NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles officially released Trent Cole, who has more sacks as an Eagle than any player except Reggie White.

Cole
Cole, 32, will become an unrestricted free agent immediately. He will draw attention from teams looking for an edge pass rusher. Cole has played outside linebacker for the past two seasons but could return to his more familiar role as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.

Cole's release will save the Eagles $8.4 million on their 2015 salary cap. With the other moves they have made in recent days, the team has increased its cap space to just under $50 million.

A fifth-round draft choice in 2005, Cole started 114 games at defensive end over his first eight seasons. He was selected to the Pro Bowl twice, after the 2007 and 2009 seasons.

When Chip Kelly became head coach in 2013, the Eagles switched to a 3-4 defense. Cole moved to outside linebacker. He had eight sacks in 2013 and 6.5 more in 2014.

"We spoke with Trent and his agent and expressed a desire to have him back," Kelly said in a prepared statement. "We have been talking for a couple of weeks. However, at this point, we think it's best to let him explore other options around the NFL."

Cole's 85.5 sacks are second to White'2 124 sacks on the Eagles' all-time list.
PHILADELPHIA – It won’t be easy to replace LeSean McCoy with the Philadelphia Eagles, but we’re guessing someone will be lined up at running when the 2015 season begins.

The Eagles don’t have a lot of options on their roster. Darren Sproles made quite an impact in 2014, but the former Saints star's workload actually diminished as the season went on. Sproles can be effective in the screen game, as an occasional runner and on special teams, but he’s not going to take over McCoy’s 20-plus carries per game.

Polk
Chris Polk, 25, was the backup to McCoy in 2014. Polk finished the season with 46 carries for 172 yards and four touchdowns. He became the Eagles’ primary runner in the red zone, which explains the relatively high number of touchdowns compared to his carries and his yardage.

But Polk also missed a couple of games and was limited in others because of a hamstring injury. That’s part of the job description when you’re a featured running back in the NFL. You have to be able to absorb punishment and still be ready to play every week. McCoy could do that. Polk hasn’t shown that yet.

The Eagles are almost certain to add a running back in either free agency or the draft. The guess here is that the draft is the most likely route, because overpaying another older back doesn’t seem like the logical move after trading McCoy.

Here are three possibilities in the draft, and three in free agency, that the Eagles may pursue.

Draft:

Todd Gurley, Georgia. Gurley might have been the No. 1 back in the draft if he hadn’t torn his ACL. That injury might make him available to the Eagles. Gurley is the kind of downhill runner the Eagles might be looking for to fill McCoy's shoes.

T.J. Yeldon, Alabama. At 6-foot-1-1/4, Yeldon is a big back who hits the hole quickly and goes. Yeldon didn’t catch the ball a lot at Alabama, but he has shown the proper skills.

Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska. Abdullah is not the biggest back at 5-9, 205 pounds. But he will look taller standing next to Sproles and has excellent speed.

Free agency:

Mark Ingram, Saints. Sproles’ former teammate is 25 years old and is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. Ingram carried the ball 226 times for 964 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014.

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo. Spiller, 27, is a productive back once he gets into space. He couldn’t do that very well in Buffalo. He would benefit from playing in Kelly’s offense and behind the Eagles’ line.

Justin Forsett, Baltimore. Probably a long shot because he will be looking for a serious contract. Forsett is 29, but doesn’t have that many miles on him. In his first season as the lead back, Forsett ran the ball 235 times for 1,266 yards, a 5.4-yard average.
PHILADELPHIA – He was the leading rusher in Philadelphia Eagles history. He was abruptly traded away for a linebacker.

He was Wilbert Montgomery.

Thirty years before the Eagles sent LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso, the team traded Montgomery to the Detroit Lions for linebacker Garry Cobb. Montgomery played in a total of seven games for the Lions. Cobb lasted three years with the Eagles.

