NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- We'll know in a few hours if the Philadelphia Eagles decide to place the franchise tag on wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The deadline for tagging players is 4 p.m.

It says here that tagging Maclin would be a mistake inspired by previous mistakes -- hardly a good way to go about the business of running an NFL team. The Eagles have used the franchise tag a few times in the recent past. It has ended disastrously (Jeremiah Trotter, Corey Simon) or been a step toward working out a long-term contract (Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson -- neither of whom were around for the end of those contracts).

[+] EnlargeJeremy Maclin
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinAfter committing significant money and draft picks to the wide receiver corps last year, the Eagles would be hard-pressed to use the franchise tag on Jeremy Maclin.
But here’s where mistakes come in to play. If you make the argument that the Eagles need to tag Maclin just to keep him off the free-agent market while a new contract can be worked out, then you have to acknowledge that there already has been plenty of time to negotiate. If a deal is not done by now, that’s a failure by both sides -- the Eagles and Maclin’s camp -- to work out a fair contract.

If you make the argument that the Eagles can’t afford to risk losing Maclin, then you have to acknowledge that it was the Eagles, not Maclin, who created that situation. It was the Eagles who released Jackson a year ago, forcing Maclin into the No. 1 receiver role on a one-year contract. It was the Eagles who signed Riley Cooper to a five-year, $22.5 million contract, committing above-market resources to a below-market player.

And it was the Eagles who drafted Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff in the second and third rounds of last year’s draft. Matthews, who caught 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, was a solid pick. For now, coach Chip Kelly seems to prefer using him as a slot receiver. That leaves Cooper penciled in as the other outside receiver opposite Maclin.

In the third round, Huff was probably a bit of a reach. Huff caught eight passes for 98 yards. The next two wide receivers taken in the third round: Indianapolis’ Donte Moncrief caught 32 passes for 444 yards and Arizona’s John Brown caught 48 passes for 696 yards. They both produced more as rookies for teams that finished with better records than the Eagles and went to the playoffs.

Yes, Huff also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. But the point is, if the Eagles’ wide receiving corps is limited after they devoted $22.5 million and two high draft picks on the position, that is the Eagles’ fault.

They can’t fix that situation by locking up Maclin for a nearly $13 million salary-cap hit for just one season.

To get things turned around, the Eagles need to start making good long-term decisions at wide receiver. That means working out a fair deal that compensates Maclin while maintaining cap flexibility for this year and beyond. The franchise tag can be a tool in that process, but it is not the best one. The Eagles’ misadventures with the franchise tag should have taught them that much.
PHILADELPHIA -- It’s that time of the year when the Philadelphia Eagles are getting their salary cap in order by releasing a few veterans and have a chance to scoop up some bargains as other teams do the same.

First, a quick assessment. The Eagles’ decision to release veteran guard Todd Herremans was cap-related, in that the team can use the $2.8 million in salary-cap space on another player. But the move was not forced by the salary cap. The Eagles were not forced to cut Herremans or tight end James Casey because they were over the cap or pressed against it.

According to ESPN’s Roster Management System, the Eagles currently have $26.4 million in salary cap space. That’s the 12th largest chunk of cap space in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeTodd Herremans
Al Bello/Getty ImagesTodd Herremans struggled to stay on the field, missing 16 games in the last three seasons.
So the Eagles are not under any pressure to make a move regarding running back LeSean McCoy, whose $11.95 million cap value is the biggest number on the team. They may decide to restructure McCoy’s contract, paying him some portion of that money in a bonus rather than in salary. That would allow them to spread the payment out over several years. But there is nothing forcing the Eagles to reduce McCoy’s cap hit.

Likewise, the Eagles may restructure the contract of outside linebacker Trent Cole, whose salary-cap charge is $11.6 million. They don’t have to do so, but allotting more money in bonus and less in salary would free up more space for the team to use in free agency.

As for Herremans and Casey, the calculations were different. The team decided that Herremans’ performance, including injuries that have cost him 16 games in the last three seasons, wasn’t commensurate with the $4 million salary and $5.2 million cap hit he represented.

If the Eagles are going to spend that much for a right guard, they could sign a free agent they believe would be better. Or they could go with Allen Barbre or Matt Tobin at a much lower cap hit and allocate Herremans’ cap space at another position.

Same with Casey. When the Eagles signed him two years ago, they hadn’t yet drafted Zach Ertz. When they did draft Ertz, Casey’s role changed. He became a very good special-teams player, but caught only six passes in two seasons. That changed his value in dollars, as well. The Eagles can get that production from Trey Burton at a fraction of the cost.

