Eagles Combine Buzz, Part I
INDIANAPOLIS – There’s more to the NFL combine than what occurs at Lucas Oil Stadium, where teams evaluate draft prospects as they run through all sorts of performance drills.
The hotels, restaurants and bars are where much of the action is as team executives and agents meet to discuss free agency. Those locals are also prime spots to network and gather tidbits and pieces of information on the Eagles.
Here are some leftovers after talking with front office personnel, coaches, scouts and agents about players on the current roster:
1. DeMeco Ryans isn’t going anywhere. That may not seem like much of a surprise considering how well the inside linebacker played for most of last season. But Ryans, who played 96 percent of the snaps on defense, struggled down the stretch, particularly in pass coverage, and isn’t getting any younger. He turns 30 in July. Ryans is also slated to earn $6.8 million in 2014 – quite a sum if he isn’t going to play on passing downs as some wondered. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman may go to Ryans’ agent, Ben Dogra – who also represents wide receiver Jeremy Maclin – and ask for a pay cut, but that is unlikely to happen. As much as they need Ryans lining the defense up and making stops against the run, they need his leadership perhaps even more. Ryans commands the most respect in the Eagles locker room and “forcing” him to take a pay cut would not go over well with the other players.
2. Speaking of leaders, the Eagles are expected to lose one in Jason Avant. The eight-year veteran’s presence was perhaps most felt in the receiver room, especially after long-time assistant coach David Culley left and followed Andy Reid to Kansas City. Many of the receivers looked at Culley as a father figure and respected him immensely. Avant helped fill that void and kept the group together after videotape of Riley Cooper using a racial slur surfaced in August. New receivers coach Bob Bicknell is in many ways the polar opposite of the free-spirited Culley. Avant often acted as a go-between the intense assistant and DeSean Jackson. The star receiver got into it with Bicknell on the sideline during the Vikings game, but it was hardly the lone time those two had a disagreement.
3. Factoring in signing bonuses, Evan Mathis will be around the 14th-highest paid guard in the NFL next season. His base salary of $5 million is tied for ninth along with Chris Kuper and behind Carl Nicks, Jahri Evans, Chris Snee, Andy Levitre, Logan Mankins, Ben Grubbs, Davin Joseph and Marshal Yanda. Mathis, who was selected first team all pro with Denver’s Louis Vasquez, had arguably a better season than any of them. But don’t expect the Eagles to hand out more cash. And don’t expect Mathis to hold out, although that would be the most effective way to leverage the team if he were looking for more money. Mathis signed a five-year, $25 million contract in 2012 after an all pro-caliber season in 2011 and after bumping around the NFL for six seasons.
4. By the end of last season, running back Chris Polk was playing as many snaps on offense as Bryce Brown, although hardly enough to make a dent into LeSean McCoy’s touches. One NFL source familiar with the Eagles’ plans said that Polk would have a more prominent role next season, obviously if Brown gets traded as some believe he will. It is believed Chip Kelly prefers Polk’s north-to-south running style, especially because he wastes so few yards, and that he sees the third-year tailback as a better complement to McCoy. Polk has also become a solid special teams player, something Brown did very little of last season. Brown regressed last season, but he did rush for 119 yards against the Bears in the penultimate regular season game of 2013. There is still a healthy market for the 22-year old, but trades will be difficult to pull off because of the increasing salary cap.
5. I must have had four agents ask me specifically about cornerback Brandon Boykin and linebacker Mychal Kendricks and whether they would leave their such-and-such agents. Boykin and Kendricks are both represented by Doug Hendrickson and Cliff Laboy if you care about that sort of thing. Agents poaching other agents’ players is a no-no, but it happens all the time. The important point here is that Boykin and Kendricks, as they enter their third seasons, are seen as hot commodities. Boykin has already established himself as one of the league’s best slot cornerbacks. Roseman said last week that he was also the best gunner, as well. The Eagles aren’t likely to move him outside, and that will affect Boykin’s worth, but don’t be surprised if the team extends him after 2014. There’s still some projection involved with Kendricks. He struggled through most of the early portion of last season, but was more reliable down the stretch. Kendricks still had some rough moments getting off blocks and playing the ball in the air. But the talent is there and some think he’s going to put it all together in 2014.
6. The jury is still out on Matt Barkley, but I had two scouts tell me that they’ve seen enough to declare him a backup at best. Considering his fourth round draft position, if Barkley would end up a No. 2 quarterback that might not be such a bad thing. But the scouts questioned his arm strength (not a new thing) and were underwhelmed by his accuracy, which was supposed to be one of his strengths. The Eagles keep insisting that Barkley was hampered by his return from shoulder injury last offseason. Roseman said last week that this offseason would be an important one, as it normally is for second-year players, but more so for Barkley because he has now been deemed 100 percent. I can’t see the Eagles going into next season with Barkley as Nick Foles’ backup, but it is possible. Kelly saw something in him in the first place. And make no mistake, Barkley was Kelly’s pick. I heard it back in October, but when I asked another source recently if it was Kelly or Roseman who was responsible for the Barkley selection, he said, “100 percent Chip.”
7. Cary Williams wasn’t very happy early into his tenure with the Eagles. He took a lot of grief when he opted not to attend most of involuntary spring workouts and then when he questioned the “nastiness” of the defense during training camp. He also got into a fight with Cooper during a practice in which he used the same slur the receiver had been caught using in retaliation. But Williams turned a corner after the Eagles’ slow, first-half start and is excited about 2014, according to a source close to the cornerback. He is expected to remain on the roster after the fifth day of the new league year which starts on March 11, thus ensuring that his $4.75 million base salary is guaranteed. Williams will enter the spring as the starter opposite Bradley Fletcher, but the Eagles will add competition and should draft at least one corner.
8. There wasn’t much optimism from agents that some of the less heralded Eagles free agents would be back for the 2014 season. With players like safety Kurt Coleman, defensive end Clifton Geathers and linebacker Phillip Hunt (a restricted free agent) the Eagles are likely to say, “See what you can get on the open market, but if you don’t like your options and the price is right and we have a spot, maybe we’ll think of bringing you back.” In other words, good luck and thanks for your service. As for the other free agents, receiver Jeremy Maclin will take precedence over Riley Cooper, as I reported Friday. All signs point to punter Donnie Jones returning. Quarterback Michael Vick will test the market and likely sign elsewhere. And the futures for safety Nate Allen and safety/special teams ace Colt Anderson remain a bit of a mystery although their time in Philly could be nearing an end.