Most people probably associate the NFL Scouting Combine with 40-yard dashes, but there’s a lot more to it than that. With general managers and executives from all 32 teams convened in one place, it’s also a time for rumors and speculation.
The Philadelphia Eagles are busy going about their business in Indianapolis, trying to remain tight-lipped about their plans this offseason. People talk, though, and there’s always a fly on the wall that’s trying to sneak a listen.
Ultimately, the Eagles blueprint will play out in the coming weeks, when free agency opens on March 11 and at the draft in May. If you read between the lines, though, some of the upcoming moves—or non-moves—might not come as big surprises once the news breaks.
Here's a round-up of the Eagles-related chatter at the combine. You be the judge: which stories are news, and which ones are nothing more than hearsay?
Unfortunately, the latter might not be an option. Philadelphia was already second in terms of salary cap space allotted to the wide receiver position last season, and that was when both of the aforementioned players were still on their rookie contracts. Raises for both might not be feasible or necessary. In an interview with Reuben Frank of CSN Philly, Birds general manager Howie Roseman admitted the situation is “complicated” (h/t Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly).
If it is going to be one or the other, it seems the club has made its decision. According to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Eagles have decided to prioritize getting Maclin under contract out of the two. Meanwhile, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio hears there will be an active market for Cooper in free agency.
The preference for Maclin isn’t all that surprising. He’s a superior talent, and each of his last three full seasons before a torn ACL knocked him out for 2013 were more productive than Cooper’s breakout campaign last year.
However, it’s been a surprisingly divisive topic. Despite putting up passable numbers and being a strong candidate for regression in 2014, Cooper made a lot of believers.
If the Eagles have their way, though, Maclin will be the one who is be back in midnight green next season.
The Eagles may have a bit of an advantage over some teams in the draft, as head coach Chip Kelly already has first-hand knowledge of many of the prospects. While at the University of Oregon, Kelly recruited and game-planned against many of the players coming into the NFL over the next few years.
He coached quite a few of them as well—six of the 33 former Oregon players who are currently in the NFL, to be exact, notes Zach Berman for the Philadelphia Inquirer. So, naturally, the scribe is wondering if the Eagles have their eye on any of Chip’s former players in the upcoming draft.
Two of the Ducks’ most intriguing prospects this year—running back De’Anthony Thomas and linebacker Boseko Lokombo—would be open for a reunion.
Thomas spoke over the weekend about his relationship with his former coach, via Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation:
I feel like we have a great relationship. When I arrived at Oregon, [Kelly] was a great coach to me and I learned a lot from him. Just to see him leave Oregon was really tough for me, but I stayed strong and I finished my college career and now it's getting ready for this Combine.
Per Berman, Lokombo was also excited at the possibility of playing under Kelly as well:
I love Chip, man. If I get an opportunity to play in Philly, I would definitely embrace it. Chip was great at Oregon, as everybody knows. If I could be in his system again, it would be lovely.
Kelly hasn’t shied away from adding Oregon players to the Eagles roster thus far, but that doesn’t mean Thomas, Lokombo or any of the other Ducks in this year's draft are a sure thing for the Birds. However, they are certainly connections to keep an eye on.
Speaking of the Chip Kelly-Oregon connection, some might suggest Dion Jordan was the one who got away. Picked one spot before the Eagles at No. 3 overall in the 2013 draft, the former Ducks linebacker might be available for a reunion.
The rumor was first mentioned in January by the Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero, but it’s picking up steam now. With the changes in the Miami Dolphins front office, there is a belief that new general manager Dennis Hickey may not be as high on Jordan as his predecessor. That is why it has been suggested Philadelphia could try to swoop in and make a trade.
The price? The No. 22 pick in this year’s draft, for starters.
Such a deal is unlikely, though. First of all, the Dolphins would have to eat over $10 million in dead money against the salary cap in 2014. They have the flexibility to do so, but they would have to be extremely desperate to get rid of Jordan.
And is he still worth a first-round pick? The Eagles and any other team would have to look at Jordan skeptically if Miami is willing to dump him after just one season. Jordan had 2.0 sacks in 16 games as a rookie in 2013, although he was battling injuries.
Tim McManus of Philly Mag points out that Kelly did admit they missed out on Jordan in last year’s draft. “Trust me, the guy that went number three we were considering very heavily, but didn’t get the chance to pull the trigger on that one,” Kelly said.
That being said, there appears to be too many hurdles for a deal to happen right now. The Dolphins actually traded up to acquire Jordan last year, so they would be taking a huge loss on their investment, not to mention a big hit against the cap. And that says nothing of how other teams will view Jordan’s value, who is now a used car by NFL standards.
The Eagles have plenty of space under the salary cap, but that hasn't prevented folks from speculating about the potential casualties of penny-pinching. Add DeMeco Ryans' name to the pile.
Ryans had a fairly strong campaign in 2013, but that didn't stop NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal from speculating that the Birds could be willing to separate from the interior linebacker. In what is by far the biggest name to be mentioned as a possible victim of a financial move in Philadelphia, Rosenthal listed the two-time Pro Bowler as a possible "surprise" cut. "His reputation and salary far exceed his play on the field (especially on passing downs). Do the Eagles want to pay $6.9 million for leadership?", Rosenthal asks.
