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.
The Football Outsiders Almanac appeared online yesterday, and you should obviously go get yourself a copy. With apologizes to our esteemed local publication, the FOA 2012 is the gold standard for the NFL offseason. The amount of statistical detail Aaron Schatz and everyone else at Football Outsiders puts into their work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. With that in mind, I’m going to highlight a few pieces that stuck out to me.
* * *
The Almanac jokes that, “of course we’re predicting a Philadelphia rebound,” but I don’t actually see it. They give a mean projection of 8.6 wins in 2012, which is barely more than the Eagles amassed last year. Moreover, it’s the lowest projected win total going back to at least 2009. The 2011 optimistic outlook pegged them at 11.7 wins. Oops.
* * *
FO marked Demetress Bell down for only five blown blocks in his last 20 starts. If he can stay healthy and Howard Mudd can work some magic, maybe there’s reason for some optimism at left tackle after all.
* * *
The Eagles dropped from third to eighth in offensive DVOA, but the Almanac suggests that “half” of that decline came from Vince Young’s poor play. Let’s hope Mike Kafka proves to be a better backup.
* * *
Two running backs and one tight end was the Eagles’ third most common offensive formation, but the Eagles ran the ball from it only one third of the time — the lowest percentage in the league by a long shot. On the other hand, this is the first year since 2009 that the offense ranked higher than 23rd in overall run percentage. The mantra appears to have been, “run, just not behind Owen Schmitt.”
* * *
The Almanac attributes only 12 sacks to blown blocks, the lowest figure in the league. Moreover, three of those are in LeSean McCoy’s column.
* * *
Despite those 18 sacks, I wonder if Jason Babin might be playing himself into a platoon job at left defensive end. Runs to his side averaged 4.91 adjusted line yards, second-worst in the NFL. On the other side, Trent Cole was second-best in the league, allowing a paltry 2.4 yards.
* * *
For the second year in a row, the Eagles defense ranked near the tail end of the league defending running backs coming out of the backfield. This is what’s colloquially known as the Casey-Matthews-covering-Brandon-Jacobs problem.
* * *
Bobby April is universally hailed as a special teams maestro, but his unit has declined in DVOA each year since he arrived. This year’s biggest problems came in the form of kick returners (Dion Lewis plus a down year for DeSean) and Chas Henry, who FO estimates cost the Eagles 11.5 points over the course of the season in field position alone. Yikes.
* * *
The Almanac is very optimistic about Michael Vick’s chances to rebound all the way back to his 2010 form. In fact, despite assuring us that his interception rate jump from 1.6 percent to 3.3 percent in 2011 was a normal regression to the mean, FO predicts he’ll go back to a 1.9 percent rate this season. Among starters, that would put him among the top five in the league.
* * *
There’s tons more where this came from, so go buy the book and share what stands out to you.
Thank you everyone who has already bought the Eagles Almanac 2012! I’m really proud of the work we’ve done on this book, and I hope you all enjoy it.
This week, I’m going to share a series of smaller graphics and other posts based on the work in the Eagles Almanac. For those of you who bought it, hopefully this will provide an opportunity to discuss some of the findings (since that’s difficult on an ebook). And for those who haven’t, you’ll see what you’re missing.
Below is a simple chart from my article, which was a detailed examination of LeSean McCoy’s running style and the areas he can still improve. The question this chart poses, as the title suggests, is whether Shady is a better back than Westbrook, using Football Outsiders’ year-by-year rushing plus receiving DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement). Your answer probably varies from “so far” to “not yet.”
You can label the Andy Reid-Joe Banner power struggle an unfounded conspiracy theory. And you can buy the general storyline presented for Banner leaving. But you have to admit that there are serious holes in that party line.
According to Jeff McLane’s report, which might as well be the official press release, Banner approached Jeff Lurie a year ago about a succession plan. Why would he want to leave the Eagles, a team he built for the better part of the last two decades, a team owned by his childhood friend and in which he was the unquestioned CEO?
