Good morning. The Eagles take the field at 1 p.m. today for their first practice session leading up to Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers. Doug Pederson has a 10:30 a.m. news conference. Carson Wentz will also have his weekly news conference.
This is the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox Monday through Friday for the rest of the season. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Dexter McDougle returns, Destiny Vaeao departs
The Eagles made a move on Tuesday, signing cornerback Dexter McDougle and waiving defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao with an injury. The Eagles needed help in the secondary considering Sidney Jones is expected to miss time with a hamstring injury. McDougle, a 2014 third-round pick with the Jets, played eight games for the Eagles last season. So he's familiar with the defense and immediately provides depth at slot cornerback. That gives the Eagles more options in the nickel defense one week after they moved Avonte Maddox between safety and slot. The Eagles are already undermanned at safety, especially if Corey Graham isn't ready to return from a hamstring injury. If nothing else, McDougle can help on special teams.
It was a mild surprise that the Eagles let go of Destiny Vaeao, considering he's been with the team since 2016, has started three games this season, and the Eagles were already thin at defensive tackle. But Vaeao hasn't been notably productive, and Treyvon Hester has given them some solid snaps in a reserve role since he was promoted from the practice squad earlier this month. This move likely signals that Haloti Ngata is close to returning after missing two games with a calf injury. The Eagles badly miss Tim Jernigan, who is on the non-football injury list with a back injury. He's actually eligible to return this week, but the Eagles have given no indication that's going to happen.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Eagles have depth issues at safety and defensive tackle. Both those positions' reserve roles appeared like weaknesses entering the season. The Eagles needed to hope they could avoid injuries, but that hasn't been the case. Although McDougle is a cornerback, the Eagles have one less cornerback because they moved Maddox to safety. And they were willing to waive Vaeao even though he has started this season, which shows that Vaeao didn't offer the type of depth they needed.
Progress from Carson Wentz
Carson Wentz's passer rating has improved in all four games he played this season. He went from an 84.9 rating in Week 3 to a 99.4 rating in Week 4 to a 115.3 rating in Week 5 to a 122.2 rating in Week 6. This is a good sign, and inside the NovaCare Complex, the Eagles truly see Wentz getting better each week – even if his baseline is already high.
"Without a preseason, without training camp, the different things he was not able to do because of coming back from injury, I think he was just getting himself into the rhythm of playing," quarterbacks coach Press Taylor said. "Guys adjusting to the speed Carson plays at, the way he operates, communicating at the line. It continues to progress. It gets better every single week. That's what we expect of our offense as well."
It's worth pointing out that Wentz's hot streak in 2017 started in his fifth game. He played well during the first four weeks, but he emerged as an MVP candidate in October and November. In his final 10 games last season, Wentz had six games with at least three touchdown passes and a passer rating higher than 100. So Wentz could just be heating up for the Eagles.
Punt return still Darren Sproles’ job
DeAndre Carter has been a productive punt returner for the Eagles, averaging 12.7 yards on seven returns with a clutch 42-yard return against Tennessee. But Carter isn't expected to keep that role when Darren Sproles returns.
"DeAndre's done a great job, obviously, we'll worry about that problem when we get there. Hopefully sooner than later," special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. "With that being said, obviously it's hard to replace Darren Sproles. We look forward to getting him back. He'll step right back in there when he comes back."
Carter might still be a candidate to return kickoffs, assuming he's still active. Carter took over those duties even though Shelton Gibson started the season as the kick returner. The Eagles initially went with a bigger body type instead of Gibson and then they wanted to go with Carter following the big return against the Titans.
"We just wanted to give another guy a chance," Fipp said, "and at that point, DeAndre was starting show some positive things."
What you need to know about the Eagles
From the mailbag
No, I'd be surprised if Nick Foles is moved at this point. The time to trade him would have been during the offseason or before the season. Now that it's Week 7, Foles has less value on the trade market because it's hard to acquire and integrate a quarterback midseason (Jimmy Garoppolo was the exception last year). If a team traded for Foles now, they would likely want him to be their quarterback going forward into next season. So there are contract dynamics at play, too. Plus, look at the teams that would theoretically be in the market for a quarterback like Foles right now. The San Francisco 49ers seem committed to C.J. Beathard during Garoppolo's absence, and the Buffalo Bills have Josh Allen as their long-term quarterback despite his injury.
As much as it might help the Eagles open cap space right now, I'd be surprised if Foles is traded. I think he finishes the season as the No. 2 quarterback and finds a starting job elsewhere next season.