulk aren’t worth brining back. But the Eagles also need players they can rely on who won’t cost much. So while linebacker Duke Riley, for instance, might not seem worthy of another contract, if he can be had for the veteran minimum, the Eagles might consider a return.
Here’s a more detailed look at the Eagles’ 22 players — 14 unrestricted, two restricted and six exclusive rights — who are eligible to become free agents next offseason. The Eagles have first dibs with both their restricted and exclusive-rights free agents. They would need to tender the former before a certain date if they want draft compensation should another team sign the player. (The Eagles can match any offer.) The latter can’t negotiate with other teams if the Eagles tender a contract.
Jason Peters. I feel pretty confident that this will be the last go for Peters, certainly in Philadelphia. The Eagles didn’t necessarily a make a mistake in bringing the 38-year-old offensive lineman back to replace the injured Brandon Brooks at right guard. But they could have avoided Peters’ strong-arming the team before a move back to left tackle with contingencies in his original contract. To no surprise, Peters showed his age and played in only eight games before toe surgery ended his season last week. The future Hall of Famer will likely return only as a coaching intern.
Jalen Mills. I might be in the minority among those outside the NovaCare Complex, but I thought Mills has had a decent enough first season at safety. Has he been Malcolm Jenkins? No way. He wasn’t even late-era Jenkins. But adjusting to a new spot was always going to take time, and then he volunteered to move back to cornerback for a stretch. I’d bring Mills back again on the cheap. It could depend on whether Jim Schwartz returns as defensive coordinator. Rodney McLeod’s torn ACL Sunday makes his status for 2021 uncertain, and the Eagles might want to have at least one familiar face at safety.
Nate Gerry. By no coincidence, the Eagles defense became more consistent once Gerry was sidelined with an ankle injury. The replacements at linebacker haven’t exactly been stellar, but at least a few have shown instincts. Gerry recently underwent season-ending surgery. I can’t imagine he returns, but Roseman seems to love cheap labor at linebacker.
Nate Sudfeld. The Eagles gave Sudfeld a $2 million contract to play catch with Wentz during games. It took all of one practice to realize that Jalen Hurts was the better backup option. Sudfeld has had quite a run based on projection. It’s likely over here.
Nickell Robey-Coleman. The slot corner has been up and down. Considering the price — one year at $1.35 million — I guess it wasn’t a horrible signing. The Eagles brought in more man-cover corners, but they also got smaller along the way.
Vinny Curry. The veteran defensive end is a great presence in the locker room and is more than serviceable as a rotational piece. But he’ll be 33 next season and the Eagles have younger ends from whom he’d be taking snaps.
Hassan Ridgeway. Injuries have limited him to 14 games over the last two seasons. The Eagles like him as a deep reserve, but they need more reliable bodies for the middle of the D-line.
Cre’Von LeBlanc. A fan favorite, “Strap” has had a rough season. He’s dealt with his share of injuries, as well. He could return as an inside option if Robey-Coleman walks or Avonte Maddox stays outside.
Richard Rodgers. Remember that stretch when the veteran tight end was Wentz’s favorite target? Well, it’s over since Zach Ertz returned and Jalen Hurts took over at quarterback. The uncertainty over Ertz’s future could warrant another look-see at Rodgers. I’d move on based off his tackle attempt-slide during a Browns pick-six.
Josh Perkins. He’s spent all season on injured reserve. The reserve tight end made contributions late in 2019 and could end up back on the 90-man roster as a camp body.
Duke Riley. He had his best game of the season Sunday against the Saints and not just because he caught a deflected pass for an interception. Riley isn’t great. He isn’t even good. But he’s adequate and that might be enough at linebacker.
Corey Clement. He’s a Super Bowl hero and local favorite, but I’m not sure why Clement was on the roster this season. He’s done almost nothing on offense and typically shows up on special teams for all the wrong reasons.
T.Y. McGill. You can never have too many big bodies on the back end. I could see McGill’s returning for camp and then who knows what else.
Rudy Ford. I’m still not sure why Ford got the nod on the 53-man roster ahead of either cornerback Sidney Jones or Rasul Douglas. He’s been on the injury report as much as any player this season. But, sure, I could see another cost-effective re-sign.