The official line is that he wants to “get involved with the world of buying and selling a sports team with the possibility of becoming part of a group that buys a team.” Geoff Mosher got Banner on the phone and the former team president said that he has been less involved over the last few years:
“I spend a lot of my time right now managing people that report to me and a modest amount of time doing things myself. More passive role than this same job was not long ago. I wanna be so busy I don’t have time to breathe. That’s my personality.”
Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. Less than ten months ago, Banner was at the forefront of the Eagles efforts to sign one of the most heralded free agent classes in modern memory. You can’t listen to this interview with Mike Florio and tell me that Banner was not personally involved in every aspect of those decisions and negotiations. “More passive role”? I don’t think so.
The changes clearly began this offseason, as Les Bowen wrote and McLane papered over. The extensions for longtime Eagles, the new willingness to talk with DeSean Jackson, the relatively quick deal struck with LeSean McCoy — all of it was done with Banner completely unseen. Howie Roseman became the point person for negotiations and Reid took an unprecedented, larger role.
Drew Rosenhaus’s comments about his negotiations over Evan Mathis, Jackson, and McCoy set a lot of the Banner talk in motion, and Paul Domowitch went back to him today in a great story:
“Howie really handled exclusively the negotiations for DeSean and Evan and LeSean,” Rosenhaus said. “Joe wasn’t directly involved in any of those discussions from the start of the offseason. I actually negotiated (undrafted free agent safety) Phillip Thomas’s contract with Joe. I remember him calling and joking about the fact that he wanted to work on at least one deal with me this offseason.”
“We struggled up to this offseason really to get the club to work on an extension with DeSean,” Rosenhaus said. “The team really wasn’t aggressive as it related to DeSean’s negotiations until this offseason. I don’t know if there was a power struggle or not. There’s no way for me to know that. But I do know that things changed in terms of the Eagles’ approach to DeSean after the season.”
Those comments suggest that Banner has been marginalized since the end of the disastrous 2011 season, a season for which he was directly responsible for many of the controversial decisions — free agency splurge, stonewalling DeSean, angering Asante Samuel (basically everything up to Juan Castillo). You can connect the dots.
Domo reads the tea leaves and argues that Reid wanted Jackson extended and blamed much of last season’s locker room troubles on Banner’s inaction on that front. Les’s piece today takes a slightly different route, arguing that Lurie “was genuinely at his wits’ end over the Eagles’ sour image in Philadelphia, the inability to connect with the fan on the street.” His solution was to isolate Banner and loosen up Reid.
Either theory makes more sense than Banner’s self-proclaimed reasoning. If he had dropped out of football to pursue his philanthropic interests, one might understand. But if you want to stay in football, you don’t leave that job willingly — especially without a new, seemingly better position already lined up.
I’m sure it was painful for Lurie to take the reigns away from his friend, but that’s the kind of decision he has to make as an owner. And by delaying the announcement and concocting an elaborate and not-entirely-convincing exit story, Lurie gives Banner as gracious a departure as he can manage. The new “Special Advisor to the Owner” even has a fall-back job at NovaCare for as long as he needs.
We will never know the full truth, but let’s not be naive. There’s the official story, and then there are the explanations that actually make sense.
Photo from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Exact McCoy details: 6-year, $45.615 million contract with $20.765 million guaranteed (first three years base salary plus $8.5 million signing bonus).
2013: $3.25 million
2014: $8 million
2015: $10.25 million
2016: $7.15 million
2017: $7.85 million
In the aftermath of the relatively quick and painless contract agreement with LeSean McCoy last week, the scuttlebutt has centered on the changes in the Eagles front office. All the key figures remain the same, but Joe Banner was nowhere to be found and words during and after the press conference suggested that Andy Reid had an increased role in the negotiations.
