Eagles news and notes for 12/1
Nelson Agholor watched from the sideline on Monday night with a green puffy jacket and winter hat. He watched the Eagles wide receivers. He watched the Green Bay Packers wide receivers. But mostly, he just watched an opportunity missed.
"Some of the things that really stuck out to me was realizing a game that I love, I didn't get a chance to play," Agholor said Wednesday. "The fact that I didn't get to play that day was an eye opener. You have to make sure you always have fun every opportunity you do have to play."
Agholor said he wanted to play, but he respected coach Doug Pederson's decision to sit him after finding out on Sunday night. He did not know whether he would play this weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals. Pederson said he has not yet made that decision. It would seem playing would be the only way for Agholor to regain his confidence, but he didn't want to indulge in that possibility.
"I'm not a therapist, and I'm not a coach," Agholor said. "My job is to prepare to play football."
Pederson said the objective for Agholor was to see the game differently without the pressure to perform – pressure both from him and the team.
Agholor has not had problems catching the ball in practice, but that doesn't count in the standings or on the stat sheet. In practice, the Eagles work off cards that indicate the plays for the offense and defense. The only audience is team personnel and the video cameras overhead.
With Nelson Agholor AWOL and Ryan Mathews once again un-knee worthy, the Eagles' rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz, can no longer be blamed for Zach Ertz’s lack of productivity.
He’s looking for him. Hell, he’d look for you if you would be so kind as to suit up and run a route or two.
Without Agholor and with Jordan Matthews missing a sizeable chunk of Monday night’s loss to the Packers, Ertz caught three passes for 36 yards and was targeted six times. To lend further perspective – if it’s even needed – Trey Burton was targeted four times.
Ertz now has 38 catches over 11 games this season for 363 yards and one touchdown. Inside of an offense that has famously made stars of people like Travis Kelce and his veteran teammate, Brett Celek. If Ertz could even approach the blocking skills Celek has developed, a role reversal would be beneficial. But with Lane Johnson’s suspension and the injuries incurred by the offensive line, it’s a luxury they can’t begin to consider.
Ertz’s muted contributions, which have also included some excruciating drops, have not led directly to losses. The same cannot be said of Fletcher Cox, who for the mind-boggling third time this season, extended a stalled opponent’s drive with a late third-down hit Monday night.
Each has occurred, too, at a critical stage late in a game. Each has triggered a game-changing drive by the opponent. And this latest one suggests a pattern that will never be broken, especially given Cox’s post-game comments that he didn’t think it was a penalty, and that he didn’t commit it out of frustration.
In all three cases this season, the impression left has been the opposite. Cox hasn’t sacked anyone in seven games, five of which have been losses. He’s the poster boy for an underachieving front four that was projected to be the Eagles' ultimate strength this season, hiding a suspect collection of cornerbacks weakened further by in-season injuries, and providing the offense and its rookie quarterback time to find its footing via numerous stops.
Johnson filed unfair labor practice charges against the NFL and NFLPA, in addition to a complaint with the Department of Labor under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. That litigation, which stems from Johnson’s 10-game suspension for his second failed drug test, was filed on November 10, according to Zashin.
Zashin also noted the goals of the lawsuits are to recoup money Johnson has lost during his suspension, reinstate the future guaranteed money in Johnson’s contract that was voided by his suspension and to repair Johnson’s reputation. However, regardless of the outcome, the Eagles’ star right tackle, whom Philadelphia gave a five-year contract extension worth a reported $56.25 million in January, will still have to serve the remainder of his suspension.
“Lane is a very proud guy, and in Lane’s opinion, Lane was done wrong,” Zashin told Brandt. “As part of this, it’s about time that the players association steps up and starts protecting the players that it is charged to do under federal law.”
According to Patrick Hoban, one of Zashin’s colleagues, the unfair labor practice charge against the NFL was filed because Johnson’s camp feels the NFL withheld information they are legally required to disclose. Hoban noted there is a provision in the performance-enhancing substances (“PES”) policy detailing how there must be a neutral and independent person who verifies laboratory testing results.
But when no such thing occurred in Johnson’s case and Johnson’s team asked why, the NFL said they have an agreement with the NFLPA that they wouldn’t do so and that they have lab directors review their own test results. When Johnson’s team asked for a copy of that agreement, the NFL refused to hand it over.
“The NFL said, ‘No, you can’t see it. It’s there, but you can’t see it,'” Hoban said. “Now, the law is pretty clear that an employee who is subject to a union contract gets to see what the contract is and what it says, and the NFL isn’t providing that.”
The challenge appeared to make little sense, since Pederson was giving up the ability to challenge a big play in exchange for two yards.
And Wednesday, two days after the Eagles lost for the sixth time in their last eight games, Pederson finally admitted he made a mistake.
“We do have a process with the coaches upstairs and the information we’re seeing and the camera angles and different things like that to make those choices,” he said.
“That second one, I probably would have kept it. It was a two-yard gain — 2nd-and-8.”
So why challenge it in the first place? Pederson tried to explain his thought process.
“The thing was, where we were on the field, at that point, just (thinking), ‘Hey, let’s go 2nd-and-10 over 2nd-and-8, let’s try to keep them back just a little bit, two more yards, this and that.
“I was trying to play all that in my head at the same time. But that would be a challenge that I would probably hang onto.”
The Eagles were a mess at the end of the 2015 season with a future that, frankly, looked bleak. They had scarce resources to replenish a roster that had been weakened by poor drafts and questionable free agent signings. There was no obvious "quarterback of the future." It seemed like it could be many seasons before the Eagles again became relevant in the NFL.
That the Eagles are here, with a young quarterback they love and who is making progress every day - with his recognition, his mechanics, his decision-making and the way the game is slowing down for him - in Carson Wentz headlining what could be a fantastic draft class that includes Smallwood and Mills and two offensive linemen who figure to be solid-to-very-good starters in Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Isaac Seumalo is exciting. Promising. It's how you build a franchise - starting with the quarterback and then adding the right pieces around him.
Pederson mentions the Oakland Raiders as a reference point when he talks about the progress made, understanding that Oakland went 3-13 with Derek Carr as a rookie quarterback in 2014, improved to 7-9 in 2015 and now are 9-2 and heading toward a playoff bye in 2016. Oakland felt it had something special in Carr, a second-round draft pick from Fresno State in 2014. Oakland has drafted well and has signed players in free agency who fit well into what the Raiders are doing, and now the Raiders have a wide-open window to be a Super Bowl-contending team for years to come.
The Eagles have a ways to go to get to that level. There are deficiencies here, as we all see. The good news is that the evaluation process is a stern one, and the Eagles are very much in tune with the needs of this football team. Nobody is falling in love with the roster at this point in the season, not with a 5-6 record after a 3-0 start to the year.
But let's take a step back and understand what the plan is for the Eagles. They want to "build this the right way," Pederson says, and that means to draft well and develop the players and keep those who fit into the plans here for the prime of their careers.