So don’t be surprised if the Eagles take a shot at signing a player released by another team while trimming their own roster. They aren’t being forced to make cuts by the salary cap, although the salary cap is in mind with everything they’re doing.

Todd Herremans tough to replace

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
PHILADELPHIA -- Three of the Philadelphia Eagles' starting offensive linemen were selected for the Pro Bowl this year. Todd Herremans was not one of them.

In his 10 seasons with the Eagles, Herremans never went to a Pro Bowl. That doesn't seem right, now that the Eagles have decided to part ways with their former fourth-round pick.

But maybe it is fitting. Herremans was never a guy who got a lot of public acclaim. He was just good at his job.

[+] EnlargeTodd Herremans
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Eagles must now replace the productivity and leadership of veteran offensive lineman Todd Herremans, who was released on Thursday.
When Herremans tore his left biceps during the Eagles' game in Arizona in October, he stayed in. The team had a chance to drive down and score the go-ahead touchdown, and Herremans didn't want that opportunity to be lost. He played with one arm, and the Eagles did score that touchdown. Their defense gave up a score that cost them the game, but there wasn't much Herremans could do about that.

The next week, at Houston, Herremans played with a brace on his left arm. It didn't help that much, merely kept his elbow from disclocating due to the torn muscle. But center Jason Kelce was returning to the lineup after surgery to repair a sports hernia. Left guard Evan Mathis was still out with a sprained knee.

So Herremans played. He sprained his ankle during the game and had to leave. He could play with one arm, but one arm and one leg? That was too much to overcome. After that, Herremans decided to have surgery to repair the biceps. He went on injured reserve and missed the rest of the season.

That half in Houston turned out to be Herremans' farewell appearance as an Eagle. He was released Thursday as the Eagles' offseason plan began to take shape. Herremans and veteran tight end James Casey were both released this week.

The Eagles could look to replace Herremans with one of the players already on their roster. Allen Barbre, who went on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain in September, can play guard. The Eagles have been developing Matt Tobin, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Tobin started two games in place of Herremans, but was also dealing with an ankle injury.

Andrew Gardner started the last five games of the season at right guard. He'll get a chance to compete for the job.

But coach Chip Kelly may want to add another potential guard in free agency or the draft. Some very good guards are expected to hit the free-agent market -- Denver's Orlando Franklin, San Francisco's Mike Iupati, Cincinnati's Clint Boling among them -- but the Eagles already have big money tied up in the other four offensive line spots.

That would make the draft a more likely avenue for finding a potential starting guard. Oregon's Jake Fisher can play guard or tackle, which would make him a valuable addition on the second day of the draft. South Carolina's A.J. Cann, Florida's Tre Jackson and Duke's Laken Tomlinson are also highly rated guards.

Somebody will line up in Herremans' right guard spot. It won't be so easy to take his place in the locker room.
PHILADELPHIA – Unless the NFL suddenly decides to hold its 2015 draft next Tuesday (which is pretty unlikely), we’re going to have to live through a couple more months of speculation about Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota.

That is discouraging, but let’s look at the first major mock drafts (that is, mock drafts by relatively heavy hitters in the business, not your cousin Chuck) that project trades to reunite Oregon compadres Kelly and Mariota.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Images/Ross D. FranklinWhat kind of a trade would it take to reunite these two?
Pat Kirwan of was first. Earlier this week, Kirwan posted a mock draft that has the Eagles trading for the Oakland Raiders’ No. 4 pick. In Kirwan’s projection, the Eagles send the 20th pick in this draft, their first-round pick in 2016 and running back LeSean McCoy to the Raiders for the fourth pick this year.

Kirwan has Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston going No. 1 overall to Tampa Bay. Tennessee, which is at No. 2 and could draft a quarterback, then takes USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams. Jacksonville, which has Blake Bortles at quarterback, selects Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory at No. 3. That makes a deal for the fourth pick good enough to bring Mariota to Philadelphia.

On Wednesday, Peter King of posted his first mock draft. King went only as far as the 15th pick in the first round, but that was far enough to project an Eagles trade with Washington. Considering the history – the trade of Donovan McNabb to Washington in 2010, plus the swap of Sonny Jurgensen and Norm Snead in 1964 – there’s a certain elegance in having those two franchises make a quarterback-centered trade.

In King’s mock, Winston goes first overall to Tampa Bay. He has Tennessee taking Dante Fowler, an outside linebacker from Florida. Jacksonville then takes Williams, the defensive tackle from USC. Oakland, in need of weapons around quarterback Derek Carr, selects West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White.

That brings up Washington’s spot. King’s deal: The Eagles send their first- and second-round picks this year, plus their first- and fourth-round picks in 2016, to Washington for the No. 5 pick. They select Mariota.

