Adventures at Summer Camp: Lehigh Day 1

Because someone has to read all the news coming out of the Eagles training camp.

* * *

Confirmed: DeSean Jackson let frustration over his contract hurt his performance:

“Human nature-wise, yes it affected him,’’ Culley said. “It did. He tried not to let it affect him. Sometimes he didn’t do a very good job of that. It affected him in meetings. It affected him on the field. There were days when it didn’t. But it made him inconsistent. And that’s where the human nature part of it comes in.”

“I saw a couple of times last year where I saw him maybe trying to maybe save himself because (he was thinking), ‘I’m not under contract and I don’t want to get hurt,’’’ Culley said. “I don’t think there was a fear factor involved. I think it was more, ‘I don’t want to get hurt because I don’t have a contract.’ The first two-and-a-half years he was here, that wasn’t an issue. A couple of times last year, that came up. And I believe it came up simply because of that.”

* * *

Punters, ahoy. The Eagles brought in not one, not two, not three, but four veteran punters for tryouts yesterday. It’s not that surprising once you understand how bad Chas Henry was last year. Reuben Frank says the most likely candidate to sign is former Pro Bowl Cowboy Mat McBriar. I honestly didn’t realize he had fallen off last year and was cut. Turns out, he couldn’t lift his foot.

* * *

The Felony That Wasn’t. I love how the charges were dropped against Dion Lewis because the DA concluded there was “no evidence a fire alarm was ever pulled.”

* * *

Backup Running Backs Will Push… Who? I absolutely don’t understand where this headline comes from. Sheil’s replacement isn’t looking so hot.

* * *

Speaking of Mr. Kapadia, he brings us a great quote from Howard Mudd on where Danny Watkins is in his second year. Sounds like the mental side of the game is the real roadblock for our friendly neighborhood fireman:

“Comfort in the position, eliminating doubt about himself,” Mudd said. “That just happens to players. That just happens. That’s part of the growing process. I call that the valley of darkness. You get somewhere and then you start doubting yourself, doubting, doubting… and then the ball is snapped and you don’t have a clue where you are. You can be very amateurish, if you will. All of a sudden, it starts to click again and you quit doubting yourself. Do well, and then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, you get there. So Danny, that’s what I think the offseason’s done for him.”

Jimmy Kempski tells us that Mudd also alluded to the Vandervelde-Reynolds backup center competition as the position battle he’s most looking forward too. I’m not sure if that’s positive or depressing. Final Mudd note: I discount every positive thing he says about Demetress Bell by half. There’s only one Jason Peters, and unfortunately he couldn’t keep his balance on a Roll-A-Bout.

* * *

In other meta-reportage, Jimmy needs to stop wasting his time talking to guys like Keenan Clayton after practice. Clayton’s competing with Moise Fokou for the coveted “last linebacker cut” trophy. Then again, at least our favorite NFC bEast blogger didn’t get stiffed like ol’ timer Paul Domowitch.

* * *

Rampant Tight End Speculation! The Eagles have now been linked to Visanthe Shiancoe and (gag) Jeremy Shockey. Raise your hand if you’re shocked that the Brett Brackett hype was purely media-driven. No one? Good.

* * *

Andy Reid Weight Loss Watch. He totally walked home from practice, guys.

Willing to Walk Away?

Jonathan Tamari pens an excellent mini-profile of Trent Cole:

"I might play into another contract," Cole said. He added that he hopes to finish his career as an Eagle - "When they cut me, I’m, ‘OK. I’m ready to retire,’ " - but then hedged when asked if he could ever play elsewhere.

"No," he said, "unless the money’s right, for real."

That’s a strange quote Tamari picked up, about being willing to retire when the Eagles let him go. Cole gives the money qualifier after, but it’s still an odd insight into the mindset of the Eagles’ stellar but typically reserved defensive end.

Andy Reid Gets LeSean McCoy’s Deal Done

LeSean McCoy

Big sigh of relief, everybody. LeSean McCoy signed a long term contract extension with the Eagles yesterday: five years, $45 million, and $21 million guaranteed. Rather than be a free agent next season, McCoy is locked up through age 29 — even if some of the money toward the back is likely to be restructured at best.

It’s a day to celebrate the Eagles keeping yet another valuable contributor — and not just retaining Evan Mathis, or making Trent Cole happy. This is a vitally important move on the field and in the locker room. DeSean Jackson’s situation last year was no fun at all, and it’s good to see that the front office learned from their mistakes and locked up McCoy before things got ugly.