That 1985 trade marked the sad end in Philadelphia for the player most responsible for the Eagles getting to Super Bowl XV after the 1980 season. The sad part for McCoy is that, for six seasons, he desperately wanted to be that kind of back in Philadelphia. He never really got the chance, and now he never will.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY SportsLeSean McCoy leaves Philadelphia as the Eagles' all-time rushing leader.
When McCoy came to Philadelphia as a second-round pick in 2009, the Eagles had just played in the NFC Championship Game. They lost to Arizona, but there was a sense that they were a team that would be in the mix for a Super Bowl – at least for the next couple years. The Eagles had played in the Super Bowl four years earlier and Donovan McNabb was still their quarterback.

But the Eagles never got close to another Super Bowl during McCoy’s six seasons. They never even won a playoff game. McNabb was traded away. Michael Vick became the quarterback for a few years. McCoy won personal acclaim, but he didn’t get to experience postseason success.

During Andy Reid’s tenure as Eagles head coach, there were some very good running backs. Duce Staley helped get the program going in the right direction. Brian Westbrook played in the Super Bowl. McCoy might have been the most talented all-around back of the Reid era, but that wasn’t going to change the pass-happy Reid.

When Chip Kelly replaced Reid in 2013, McCoy was finally placed in an offense that would emphasize the run. He carried the ball a career-high 314 times in Kelly’s first season. He led the NFL in rushing with 1,607 yards. Best of all, he clinched the rushing title in a victory in Dallas that also clinched the NFC East title for the Eagles. They were going to the playoffs, and McCoy carried them there.

But then it was over. The New Orleans Saints came to Lincoln Financial Field and put an end to the Eagles’ season, 26-24. After the game, McCoy was inconsolable in the Eagles’ locker room.

“They killed us slowly,” McCoy said, referring to the Saints’ final drive. “It was a terrible feeling. I don't know if it's a learning experience. I have been here before. You can only pick up so much from this. We just have to get better.

“I thought we were hot. Obviously, we weren't."

McCoy came back for 2014 determined to make it a better season. But injuries along the offensive line derailed the Eagles’ running game. Still, they were 9-3 with control of the NFC race. Three consecutive losses knocked them out of the playoff picture.

“That’s how fast it happens,” McCoy said after the decisive loss at Washington.” I mean, just a couple weeks ago I was planning on the playoffs and who we were going to be playing and those types of things.”

During the season, McCoy passed Montgomery to become the Eagles’ all-time leading rusher. He finished with 6,970 yards in 90 career games with the Eagles.

McCoy had a great career in Philadelphia. But when it came to carrying his team to playoff success, he never was able to catch up to Montgomery.
video
PHILADELPHIA – It is already clear how Chip Kelly plans to wield his power as decision-maker in all Philadelphia Eagles football decisions: ruthlessly. In five days, Kelly traded away the franchise rushing leader and released the two longest-tenured players in the Eagles’ locker room.

A year ago, Kelly jettisoned wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The coach was able to sell that move as one necessary for the culture he’s trying to build in Philadelphia. Jackson did not buy in 100 percent, so he was expendable.

But that is going to be a pretty hard sell this year. LeSean McCoy is a player Kelly practically gushed about during the last two years. Meanwhile, he was carrying the ball 626 times in Kelly’s offense. Now he’s been sentenced to Buffalo, not exactly the NFL equivalent of Siberia, but not a place McCoy signed up for when he autographed that five-year contract extension in 2012.

Trent Cole, second in franchise history only to Reggie White in career sacks, cheerfully moved from his natural position, defensive end. Cole became a solid outside linebacker in order to fit into the 3-4 scheme that Kelly preferred. Now he is tweeting about finding another job and trying to win a (presumably Super Bowl) trophy.

Todd Herremans, like Cole a member of the Eagles’ 2005 draft class, tore his biceps during the Eagles’ loss in Arizona in October. The Eagles were trying to drive for the go-ahead touchdown, so Herremans stayed in the game. He even started the next week’s game in Houston because the Eagles were so injury-riddled along the offensive line. Now Herremans is a 32-year-old guard looking to find another team.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Matt RourkeChip Kelly is in charge and is beginning to make some bold moves.
If Jackson was expendable because he didn’t fit into Kelly’s culture, this year’s cast-offs were the culture. They played hard, they played hurt, they played very well. And now they’re gone.