Now it must be made clear that neither Kirwan nor King presents his idea as a deal being discussed by the teams. They are simply taking the assumption that Kelly would like to coach Mariota again and figuring out ways to make that possible.

Do the deals make sense? Sort of. The inclusion of McCoy is interesting but hard to figure. The trend has been toward devaluing running backs in the draft. McCoy will be 27 in July and has carried the ball almost 1,500 times (plus 300 receptions) for almost 7,000 yards in his six seasons. He is still a very good player, but a drop-off in the near future seems inevitable.

McCoy plus two first-round picks seems a little light to move all the way from 20 to 4. Maybe if the Eagles added a pick, that deal would be more likely. On the other hand, the exact terms of the deal aren’t really the main point. Kirwan is mainly suggesting that the Raiders would be a possible trading partner for the Eagles.

Same with King. His proposed deal seems more practical. Washington would be dropping from No. 5 to No. 20. In exchange, they get another first-round pick, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick. That’s four players for one.

Considering Washington has a new general manager, Scot McCloughan, and is just a few years removed from the asset-depleting deal to get Robert Griffin III, such a trade might be appealing. On the other hand, getting back less than the bounty paid to move up from No. 6 to No. 2 might be a problem. Washington gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick in that 2012 deal.

The only certainty is that there will be plenty more speculation between now and the draft. Might as well enjoy it.
PHILADELPHIA -- The sense you got from the Seattle Seahawks' public comments is that they expect to lose cornerback Byron Maxwell in free agency.

That could make Philadelphia a likely landing spot. That's what Tony Pauline of reported from Indianapolis. Pauline reported Friday he heard the Eagles were front-runners for Maxwell, who starts opposite Richard Sherman. On Monday, Pauline wrote to reinforce his original report.

"Since my posting Friday on the belief the Philadelphia Eagles are the front-runners for Byron Maxwell, additional sources have told me they agree with the assessment and feel Maxwell ends up with the team," Pauline wrote.

Reports that Maxwell is looking for about $10 million per year should not scare the Eagles off. They should have over $20 million in salary-cap space. Right now, they have cornerback Cary Williams on the books at $6.5 million, with a cap number of $8.1 million.

The Eagles could add Maxwell at a similar salary-cap number to Williams' number. If they cut ties with Williams, which might be their plan anyway, that would almost offset Maxwell. In effect, the Eagles would be trading Williams for Maxwell as far as their salary cap goes.

Or the Eagles could simply retain Williams. He was solid for the most part last season. He would likely look better with a more stable cornerback than Bradley Fletcher on the opposite side.

Maxwell has benefited from playing opposite Sherman and alongside safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Then again, that made Maxwell more likely to be targeted by teams that were actively avoiding Sherman's side of the field. In Philadelphia, Maxwell would be the cornerback that teams would hesitate to challenge.

Seattle's salary cap will have to accommodate Sherman ($12.2 million), Thomas ($7.4 million) and Chancellor ($5.65 million) next season. Maxwell, who made just $673,000 in 2014, just turned 27. He will be looking for his first really big payday in the NFL.

That's why a player who has been in the last two Super Bowls would consider leaving his current team. Some veterans find themselves chasing a ring at the end of their careers. Maxwell has already checked that box. He has every right to look to get paid at this point.

With the Eagles, he would have a chance to do both. The Eagles have won 10 games in each of the past two seasons despite one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. Creating a solid secondary would put Philadelphia right into the conversation with other contending teams.

PHILADELPHIA -- Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston went into the NFL scouting combine as the consensus top quarterback prospects in this year’s draft.

After several days of being measured, weighed, interviewed, timed and put through their paces, nothing has changed. Mariota and Winston still look exactly the same as they did based on their college careers.

“[Mariota] and Jameis are the best in this class,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told NFL Network Saturday, “and they will be franchise guys for a particular team in this league."

Mariota and Winston worked out together to prepare for the combine. By Saturday, they had developed a kind of rapport with each other. Mariota was the quieter of the two, while Winston had the ready smile and rapid wit. At one point, Winston laughingly told the NFL Network panel not to show the camera shot that superimposes their 40-yard dashes on the same screen.

Winston ran a 4.97 in the 40. Mariota ran it in 4.52 seconds, best among all the quarterbacks in Indianapolis. When they did show the superimposed images, Mariota was five yards ahead of Winston by the end of the 40 yards.

Both quarterbacks threw the ball very well. Mariota was especially impressive in showing he is comfortable making five- and seven-step drops, something he seldom had to do in Oregon’s spread offense.

