Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Lost in Summer Hype, Eagles Still Rule the NFL

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 5, 2018

FOXBOROUGH, MA - AUGUST 16:  Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles throws a pass in the first half against the New England Patriots during the preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August 16, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Why have so many of us forgotten about the team everyone else in the NFL is chasing? The driving force behind the Khalil Mack trade, and why being disliked is good news for Roger Goodell's job security. All that and more in the latest 10-Point Stance.

         

1. The no-drama kings

How quickly we all forget.

Yeah, I'm talking about you. And me. All of us.

We've spent the summer talking about all sorts of players and teams. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Bears. The Giants. The Jets. The Rams. The Patriotsas always. We've even looked extensively at the freaking Browns.

But many of us seem to have forgotten about one team. Maybe you've heard of them. They won the Super Bowl last season in historic fashion.

The NFL's shiny objects are everywhere, but it's occasionally smart to stop and remember the team everyone wants to be.

Rght now, that's the Eagles, who overwhelmed the NFL last season with a frenzied and deep defense, hot quarterback play and a pulverizing running game.

None of that has changed.

Quarterback Nick Foles may have struggled this preseason, but when he last played in games that matteredless than eight months ago—he was completing 72.6 percent of his passes and averaging 9.2 yards per attempt in the playoffs. He orchestrated an offense that schooled Bill Belichick, the greatest defensive mind in NFL history.

The Eagles still have Jay Ajayi, who one scout told me this week was one of the best trade acquisitions a team has made in the past five years.

And then there's that defense. It isn't great, but it's good. Like the other components of this team, it returns a key part in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who already has his antennae up for signs of complacency.

"I think the biggest thing that comes, if you haven't experienced it before[and] in my career, I had only been to the Super Bowl one other timeis how short the offseason is," Schwartz told reporters Monday. "It comes up on you pretty quickly. You have to get guys transitioned to a different mindset right away. I like our group that way.

"Our group has stayed hungry. They've stayed focused. It's a difficult thing to do with all the attention, not just from fans around, but media attention and everything else. ... Last year, we were the underdogs. We were the people that people didn't think could make their way through with the injuries we had and the other things. This year, we're going to have the target on us. That takes a little bit of a different mindset."

With essentially the same cast of characters on the field and the sideline and a division that hasn't distinguished itself this offseason, the Eagles should still be the team everyone is focused on. We aren't because, well, consistency isn't the stuff of headlines, is it?

That may have been a mistake.

             

2. Too much of a good thing?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 30: Nick Foles #9 and Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles look on prior to the game against the New York Jets during the preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field on August 30, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo b
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

In truth, there could be a bit of drama in Philadelphia this season when Carson Wentz returns to full health.

Don't get us wrong, Wentz is the Eagles' future at quarterback. That's a fact. That's as certain as a Trekkie claiming Star Wars is terrible.

But Wentz is still recovering from a torn ACL and LCL that he suffered early last December. While he could be ready as soon as next week, what if Nick Foles lights it up early? What if he's terrific in the opener against Atlanta and beyond?

As awkward as the potential issue may be, it's a wonderful problem to have. But how would the Eagles handle that? Keep playing Foles, who helped win a Super Bowl, or make a change?

It should be a fascinating decision.

        

3. Jim Harbaugh's escape hatch

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

A handful of idiots once tweeted Jim Harbaugh would win a national championship at Michigan within a few years of his hiring.

One of those idiots was me. 

I chose...poorly.

It still could happen, but so far, Harbaugh hasn't done much to change the program's fortunes. The Wolverines have lost 17 straight road games to ranked opponents, including Saturday night's defeat to Notre Dame, and four straight overall.

While I don't think Harbaugh will leave Michigan unless he's pushed outand we're years away from thatpeople across the NFL are starting to tell me they think Harbaugh won't last much longer there.

As the season-opening loss in South Bend ended, I got the following text from a front office source: "Harbaugh will be coaching in the NFL next year. Bank on it."

            

4. Kaepernick has the NFL nervous, very nervous

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The NFL recently moved for a summary judgment in the collusion case of Colin Kaepernick. It lost, so the case is moving forward.

That has generated a general sense of panic from league higher-ups that Kaepernick will win. According to more than a few people, the word that best describes the league's feelings is "terrified."