So what, exactly, has changed? For that, we have opposing takes from rivals/colleagues Les Bowen and Jeff McLane. Bowen takes the angle that Banner is increasingly isolated from the public eye and, seemingly, negotiations. This marks a relatively large change in the organization. McLane sees it differently:
Most of the changes within the front office have centered on public relations and can be summed up as such: Andy Reid has been more accommodating, Howie Roseman has been nudged into the spotlight, and Joe Banner has taken a step back behind the curtain.
The key thing that McLane omits (or, I suspect, willfully ignores) in his contrarian analysis is that changing the public perception and the outward attitude is a change in strategy. Of course we’re not talking about a radical front office change of direction — it’s all the same guys at NovaCare, after all. But the idea that Howie Roseman is handling negotiations because he’s less of an abrasive jerk at the table means something. Reid’s presence may be a facade placed on top of the same front office, but if it changed how McCoy, Roseman, and Drew Rosenhaus interacted, that matters.
Whether Reid and Banner purposely created or merely fell into their good cop/bad cop roles, it was obvious that they believed it worked. I expect that the combination of DeSean Jackson’s sulking and Asante Samuel railing against the guys upstairs prompted a reevaluation of that strategy. After such an awful season, revisions were required both on the field and in the front office — a marginalization of Banner and alignment of Reid’s player-friendly attitude with Howie Roseman’s less intimidating demeanor serves that goal.
The results, despite what McLane says, haven’t been the same:
That’s been the blueprint for years. Last year’s free-agent frenzy wasn’t the first time the Eagles spent freely. This year’s taking care of their own wasn’t the first time they rewarded their best loyal charges.
That’s accurate in general. But in recent years the Eagles have often seemed disinterested in renegotiating veteran contracts (Cole, Herremans) or extending young stars (Jackson, McCoy). And last season’s free agent splurge was especially out of character. The team is always in the market for top players, but rarely have they gone out and bought multiple veteran starters. Nor did the front office pretend that anything was business as usual with that last training camp.
Making extensions a priority this year, even for players for whom they could have forced to play for their current deals, shows a re-focused strategy that stems from the re-organization at the top. It’s only a change in attitude, but that more positive demeanor makes a difference. Just sticking with McCoy, Bowen is correct in his counterfactual Banner-led negotiations. Things probably wouldn’t have gone quite so smoothly:
They could have stuck to their guns on the fact that Houston’s Arian Foster, whose deal proved to be the benchmark, had negotiated that contract as a restricted free agent, a crucial difference. They could have made McCoy choose between either signing a contract that was a solid financial notch below Foster or risking injury this season, to possibly end up being franchised, with no long-term commitment at all. They could have pressed their advantage a lot harder.
Jackson looked like he was headed for a Jeremiah Trotter-esque walk out of town. Cole might have grown as unhappy as his former teammate Sheldon Brown. And McCoy seemed destined for a classic Brian Westbrook holdout. That none of those things came to pass speaks to a positive change within the organization. You can try to hide it behind a “business as usual” or “just public relations” tagline, but the results say otherwise.
Photo from Getty.
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.
Jimmy Kempski has a post up that shows LeSean McCoy’s total snap count in 2011 — 894, which is the most of any running back, 50 more than Ray Rice and 100 more than Maurice Jones-Drew.
The data is interesting, but ultimately incomplete. After all, just because he was on the field more than other backs doesn’t mean he took a pounding on every one of those snaps. In fact, if you dig a little bit deeper, you see that despite McCoy’s vast lead in total plays, he was only seventh in total carries and fourth in total touches (rushing attempts plus receptions). Shady was on the field a lot, but his usage rate (percent of touches per total snaps) placed him 21st among the top 25 most used backs. He saw the ball 36 percent of all plays he was in, compared to 54.5 percent for Marshawn Lynch and 53.2 percent for Michael Turner.
Certainly every snap carries some amount of wear and tear, especially pass blocking. One could disagree with me on this, but I don’t think those other snaps hold a candle to the repeated and unforeseen hits a player takes with the ball in his hands. That said, I agree with Jimmy’s (and Andy Reid’s) overall point: they need to find a reliable backup who can spell Shady from time to time. This makes it puzzling that the Eagles would trust three inexperienced players to compete for the number two spot.