“I think I did all right,” Mariota said on NFL Network. “I missed a couple throws. I’m a professional. I always want to try to complete every ball. It’s something I’ve been able to work on for the past month.”

Mariota said he was able to chat with Eagles coach Chip Kelly, for whom he played at Oregon. But he did not have a formal interview with Kelly. Given a limited amount of such meetings, Kelly likely wanted to use his on players he didn’t already know so well.

“I did not have the opportunity to sit down in a formal meeting with them,” Mariota said. “But I was able to see him and the rest of the coaching staff. It was good to see him. I haven’t seen him in a while. He’s the same old guy. He’s cracking jokes and being witty with me. I had fun. Through this entire process, I can talk to him whenever I need to. He’s one of those guys I can look up to and be a mentor for me.”

Asked if Kelly said anything about trading up to get Mariota in the draft, Mariota replied, “He did not.”

PHILADELPHIA – Jameis Winston met the media Friday in Indianapolis. While he did himself a huge favor by projecting confidence and addressing issues, Winston also helped the Eagles and any other teams that might be interested in Marcus Mariota.

Consider the opposite outcome. If Winston had appeared nervous or as if he had a great deal to hide, that would have presented the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a problem. Coach Lovie Smith made clear earlier in the week that he has a good feeling about Winston. If Winston had bombed his nationally televised (on the NFL Network) press briefing, it would have cast Smith’s judgment into doubt while nudging the Bucs toward Mariota.

If you’re the Eagles or another team with Mariota in your sights, you need Winston to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. That is the first step in making any kind of trade possible.

Winston shrugged off the competition with Mariota to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. He said he wants to compete with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to be the best quarterback in the NFL. It had to sound pretty good to Smith and the Buccaneers when Winston said his goal was to win the Super Bowl next year.

For teams trying to get a handle on Winston, his performance at the news conference was telling. He was under a certain amount of pressure to handle that stressful situation well, and he did. If a person can handle that kind of pressure, that’s a sign he can handle pressure on the field, in the huddle or in the locker room.

Winston also handled questions about his shoulder, which was found to be a bit weak when it was examined by an MRI this week. Winston said it was the same shoulder he’s had the last two years on the football field. He also mentioned that his career as a baseball pitcher might have been the reason for the shoulder weakness. That career is over, and Winston said he was looking forward to focusing on football.

Mariota did just fine in media session Thursday afternoon, but he wasn’t as engaging as Winston. Then again, he didn’t need to be. Mariota doesn’t have the “past” that Winston admitted to having. He doesn’t have the questions about his shoulder or his character.

Winston had to face those questions. He did. And he helped himself as much as he helped any team with designs on trading up for Mariota.
PHILADELPHIA -- Former Washington coach Mike Shanahan made some interesting revelations in a radio interview with ESPN 980 in Washington.

Shanahan said he wanted to sign Peyton Manning after he was released by the Indianapolis Colts. The problem was that Manning was reluctant to play in the same division as his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

“That was a strong consideration,” Shanahan said on the air, according to “At the end of the day, I felt that, with Eli being with the Giants, he wasn’t coming our direction.”

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergEx-Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said the front office knew he "did not feel good" about the Robert Griffin III deal.
The revelation was interesting because it helped explain why Shanahan may not have been overly enthusiastic with the decision to trade up and draft Robert Griffin III with the second pick in the 2012 draft.

And that is interesting for Eagles fans because of this year’s debate over whether the Eagles should make a blockbuster trade in order to obtain Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. One argument against such a deal is the history of similar trades. The Griffin deal is held up as the prime example. Washington gave up their first-round picks in 2013 and 2014 and their 2013 second-round pick to move up from the No. 6 pick to No. 2.

“I did not feel good about giving up two No. 1s and a No. 2, and they all knew I felt that way,” Shanahan said during the radio appearance. “I said, ‘Hey, yeah, I would take the chance. But I want you to know that he’s really going to have to commit to what we’re doing.'”

Hit the pause button for a moment here and break down what Shanahan said. “They all knew” that he “did not feel good” about the trade -- “they” presumably being everyone else in the Washington front office. Then Shanahan shifts the risk of the trade from himself and the team on to Griffin: “I want you to know that he’s really going to have to commit to what we’re doing.”

That attitude sheds a lot of light on what went wrong in the nation’s capital. It always seemed that Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, almost resented Griffin. They were always quick to criticize their franchise quarterback.

While Griffin may have done things that warranted criticism, think back to Andy Reid’s approach with the quarterback he took No. 2 overall in the 1999 draft. If Reid had personal friction with Donovan McNabb, it never surfaced in public. Right up until Reid traded McNabb (to Shanahan, ironically), he was always steadfast in his public support of the quarterback.

