By the time the week is over, the Philadelphia Eagles will have played six games, which means they’ll be darn close to halfway through the 2017 season.
(Also, please reread that and realize how time is flying like the Eagles.)
And since we’ll be near the midway point, it seems appropriate to roll out some premature thoughts on Eagles that may or may not be Eagles come 2018 — the ones that will be almost 50 percent through their respective contract seasons.
With the team soaring at 4-1 and a chance to go all the way to 5-1 atop the NFC East against the Carolina Panthers, it’s hard not to like everyone on the roster at this point. But if we were to turn our gaze to the distant days of March, how would the unrestricted free agents-to-be stack up in management’s eyes?
Well, unfortunately, Howie Roseman isn’t sharing that information at this time, so you’ll have to settle for my eyes.
WR Alshon Jeffery: What he’s lacked in eye-popping stats he’s made up for in distractions for the opponent. By that, I mean Jeffery hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in Philly thus far, but his presence alone has done wonders in opening the middle of the field (hello, Zach Ertz) and allowing guys like Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor to go deep. His last free agency tour indicated he wants to be an Eagle not just in 2017, and an extension seems inevitable, although I’m not so sure it’ll be Julio Jones money.
DT Tim Jernigan: Fletcher Cox’s new sidekick has been everything you could’ve hoped for — and more. Losing Bennie Logan was a subtle gut punch, but it’s safe to say Jernigan has brought just as much, if not more, fire from the interior. And locking him up alongside Cox is, to be honest, priority No. 1 if I’m advising Mr. Roseman.
RB Darren Sproles: There isn’t a dire need for Sproles to be extended per se, and that’s only because he’s aging and the Eagles have suddenly found themselves a rushing identity without, some would argue, a premier back. That said, no one is going to be upset if the ever-churning vet is back, and he should be. His Injured Reserve stint should be motivation for at least one more year, and even if the Eagles overhaul their RB corps with, say, a rookie starter in 2018, Sproles is welcome as a utility man.
OLB Nigel Bradham: Interesting call here. Bradham’s been accused of some poor play early in 2017, but the feeling here is that he’s still been a rather steady presence alongside Jordan Hicks. When he’s on, he’s on, too, and he isn’t ever afraid to get scrappy. It gets interesting, though, when you factor in Mychal Kendricks, who already has his own extension from the Chip Kelly era and has, by all accounts, returned to play-making form. I’d say Bradham, right now, is at least worth an offer as a familiar Jim Schwartz vet, but I’m also not sure losing him would be devastating.
DT Beau Allen: Full disclaimer: I’m not as in love with him as some are, even though his personality itself warrants fandom. Maybe I’m foolish for that. Maybe it’s because Jernigan has set the bar so high. To me, it comes down to this: He’s a reserve, a rotational piece, and he should be re-signed if that’s what he’s being paid to be.
RB LeGarrette Blount: Even if he started the year as hot as he’s playing now, I think most fans would agree that Blount’s chances of re-upping in Philly were never the greatest. The writing was all over his late-summer, low-risk addition — he joined the team as, at least on the surface, a rental. And yet, still, if you can bring him back on a cheap extension, something that’s feasible in a poor market for RBs, why in the world wouldn’t you consider it if he keeps it up? The guy’s still awfully nimble in space, and he’s already been responsible for some Marshawn Lynch-esque highlights.
TE Trey Burton: No one’s paying him big bucks on the open market, so lock him up. With Brent Celek probably approaching retirement, Burton makes the utmost sense as the new No. 2. Even if the Eagles pursue a more dangerous backup to Ertz, in fact, he makes sense as the No. 3, a special teamer whose bond with Carson Wentz is undeniable.
CB Patrick Robinson: You have to love what he’s done after essentially being written off as yet another “Band-Aid” in the secondary. Make no mistake: There’s still time for him to falter, and there’s no guarantee, especially considering his track record, that he’ll look the same in 2018. For now, though, appreciate his presence as a supremely underrated piece of this Eagles defense. Come free agency, I find it hard to believe he’ll get any substantive extension if only because of the starters-in-waiting (Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones), but who would be upset with a short-term deal to ensure nickel corner competition?
OLB Najee Goode: He’s been on and off the roster a handful of times already, and I think that’s bound to be the case once again. As steady as he’s been at times, his special teams presence is probably replaceable, and for that reason, there’s no rush to get him locked up.
RB Kenjon Barner: Like Goode, he falls into a similar category. His ceiling has been grazed with some big plays (see: 76-yard punt return against the Cardinals), and he’s actually a really smooth ball carrier. But even though the RB depth chart should be wide open in 2018, there’s not necessarily a pressing need for the Eagles to re-sign him. Get back to me in the summer.
FS/SS Corey Graham: Like Robinson, he’s been serviceable, for the most part. Unless he’s getting another one-year deal to compete as a backup, though, I don’t think anyone’s rushing to get something done.
K Caleb Sturgis: He really rebounded from his rough 2015 start, but as we’ve seen plenty of times in recent Eagles history, injuries can do you in if you’re a kicker. (Remember Cody Parkey?) And right now, if Jake Elliott keeps it up, there’s not much reason to fall back on Sturgis.