That is the harsh reality of the NFL as a business. Nobody has any illusions here. Players understand the business side, even if they don’t always like it.

But Kelly is the one asking his players to buy in completely to a new way of doing things. He is the one looking to win hearts and minds, not just wallets. Because of that, he has carved himself out quite a complicated task.

In many organizations, the coaches separate themselves from the business aspect. The head coach can call a player into his office and, in classic good-cop/bad-cop style, explain that the bad-cop general manager has salary-cap issues. The coaches love the player, but that darn GM is making them ask the player to take a pay cut or accept a different role.

By winning control of personnel decisions, Kelly effectively assumed the GM role as well as the head coaching role. He is the only cop, so he can’t convincingly play the good-cop role.

There are no illusions about who decided to trade McCoy or to release Cole and Herremans. It was Kelly.

Why does this matter? For players such as Nick Foles or Fletcher Cox, Eagles draft picks playing on their rookie contracts, it probably doesn’t. They might have reservations about Kelly’s actions, but they don’t have much control of their fate. NFL rules still give the current team every advantage in retaining core players.

But what about Jeremy Maclin? The Eagles have made it clear they want to re-sign the wide receiver, who is due to become a free agent on Tuesday. Now Maclin has seen two of his closest peers on the team – McCoy and Jackson – get shown the door while under contract. He has seen two guys who have always been in the locker room in his tenure – Cole and Herremans – get the boot as well.

That is going to be on Maclin’s mind when he’s negotiating his new deal with the Eagles. When the Eagles are offering a four- or five-year contract worth, say, $45 million, Maclin is going to have a little voice in his head saying, Three-year deal worth $20 million.

Also, when the Eagles are bringing a free agent in to visit, Kelly is going to have to address some very legitimate concerns. If Byron Maxwell agrees to a contract to play in Philadelphia, he doesn’t want to wind up in Buffalo or Cleveland or Detroit three years later. That just happened to McCoy, who has been a better running back than Maxwell has been a cornerback.

Most of Kelly’s experience is at the college level, where your player/coach relationships don’t extend beyond four or five years. In the NFL, you have to be able to forge long-term relationships with at least some of your players.

It is up to Kelly how he handles that going forward. Clearly, he takes building a culture seriously. That’s admirable, as long as he remembers that the culture only works if it applies to everyone, players and coaches alike.
video
PHILADELPHIA -- The news about the LeSean McCoy trade was the final puzzle piece, the one that completed the picture.

The report from ESPN's Adam Schefter said that the Eagles were trading McCoy, their Pro Bowl running back, to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. It would be a blockbuster deal at any time. But on Tuesday, it was the last block on the top of the pyramid.

Earlier in the day, the Eagles announced the release of veteran cornerback Cary Williams. A few hours after that, news broke that outside linebacker Trent Cole was being released. Cole was the longest tenured player on the Eagles, as well as the franchise's No. 2 player in career sacks. Only Hall of Famer Reggie White got to more quarterbacks than Cole as an Eagle.

So what was happening? It seemed like chaos, but there is order in all the transactions, going back to the announcement on New Year's Eve that head coach Chip Kelly would have final say on all personnel decisions.

Kelly came to Philadelphia from the University of Oregon two years ago. For his first season, and most of his second, Kelly was content to coach the players he inherited. He didn't make finding his franchise quarterback a priority; he simply went ahead with Michael Vick and Nick Foles. He didn't jettison the veteran defenders with experience in the Eagles' 4-3 scheme. He had guys like Trent Cole and Brandon Graham change positions for the Eagles' new 3-4 defense.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesChip Kelly now has final say on all of the Eagles personnel decisions, and on Tuesday news emerged that the team was parting ways with cornerback Cary Williams, outside linebacker Trent Cole and running back LeSean McCoy.
Now we know that was not Kelly's grand plan. That was Kelly getting a feel for the NFL after a career spent in the college game. That was Kelly assessing what he had and what he would need going forward. That was Kelly waiting until he was ready to jump-start his program.

He's ready.