That is part of developing and getting the most out of a quarterback. Shanahan’s revelation that he was not on board with the Griffin deal explains why that support was not forthcoming. It probably helps explain why, along with injuries, Griffin has faltered over the past two years. Jay Gruden, who replaced Shanahan as head coach, hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to offer public support of Griffin, either.

If the Eagles were to get Mariota, he would be coming to a team run by his former college coach, Chip Kelly. So far, Kelly’s public treatment of his quarterbacks -- from Michael Vick to Nick Foles to Mark Sanchez -- has been nothing but supportive. Kelly would create a comfortable, supportive environment for Mariota to operate in.

Bottom line: The risk inherent in a big trade can be offset somewhat by taking a mature, comprehensive approach to nurturing the player involved. Mortgaging a chunk of your future and then resenting the player for what he cost you? That seems like a recipe for failure.

The Eagles may not have a chance to trade up for Mariota, but if they do, it’s a safe bet they won’t undermine him every chance they get.
PHILADELPHIA -- There are some who think it’s a waste of time to speculate about how the Philadelphia Eagles could go about acquiring Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. The truth is, all speculation would stop immediately if Tampa Bay or Tennessee would declare their intention to draft the Oregon quarterback.

But that’s not happening, at least not this early. Tampa Bay’s silence has fostered assumptions that the Buccaneers are leaning toward Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

As for the Titans, they are not playing coy at all. As NFL Nation colleague Paul Kuharsky writes, Titans general manager Ruston Webster is not interested in playing games with his plans for the No. 2 pick. Webster has recently cast a strong vote of confidence for Tennessee quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

There's also some other players involved, too," Webster told the Nashville Tennessean. "There's going to be good defensive players, good receivers, and where do those other guys fit in? Really, the (second pick) is not all about the quarterbacks. A lot of other positions are involved, too."

After the Titans, the next three teams in the draft appear to be set at quarterback. Jacksonville is building around Blake Bortles. Oakland saw very good signs from Derek Carr. Washington is still paying off the mortgage it took out to acquire Robert Griffin III. That brings you to the New York Jets at No. 6.

Are the Jets ready to move on from Geno Smith? With a new general manager and coaching staff, there is no one left with any investment in Smith.

A team hoping to land Mariota might be able to get him by doing a deal with the Jets for the sixth pick. But that team could be a lot more certain of its chances by making a trade with Tennessee.

Yes, there is a chance that would mean overpaying. Mariota could slide down in the first round, just as Teddy Bridgewater did last year. The Vikings ended up getting Bridgewater with the 32d pick in the 2014 draft.

If that were to happen with Mariota, the Eagles could select him at No. 20 without taking any chances on a trade. But that smacks of wishful thinking. Instead of trying to guess the lowest possible spot that Mariota might be available, the Eagles would do well to get as close to the top of the draft as they can and eliminate the uncertainty.

The signals coming from Tennessee suggest that the No. 2 pick could be had for the right price. For the Eagles, it’s a matter of deciding just what that price is.
PHILADELPHIA -- There has been no shortage of speculation about how the Philadelphia Eagles could move up in the NFL draft for a shot at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The logic is obvious. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to run his up-tempo offense at Oregon. Mariota has thrived doing just that, even though Kelly left for Philadelphia two years ago. Now that Mariota is coming to the NFL, Kelly has a team that could really use a difference-making talent at quarterback.

So it’s reasonable to assume Kelly would love to draft the player he calls the most talented he ever coached at the college level. But it’s also reasonable to wonder why any other team would give up the chance to draft Mariota in order to fulfill Kelly’s wish.

Enter the New York Jets. In Tuesday’s New York Daily News, columnist Manish Mehta makes the case for the Jets to cut a deal with the Eagles. If Mariota is still available with the Jets’ No. 6 overall pick -- and several mock drafts suggest he could be -- then New York could add a windfall of draft picks in a trade.

What’s the windfall? Mehta proposes the Eagles swap their first- and second-round picks in the 2015 and 2016 drafts, plus quarterback Nick Foles. That is not out of line with what Washington traded to move up from No. 6 to No. 2 in the 2012 draft to get Robert Griffin III. The Eagles would be looking to move from No. 20 to No. 6.

You could make the case that including Foles should lower the cost in draft choices, maybe take that 2016 second-round pick off the table. That is all negotiable, of course.

But what exactly are we talking about here? It’s tricky to find a comparable situation. If you look at the Eagles’ haul from the past two drafts, for example, you’re assuming they would have a bad enough record to select fourth overall, as they did in 2013. Add Mariota to Kelly’s offense and there is every reason to expect the Eagles’ picks to be in the 20s.