Week One: Eagles 30, Redskins 17: Year Two of the Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson regime started with the Birds ending a five-game losing streak to the Redskins at FedEx Field, where Jim Schwartz’s front-four rotation led the way. Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan combined for four sacks and two forced fumbles, the second of which was returned 20 yards for a touchdown by Cox, sealing a two-score, fourth-quarter lead. After fellow cornerback Ronald Darby was carted off with an injury, Jalen Mills also aided an Eagles “D” that gave up just 64 rushing yards and three third-down conversions, intercepting Kirk Cousins on a red-zone pass when the ‘Skins trailed by two. With uneven protection and a non-existent running game, Wentz (26-39, 307 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INTs) was the victim of a Ryan Kerrigan pick six but channeled his inner Donovan McNabb on an opening-drive scramble and 58-yard TD heave to Nelson Agholor, then extended plays with tight end Zach Ertz (8 receptions, 93 yards) to set up three Caleb Sturgis field goals and a Gatorade bath for Pederson.
Week Two: Chiefs 27, Eagles 20: Late-game grit and a stout start for Jim Schwartz’s defense weren’t enough for Doug Pederson to best ex-Eagles coach Andy Reid at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs used a 53-yard touchdown run from rookie Kareem Hunt, back-to-back fourth-quarter scores and six sacks of an overburdened Carson Wentz to decide a close one. Big stands from a banged-up Eagles secondary offset a rare Darren Sproles fumble on a punt return inside Birds territory, holding Kansas City to a 6-3 halftime lead, but heavy pressure on the Eagles QB led to a tipped interception and more red-zone chances for Reid’s unit. Still, Wentz (25-46, 333 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) started efficiently (7-of-9), spread 19 first-down throws to Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Zach Ertz and scrambled his way to a team-high 55 rushing yards on another dismal day for the backfield. Down two scores with :14 left, his 9-yard TD pass to Nelson Agholor preceded a perfect onside kick from fill-in Jake Elliott, who made up for an earlier 30-yard field goal miss and set up a game-ending Hail Mary try.
Week Three: Eagles 27, Giants 24: They were without four injured starters on defense, gave up 366 passing yards to Eli Manning and lost a 14-0 lead after 21 unanswered Giants points, but Doug Pederson found — and stuck with — a rushing attack, not to mention a clutch kicker, as the Eagles sent New York to 0-3. LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement battered their way to a combined 160 yards on the ground, the former putting Philadelphia up 7-0 in the first. Clement tied the contest at 21 on a 15-yard fourth-quarter run after back-to-back-to-back TDs from the Giants — two acrobatic grabs by Odell Beckham Jr. and a 77-yarder by Sterling Shepard. But rookie kicker Jake Elliott, in his second game replacing an ailing Caleb Sturgis, was the real Eagles hero, booting a team-record 61-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. Carson Wentz (21-31, 176 yards, 1 TD) again found tight end Zach Ertz for a score, while the Eagles “D” had a goal-line stand and stout play from young cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas, the latter of whom had a pick along with Patrick Robinson.
Week Four: Eagles 26, Chargers 24: With Eagles fans turning Los Angeles’ StubHub Center into an unofficial home game, Doug Pederson kept the pedal to the metal, pushing Philadelphia atop the NFC East with a run-first approach sans an injured Darren Sproles. LeGarrette Blount (16 carries, 136 yards) led the way with a 68-yard Marshawn Lynch-esque gallop on a fourth-quarter drive that prefaced a diving Wendell Smallwood (79 total yards) touchdown and helped the Eagles dominate time of possession. Corey Clement also got five third-down carries for an offense that didn’t turn the ball over and set up four field goals, including a 53-yarder, from Jake Elliott. The Chargers kept it close as Philip Rivers (347 yards) extended drives with Keenan Allen, found Tyrell Williams for a 75-yard score and pulled L.A. within two with 6:48 to go shortly after a 35-yard TD run by an untouched Austin Ekeler. But the Eagles defense set the tone with an opening-series takeaway, a Chris Long strip sack, and helped establish an early 7-0 lead on a throw from Carson Wentz (17-31, 242 yards, 1 TD) to Alshon Jeffery.
Week Five: Eagles 34, Cardinals 7: A career day for Carson Wentz (21-30, 304 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT) and a suffocating start for Jim Schwartz’s defense all but put the Cardinals away after one quarter, when the Eagles led 21-0 after consecutive Doug Pederson-scripted marches down the field. A 15-yard lob from Wentz to tight end Trey Burton started the scoring, and a 76-yard punt return from recently reacquired Kenjon Barner (133 total yards) preceded TD passes to Zach Ertz and Torrey Smith, the latter of whom went 59 yards. Arizona’s Carson Palmer found John Brown for a second-quarter TD, but otherwise, the contest was all Eagles — the D-line got in Palmer’s face, the Cards got just 31 rushing yards and Philly’s Patrick Robinson broke up pass after pass, also blocking a field goal try. Barner and LeGarrette Blount also found lanes vs. a typically feisty Arizona “D,” and receiver Nelson Agholor’s 72-yard third-quarter bomb, with a juke and backward fall into the end zone a la DeSean Jackson, was the icing on the cake. Safety Rodney McLeod forced a fumble to stop a potential last-minute Cards TD.