Ronald Darby didn't play well on Sunday against the New York Giants. He knew it. And even though the Eagles won, the cornerback wasn't available to talk with reporters afterward.
"I was frustrated in myself," Darby said Thursday. "You can never overlook anyone in the NFL."
The frustration mounted when he looked at his Twitter account and saw negative comments in his notifications. He started blocking some of his 46,000-plus followers.
"For the half way fans that sit around and wait for mistakes to talk trash will be getting blocked starting today," Darby wrote Tuesday. "We nothing but human."
He added: "That includes media too. Nothing to talk about."
Darby has since deleted those tweets, and on Thursday he issued a mea culpa.
"I was just in my feelings," Darby said. "I got to grow up. I had a horrible game, probably one of the worst games I have ever played. And that ain't nobody's fault. People expect highly of us. I do apologize to you all, too, for that. That was childish."
Most Eagles fans don't care about Darby's social media behavior, unless it in some way indicates that he can't handle the mental demands of the NFL. Cornerback may be the most psychologically taxing position to play, and those who succeed typically have short memories.
"It wasn't the first time I played bad," Darby said. "I play corner. There could be games like when you cover tight on somebody, and they make a catch on you the whole game."
Darby was targeted 10 times by Giants quarterback Eli Manning, and he allowed six catches for 139 yards and a touchdown. He committed two penalties, one of which was declined. But he also had a game-altering interception and broke up a late pass in the end zone.
"Ron can play better than he did, he knows that," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday. "… He made that interception. That helped spark us. We were struggling."
Darby, who was acquired in an August trade with the Bills, missed eight games after dislocating his ankle in the season opener. He initially said that he would need four to six weeks to recover. When he returned for the Cowboys game on Nov. 18, he played well and had an interception.
But he has struggled, along with the entire defense, over the last three games.
"I think he's still sort of learning the scheme," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday. "Do I think he can be more aggressive? I do. I think he knows that. But, at the same time, he's still fighting through a little bit of injury with the ankle."
When asked whether he was 100 percent healthy, Darby said, "Right now, I feel like I'm as good as I'm going to be. I don't make no excuse for nothing."
Darby and Schwartz focused on his technique when asked to detail his problems. The 24-year-old corner had a strong rookie year in Buffalo but regressed in his second season. The Eagles sent wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round draft pick to the Bills for Darby.
He opened the season on the left side, but when he returned from the injury, Schwartz opted to keep Jalen Mills, who had swapped sides, on the left.
"In the beginning, it was a little awkward," Darby said, "but I'm getting used to it."
Going from a small-market NFL team to a large-market one can be difficult, as well.
"Buffalo fans are not on social media as much. Here, it's like everyone and their mother got Instagram, Twitter, everything," Darby said. "So you hear from all over."
While Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham continues to swear by his decision to block Twitter critics a few years back, Darby said he regretted his posts when the comments started pouring in.
"I kind of felt like supporters were kind of babying me," Darby said. "This is a grown-man's job. At the end of the day, we [are] all blessed to do what we do, and it ain't nobody's fault but mine for how I played."
The Lane Johnson principle
Now that Lane Johnson has crossed off another individual goal, what's next for the first-time Pro Bowl tackle?
"I need to get some more goals," Johnson said Thursday. "I think the deal is just being consistent. I don't want to be a one-shot Johnny. I want to keep that going for the rest of my career, and that's really hard to do. I don't want to be a guy that fizzles out."
The 27-year-old Johnson made it very clear before his fifth season that he wanted this to be the year that he finally earned a Pro Bowl nod. He missed 10 games last season and four games in 2014 for using performance-enhancing substances.
"There's been a lot of negative stuff with me," Johnson said. "It feels good to finally make a positive."
As talented as he is, Johnson was at a disadvantage playing on the right side. It's been years since a right tackle made the Pro Bowl. Most teams have their best offensive linemen on the left to protect a quarterback's blind side, but defenses have increasingly lined up their best edge rushers over the right.
"I think the right tackle position needs to be reevaluated," Johnson said.