Predicting the outcome of a court case is difficult, but this is as nervous as I've heard people in the league talk about the case since Kaepernick first filed it.

         

5. Khalil Mack caught in a power play

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 18:  Head coach Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders coaches from the sideline during the first half of a preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (P
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The stunning trade of Khalil Mack to the Bears on Saturday came down to a debate over power and how Jon Gruden wields it.

For months, a few of us reporters have maintained that Gruden runs the show in Oakland even though Reggie McKenzie is technically the general manager. Not some of the show. Not most of it. All of it.

Gruden is the guy in the prison movie who walks up to the biggest, baddest dude and picks a fight.

Normally, those fights are with quarterbacks. In this case, however, the quarterback of the Raiders was Mack. He was the biggest and baddest dude on the team, not Derek Carr.

Trading Mack to the Bears was a simple transaction for Gruden. He could establish himself as the boss, not pay Mack and get two first-rounders.

To Gruden, this was an easy win. To many around the league, it was a huge gamble, one they think will backfire on him.

             

6. One team's risk is another team's treasure

At the heart of the trade package for Mack was the difference in how the Raiders and Bears view draft picks.

The Raiders thought Mack wanted too much money and saw two first-rounders as good compensation for him. The Bears saw a 27-year-old All-Pro defensive force, one that neither of the draft picks they gave up could be guaranteed to equal.

The problem with draft picks, even first-rounders, is that you just don't know what you're getting. You may draft John Elway with that first pick. Or Aaron Rodgers late in the first round. Then again, Tim Tebow was a first-rounder and he's now playing baseball. Johnny Manziel was also a first-rounder and he's now in Canada. JaMarcus Russell went at the top of the draft and he's, well, wherever.

In short, draft picks are guesses. They may be educated guesses, especially in the first round, but they're still uncertain. And there's nothing to ensure someone drafted on the first night will have a greater career than someone taken in, oh, the sixth round.

Isn't that right, Tom Brady?

             

7. Bell's days in Pittsburgh coming to an end

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 14:  Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Heinz Field on January 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Kevin C
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The start of the regular season means a number of players are finally getting paid, including Mack and Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald. That isn't the case for Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, who has been holding out while hoping for a lucrative long-term deal.

The Steelers don't seem to be budging and neither is Bell, who did not report to the team over the weekend.

In the end, the most likely scenario for Bell hasn't changed: He will probably play on his one-year deal this season and then enter free agency. Given how the past few offseason negotiations have gone with Pittsburgh, Bell's days there will likely end next spring.

At that point, some front office personnel believe Bell will end up playing for the Patriots.

         

8. Goodell's unpopularity is popular with owners

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 19:  New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft talks with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell prior to the game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders at Estadio Azteca on November 19, 2017 in Mexico City, Mexico.
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

NBC Sports' Peter King ran a Twitter poll on the popularity of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. As expected, he is a popular as a case of Ebola, registering a 79 percent disapproval rating.   

This would seem like bad news for the NFL, but if you think that, you're wrong.

Always remember this: Goodell is a heat shield for the owners. They want him to be unpopular. If he is, the darts and arrows are aimed at him rather than them.

Some of that is shifting, but only slightly. For now, Goodell is still the biggest target.

That's how the owners like it.

             

9. The Bills play it smart

ORCHARD PARK, NY - AUGUST 26:  Josh Allen #17 and Nathan Peterman #2 of the Buffalo Bills speak with coaching staff during the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at New Era Field on August 26, 2018 in Orchard Park, New York. Cincinnati defeats
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Bills announced Monday that second-year quarterback Nathan Peterman will start in Week 1.

Why are the Bills starting a guy who has thrown two touchdowns and five interceptions in his four-game pro career over No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen?

The answer is simple: You don't want your potential franchise quarterback playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in football.

If the Bills believe Allen is their future at QB, there's no need for him to be traumatized until he learns more about playing the position in the NFL.

       

10. A beautiful story

Take a few moments and delve into this story from ESPN's Sarah Spain about Chiefs running backs coach Deland McCullough and his search for his biological parents. The power of the story stands alone, but it'll carry extra weight for anyone from an adoptive family or those who have adopted a child.

               

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL. 

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