All In: Eagles Players Who’ve Banked On Great 2014
2014 will be a landmark year, and will determine the validity of Jeffrey Lurie’s decision to hire former Oregon Duck head coach Chip Kelly as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. From that point on, every decision, scheme, practice, and game have been the culmination of the work ethic and football IQ of the “Chippah”. In the transition, some Eagles players did not fit the scheme, nor the demands, are no longer wing-heads. Some are new faces who personnel management feel fit this new offensive/defensive/special teams system.
Simultaneously, some Eagles players are so talented that the system will flex to fit them.
But beneath that surface, there are a number of players who find themselves at a fork in the road in 2014. Like it or not, whether by contract terms or by production (or lack thereof) on the field of play, 2014 is huge in determining their future with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the NFL in general.
Contract Year Players:
(1) Wide Receiver Jeremy Maclin: Coming off an ACL injury, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was thought to be destined for a modest but multi-year contract. Surprising virtually everyone, Maclin and his agent opted for a one-year “prove it” contract. The logic behind the reasoning is sound. If Maclin has a break out year, what better time to sign for a long term contract? If he and his agent had agreed to one before proving his ACL was healed, his value would be based on the pre-Chip offense which was, shall we say, less productive?
Fortunately, Maclin has been both productive and willing to do what is asked of him. With a year to prove his worth, Mac will have tremendous incentive to perform. With Kelly’s offense, that should not be a problem.
(2) Defensive End Cedric Thornton: Rising from the ranks of undrafted free agent to starting defensive end has been somewhat of a challenge for Cedric Thornton. Not so much for the cards stacked against him, as he seems to have made it a habit of exceeding expectations. Moreso from recognition for his efforts. However, so far Thornton has been playing like a man possessed and has earned the right to start for the Philadelphia Eagles on the defensive line. Since joining the ranks of the NFL, starting in 2014 will not be enough. In 2014, Thornton signed a “take it or leave it” one year deal that now has him set up for the inevitable contract year visibility.
2014 is a defining year. Thornton has achieved NFL notoriety as a run stopper. And with Vinny Curry waiting in the wings, there will be pressure to rotate defensive ends this year. If Thornton can improve pressuring the passer, his next contract could make hi an Eagle for many years.
(3) Cornerback Bradley Fletcher: Bradley Fletcher deserves to be nominated for the Philadelphia Eagles “Rodney Dangerfield” recipient. The man gets no respect. Clearly Fletcher played well enough in 2013 to feel somewhat secure in his role with the Eagles. Still, 2014 is a contract year for the man, who currently earns about 50% of the rate of Cary Williams. Since Fletcher is not signed beyond 2014, many expect a position battle to develop between himself and newly signed (and catching the eye of virtually everyone) cornerback Nolan Carroll. With the arrival of Carroll and Jenkins, defensive coordinator Billy Davis has rolled out a dime package of six defensive backs and only keeping middle linebacker Mychal Kendricks. While it’s clear that the Eagles will score points, and have shown good defense in the run, the pass defense will continue to be tested. Fletcher will have plenty of work.
(4) Safety Nate Allen: From draft darling to doghouse back to does-what-he-is-told, will the real Nate Allen please stand up? So far there have been as many versions of Nate Allen as there are facets on a diamond. In 2014, perhaps that is what the Eagles defense will find Allen to be – a diamond.
Allen was once thought to be one of the answers to the question of safety, but an injury followed by a wide – nine technique defense soon overtaxed the young man, whose stock fell rapidly. In fact, despite relatively quiet but capable performance at safety in 2013, Allen was not resigned to the Eagles until late in free agency, and even then to a one year deal.
Don’t let the terms of that contract fool you, however. Allen had a solid year in 2013, and returning to the same defense and coach in 2014 is something new for Nate. So far, the familiarity with the system has paid off and in training camp and the first preseason game, Allen appears to have stepped his game up. With the arrival of safety Malcolm Jenkins, Allen can now focus on defending the pass and covering a deeper area of the field.
(5) Quarterback Mark Sanchez: There are far too many ways to interject some attempt at humor here, but Mark Sanchez was a good one year signing for the Eagles. His similar USC background immediately places him in the “mentor” role for second year quarterback Matt Barkley, and his tenure as starting quarterback for the New York Jets earned him plenty of playoff experience. The Jets were a running offense with a strong defense. While the Eagles are still developing the strength of their defense, the offense certainly has plenty of running plays.
A strong showing by Sanchez should Foles become injured or in clean up in games with strong leads would do wonders to revive this young man’s career.
(6) Running back Chris Polk – With the trade of running back Bryce Brown to the Buffalo Bills, the Eagles have committed to give serious consideration to Chris Polk as the backup to star runner LeSean McCoy. Serious consideration, as they did bring in speedster Darren Sproles from New Orleans, as well as boast runners Matthew Tucker, David Fluellen, and Henry Josey. Competition is there, but Polk simply has to perform nearly as well as the competition to assure his return to the roster.
Don’t presume ‘as well” won’t help in the long run. In order for Polk to get a call from Howey in the off-season, he will need to make the most of his opportunities this year. Currently nursing a hamstring injury, Polk has left the door open for the other running backs to gain ground in preseason games. But when the season starts, look for Polk to run hard.
(7) Kicker Alex Henery – Practically nobody was surprised when the Eagles signed a kicker after the NFL draft by the name of Carey “Murderleg” Spear. Based on 2013, the only surprise was that the Eagles waited so long to sign Spear as a undrafted free agent (UDFA). It’s surprising to learn that Henery is sixth on the NFL all time field goal accuracy list, but not surprising to learn that the Eagles simply do not send him onto the field to attempt 50 yards or greater. In fact, the playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints was within reach, save the missed 48 yard field goal attempt.
And so, Henery has a final year on a contract at a position which is notorious for it’s “what have you done for me lately” standard. The fact that the Eagles were 27th on kickoff distance is one more area of concern. Perhaps the arrival of a wave of new special teams specialists will help the Eagles on kickoffs regardless if they do not sail out of the end zone.
Henery has a year to restore the Eagles faith in him. A game winning field goal will do that wonderfully. A game winner in post season play will definitely do that.
Summary: 2014 is more than just a series of roster battle to players on the Philadelphia Eagles roster. It is a chance to score financial security, or be waiting for the phone to ring. It’s a chance to restore the faith of a very passionate fan base, or a missed opportunity and a sad goodbye. To these seven players, this year is more than a battle to make an NFL team roster. It is a season to define their career.
Hopefully, they will all have a very successful year.