Two of the candidates rented out a hotel conference room to hold their presentations. A third, by the name of Drew Rosenhaus, made no such reservations but showed up anyway with his top aides in tow, ready to take over.
The hotel manager intervened and noted that the room had only been reserved for the last two men, to which Rosenhaus responded by slapping a pair of American Express black cards on the table and saying something along the lines of, “Take whatever. Bill me.”
There’s the Drew we all know and love. Read on for the gag-inducing love notes Rosenhaus has for the Eagles front office.
What the Eagles did: The Eagles now have five running backs and three fullbacks on the roster, yet 23-year-old LeSean McCoy is the veteran of the group. The other seven have exactly 42 regular season snaps between them — and all of them from second-year running back Dion Lewis.
Let me just reiterate: that is a staggering level of inexperience. As of this moment, the Eagles still have two open roster spots, so adding a veteran like Joseph Addai or Justin Forsett is still possible. But so far it the front office has intimated that it is comfortable with a youth movement.
There’s no player behind McCoy that you can look at with confidence. Dion Lewis is the only one with NFL experience, and barely so. His kickoffs were a disaster and in limited playing time he showed some burst, but no indication he can take over full time in an emergency. Instead of giving their 5’7”, 2011 fifth-round pick some much needed veteran competition, the Eagles shopped at the discount store, picking up two high-profile rookies with promise as well as major reservations.
Paul Domowitch has a story today about seventh-rounder Bryce Brown’s college meanderings, and it can be summed up with one word: immaturity. Brown never had any legal problems, but he managed to quit on not one, but two football teams in three years. The physical tools on the 5’11”, 225 lb., sub-4.4 40 back are incredible, but he’s nothing more an interesting athlete without his mind in the right place.
The other guy fans are high on is Chris Polk, undrafted free agent out of Washington. Unlike Brown, Polk was tremendously productive in college, rushing for over 4,000 yards. However, his has a huge injury question mark. Despite a draft grade as high as the second round according to some experts, Polk was clearly taken off of all 32 teams boards. That’s not good.
As to fullback, Stanley Havili is the frontrunner, having rode the practice squad all 2012. The Eagles brought in two undrafted free agents to compete with Havili, Stanford fullback Jeremy Stewart and Massachusetts fullback/tight end/linebacker Emil Igwenagu.
What I would have done: The fliers on talented running backs are never a problem, per se. However, those players are like lottery tickets, great if you win but much more likely to end up discarded in the trash. There aren’t many exciting veterans available in free agency, but I would still try to grab one for insurance — at least until Lewis or one of the other backs look ready to step in for McCoy in a pinch. If I could do it all over I might have tried to nab Peyton Hillis as McCoy’s back up back in March. After a disastrous season last year, the multi-dimensional Hillis went to the Chiefs on a cheap deal.
I also would have tried to upgrade at fullback, but that’s a losing argument with this front office.
Way-too-early prediction: I’m not convinced the Eagles are sold on Lewis enough to make him the primary backup. The Ronnie Brown signing never worked, but that doesn’t mean the logic behind that deal doesn’t still apply. Addai or another back could still be in the cards.
Of the rest, Polk’s injury concerns must be worse than we know. Don’t expect anything more than injured reserve for him. There’s probably not a better candidate on the roster right now for training camp darling than Brown. Graig Cooper, an undrafted pick up last offseason, will compete but no one’s given any indication he’s more than a camp body. Havili will probably be the starting fullback and the Eagles will stash one of the others on the practice squad.
Photo from Getty.
Westbrook took to Twitter today to gauge the fans’ views on McCoy’s contract situation, and add his own.
“So basically everyone feels that he should get paid??,” he tweeted…
“Like Arian Foster? I think he is definitely if not the best, at least the second best back in the league right now and deserves it #payMccoy”
“The only leverage players have in this situation is to hold out! Unfortunately its still not a lot of leverage!! #payMccoy”
“Players dont want to have to worry about their contracts during the season which is why the off season is the time to get it done”
This probably isn’t true, but I like the idea that McCoy is speaking through Westbrook here. Arian Foster money, here we come.
Jimmy Kempski does an amazing job in this post, culling the video for all sacks Michael Vick took in 2011. More than anything, the Eagles quarterback doesn’t come out looking too good. Many of the sacks are poor decisions by Vick, and a number of the others look suspiciously like poor blitz recognition and protection adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
The one thing that is worth keeping in mind is these are only 24 plays, and by definition are likely to show the worst mistakes. There isn’t a companion video that shows how many times Vick escaped pressure in his face and turned it into a positive gain.
I’m also not sure I follow Jimmy’s logic at the end, where he notes poor right tackle play from Winston Justice in 2010 as a reason to keep Todd Herremans on that side. But all in all, really informative and interesting.
In fact, last fall, McCoy fired Rosenhaus twice, before eventually rehiring him. According to a source close to McCoy, part of it had to do with the fact that Rosenhaus was doing nothing for the running back off the field as far as marketing and endorsement opportunities. But a much bigger reason was the fact that Rosenhaus tried to persuade the running back to accept a $6 million-a-year contract offer the Eagles were dangling in front of him.
Like the unnamed agent Domo talks to in this article, I perceive little leverage for McCoy now that DeSean Jackson signed a long term deal. The 2013 franchise tag is just waiting for Shady, and more importantly the short life span of a running back means he can’t afford to wait for guaranteed money. That said, I find it vaguely troubling that McCoy rejected a $6 million per year deal that Rosenhaus recommended back in October.
By waiting, McCoy unquestionably added to his value, propping up his stats closer to that of Arian Foster and his new $8 million per year deal. Still, back in October I projected that a six year, $32 million contract would have been perfectly reasonable. It makes me wonder what Shady thinks he’s worth now.
Day one of free agency is in the books, and it was an interesting, if not groundbreaking day for Eagles fans. Let’s break down what we’ve learned so far.
* * *
A rebirth of the old Eagles way? The team took the first day to negotiate extensions for two of its longest-tenured players, Todd Herremans and Trent Cole. It was a nice return to the days pre-2009 when the Eagles built mostly from within. It’s also an important precedent to set with the players. Basically since Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown were unceremoniously dumped, the front office and the players have had a relationship built on animosity and mistrust. Young players like DeSean Jackson have battled with the organization rather than sign mutually-beneficial long-term deals.
Jonathan Tamari has the money quote from Todd Herremans: “The Eagles have been known for a while as a team that doesn’t take care of their draft picks and pays everyone else’s as picks and players. I think they’re trying to change that stigma that they have.”
By showing that you can get more money by playing the good soldier and dealing with your contract issues behind the scenes, the Eagles made a big step toward repairing that relationship and establishing veteran role models for the less experienced players to look up to.
* * *
Wide receivers are getting paid. Three of the best wide receivers on the market signed yesterday. Vincent Jackson went to Tampa Bay, getting 5 years, $55.55 million, with $26 million guaranteed. Marques Colston stayed with the Saints at the last minute, for 5 years, $40 million and $19 million guaranteed. Finally, Pierre Garçon stole 5 years, $42.5 million and $21.5 million guaranteed from the Redskins.
Seem of these numbers are artificially inflated in the final years, but DeSean Jackson and Drew Rosenhaus have to be looking at those guarantees and salivating.
* * *
Free agency for the Eagles is 85% about linebacker. And nothing happened on that front yet. Curtis Lofton, Stephen Tulloch, and David Hawthorne are all still available, and until those dominos start falling we won’t be able to judge the Eagles front office one way or another.
* * *
If I ever became an NFL general manager, I would have to remember one thing: don’t sign second-tier free agents on the first day. If you need to move fast on the biggest name out there, that’s fine. But don’t throw big money at guys who aren’t major difference-makers. That’s known as the Redskins’ strategy.
Photo from Getty.