That’s actually the biggest behind-the-scenes news of the day. Not the actual contract, but what it took to get there. As Les Bowen reports, Drew Rosenhaus made it clear that Andy Reid, not Howie Roseman, made this deal happen:

"When we we were working on this deal, coach Reid was sitting in on the meetings. It wasn’t so much that he was taking sides, he just wanted to see it get done. So I think coach Reid really was the difference."

So much for “on the hot seat.” In what was apparently an unconventional move for him, Reid participated in the McCoy negotiations. There’s only one conclusion you can draw from such news — that Reid has actually consolidated power over Roseman this offseason, rather than relinquishing it.

It’s a common refrain that players like to play for Reid and think he’s on their side. Asante Samuel was the most recent example of this phenomenon: bashing the front office (Roseman and Joe Banner), while reserving only sweet words for his coach. It’s easy to break that down as players falling too easily into a good cop-bad cop situation, where Reid is just as cold-hearted behind the scenes but maintains a happy demeanor in the locker room.

Unless it’s actually true. Maybe Reid really does care more about his players, would rather give up a few million extra in contract talks than see things get acrimonious. Maybe he doesn’t need to feel like he “won” the negotiations, as Rosenhaus described Roseman yesterday.

One might say that’s weakness, and it is to a degree. But after all the drama the Eagles have gone through in the last year, putting free agents ahead of their own stars and reaping the rewards for that, it’s a weakness they could probably use a little bit more of.

Photo from Getty.

Low Expectations for Demetress Bell

Demetrius Bell

I’m a big believer in the market economics of the NFL. If 32 NFL teams pass on a player until the sixth round, he doesn’t have a particularly high chance of success. It’s the same with free agents who don’t receive serious interest on the market.

Derek Landri, who re-signed with the Eagles yesterday, would be in the latter category. He was a productive back-up with the team last year, but even after perhaps his best season as a pro, no other team offered him a long term deal — and the Eagles weren’t anxious to get him back either. He seems to still have an uphill battle to make the roster, especially if the team jumps in with a first round defensive tackle.

The same thought process leads me to question Demetress Bell’s value as well. Bell shopped himself around quite a lot, visiting a handful of different cities in order to seek a long term deal. But he was never offered one, even by the suddenly desperate Eagles.

Technically, Bell’s contract is 5 years, $35 million, but everyone knows he’s not coming back after 2012. The $8.5 million roster bonus in 2013 makes that a foregone conclusion. What does it say about Bell that in the modern NFL where left tackles are one of the top two or three most important positions on the field, he couldn’t find one team to give him a legitimate multi-year deal? Is he really any better than King Dunlap?

On the other hand, he was undoubtedly the best player the Eagles could get when they learned that Jason Peters was lost for the year. That has to count for something. And over the last two seasons, he’s been as good or better than Todd Herremans according to Pro Football Focus’s pass blocking efficiency statistic:

Tackles Pass Blocking Efficiency

Maybe Bell will play up to his potential this season, or even exceed his past performance now that he has Howard Mudd as a guru. Maybe he’ll manage to stay healthy the whole year. Or maybe he’ll give the Eagles exactly what they paid for, a questionable veteran on a relatively meager deal.

Impossible to say for sure, but I’m not really looking forward to finding out the answer.

Photo from Getty.

JACCPOT

JACCPOT

Despite Jenkins' Return, DT is a Top Draft Priority

Les Bowen:

Even though Jenkins is 31 and might not be a long-term starter, his return, along with the return from injury of Antonio Dixon, might mean the Eagles don’t target a defensive tackle with the 15th overall selection in the April entry draft. If they re-sign pending free agent Derek Landri, that will become even less likely.

Disagree. As I briefly mentioned a few weeks ago, the defensive line is in need of young talent. This Cullen Jenkins contract restructuring is nice, but he’s not a long term solution at tackle. Nor is Mike Patterson, Derek Landri, or Trevor Laws. Plus, as Sheil Kapadia noted today, there’s already a robust rotation that would easily integrate a new addition.

All in all, if the Eagles address middle linebacker in free agency and Luke Kuechly remains the only consensus first round 4-3 linebacker, defensive tackle immediately jumps to the front of the line in terms of most likely early pick.

Michael Vick, Meet Your New Burden

image

"We’re sitting here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re talking about practice."