However, it’s hard to envision the Eagles parting ways with Ryans with no viable alternative on the roster. Furthermore, free agency has little to offer in the way of better/cheaper solutions, and there is no guarantee a draft pick will be ready to fill the void.
Is Ryans worth $6.9 million? Maybe not, but the Birds don’t currently have a replacement for him nor any compelling reason to force a pay cut at an estimated $25 million below the salary cap, per Spotrac.com.
Ryans is better than adequate, and the Eagles defense would almost certainly take a step back if he were suddenly removed from the equation. This move wouldn't seem to make much sense for a team that sees itself as being on the rise after returning to the playoffs last season.
Rosenthal also listed tight end James Casey, cornerback Cary Williams and safety Patrick Chung as potential cuts as well. Of the three, Williams is the least likely to be let go, as his departure would create $3.3 million in dead money against the salary cap—more than the team would save.
In a separate story, Jeff McLane for the Philadelphia Inquirer described wide receiver Jason Avant’s release as “likely.”
Fans hoping that the Eagles will land a top free-agent safety can’t be enthused about reports out of Buffalo, where it’s said the Bills intend to do everything they can to prevent All-Pro Jairus Byrd from reaching the open market. That likely means the team will be using the franchise tag on him for the second year in a row.
NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets that the Bills would still prefer to reach a long-term deal with Byrd. However, if that’s not in the cards, the team “won’t let him get away for nothing.”
If Byrd is slapped with the non-exclusive tag, it would take the Eagles’ first- and third-round picks to pry him away from the Bills—and the Bills still have the option to match any offer. An exclusive designation would prevent Philly from negotiating with Byrd altogether.
The Cleveland Browns were already said to be considering the franchise tag for star safety T.J. Ward, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, who is another coveted player in Philadelphia. Apparently, the decision is down to Ward or center Alex Mack. However, Mack is an unlikely candidate for the tag, because it would pay him the average salary of the top-five highest-paid offensive linemen in the league, not just centers.
The Browns are rumored to be interested in trading for Byrd, according to Rapoport, which might prompt them to let Ward walk. However, the odds are slim that such a deal will be worked out before the March 3 deadline to apply the tag, if it is to happen at all.
I’m just the messenger, Eagles fans, but after all the speculation about Byrd and Ward, there’s a very good chance that neither of them will hit the market.
If neither Jairus Byrd nor T.J. Ward are coming to Philadelphia, what are the Eagles going to do at safety? Even if one or both of them are available, the result still may not be what you are hoping for.
The Birds may not be in the market for any big-name free agents, regardless. Howie Roseman has been making the media rounds this winter, and he's made it clear the team learned its lesson from its spending fiasco in 2011.
The GM acknowledges they have needs, but that doesn't necessarily mean filling them with the most expensive players available. They might go with a "stop-gap" player instead, per Tim McManus of Philly Mag:
You can’t force things. You can’t make something that’s not there. I think we’ve all seen the lessons learned from that. If you do that you’re going to make a huge mistake. Sometimes the option is just to get through the moment and to do some stop-gap things. And I’m not necessarily saying that’s what we have to do at a particular position, but if you look at the teams that have won the championships over the last couple of years, they’re not perfect at 22 spots. And I think there’s a big difference having a weakness at a particular position as opposed to being solid and getting through. That’s going to be the important thing.
Some mid-tier safeties on the market that the Eagles could have their eye on include Chris Clemons, Michael Mitchell and Malcolm Jenkins. All three are under 30, and all three have the size and versatility the team is looking for.
Or the club could retain Nate Allen, who shook the bust label in 2013 and produced a decent season. If that was his ceiling, though, you'd like to see the team upgrade at the position over the long term. However, he had a strong second half and certainly wasn't hurting things.
We would all like to see improvements across the board, but a cautious approach to free agency isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's recommended.
Since the offseason began, we’ve been operating under the assumption that the Eagles were an estimated $20 million under the salary cap—key word being "estimated."
As it turns out, the salary cap will likely wind up being quite a bit higher than originally anticipated. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the cap is expected to jump five percent, from $123 million up to $130 million.
Per Spotrac.com's updated estimates, the Birds should now have over $24 million in cap space to work with based on Schefter’s figure.
Such a jump up in salary cap space is not a game-changer by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not an amount you hide under your mattress, either. The increased flexibility could allow Roseman and the Eagles to make an additional move, or it could give the club extra cap space to carry over next year, when several young players under contract will be coming up for extensions.
If you think the salary cap increase might prompt the Eagles to spend more, think again.
Roseman has said, time and time again, that the team will take a cautious approach to free agency, and according to Philly Mag’s Tim McManus, agents are hearing the same thing. One player rep all but confirmed to McManus that Philadelphia’s philosophy will not involve splurging on any big names when the market opens on March 11:
"The Eagles won’t spend."
That was a quote from the representative of a free-agent defensive player, whose client will likely command somewhere between mid-level and high-end money. Asked for his reasoning, he said that was the general understanding out there about the team’s approach to free agency.
Roseman wouldn’t rule out making a splash for the right player, but that was a hypothetical situation. The Eagles have given every indication that signing expensive free agents will not be a part of their philosophy, a fact that people around the league are growing wise to.
That doesn’t mean the Birds won’t be active in free agency; it simply means that they aren’t willing to overpay for any one individual.