Money matters for Eagles
Quarterback Nick Foles among the many players the Birds will have to make a decision on after the season.
THE EAGLES are going to have a lot of interesting decisions to make after the season. At the moment, whether to make their quarterback a multimillionaire doesn't look like it's going to be one of them. At the moment.
Unless Nick Foles' play improves dramatically in the coming weeks, the Eagles aren't going to be in a rush to tear up the final year of his rookie deal and give him a Kaepernick-like contract.
Foles, who will make $615,000 this season, is scheduled to earn just $660,000 in 2015. He won't be eligible for free agency until after the '15 season.
The one upside to a lukewarm year by Foles is that it would give the Eagles at least one more year of quarterback-less salary-cap flexibility. It also would give Chip Kelly another year to decide whether he wants Foles as his quarterback for the next 10 years,
Some of the Eagles' other 2015 agenda items:
* Jeremy Maclin. The wide receiver, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury, signed a 1-year, $5 million deal with the Eagles.
He'll be a free agent in March. He has played very well in the first four games and has had no issues with the knee, aside from that scary moment in the Steelers preseason game. It stands to reason that the Eagles will want to keep him. But at what price?
Two of their top three May draft picks were wide receivers. And Riley Cooper's cap number jumps from $1.8 million this year to $4.8 million next year. Cooper, who signed a 5-year deal in the offseason, is off to a slow start. But releasing him isn't an option. The Eagles would take a $6.2 million cap hit if they did.
* The cornerback situation. There's a very good chance neither of the current starting corners - Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams - will be back in 2015. Fletcher will be a free agent after the season. He has managed to stay healthy, which was a big question mark with him when the Eagles signed him last year, and he's played OK. Not bad, not great. Just OK. The Eagles' interest in re-signing him will largely depend on how he plays the rest of this season.
Williams will turn 30 in December. His cap number will jump from $6.4 million to $8.2 million next year. Williams, like Fletcher, has been serviceable. He's also been an occasional pain in the butt.
What he isn't is an $8.2 million cornerback. There's always a possibility he'd be willing to take a pay cut. But the man who likes to refer to himself as employee No. 26 doesn't strike me as a sure-I'll-take-a-pay-cut kind of guy. The Eagles would only take a $1.7 million cap hit if they released him.
Of course, if they let Fletcher and Williams walk, there's the question of who would line up at cornerback next season. Nolan Carroll is one possibility. They could find another one in free agency or use one of their early picks in the '15 draft on one. But as you are seeing with this year's first-round pick, Marcus Smith, there's no guarantee that what you draft in the spring is ready to bloom in September.
* Trent Cole. Cole is one of the top pass-rushers in Eagles history. But he turns 32 on Sunday and probably has seen his last double-digit sack season. His cap number will jump to a whopping $11.6 million next year from $6.6 million this year.
The plan when they drafted Smith this spring was to get him some experience this season, then insert him in Cole's spot next year and slap Trent on the back and thank him for the memories. But there are some serious doubts as to whether Smith ever will be ready to be an NFL starter.
That means the Eagles probably will be heading into the offseason with a pass-rusher still at the top of their things-to-do list. No matter how grim the prognosis on Smith ends up being, the Eagles won't, under any circumstances, bring Cole back with an $11.6 million cap number. A more reasonable, restructured deal always is a possibility, however, if Cole proves he still has gas left in his tank.
* The class of 2012. The Eagles' top two picks in the '12 draft, defensive end Fletcher Cox and linebacker Mychal Kendricks, are the Eagles' best defensive players. Both are difference-makers. Both are Pro Bowl-caliber players. Both will be in line for early second NFL contracts after the season.
* DeMeco Ryans. Ryans, who turned 30 in July, has one more year left on his contract. His 2015 cap hit is the same as this year's - $6.9 million. He is the Eagles' defensive leader, and as long as he is playing at a reasonably high level, the Eagles probably won't blink about his cap number. But he probably is headed for another 1,100-snap season, and you have to wonder what kind of toll that will take on him.
"I feel good," Ryans insisted this week. "I prepare to play the entire game. That's how I've been my entire career. I felt great last year. Toward the end [of the season], I felt the best I've felt in my career."
The Eagles' defense already has been on the field for 295 snaps in the first four games. That's an average of 73.7 snaps a game, which is the second most in the league. They are on pace to play 1,180 snaps, which would be 30 more than last season's league-high 1,150.
A lot of that has to do with Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense, but a lot also has to do with the Eagles' difficulties getting off the field on third down. It was a problem last year when they finished 24th in the league in third-down defensive efficiency, and it's been a problem the last 2 weeks against Washington and San Francisco.
The Redskins and 49ers converted 16 of 34 third-down opportunities against the Eagles , including 10 of 18 in the first half.
"Us being on the field is a product [of], it's the defense on the field with the opposing offense and we have to get ourselves off the field," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.
While Davis wants to see his unit do a better job of getting off the field on third down, he doesn't think the high snap total is having a negative effect on his players. He referred to their "elite conditioning" and pointed out correctly that they've played very well at the end of games. It's been in the first half that they've struggled. Said Davis: When I watched the fourth quarter [Sunday] and the way we played and finished, that [elite conditioning] is there. What we have to do is break down and get rid of the mistakes, get rid of the penalties that extend downs, and that's where [the key to] us getting off the field lies."
A look at the NFL teams with the highest and lowest average defensive snap counts through the first four weeks of the season:
Jaguars. . . 74.5 0-4
Eagles. . . 73.7 3-1
Broncos. . . 73.3 2-1
Packers. . . 72.0 2-2
Bengals. . . 71.3 3-0
Rams. . . 53.7 1-2
49ers. . . 58.0 2-2
Lions. . . 58.0 3-1
Cowboys. . . 58.5 3-1
Chargers. . . 58.7 3-1
Figuring the Eagles
* Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has been targeted 45 times in the first four games. The only player in the league who's been targeted more is the Packers' Jordy Nelson (49). But Nelson has 33 receptions for a 67.3 catch percentage. Maclin, who has 20 receptions, has a 44.4 catch percentage. That's the second lowest in the league among wideouts who have been targeted at least 10 times. Only the Bucs' Vincent Jackson has a lower catch percentage (36.1).
* Mainly because of Colin Kaepernick's escapability, the Eagles didn't blitz a lot Sunday. They sent more than four rushers after the Niners' quarterback on just eight of 34 pass plays. They used just three rushers a season-high eight times. They had the most success with four rushers, sacking Kaepernick three times and holding him to nine completions in 15 attempts. Malcolm Jenkins' second-quarter interception, which he returned 53 yards for a touchdown, came on a play with a five-man rush.
* A by-the-numbers look at Nick Foles' season so far:
Cp.-At. Yds. TD/I Rat.
Third Down 24-42 270 1/0 84.4
Fourth Qtr. 21-40 375 3/1 99.5
Red Zone 9-18 74 3/1 77.3
vs. Blitz 14-27 226 1/0 92.5
20+ Yards 10-39 272 4/3 58.3
* The Eagles are 27th in the league in red-zone offense. In the first four games, they've converted just five of 13 red-zone opportunities (38.5 percent) into touchdowns. Foles had a 69.6 red-zone completion percentage last season. This year it's 50 percent. LeSean McCoy has just 12 yards and one TD on 11 red-zone carries. Darren Sproles has 22 on three, with 19 of it coming on a touchdown run against the Colts in Week 2. Riley Cooper was the Eagles' most productive red-zone receiver last year, catching seven passes inside the 20, including four for touchdowns. So far this year, he doesn't have a red-zone reception. The Eagles' top two red-zone receiving weapons have been rookie slot receiver Jordan Matthews (four catches for 31 yards, two touchdowns) and Maclin (two catches for 28 yards, one TD).
* LeSean McCoy has been more effective with "11" personnel (one RB, one TE, three WRs) on the field in the first four games than with "12" personnel (one RB, two TEs, two WRs). He has rushed for 124 yards on 30 carries (4.1 yards per carry) in 11, and just 69 yards on 36 carries (1.9) in 12. A breakdown of the Eagles' formation usage in the first four games:
WR/RB/TE Plays Run Pass
3 /1 /1 157 65 92
2 /1 /2 102 51 51
2 /2 /1 5 0 5
0 /2 /3 3 3 0
3 /2 /0 1 0 1
* The Eagles' time of possession average in the first four games is just 24:22. That's the lowest in the league by more than a minute, and more than 2 minutes less than the Eagles' league-low time-of-possession average last season (26:24).
This and that
* Because he is co-chairman of the league's competition committee, and because he also happens to coach in the same division as the Seattle Seahawks, Jeff Fisher has been accused of being behind the league's crackdown on contact between defensive backs and receivers this season. The physical style of play of Richard Sherman and the rest of the Seahawks' supersized DBs was believed to have been the impetus for the points of emphasis on penalties such as defensive holding and illegal contact, and well, if you can't beat 'em, flag 'em, right?
But Fisher insisted this week that the Seahawks weren't the reason the league instructed its officials to start calling the battles between DBs and receivers tighter. "This was not the Seattle Seahawks rule that has gone in," the Rams coach said during a conference call with the Philadelphia media. "It's been referred to as that. But that was not the issue."
So why did the competition committee feel the need to fix what didn't seem to be broken? "We have rules that need to be enforced," Fisher said. "Sometimes, they need to be reinforced, which is where the points of emphasis come in. Because you start to lose a little bit. The chuck zone is a 5-yard rule. But it was being officiated as a loose 7 or 8 yards. We wanted to get it back to 5."
* The Eagles have given up 11 plays of 20-plus yards in the last two games, including nine on pass plays. In their first two wins against Jacksonville and Indianapolis, they gave up only four. "One of our goals as a defense is not to give up the big plays," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "They're like a dagger in your chest. It really hurts when you give up a big play like that. We feel if we can hold the other team to zero 'X' plays [the Eagles' term for plays of 20-plus yards], we feel we'll come out of it on top."
* Last year, as the only Eagles outside linebacker with hands-on experience in a 3-4 scheme, Connor Barwin did a lot of the dirty work for defensive coordinator Bill Davis. He spent a lot of time dropping into coverage and knocking tight ends and slot receivers off their routes, while the team's other two outside 'backers, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham, were largely used as pass-rushers. Cole rushed the passer on 49.1 percent of his snaps and Graham rushed on 50.4 percent of his. Barwin rushed on just 37.7 percent of his snaps.
He had hoped to get more pass-rushing opportunities this season, but so far that hasn't happened. In fact, his rush percentage has dropped. In the first four games, he's rushed the passer on just 90 of 277 snaps, or 32.5 percent. In the loss to the 49ers, he rushed Colin Kaepernick on just 18 of 76 snaps (Cole had 30 rushes). Still, Barwin managed to get a piece of two of the Eagles' four sacks, despite being used mainly in coverage or as a spy on Kaepernick.
"It's not much different than it was last year," Barwin said. While he'd like to rush the passer more, he's willing to do whatever Davis wants him to do. "I trust in what Billy calls and I just try to do what he asks me to do," he said.
FROM THE LIP
* "He looks like a young me, although I don't move quite as well as I used to. He makes some rookie mistakes, but also makes some plays that you don't expect rookies to make, in a good way." —Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, on Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles
* "They want him out. They're not on the same page. I really want to know if they're really playing for the head coach. I got a question with that. Are you really down with your head coach, San Francisco 49ers? Because the way it looks and what I'm hearing, you're really not down with your head coach. And that's a problem." - NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders, suggesting 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has lost the locker room
* "I have great respect for Roger. I think he has done a lot of really good things for the league. But when your compensation is $44 million, some people look at that and say [the NFL] is out of touch with the rest of society. And then, when you do err, when you do make a mistake, I think it's very easy for people to really turn on you." — Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy, on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
* "No one comes into this league and says, 'Hey, I want to be a backup.' Not me at least." — 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick
BY THE NUMBERS
* Since the league went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, 25 teams have bounced back from a 1-3 or 0-4 start to make the playoffs. The Eagles were one of two teams — Carolina was the other — to do it last season. Both started 1-3 but recovered and won division titles.
* Peyton Manning has 499 career touchdown passes. With one more, he will join Brett Favre (508) as the only players to throw 500 career TDs. Favre recorded his 500th in his 293rd game, on his 9,924th pass attempt. Manning will play in his 244th game Sunday and has 8,563 career attempts.
* The league-wide passer rating through 4 weeks is 91.5. The highest league passer rating for a season is 86.0, which happened last year.
* Andrew Luck is the first player in league history to throw for at least 370 yards and four TDs with no interceptions and a completion percentage above 70 percent in back-to-back games. He's done it the last 2 weeks against Jacksonville and Tennessee.