Johnson has blocked five Pro Bowl edge rushers this season (Von Miller, Demarcus Lawrence, Joey Bosa, Chandler Jones, and Ryan Kerrigan), and is slated to face another in the Raiders' Khalil Mack on Monday night.
The Eagles structured Johnson's contract to account for an eventual move to the left side to replace Jason Peters. It may happen next season, depending on the plan for Peters, who Johnson said wants to return from his October knee injury.
"If it ain't broke don't fix it," Johnson said about staying at right tackle. "Whatever it is, I'll be up for it."
Salary cap casualties?
The Eagles have about $184 million earmarked toward their 2018 salary cap. The projected cap for next year, according to a recent NFL Network report, is expected to be $174 million to $178 million.
The Eagles will need to rework some of their contracts and release veterans without little cap penalty. There are several players who could fall under the knife in either scenario.
As dire as the team's cap situation might seem, the same was said in the off-season when the cap was $167 million, and Eagles executive Howie Roseman still made it work. Roseman's background is in cap analysis, and with director of football administration Jake Rosenberg also handling contracts, the Eagles are in good fiscal hands.
But there will be cuts. The following are in danger of either having their deals restructured or trimmed or being waived:
— Jason Peters ($11,666,666). The 35-year-old tackle suffered a season-ending knee injury in October and will turn 36 in January.
— Vinny Curry ($11 million). He's had a better season than he did in 2016, but the defensive end is still overpaid.
— Brandon Brooks ($10.7 million). The Pro Bowl right guard will be back, but the Eagles recently created some wiggle room for this year's cap by playing with some numbers.
— Malcolm Jenkins ($10 million). The Pro Bowl safety is a vital part of the team on and off the field. His release is unlikely, but Jenkins' dead-money number ($4.5 million) is small compared to several other contracts.
— Rodney McLeod ($8,406,250). The Eagles won't release the safety with a cap hit exceeding $9 million, but a restructure could be in play.
— Mychal Kendricks ($7.6 million). It would be a mistake to guarantee the linebacker's departure. Kendricks was nearly traded last year, and Jordan Hicks' injury showed his value.
— Brandon Graham ($7.5 million). The Eagles and the defensive end are reportedly working on an extension. Graham has been great the last two seasons and could easily have made the Pro Bowl, but should he get paid for what he's done or what the Eagles think he can do as he enters his 30s?
— Jason Kelce ($7.2 million). The center is another veteran who was on the trading block last off-season but went on to have a Pro Bowl-caliber year. A restructure that lowers his cap number for 2018 makes the most sense.
— Brent Celek ($5 million). He took a pay cut last off-season — would the career Eagle be willing to do so again, or is he ready to retire?
— Torrey Smith ($5 million). Never say never, but the wide receiver is unlikely to return.
— Chris Long ($2,350,000). He has more-than-justified his addition this year, but the Eagles may need to make some tough choices.
— Chris Maragos ($2 million). While Maragos' worth on special teams has been made more evident since his season-ending knee injury in October, every cent counts.
Five questions: Donnie Jones
If you couldn't play the position you now play in the NFL, which position would you want to play? Quarterback. You get paid the most.
What's your least favorite part of the week of practice leading up to a game? I'm not a big meeting guy.
What's the hardest you've ever been hit? Two years ago against Dallas. That didn't feel very good. Jeff Heath. And then, to add insult to injury, he said, "I kind of took it easy on you."
What's your favorite play you ever made in football? Probably have to say against Dallas in 2013. We have a punt with less than two minutes left, and we were up by two. It was a great punt. It was great coverage.
When did you know there was a possibility that you could play in the NFL? I don't think it really dawned on me until my senior year [at LSU]. I had a meeting with Coach [Nick] Saban, and he was the one that told me I was going to play in the Senior Bowl and the prospect of me getting drafted.
Inside the Game
— Trey Burton is going to get paid this off-season. Will it be the Eagles that pay the free agent-to-be tight end? The odds are slim.