The NFL has done a semantic disservice by creating a “franchise player” tag. That designation means little more to the team than “best free agent we don’t want to lose.” A real franchise player, as Allen Iverson understood it, was a player who transcended the normal relationship between player and team.

The franchise player is both the indispensable star on the field as well as the jersey that is directly entwined to the team off of it. All players are blamed for poor performance and coaches are always intently questioned after losses. But no one takes more direct criticism for or is more closely associated with overall problems than the franchise player.

Last year, even after the Eagles hitched their wagon to the Second Coming, Vick wasn’t the franchise player. Number seven was still a revelation, much like a penny stock you buy on a whim and ride to millionaire status. Fans, spectators, commentators were playing with house money. They enjoyed the ride and wondered how long it might last.

There were whispers of disapproval as Vick fell back to mortality at the end of the season. Perhaps the NFL has figured Vick out, they said. Maybe he’s not really as good as we thought. Are we sure that sending Kevin Kolb away is the right decision?

In the moment, those voices never amounted to any substantial chorus. There was still too much optimism, too much residual exuberance. Today, however, with the announcement of Vick’s new $100 million contract, that all changes.

Vick’s days as a miracle child are over. He is a high-priced investment expected to perform at an elite level and, more importantly, expected to carry the Eagles to a Super Bowl win. There is no doubt that anything less in 2011 will be a failure for the team as a whole, and specifically for Vick — no matter what stats he puts up or how well he plays. And that paradigm will continue for as long as Vick remains an Eagle.

Vick’s exploits transcended the Eagles in 2010. The team was mediocre, stumbling into the playoffs and exiting in the first round. But Vick became a story much bigger. In 2011 and beyond that will no longer be possible. The franchise player is constrained within the boundaries of his team. Iverson was a star, but once he became more than that for the Sixers his individual efforts never soared quite as high. One could say the same about Vick during his time in Atlanta. The franchise player carries his team. Every spectacular performance lifts the organization. Every loss increases the player’s burden.

Michael Vick is well compensated and adequately prepared to take on this challenge. But accepting the title of franchise player is easy. Enduring it, especially in Philadelphia, is the hard part.

Photo from Getty.

Risk, Reward, & Injuries: Why Sign Steve Smith?

image

Just when you start to think that the Eagles are done making free agent moves, they go out and get former Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith. It was an addition that was as confusing as it was surprising.

Andy Reid’s public explanation was predictably simple: 

"Like I’ve said many times before, Howie Roseman and I are always keeping our eyes open for good football players and players that we think can help our football team win, and Steve Smith certainly fits that category. He’s a Pro Bowl-quality receiver that we will work into our offense as soon as he is ready to go. We feel very good about our current group of receivers, and Steve adds another dimension to that position. He’s played very well against us in the past few years and we’re happy to have him on board."

I don’t think Reid was lying, per se. All of the above is true. But I find it hard to believe that the move had nothing to do with Jeremy Maclin’s injury.

In the abstract it’s nice to add a player of Smith’s caliber at the low price of $2 million, especially from your division rival. But his microfracture surgery seems to have scared off most other teams, including the Giants. There’s no reason to take on that risk if you’re confident all the pieces from one of the best wide receiver groups in the NFL last year will return. DeSean Jackson, Maclin, and Jason Avant crowd out any need for another starting-caliber wideout.

Again, unless you’re worried that they won’t all be ready to play this season. If Maclin can’t play, suddenly you have a concussion-prone star, a good slot receiver, and nothing but potential and promise. Riley Cooper hasn’t shown that he can start in the NFL. Neither has Chad Hall or Sinorice Moss. No one wants to count on them making a big leap.

To me, signing Smith reeks a little bit of desperation. Obviously the contract isn’t particularly expensive, and thus the risk isn’t too great. But when a guy of Smith’s talent can be bought at such a low price and his former squad chooses not to match it, you have to wonder if the beachfront property you just purchased really exists. 

The Eagles are saying on background that they hope Smith won’t have to miss any games. Hopefully that’s true for Maclin as well, and Smith ends up being just a shrewd insurance policy. But let’s just say I’m less optimistic about that likelihood than I was yesterday.

Photo from Getty.

Kolb Watch: Free Agency Third Day Live Blog

Andy Reid Jeff McLane Lehigh

Today’s the day. I think. The final hurdle has to be Kevin Kolb’s new contract. Hopefully that will get settled shortly. My prediction, once again, is Kolb for Rodgers-Cromartie + Arizona’s 2012 2nd round pick + another conditional middle round pick.