Cameron Johnston. The Eagles will likely try to lock up Johnston to a long-term deal. He’s ninth in the NFL in net punting, seventh in net yards over average, and 10th in punts inside the 20. He hasn’t been as consistent as he was in 2019, but Eagles special teams, in general, haven’t been that good overall.
Boston Scott. He deserves to return. Scott’s numbers, like those of most of the Eagles’ skill-position players, have suffered because of the overall ineffectiveness of the offense. But he’s still a valuable piece, especially when he gets in space. I don’t know if I’d have him return kicks anymore, though.
Travis Fulgham. For five weeks, he looked like the second coming of DeAndre Hopkins. OK, maybe not quite, but Fulgham looked like a receiver with some ability. He’s come crashing down to earth since, though. Some of that falls on Pederson for not getting him involved enough early in games and for playing Alshon Jeffery as many or more snaps. But there’s a reason Fulgham has bounced around some and was released by the Packers before the season. He struggles to get separation on the outside. Nevertheless, he’s worth bringing back.
Greg Ward. As long as he never returns another punt, I’m fine with Ward’s being on the roster. He isn’t flashy and the Eagles have tried to use him too often on gadgets plays, but he’s a reliable slot and fourth or fifth receiving option.
Alex Singleton. Pressed into a full-time role on defense, Singleton has done well vs. the run and as an occasional rusher. But coverage is a mighty problem. If he’s back for special teams and as a situational run-stopper, I’d do it.
Michael Jacquet. We could be seeing more of Jacquet with Maddox likely done for the season. He’s got some length, which is more than a lot of the Eagles’ other cornerbacks can say.
Luke Juriga. He’s technically the backup center right now. Jason Kelce’s retirement plans obviously factor into what the Eagles will do at center next year. They could move Isaac Seumalo from left guard, or try Nate Herbig, but Juriga should at least get a reserve look next year.
Sua Opeta. The best that could be said about Opeta’s stint at guard was that he got some valuable experience. The worst that could be said was that even Matt Pryor was better.
What you need to know about the Eagles
From Les Bowen: It’s an annual Eagles tradition that Jim Schwartz could do without: Injuries reshaping the secondary.
From EJ Smith: Eagles continue to wrestle with how to get struggling kicker Jake Elliott back on track.
From yours truly: Doug Pederson or Carson Wentz? Only one is likely to return to the Eagles in 2021.
More from Les: Jack Driscoll’s season-ending MCL injury forces the Eagles’ O-line to try yet another combination.
From Marcus Hayes: Philadelphia agonizes over Jalen Hurts’ success after Eagles win.
From the mailbag
Is Jake Elliott a problem and how do you remedy the situation? — Jake Hansen @jake_hansen_ via Twitter
Yeah, he’s a problem, but since the Eagles have had so many bigger problems, Elliott has drifted under the radar some. He hasn’t for beat reporters. It feels like we ask special teams coordinator Dave Fipp about a missed kick every week. That hasn’t been the case, but over the last three games, Elliott has missed two extra points and a 22-yard field goal. (Editor’s note: Jeff McLane once finished second in a media kicking contest by hitting from 30 yards out.) (Reporter’s note: I would have won, but my 35-yard attempt sailed just wide left. Of course, if 300-pound men were rushing at me, I would have probably curled up before I attempted either kick.)
Elliott, of course, gets paid a lot of money to make those kicks. Early in the season, the worst that could be said about the fourth-year kicker was that he wasn’t hitting enough 50-plus-yard kicks. He hit on only 1 of 4 tries. But he missed a 29-yard shortie in Week 7 and has been suspect on kicks he should generally make with his eyes closed. Fipp and Pederson have had his back. I can understand why. Elliott has made a lot of big kicks for his team. He has missed some, too, and isn’t quite in the upper echelon of kickers. But he’s been solid throughout his career. Maybe this is just a blip. I’d give him through the rest of the season, even if he has a few more misses. All kickers tend to have rough spells.
But if the Eagles plan to bring him back, I’d acquire another kicker for competition. Sometimes the best remedy is knowing that your job is on the line. Who could forget the kick Elliott delivered in 2017 against the New York Giants when Peters made it very clear that missed kicks wouldn’t be tolerated?