But if you go back a couple drafts, you get to 2011, when the Eagles took Baylor guard Danny Watkins with the 23rd pick. Would the Eagles trade the rights to Watkins for Mariota? They would do so in a heartbeat. But using the Eagles’ poor past drafts as a gauge isn’t really helpful, either. Or maybe it is: They did take Marcus Smith with the 26th pick last year.

Would you trade Smith, Jordan Matthews and this year’s 20th and 52nd picks for Mariota? Matthews is a good player, and there will be talent available in this year’s draft as well. But if you can get an elite quarterback, the most important single piece in building a championship-caliber team? You’d have to do it.

How about taking the 2010 and 2011 drafts? Would you trade Brandon Graham, Nate Allen, Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett for Mariota? The guess is you probably would.

The Eagles can certainly do a better job of drafting, starting with 2015, to change those equations a bit. But those are real-life, recent examples of what the cost would be. And really, it is more risky to squander four high picks -- as the Eagles have done many times -- than to put all your chips in the middle of the table for a franchise quarterback.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles turned down a trade that would have brought them Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon at the start of the 2013 NFL season.

The price for Gordon, according to a source familiar with the discussions: quarterback Nick Foles.

A little context helps here. Gordon was facing a two-game suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. Foles had just been named the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback after losing a competition with Michael Vick during the preseason.

The Browns, who had Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden as their top two quarterbacks, wanted Foles as their starter. At that point, former Eagles president Joe Banner was running the Browns. Banner had been with the Eagles in 2012 when they drafted Foles.

The Eagles, in their first year with head coach Chip Kelly, were concerned about Gordon’s impending suspension. They were also high on Foles.

During the 2013 season, both players made strong cases for themselves. Gordon served his suspension. In 14 games, Gordon caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl after the season.

So was Foles. After Vick pulled a hamstring, Foles took over the Eagles’ starting quarterback spot. He completed 203 of 317 passes for 2,891 yards and 27 touchdowns. Foles threw just two interceptions, finishing with a league-high passer rating of 119.2.

Both Gordon and Foles had comedown seasons in 2014.

Foles completed 186 of 311 passes for 2,163 yards and 13 touchdowns. He threw 10 interceptions. In the eighth game of the season, Foles broke his collarbone and did not play again. His passer rating for the season was 81.4.

Gordon was arrested for driving while impaired in July of 2014 and was suspended for the entire season. That suspension was later reduced when the NFL announced a new discipline policy. Gordon wound up playing in five games. He caught 24 passes for 303 yards and no touchdowns.

In January, Gordon tested positive for alcohol, a violation of the conditions for his return to the field. He faces a suspension for the entire 2015 season.

Foles, meanwhile, could be the Eagles’ starting quarterback in 2015. He could also become part of a package if the Eagles decide to trade up in the draft for a quarterback.

Either way, the Eagles have to be very glad they declined the trade offer for Gordon. While Gordon is immensely talented and only 23 years old, his repeat offender status would make him very difficult to trade to another team. It is possible he would have avoided further trouble with a change of scenery in Philadelphia, but that’s pure speculation.

Foles has much more value at this point than Gordon, whether he’s the Eagles’ starting quarterback or a trade chip.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles can use their franchise tag on wide receiver Jeremy Maclin beginning Monday. If the Eagles are reluctant to do so, it would be for good reason.

Their history with franchise tags is not very pleasant.

Twice, the Eagles used the franchise tag on defensive players. The use of the tag led directly to those players becoming ex-Eagles.

In 2003, the Eagles placed the tag on middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. While he was tagged, Trotter continually lobbied to be paid as much as Baltimore Ravens MLB Ray Lewis. At one point, Trotter visited Eagles president Joe Banner in his office, trying to get Banner to acknowledge he was as good as Lewis.

After that, the Eagles rescinded the franchise tag. That accomplished a couple of things. First, it turned Trotter into an unrestricted free agent. Second, it left the Eagles without a middle linebacker. Because they had tagged Trotter, they had whiffed on the free-agency period to sign a possible replacement.

That's how the Eagles wound up with Levon Kirkland and Barry Gardner playing a kind of platoon that left them vulnerable to either the run (when Gardner was on the field) or the pass (when Kirkland was out there). That weakness was exploited by opponents, notably by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game.

Trotter signed with Washington. He suffered a major knee injury and wound up back in Philadelphia by 2004.

Two years after the mistake with Trotter, the Eagles repeated it with defensive tackle Corey Simon. They placed the franchise tag on Simon in 2005. Simon held out of training camp. In August, the Eagles finally blinked. They rescinded the tag and Simon became an unrestricted free agent. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts right before the season started.