Can’t promise the same kind of strange happenings as yesterday, but hit it here for updates as we go along.

9:54 am - Eagles sign Jason Babin to a 5-year deal (Jay Glazer), worth $28 million (Jim Wyatt). There’s your new defensive end. However, as Sam Lynch points out, this is probably a front-loaded deal. No one should expect Babin to still be on the team in 2015, when he’ll be 36.

Time to see if Babin just had a fluke season or if Jim Washburn really discovered his talent.

2:13 pm - Looking more and more like the Kolb deal will go down today. Howard Eskin confirmed my speculation that the Cardinals are working on his contract extension. Adam Caplan also tweeted that the two sides have made “substantial progress in recent hours.”

Photo: “Chasing Andy” from and of Jeff McLane.

On DeSean Jackson and the Maturity Question

DeSean Jackson Eagles Maturity

DeSean Jackson is a smart, mature man. I know this because Jackson had little trouble learning the NFL routes and starting in his rookie year. I know this because he’s done stand-up work against bullying. I know this because of his pitch-perfect ironic delivery during his turn selling jerseys at Modell’s.

Moreover, I know Jackson is savvy and levelheaded because he has learned from the mistakes of wide receivers past and hasn’t gone to the media with his contract issues. Knowing that keeping his mouth shut can only help negotiations isn’t a difficult concept to understand, but carrying it out when he is in front of the media constantly requires tremendous discipline.

Yet despite all of this evidence, DeSean confounds his fans by continuing to commit absolutely bonehead mistakes on and off the field. There were his goal line celebrations, parts one, two, and three — that threatened to overwhelm the actual events. More recently, Jackson’ directed gay slurs at a rude caller during an appearance on the radio.

I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile these two persona, although I don’t think (as some do) that DeSean’s public character is simply an act. That’s silly and overwrought.

Rather, I think a more likely explanation is that Jackson is simply a 24 year-old kid who still has a hard time balancing and moderating his burgeoning stardom. When he commits the time and energy to doing something the right way, he manages to be a role model as a hard working athlete, an effective community service leader, and a responsible actor in his NFL business dealings.

Paradoxically, it is his quickness that often seems to get him into trouble. DeSean’s feet and tongue tend to run a little bit ahead of his brain, and his fans suffer an uneasy twinge each time he lets a moment get away from him. Hopefully Jackson will grow out of it while he still has that one-of-a-kind speed left to burn.

Photo from Getty.

Vick Signs Franchise Tag, Akers Declines

Michael Vick David Akers Franchise Tag Free Agency 2011

Two Eagles players were tagged with guaranteed contracts to keep them with the team through next season. Today, Michael Vick said he will sign his franchise tender, while David Akers indicated he would turn down his transition tag.

Vick signing his approximately $16 million one-year contract isn’t surprising. He has expressed on multiple occasions his desire to stay with the Eagles, and the franchise tag seems like only an intermediate step before he and the team work out a long term contract extension. Team President Joe Banner said recently, “We wouldn’t be sitting here and putting a franchise tag on him if he’s somebody that we weren’t very excited about.”

By assigning the franchise tag to Vick, the Eagles will pay him the average of the top five players at his position — money that will certainly help the quarterback as he extricates himself from his bankruptcy requirements. The tag also prevents any other teams from even trying to talk to Vick during free agency.

During the current labor talks, the NFL Players Association has argued that the tags are invalid if the collective bargaining agreement expires on Thursday. That’s the argument Akers’s agent Jerrold Colton made when he said the kicker would not sign the approximately $3 million dollar offer sheet. Colton has suggested that his client is “disappointed” with the tag, even though he still wants to return to the Eagles on a multi-year deal.

However, it’s unclear what, if any, leverage Akers has in negotiations. His transition tag allows him to talk with other NFL teams (with the Eagles having the power to match any offer), but is any team willing to spend top dollar on an aging player who’s no longer an elite kicker?

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.

Should the Eagles Pursue Nnamdi Asomugha?

Nnamadi Asomugha Eagles Free Agency

Perhaps the biggest hole in the Eagles defense right now is at right cornerback, opposite Asante Samuel. Ellis Hobbs, Dimitri Patterson, and Joselio Hanson all got the chance to start in 2010 but none could even consistently play at an average level. So going into 2011, fans have been clamoring for the team to add perhaps the biggest star on the free agent market — Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

Asomugha is often touted as one of the best, if not the best cover corner in the league. The three-time consecutive Pro Bowler doesn’t come up with a lot of interceptions, but quarterbacks notoriously avoid his side of the field. Last year, according to Pro Football Focus, receivers Asomugha covered were targeted only 29 times for 3.7 percent of his snaps, by far the least in the NFL (Samuel was second with 41 targets and 6.1 percent).