Burton has played the third-most number of snaps (26 percent) among the Eagles tight ends – behind Zach Ertz (71 percent) and Brent Celek (41 percent) – yet he's ninth in the NFL in yards per route run with a 1.68 average (239 yards/142 routes) among 34 tight ends with more than 141 routes.
Ertz is tied for fourth at 1.94 (755/389).
Burton is more of a receiving tight end than a blocking one, which helps his numbers. And he had two games in which he filled the injured Ertz's role. But his performance in those games only highlighted why he will be coveted by teams this off-season.
In Ertz's absence, the 26-year-old caught seven passes for 112 yards and three touchdowns against the Broncos and Rams.
Burton signed a one-year, $2.746 million contract after the Eagles tendered the then-restricted free agent in the off-season. He will become unrestricted in March, and the team will have a difficult time matching the market with Ertz ($10.245 million) and so many other Eagles seeing an increase in their salary cap numbers for 2018.
"I know it's part of the job," Burton said Wednesday when asked about free agency, "but I'm just trying to win a Super Bowl. I'm just focused on that."
— Rasul Douglas was inactive on Sunday for the first time since the opener. The rookie cornerback essentially lost whatever role he had on defense when Darby returned from injury last month.
"Whatever the coaches decide," Douglas said Wednesday. "They know what's best for the team. They felt like I shouldn't be active – that's on them. I just have to show during the week why I have to be active."
Douglas' limited playing time on special teams is the main reason he didn't dress against the New York Giants. He was only playing on the kickoff unit. The Eagles signed Bryan Braman to their 53-man roster last week and wasted little time activating one of their best special-teams performers from 2014 to 2016.
Braman played 25 snaps on special teams.
Douglas started in four games and played a significant number of snaps at cornerback during Darby's eight-game absence. He was up and down. His coverage numbers, though, are comparable to Darby, who has also been inconsistent.
In 248 snaps, Douglas allowed 27 catches for 360 yards and two touchdowns while being targeted 49 times. He had two interceptions. In 194 snaps, Darby has allowed 24 catches for 309 yards and one touchdown. He also had two interceptions.
While those numbers don't tell the full story, Douglas said that he knows he must pay his dues.
"I still got rookie duties," Douglas said. "I got to get pot pies for every away game."
Inside the Locker Room
— There were six happy Eagles in the locker room after Pro Bowl rosters were announced on Tuesday. While most said they were more concerned about the Super Bowl, you can bet that guard Brandon Brooks, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, tight end Zach Ertz, safety Malcolm Jenkins, tackle Lane Johnson, and quarterback Carson Wentz were also thrilled by the honor.
And for most of the veterans, they likely didn't mind the extra money they earned or could earn from the Pro Bowl nod. Ertz received a $100,000 bonus this year, and his base salaries for 2019, 2020, and 2021 will increase $250,000.
Brooks' base salaries for the next three seasons will increase $250,000. And Johnson's base salaries for the next four seasons will also get a $250,000 bump. Ertz, Brooks, and Johnson were voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
For Cox, who made his third appearance on the roster, there weren't any Pro Bowl incentives in his $102.6 million contract. While the exact details of Jenkins' incentive weren't known, he did earn a bonus for being on the original ballot. He made his first Pro Bowl as an alternate. Wentz, who is playing under his rookie contract, wasn't eligible for performance-based incentives.
By the Numbers
Total number of receiving touchdowns by the Eagles' top three (Alshon Jeffery 9, Zach Ertz 8, Nelson Agholor 8), which is tied for second in franchise history with the 2004 team (Terrell Owens 14, Brian Westbrook 6, L.J. Smith 5) and the 1954 team (Bobby Walston 11, Pete Pihos 10, Hal Giancanelli 4). The 1961 team has the franchise record with 26 (Tommy McDonald 13, Pete Retzlaff 8, Dick Lucas 5).
Red-zone success rate for the Eagles (35 touchdowns out of 52 possessions inside the 20), which is first in the NFL and the highest percentage in team history (or since the league began officially tracking red-zone numbers in 1999).
First-quarter points allowed by the Eagles defense this season. Three weeks ago, they had allowed only 18 points. The franchise mark is 16 first-quarter points allowed (1971).
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