Simon played for the Colts in 2005. He injured his knee in 2006 and was placed on the reserved/non-football injury list. The Colts released Simon with a settlement. He signed with the Tennessee Titans, but was out of football by 2007.

The Eagles used the franchise tag on Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson more recently. With Vick, the tag was placed just before the 2011 NFL lockout. Vick and the Eagles worked out a contract after the lockout and Vick never played under the tag.

With Jackson, the tag was also used as a bargaining tool. Jackson and the Eagles worked out his five-year, $51-million dollar deal in March of 2012. Jackson, like Vick, never played under the franchise tag.

Presumably, the Eagles would prefer to work out a long-term deal with Maclin. The franchise tag has caused more harm than good in their history. It has led to the departure of good players, and has not resulted in the team keeping quality players off the market.

The franchise tag for wide receivers will be about $12.8 million this year, depending on the final salary-cap numbers. The Eagles should have the cap room to pay Maclin that much, if necessary, but they would be better off doing a more cap-friendly deal that provides Maclin more security over the long term.

Essentially, the franchise tag should be viewed as an admission of failure in the team's attempts to work out an equitable contract. That's how it has played out for the Eagles in the past.
PHILADELPHIA – The first domino appears to have fallen. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ decision to release quarterback Josh McCown on Wednesday could lead to the Eagles never getting that shot at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The Buccaneers signed McCown to a two-year contract last offseason. He started 11 games for the Bucs, throwing 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. By releasing him now, the Buccaneers seem to be setting themselves up to obtain another starting quarterback.

That could be Mariota. It could be Florida State’s Jameis Winston. It could be the Rams' Sam Bradford. But the Buccaneers hold the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. The bottom line is that if they decide to draft a quarterback, no other team will have a chance to get that player. Even Chip Kelly.

There has been considerable speculation this week that the Cleveland Browns have designs on Mariota. The Browns, who hold the 12th and 19th picks in the first round, are likely hiring Kevin O’Connell as their quarterbacks coach. O’Connell has been working with Mariota as he prepares for the scouting combine and other workouts.

The Bucs could go with the in-state favorite, Winston. But they will have to weigh Winston’s off-the-field issues, which include a rape accusation.

For teams like the Eagles, who might covet Mariota and want to get into position to take him, the best chance is if Tampa Bay decides not to draft one of the quarterbacks. That would open the door to the Buccaneers trading their pick.

That seems much less likely in the wake of McCown's release. The Buccaneers have Mike Glennon on their roster, but will need someone to compete with him, at least. McCown could have done that. Releasing him doesn’t mean the Bucs will definitely draft a quarterback first overall, but it certainly points in that direction.
PHILADELPHIA -- Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's senior draft analyst, posted his second mock draft Insider of the offseason Wednesday and it raises an interesting possible conflict for the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round.

No, it's not Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston. It's cornerback vs. safety.

Kiper does not project possible trades, so there is no scenario where the Eagles trade up for one of the two top-rated quarterbacks. With the Eagles sitting at No. 20 overall, most experts have the Eagles selecting a defensive back.

That assumes the team would draft according to its biggest obvious need. In the past, the Eagles have been philosophically opposed to drafting based on needs. As general manager, Howie Roseman believed that led to the biggest mistakes. When determined to take a certain position, a team may whiff on a superior player at another position.

Two years ago, the Eagles took tight end Zach Ertz in the second round, even though they already had Brent Celek and had just added James Casey in free agency. The Ertz pick has turned out quite well, and it was an example of Roseman's belief that it was best to stick to your grades and your draft board regardless of position.

With Chip Kelly assuming the lead role in personnel decisions this year, it remains to be seen whether the Eagles will stick with that philosophy or change up. Even last year, when the Eagles reached a bit for first-round pick Marcus Smith, it seemed they gave more weight to need than to their draft board.

That brings us to the potential conflict Kiper's mock draft presents for the Eagles. In this version, Kiper has a couple of good defensive backs sitting there when the Eagles' pick rolls around. One is cornerback Marcus Peters, who was kicked off the University of Washington football team during the season. The other is Alabama safety Landon Collins.

The Eagles have holes to fill at both spots. With Nate Allen due to become a free agent, the Eagles could certainly look to fill the void they've had at safety ever since Brian Dawkins left for Denver. The 6-foot, 212-pound Collins is considered versatile enough to play close to the line of scrimmage or deep in the middle, a versatility that the Eagles prize.