Asomugha would fit perfectly at right cornerback with the Eagles, where his size (6’ 2” 210 lbs.) and athleticism could balance Samuel’s ball-hawking skills. And it doesn’t appear that Asomugha is losing any of his game. One of the best wide receivers in the NFL, Larry Fitzgerald praised him last year: “The thing you see on tape for a man of his size, he has incredible hips and amazingly quick feet, and that’s just God given ability to be that tall and be able to move and cut and drive on balls the way he’s able to.”

Certainly on talent alone, the Eagles have to be interested. They’re used to making big splashy free agency moves and have the cash to do so. Plus, considering the cornerback spot is a pressing current concern, the team likely won’t try to look to the draft for a remedy.

Major Eagles Acquisitions

But the main question mark with Asomugha is his age. The All-Pro will turn 30 on July 6th, and giving a long-term contract to a cornerback (or any player) at that age is risky business. As you can see from the table at right, Asomugha would be the second-oldest big-time acquisition the team has ever made.

Additionally, consider recent Eagles history with cornerbacks. Troy Vincent stayed with the team through age 33, then switched to safety to prolong his career. Bobby Taylor had injury problems that preceded being let go at age 30, after which he only played one more year. Sheldon Brown lasted until just after his 31st birthday before he was traded last offseason to Cleveland. And while we might lament that decision now, keep in mind that quarterbacks throwing Brown’s way in 2010 had a 114 passer rating, third worst in the NFL among starting cornerbacks.

The broader trend among 30-plus year old cornerbacks isn’t particularly golden either. A free agent deal for Asomugha would have to include at least four years, if not more. But can he produce at a high rate for that long?

Cornerbacks After Age 30

My analysis shows that among cornerbacks from the last 15 years who started at least one game after turning 30, less than 40 percent of them started the equivalent of two full seasons in their thirties. Only 21 percent managed to start three full seasons. Unfortunately, the vast majority of players are not Eric Allen, Ronde Barber, or Charles Woodson. They slow down, they get hurt, and they drop out of the starting lineup before you know it.

What does that mean for Asomugha’s chances of coming to Philly? It depends on how risk-averse the Eagles front office is right now. Giving Asomugha a rich contract with heavy guarantees — which is what it will take to get any deal done — is no safe move. Maybe he’ll buck the odds and perform at a high level for years to come, making any contract worthwhile. More likely, if the Eagles do pursue him, it would be for a contract that puts big money up front but few guarantees down the road.

At the end of the day, Asomugha is the type of player that could instantly lift the Eagles defense and conceal a number of other weaknesses. It’s worth getting excited about any potential addition of that caliber, even if some caution is also warranted.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.

Time to Pay Vick & DeSean

Would the Eagles be assuming some major risk with those moves? Absolutely. Jackson probably isn’t close to his listed 175 pounds in pads and has a history of concussions and neck injuries. Vick is a 30-year-old scrambling quarterback, takes a bunch of hits, and hasn’t shown that he can play at this level long term. Plus, he’s one off-the-field misstep away from permanent suspension by the NFL.

And yes, there are some major hangups regarding the current NFL collective bargaining agreement and how that affects giving out contract extensions. Much of the money would need to be guaranteed while other incentives and salary cap workarounds would need to be put into place.

But at this point, with these two transcendent stars, none of that matters. You have to get deals done to keep them in Philadelphia long term. Why? It comes down to one simple fact:

No other two players in the NFL could have won Sunday’s game…

McBenched

Just over a month ago, Donovan McNabb signed what was thought to be a long-term contract extension with the Redskins. Now it appears that “Tom Brady-esque” money was little more than a mirage in the desert wasteland of Washington DC sports.

According to multiple anonymous sources cited by The Washington Post, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan has benched McNabb, his “franchise quarterback,” in favor of Rex Grossman for this Sunday’s game against the Cowboys.

McNabb — who hasn’t been a healthy scratch since his rookie season — said on Wednesday that he would have expected “professionalism and communication” by being informed in advance. After declining to publicly name a starter in his last press conference, Shanahan does not seem to have granted him that respect…