The first tentative sign came right after the season, when Kelly was granted full control of personnel decisions. Eagles owner Jeff Lurie gave Kelly that power at the expense of general manager Howie Roseman. It seemed like a typical NFL power struggle, pretty much like the one former coach Andy Reid won a decade earlier to gain personnel control.

But in the past few days, the picture has become much more complete. Kelly isn't just kicking back in his big office chair. He's remaking the Eagles' roster in the image that has formed in his mind.

The first big domino to fall was guard Todd Herremans, a 10-year veteran who helped McCoy lead the NFL in rushing in 2013. But Herremans missed half of 2014 with a torn biceps and was going to be pretty expensive in 2015. Kelly released Herremans on Friday.

On Tuesday, it was Cole, a player who willingly made the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. ESPN's Adam Caplan reported Tuesday afternoon that Cole would be released as soon as Wednesday.

A little earlier, cornerback Cary Williams was released after starting all 33 games in his two years with the Eagles. That includes last year's playoff game against New Orleans.

And then came the bombshell, Schefter's report that McCoy was out. That marked the second year in a row that Kelly stunned fans by getting rid of one of the team's offensive stars. Last year's release of wide receiver DeSean Jackson could be spun as Kelly looking to move on from a player who was a poor fit for the culture he was trying to establish.

But McCoy? He is 26 years old, one season removed from leading the NFL in rushing. Yes, McCoy's rushing yardage dropped from 1,607 yards in 2013 to 1,319 in 2014, but surely that had more to do with the injuries that threw the offensive line into chaos. Kelly certainly seemed to respect McCoy's game, especially considering the number of carries (626) he gave him over their two years together.

The decision to move McCoy accomplishes a couple of things.

Obviously, the first thing it does is bring Alonso to Philadelphia. An inside linebacker who played for Kelly at Oregon, Alonso will partner with Mychal Kendricks to give the Eagles a dynamic pair on the inside. That probably means the end of the road for DeMeco Ryans, who tore his Achilles tendon halfway through the 2014 season.

The trade also removes McCoy's $11.95 million number from the Eagles' salary cap. Kelly's outlook was summarized by Herremans in a radio interview Monday. Herremans said basically that Kelly prioritizes the quarterback and the offensive line.

"Other than that," Herremans told 97.5 The Fanatic, "I think that Kelly feels like he can kind of -- you know, the system will take care of it."

In other words, McCoy's great 2013 and very good 2014 were, in Kelly's view, reflections of his offensive system. That system will be successful with other running backs, all of whom will cost less than the $11.95 million McCoy was going to count against the Eagles' salary cap.

In the span of a week, Kelly has removed the two longest-tenured players, Cole and Herremans, from the Eagles' locker room. He has cut ties with Williams and James Casey, two free agents signed in Kelly's first, hurried offseason. And he has traded away McCoy, the Eagles' all-time leading rusher.

This part was easy, if shocking. The much harder part is building a better team from what is left behind. Kelly surely has a plan for that.

After all this, the widely held belief that he covets Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota seems even more reasonable. If you're trying to win in 2015, you keep McCoy. If you're going to build around a franchise quarterback, then you're better off moving on from a running back who won't be around when that quarterback is ready to win.

With all of these moves, Kelly has left himself with almost $50 million in salary-cap space. That's enough to be very active in free agency.

Kelly has taken full control of the Eagles. With that, he has the freedom to do things his way. But with that also comes some pressure. For good or bad, the Eagles are Chip Kelly's team now.
video
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles have made moves to give themselves about $33 million in space under the 2015 NFL salary cap.

That’s a good thing, because the Eagles have also put themselves in position to fill a lot of holes in free agency.

The release of cornerback Cary Williams on Tuesday, along with the departures of guard Todd Herremans and tight end James Casey last week, subtracted $13.3 million from the Eagles’ 2015 salary cap. Williams’ release cleared about half of that, or $6.5 million. Casey’s release cleared $4 million, and the release of Herremans cleared $2.8 million.

But releasing Williams creates an urgency for the Eagles to add some defensive backs in free agency. With cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Nate Allen already due to become free agents, the Eagles need three new starters in their secondary.