But as much as the Eagles have struggled to find two competent safeties at the same time, they had a much bigger problem at cornerback in 2014. Bradley Fletcher's contract expires in March. Cary Williams has one more year left on his deal, but his large salary cap hit ($8.1 million) makes him a possible casualty. In short, the Eagles will definitely need one, and possibly two, starting cornerbacks.

That makes the 5-foot-11, 193-pound Peters very attractive. He may be the most talented corner in this draft, but teams may have doubts about him because of his dismissal from the team. A junior, Peters was suspended after throwing a sideline tantrum during a game earlier in the season. His dismissal reportedly came after he physically assaulted an assistant coach.

If Kelly doesn't want to risk Peters' impact on the Eagles' culture, Florida cornerback Jalen Collins (6-foot, 193 pounds) could be another option at No. 20.

Nick Foles at crossroads with Eagles

February, 11, 2015
Feb 11
PHILADELPHIA -- Timing isn’t everything. It is important, however. Just ask Nick Foles.

If Foles had his 2013 numbers in 2014, the Philadelphia Eagles would have been filling suitcases with cash in order to persuade their franchise quarterback to agree to a new contract. At this time last year, with Foles coming off his breakout season and winning Pro Bowl MVP honors, the Eagles were prohibited from extending Foles’ contract under NFL rules.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsThe Eagles have a decision looming with Nick Foles. Their options include signing him to an extension, letting him play out his rookie deal, and trading him.
The league’s collective bargaining agreement doesn’t allow teams to negotiate new deals until after the third year of a player’s rookie contract. Foles is eligible now, but his 2014 season raised more questions about his long-term outlook as the Eagles’ quarterback.

Former NFL quarterback-turned-analyst Joe Theismann said on ESPN Radio in Philadelphia that the Eagles should extend Foles' contract anyway. The Eagles don’t have anyone else, Theismann told 97.5 The Fanatic on Tuesday. "Pay the man," Theismann said.

That’s easier said than done. Look at the situation in Miami for context.

The Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 pick in the first round of the 2012 draft. Tannehill has one year left on his original contract. He is eligible, under the collective bargaining agreement, for a new deal. Tannehill is due to make $660,000 in salary in 2015, well below market value for a starting quarterback.

But Tannehill also received a $7.6 million signing bonus when he agreed to his contract. As a third-round pick in 2012, Foles received a $543,000 signing bonus. His salaries for his first three seasons were $390,000, $500,000 and $615,000. In 2015, the final year of Foles’ deal, his salary jumps to $1.5 million.

So after three seasons, Tannehill is about $7 million ahead of Foles in career earnings. Foles could make up almost $1 million of that if the two quarterbacks played out their 2015 seasons on their original contracts.

Meanwhile, Tannehill has started all 48 games of his career in Miami. His record in those games is 23-25. Tannehill has completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 11,252 yards and 63 touchdowns. He has thrown 42 interceptions.

Foles was behind Michael Vick on the depth chart at the start of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He eventually started six games his rookie year and 10 games in 2013. Foles started eight games in 2014 before breaking his collarbone. In 24 starts, Foles’ record is 15-9. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 6,753 yards and 46 touchdowns. Foles has thrown 17 interceptions.

Foles has started half as many games as Tannehill. Project his numbers over 48 starts and Foles would have 13,506 passing yards (to Tannehill’s 11,252), 92 touchdowns (63) and 34 interceptions (42 for Tannehill).

Of course, if you extrapolated Foles’ 2013 numbers, he would be bound for Canton. Extrapolate his 2012 and 2014 numbers and he’d be bound for Cleveland.

That’s where the risk comes in. The Dolphins have more information on Tannehill than the Eagles do on Foles. Part of that is because Tannehill has not gotten hurt. Foles has missed time due to injury in each of his three seasons. That’s a legitimate concern when you’re paying a quarterback about 20 percent of your salary cap.

The other quarterbacks from the 2012 draft class present easier decisions for their teams. The Indianapolis Colts can be pretty certain that Andrew Luck is their franchise quarterback. Same with the Seattle Seahawks, who landed Russell Wilson in the third round. Washington, meanwhile, is very unlikely to extend its commitment to Robert Griffin III or Kirk Cousins at this point.

In a sense, the Eagles are at a crossroads. They could go all-in on Foles, extending his contract (which could mean $100 million or more) and completely devoting their draft and free-agent spending to build up the team around him. Or they could go all out to acquire Marcus Mariota or another quarterback in this draft and move Foles in a trade.

The third option, to let Foles play out his contract and see what happens, would be the equivalent of idling at that crossroads and waiting for a sign from above on which direction to go. That seems safe enough, but it’s not a road likely to lead to a championship.