Nobody carrying either a torch or a pitchfork actually showed up outside the NovaCare Complex on Monday morning, but given the extent of the local anger being directed at Nelson Agholor, it was prudent to examine the area around the Eagles practice facility just to make sure anyway.
The second-year receiver's monumental mental mistake on a nullified Zach Ertz touchdown and another dropped pass on what should have been a big gain left Agholor as the primary target for fan discontent following the Eagles' 26-15 loss Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks.
Agholor held a public confession in the visiting locker room at CenturyLink Field afterward, admitting he has been in the midst of a mental meltdown that has affected his play. After saying Sunday that he planned to stick with and "coach up" his struggling receiver, coach Doug Pederson backtracked at his day-after news conference. It was clear he had serious concerns about what Agholor had said out in Seattle.
"I will definitely have a conversation with Nelson and I'll address that as we get later into the week," Pederson said. "But those are definitely concerns I have now that he's obviously come out and said that publicly."
The Eagles were concerned enough to make a roster move at wide receiver. They activated Paul Turner, an undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech, from the practice squad. Turner had a solid exhibition season, catching 17 of the 21 passes thrown in his direction for 166 yards. It would be foolish to think he is going to solve the Eagles' problems at wide receiver, which extend well beyond a lack of production from Agholor. It would also be foolish not to at least look at Turner over the final six weeks of the season to see if he can give them more than Agholor or Dorial Green-Beckham, two highly touted members of the 2015 draft class who have so far been major disappointments.
Pederson said he could not remember a situation exactly like the one that has developed with Agholor but conceded that "sometimes you have to take a step back in order to go forward."
We shall see if that means benching him Monday night against the Green Bay Packers.
Benchings, of course, occur all the time in every sport. Former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was famously benched in the middle of a Week 12 game at Baltimore in 2008 and rebounded to take the Eagles to their fifth NFC championship game in eight years. McNabb, of course, had displayed oodles of talent before that moment and he played with a boulder on his shoulder the remainder of that season.
The Eagles do not know if Agholor has the talent it takes to be a starting receiver in the NFL and now they are concerned about his mental makeup, too. He's a hard worker by all accounts, but he's also wound tighter than a baseball. It would not be at all surprising if Pederson and chief personnel man Howie Roseman decide to cut him after the season even though it will require a substantial salary-cap hit of roughly $2.5 million, according to the website overthecap.com. They can simply pass it off as an awful first-round draft decision by Chip Kelly, a maneuver they have exercised before.
It would be better, however, to show some patience with Agholor and Green-Beckham while also working Turner into a receiving rotation that has included Bryce Treggs in recent weeks. Remember, this season was supposed to be about development. Jordan Matthews, at 24 and in his third NFL season, is the senior member of the Eagles' receiving corps, so it's possible, even probable, that this group will get better in the near future.
There was a time when it was a given that rookie receivers would struggle early in their careers, expecting that greatness would take at least a couple of years. Then the draft class of 2014 came along and raised expectations at that position. Agholor and Green-Beckham are not struggling to achieve greatness right now. They are striving to achieve competence.
"It's obviously a league where we ask guys to perform right away," Pederson said. "Whether they're drafted or undrafted, the pressure to play is right now. Back when I played, it was more, 'Let's develop these players and you've got time,' where now it is more of a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality. And it's probably an [injustice] on our part. Maybe we need to take a step back as coaches and say, 'Hey, let's keep developing these guys.' "
That's the choice the Eagles are going to have to make with Agholor and Green-Beckham after this season. For now, they have six weeks to see if they believe either one has a future in Philadelphia. If they decide that Agholor does, another torch-and-pitchfork watch might be necessary down at One NovaCare Way.