Williams’ release leaves the Eagles with only Nolan Carroll, slot cornerback Brandon Boykin, and 2015 fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins at cornerback. Starting safety Malcolm Jenkins returns, as do special teamers Chris Maragos, Chris Prosinski, and last year’s sixth-round pick, Ed Reynolds.

There is always the draft, of course. Several mock drafts have had the Eagles selecting a cornerback -- Washington’s Marcus Peters is often mentioned -- or a safety such as Alabama’s Landon Collins in the first round.

But it is a big step from college to the NFL for many defensive backs. If the Eagles hope to improve their secondary immediately, then free agency seems like a safer approach.

The Eagles also created a hole in their starting offensive line with the release of Herremans. They have some in-house candidates. Andrew Gardner, Allen Barbre, and Matt Tobin all started games in 2014. But none really distinguished himself as a potential upgrade from Herremans. That might require a draft pick.

There isn’t any urgency to replace Casey. He found his playing time reduced because of the emergence of second-round 2013 pick Zach Ertz. Casey excelled on special teams, however. Trey Burton, who had a strong rookie season on special teams, can fill in at tight end if needed.
PHILADELPHIA – If the Eagles can’t – or won’t – keep running back LeSean McCoy at his 2015 salary cap number then it begs the question: Why did Eagles owner Jeff Lurie keep Howie Roseman in charge of the cap and contract negotiations?

Roseman was the general manager in 2012, when the Eagles agreed to a new five-year, $45-million contract with McCoy. The deal included a signing bonus of $8.5 million and a total of $20 million guaranteed. The last of that guaranteed money is $1 million of McCoy’s 2015 salary of $9.75 million.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy, C.J. Spillman
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy is due a lot of money for 2015, but he has shown over the past two seasons that he deserves it.
That salary and McCoy’s cap number of $11.95 million have led to much speculation about whether McCoy is at risk to be released this month. McCoy himself has said he is willing to restructure his contract to lower the cap hit, but that he is not willing to take a reduction in salary.

And why should he? His agents and the Eagles negotiated this contract. This is the third year of a five-year deal. McCoy is just 26 years old and coming off the two most productive seasons of his career. A contract that would force a team to release a prime-of-his-career Pro Bowl player is, simply put, a terrible contract.

Coach Chip Kelly was not here when the McCoy deal was done. All Kelly has done in his two years in Philadelphia is hand the ball to McCoy 626 times and throw it to him 101 times (for 80 receptions). McCoy led the NFL in rushing in 2013. His numbers were down in 2014, but that had more to do with injuries to offensive linemen than anything McCoy did.

Kelly’s possible view was explained by guard Todd Herremans in an ESPN Radio appearance on 97.5 The Fanatic on Monday. Herremans’ explanation is all we have, given Kelly’s lack of media access.

“I think he values the quarterback position on his offense (the most),” Herremans said. “I think so. Well, the quarterback and the offensive line. Other than that, I think that he feels like he can kind of -- you know, the system will take care of it."

Kelly was certainly willing to trust his system to take care of the wide receiver position when he unceremoniously dumped DeSean Jackson last year. And it’s certainly true that Chris Polk has averaged 4.7 yards per carry over the last two years, while Darren Sproles averaged 5.8 yards in his first season with the team.

But the bigger number is that 626. Kelly has given McCoy the ball over 300 times per season, while Polk carried the ball just 57 times in two years and Sproles’ workload was reduced during the 2014 season. That’s a pretty definitive statement that Kelly values McCoy.

The Eagles have no pressing salary cap issues, no tangible reason they should do anything except pay McCoy the money they themselves agreed to pay him in 2015. Certainly, if restructuring so that he gets money in the form of a bonus will help the team’s cap flexibility, that’s no problem. But if the Eagles should find themselves tempted to part ways with McCoy because of his contract, they probably should feel the same about the guy who gave him that contract.
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
5:00
PM ET
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 CBSSports.com 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 MMQB.si.com 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.

Housler
Maxwell
That could make Philadelphia a likely landing spot. That's what Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net 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.

Williams
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.
video

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.

Winston
Mariota
“[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.”

 
video
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 ProFootballTalk.com. “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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES