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Expect drastic changes to the Eagles' secondary next season

Eagles likely to include some players already on the roster when they shake up their shaky secondary.

NEEDLESS TO SAY, the Eagles' starting defensive secondary next September will look very different from the one that lined up against Washington last week.

There's a good possibility safety Malcolm Jenkins will be the only returnee from a not-so-fab four that has given up the league's fourth-most touchdown passes (29) and the second-most pass plays of 30 yards or more (25).

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher will be a free agent, and, well, he has a better shot at winning the Nobel Peace Prize than being offered another contract by the Eagles.

Jenkins' safety partner, Nate Allen, also will be a free agent. While the odds of him being asked back aren't quite as high as Fletcher's, they're still pretty high. He played a little better in his second year in Bill Davis' system than in his first. But his lack of instincts too often made him a coverage liability.

The other starting corner, Cary Williams, still has a year left on his deal. But his salary-cap number will jump from $6.4 million to $8.1 million, and unless he's willing to take a sizable pay cut, he also probably won't be back.

Many Eagles fans already have Googled the list of prospective free-agent corners and safeties, and are drooling at the possibility of corners such as Seattle's Byron Maxwell and Houston's Kareem Jackson and safeties such as New England's Devin McCourty wearing midnight green.

But March free-agent lists tend not to be nearly as appetizing as late-December free-agent lists, after teams re-sign their own players and slap the franchise tag on the blue-chip ones they can't re-sign.

I'm not saying the Eagles won't be shopping for a DB or two when free agency gets underway on March 10. But you might want to temper your expectations.

Remember all of the whining last March when the Eagles passed on Jairus Byrd and signed Jenkins, who was cheaper and a better scheme fit? Just sayin'.

Two in-house DBs who likely will be given an opportunity to play a bigger role next season are Nolan Carroll and rookie Jaylen Watkins.

Carroll, who was signed as a free agent last March, started 22 games at cornerback for Miami in 2012-13 but has been primarily used as the team's dime linebacker this season and has played well in that role. He likely will get an opportunity to move back outside as a starter next year.

"Yeah, that's my natural position," Carroll said. "It's where I played until this year. I've gradually grown more comfortable with playing dime. I play [corner] here and there in practice. I still have the muscle memory. It's not like I've forgotten how to do it."

Watkins, a fourth-round pick out of Florida in May, hasn't played a defensive snap this season, which has been reason enough for many impatient Eagles fans to brand him a bust.

You might not want to rush to conclusions, though. In 2012, the Eagles took defensive end Vinny Curry in the second round of the draft. He played only 89 snaps as a rookie. This year, with one game left, he's second on the team in sacks, with nine.

The Eagles still are bullish on Watkins. Or at least as bullish as you can be on a fourth-rounder. They drafted him because they love his versatility. He played corner, safety and nickel at Florida. He regularly practices with the Eagles at corner, safety and dime.

Depending on how things shake out, he could end up getting a starting opportunity at safety next to Jenkins or as the dime linebacker if Carroll moves to corner. He also could be in the mix for a starting- corner job.

"Jaylen is a versatile player, and I think, first and foremost, he has a good corner skill set," Davis said. "The nickel role and the dime role are two roles that he could fill also. And he's an intelligent young man that could possibly play safety.

"He's just not there yet. It's like a lot of rookies. We're throwing a lot at him, and he's done a great job trying to absorb it, but he hasn't separated himself to where he belongs in the starting conversation yet. But I'm hopeful that someday he will."

Watkins was active for only the fourth time this season last week, but didn't play. He could get his first defensive snaps in Sunday's season finale against the Giants.

"It's been hard," Watkins said of not playing. "I played my whole career at Florida. You come in and expect to get a role. But I was thrown into a bunch of different positions and I've learned them. I'm just waiting for my time. It will come.

"I didn't take any offense to it, as far as the staff or the players I'm around. I just try to find the positive in it and keep moving forward."

The 5-11, 194-pound Watkins isn't quite as big as the 6-1, 205-pound Carroll. But he is confident he could handle the dime linebacker role if Carroll moves outside to corner next year.

"It's easy because I've been inside before [at nickel and safety]," Watkins said. "Nolan had never been inside before [when he moved to dime]. He wasn't used to run fits and all those kinds of things. I've done that before."

According to scouts, the 2015 cornerback draft class, including the underclassmen expected to come out, isn't quite as deep as deep as 2014's. But it's still a decent group.

It took a hit earlier this month when Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who was regarded by many scouts as the best corner in the draft, tore an ACL. The injury likely will bump Ekpre-Olomu out of the first round. But the 5-10, 195-pounder could turn out to be a second-round bargain for his former college coach, Chip Kelly.

An NFC college scouting director I spoke with this week said his team has a first-round grade on four other corners right now - Trae Waynes (Michigan State), P.J. Williams (Florida State), Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest) and Marcus Peters (Washington).

Peters probably is the most talented of that group. But there are "character" concerns with the 5-11, 185-pounder. He was dismissed from his team in early November. That might be enough to cause him to slide into the Eagles' first-round neighborhood.

Williams is an intriguing prospect, particularly for a team like the Eagles that values both versatility and big corners who can play press-man coverage. Like Watkins, the 6-1, 196-pound Williams has played both corner and safety.

"We've toyed with the idea of putting him at safety on our board," the scouting director said. "Really good ball skills. And he'll tackle."

Waynes (6-1, 182) and Johnson (6-1, 175) also have the size to play press-man coverage, though Johnson is on the skinny side.

"We have a low-first-, early-second-round grade on Johnson," the scout said. "The problem with him is his weight. He's a skinny bugger. But he [can] cover."

Figuring the Eagles

* Jordan Matthews has only five catches for 81 yards and no touchdowns in the last three games. In the previous four games, he had 22 catches for 373 yards and four TDs. Matthews has averaged 16.9 yards per catch with Mark Sanchez at quarterback. He averaged only 9.3 with Nick Foles.

* The Eagles have given up 38 first downs by penalties this season. That's the fifth most in the league, behind the Patriots (44), Chargers (40) and Bills and Lions (39). Last year, the Eagles gave up 29 first downs via penalties.

* The Eagles have a minus-8 turnover differential, which is the seventh worst in the league. They've had a negative turnover differential in three of the last four seasons. Before that, they had a positive turnover differential in 11 of the previous 12 seasons. A breakdown of their takeaways and giveaways since 1999:


Give. Take. Diff. W-L

2014. . . 35 27 -8 9-6

2013. . . 19 31 +12 10-6

2012. . . 37 13 -24 4-12

2011. . . 38 24 -14 8-8

2010. . . 25 34 +9 10-6

2009. . . 23 38 +15 11-5

2008. . . 26 29 +3 9-6-1

2007. . . 27 19 -8 8-8

2006. . . 24 29 +5 10-6

2005. . . 34 27 +3 6-10

2004. . . 22 28 +6 13-3

2003. . . 22 26 +4 12-4

2002. . . 24 38 +14 12-4

2001. . . 24 33 +9 11-5

2000. . . 29 31 +2 11-5

1999. . . 26 17 +7 5-11

* The Eagles' offense has the eighth-lowest percentage of three-and-out drives in the league this season. They have 34 three-and-outs in 187 possessions (.182). The Dolphins are first (.133, 25-158), followed by the Packers (.137, 21-153), Cowboys (.153, 24-157), Steelers (.165, 26-158), Saints (.169, 27-160), Ravens (.171, 28-164) and Seahawks (.176, 28-159). The Raiders are last (.354) with 64 three-and-outs in 181 possessions.

* In the Eagles' first 12 games, their average starting field position was the 30.5-yard line and their opponents' was the 25.6. That's a plus-4.9-yard field position differential. In the last three games, all losses, their average starting field position was the 27.5-yard line and their opponents' was the 31.7, a minus-4.2-yard differential.

* The Eagles are ninth in third-down efficiency (43.4 percent) this season despite the fact that Mark Sanchez is 22nd in third-down passing (79.4) and Nick Foles is 28th (71.8). Sanchez and Foles have thrown seven of the Eagles' league-high 20 interceptions on third down. Sanchez has thrown five and Foles two. Last year, the Eagles had only three third-down interceptions - two by Matt Barkley, one by Michael Vick, none by Foles.

* Tight end Zach Ertz and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews had 288 receiving yards in the loss to the Redskins. Only 64 of those yards came after the catch.

* Eagles receivers had a season-high five dropped passes against the Redskins. They have 24 for the year. Last year, they had 21 drops. Maclin has a career-high 82 catches and just one drop. Two years ago, he had nine dropped passes.

* Matthews and Ertz are tied for the team lead in third-down receptions with 22. Twenty of Ertz's 22 third-down catches have resulted in first downs.

This and that

* The Eagles blitzed a season-high 52 percent against the Redskins (13 of 25 pass plays). Robert Griffin was 6-for-11 for 107 yards when the Eagles sent extra rushers. Both of the Eagles' sacks of Griffin, along with his one interception, also came on blitzes. Griffin's 51-yard first-quarter completion to DeSean Jackson, which set up Alfred Morris' 28-yard touchdown run, came against a five-man rush. His 55-yard throw to Jackson in the third quarter was against a four-man rush. The Eagles have an 86.6 opponent passer rating when they've blitzed this season, 95.9 when they haven't. The Eagles have given up 25 pass plays of 30 yards or more this season. The only defense that's given up more has been Pittsburgh's (26). Seventeen of those 25 pass plays came against a three- or four-man rush. Six came against a five-man rush and two against a six-man rush.

Comp. Yds.

Pct. /Att. TD/I Sks.

Rush 3-4. . . 62.0 7.94 16/5 31

Rush 5+. . . 52.8 7.29 13/6 18

* Not surprisingly, the Eagles have blitzed the most on third down. They have sent five or more rushers on 46.8 percent of their opponents' third-down pass plays (81 of 173). They have blitzed 32.1 percent of the time on second down (67 of 209 pass plays) and 23.5 percent on first down (46 of 196). A breakdown of the Eagles' pass rush by down:

1st 2nd 3rd 4th

Down Down Down Down

Rush 3. . . 16 21 15 0

Rush 4. . . 136 121 77 3

Rush 5. . . 32 49 55 4

Rush 6. . . 10 14 21 1

Rush 7. . . 1 4 5 1

Rush 8. . . 1 0 0 0

Totals. . . 196 209 173 9

* No one on the Eagles has more at stake Sunday than wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.

Maclin came back from a torn ACL to have the best season of his career. If he can make it through the Giants game without getting hurt, he'll get a lot of money from someone, probably the Eagles. I asked him earlier this week whether he was at all reluctant to play in a game Sunday that means nothing but could cost him everything.

"I'm going to go out there and play with my team, man," he said. "If everything holds up healthwise during the week, I'm going to go out there and play with my team. I'm not going to get caught up in all that other stuff." Maclin wants to re-sign with the Eagles. The Eagles want to re-sign him. But some receiver-hungry teams out there will be willing to throw a lot of money at him. The Eagles also could use the franchise tag on him, but that's unlikely, given that the franchise price for the wide-receiver position is expected to be close to $12 million.

"This is where I want to be," he said. "As long as we can agree to something, this is the place I want to be. If something else happens, then that's what happens. But I'm not trying to get caught up in that."

2 minute drill


* "I still feel I can start. I still feel I can play at a high level. I still feel I have a lot left in the tank. I can't say it's 5 years' worth, but maybe it's a good solid 2." — Jets QB Michael Vick on his future

* "As a youngster, you thought, 'Well, we're getting the same present here. It says, 'Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday.' And then I look over to my brother and he's got the exact same present. I'm like, 'Is there another one here [for me]?' No, it's 'Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday.' " — 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on downside to being born 2 days before Christmas

* "The guys we're bringing in are playing. For former players to bash coaches and say really classless, inappropriate, spineless, disrespectful things, you've got to commend a coach like that." — Redskins S Ryan Clark on former Redskins LB London Fletcher calling defensive coordinator Jim Haslett clueless and a backstabber

* "I was given some gifts. Obviously, a lot less in other areas, but I can coach football. And I know that. I don't look at myself as a three-win coach. I know I'm better than that. I see myself winning [the Super Bowl] as a head coach. I definitely see it." — Jets coach Rex Ryan


* Jacksonville has the league's youngest 53-man roster heading into Week 17. Their average age is 25 years, 286 days. The Rams are second (26 years, 0 days) and the Vikings are third (26 years, 68 days).

* If Odell Beckham has at least 90 receiving yards against the Eagles on Sunday, he will join Hall of Famer Michael Irvin as the only players in league history to have 90-plus receiving yards in nine consecutive games.

* The Patriots have earned a first-round playoff bye for the fifth straight season. That's the longest streak of any NFL team since the current playoff format was instituted in 1990.

* Eli Manning threw for 391 yards in the Giants' win over the Rams last week. It was the 32nd time he's thrown for at least 300 yards, but the Giants are only 15-17 in those games.

* Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has an 11-2 record and a 102.1 passer rating in games in December in his first three seasons in the league.

* When the Chargers overcame a 21-0 deficit to beat the 49ers last week, it was the fifth time this season that a team has come back from 21 or more points down to win. That's the most in NFL history. It happened four times in 1999, 2011 and 2013.

Draft scouting report

An NFC scout analyzes the top two wide-receiver prospects in the 2015 draft:

AMARI COOPER, Alabama / 6-1, 205

"Cooper is at the head of the class, just ahead of [DeVante] Parker and [West Virginia's] Kevin White. Comparing him with this year's rookie group, he'd be right there with Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans and [Odell] Beckham. He's elusive. Has good vision. He can get up the field. He can high-point the ball. You wish he was bigger than he is. He kind of has an undersized build. He's good with the ball in his hands. He can run away from you. He's speedy and agile and a big-play threat. He has route-runner moxie. He knows how to maneuver a defensive back. His initial problem [in the NFL] is going to be that people are going to be able to get their hands on him. Not a lot of people play bump in college like they do in the pros. That's always the biggest adjustment, especially if you're not the biggest guy in the world. But I think he's got enough quickness to deal with it. He's going to have to learn to slap hands down and fight through press coverage."

DeVANTE PARKER, Louisville / 6-3, 210

"I love Parker. He's a big, rangy and fast. Good with the ball in his hands. Good hands. Can catch on contact. He's a good target. He's not afraid to go over the middle. He's good in and out of routes. He catches the ball with his hands, not his body. He can adjust to off-target balls. He's a good crossing wide receiver. Has top-end speed. Can run the '9' route. Can track the ball well."

On Twitter: @Pdomo