As the NFL turns its attention to the draft and free agency, Dallas Cowboys reporter Todd Archer, Washington Redskins reporter John Keim, Philadelphia Eagles reporter Tim McManus and New York Giants reporter Jordan Raanan look to the 2018 season with a series of questions this week.
Monday’s question: Are the Eagles prepared to run the East like they did under Andy Reid?
Archer: It certainly looks that way, with a relatively young roster, Carson Wentz, who was potentially the MVP before his knee injury, returning and a defense that is excellent. The Eagles won the NFC East from 2001 to 2004 under Andy Reid and six times overall in his tenure, making it to four conference championships and one Super Bowl with Donovan McNabb and a strong defense. They were the class of the division for a long time. The Eagles deserve all the credit they are getting for this Super Bowl run under Doug Pederson. He did a phenomenal job of managing a team that lost its starting quarterback, left tackle, middle linebacker and versatile running back. Other than the New England Patriots, it is difficult for teams to maintain success. Players lose drive. Players want to get paid more. Coaches leave. The dynamic changes. The only NFC team with back-to-back playoff appearances in 2016 and ’17 was the Atlanta Falcons. The NFC East has not had a team repeat as division champs since Reid’s 2003-04 Eagles, so history is not on Philly’s side.
Keim: It’s hard to imagine any team in this division winning four straight NFC East titles as Reid did from 2001-04. However, no team is better positioned to be a consistent contender — and this Eagles team of course already did something Reid’s could not. You don’t win a Super Bowl after your MVP quarterback gets hurt unless you have a complete team. So they’re certainly in the best shape moving forward, and it’s hard to know who will be a consistent threat. Dallas won 13 games two years ago, but will it fix the defense and can Dak Prescott improve? The Redskins have changed quarterbacks but must improve their defense and add another playmaker or two on offense. New York has a new coach and an old quarterback. Even if another team rises next season — it’s possible — the Eagles are the team to watch over the next five. My big worry involves the salary cap. Though they have 20 of 22 starters under contract, they’re approximately $9 million over the 2018 cap and rank at or near the bottom in cap space in ’19 and ’20 as well. They’d better draft well or that stay at the top won’t last as long as they’d like.
McManus: Pretty crazy that no team has repeated as NFC East champs since those Reid squads rattled off four straight from 2001 to 2004. There have only been two constants within the division over the last decade-plus: parity and Eli Manning. If any team is going disrupt that trend, it’s this group. Wentz is 25 years old and has all the makings of an elite quarterback. No one was playing the position better than Wentz before he tore his ACL in Week 14 against the Rams. While injury concerns will surround him until he logs some miles on that reconstructed left knee, he’s the type of franchise QB who can lead a team on a run of sustained dominance. Coaching is the other key ingredient, and Pederson proved to be an innovative playcaller and intuitive leader during the 2017 Super Bowl run. As the Eagles showed when Wentz went down, this is a well-constructed team that runs deep. All but two starters are under contract for 2018, and most of the core is locked up long-term. Things will get trickier when Wentz is no longer on his rookie deal — he’s eligible for a new contract after the ’18 season. Already up against the salary cap, the Eagles will eventually need to go lighter in some areas to account for what promises to be a monster commitment to their QB. But executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and the Eagles front office have proven adept at finding ways to make the puzzle pieces fit together and should have this team in position to contend for the NFC East crown for the foreseeable future.
Raanan: Be scared, NFC East. Be very scared. The Eagles will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Just think, they were good enough to win the Super Bowl without the MVP of the league before he was injured. As long as Wentz is healthy, he will have Philadelphia in contention just about every year, just as Donovan McNabb did with the early-2000s Eagles. The rest of the NFC East should be worried. It’s not like the Eagles don’t have good players around Wentz either. They undoubtedly do. They have the ultimate recipe for success in today’s NFL — a stud quarterback and a disruptive front four. That’s not going to change for a while. The only thing that could derail this Eagles team from becoming a perennial contender is Wentz’s recklessness and health. It’s never a good idea for a quarterback to take on NFL linebackers head-to-head. Eventually, it doesn’t end well for the quarterback.
Carolina in his mind? New York Jets rookie Zach Wilson catches a tough break – New York Jets Blog
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
While Jets-Carolina Panthers is being billed as Darnold’s revenge game, the potential impact on Wilson can’t be dismissed. Already facing huge expectations as the No. 2 pick and perceived franchise savior, the 21-year-old rookie and presumptive starter will be under magnified pressure in what amounts to a statement game.
Is that a fair way to look at it? No, but that’s how it will play. The NFL schedule-makers, always lusting for drama, did the Jets no favors by staging Wilson versus Darnold. This is no soft opening, that’s for sure.
Wilson hasn’t commented yet on the matchup, but someone who knows him well believes he will be unfazed by the magnitude of it.
“He looks forward to opportunities like this,” said former NFL quarterback John Beck, Wilson’s longtime personal coach. “Because people kind of snubbed him young, meaning he wasn’t heavily recruited [in high school], he could see these as opportunities to prove something.
“He’s not one of those people who had everybody telling him how good he was. In situations like this, those [players] probably think, ‘Oh, gosh, I may fail and, if I fail, what does that mean?’ I think Zach views that as the opposite.
What you need to know about the New York Jets:
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• Jets’ 2021 schedule » | All games »
“To him, it’s not him versus Sam Darnold. In Zach’s mind, it’s him taking the stage at his first regular-season game. To him, that’s what this stage is about. Because of that, he wants to play really well in that situation. I think that type of challenge excites him.”
Last month’s Darnold trade wasn’t a clear-cut decision for Jets general manager Joe Douglas, who admitted he considered the possibility of pairing Darnold and Wilson. Despite his struggles in New York, Darnold remains popular within the organization and the fan base. In that sense, it’s probably a good thing the opener is on the road. If the day goes sideways, Wilson won’t have to worry about fan backlash.
2. Two for the show: As expected, Wilson will wear No. 2. There’s certainly not much Jets history associated with that number. The most recognizable player to wear No. 2 was place-kicker Nick Folk, a member of the team from 2010 to 2016. In terms of New York sports history, the all-time No. 2 is a no-brainer — former Yankees star Derek Jeter.
3. Sorry, wrong number: First-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker will wear No. 75, which raises a question: Why is that number still in circulation? The Jets should retire that number because it belonged to the late great Winston Hill, who was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Other ex-Jets in the Hall of Fame — quarterback Joe Namath (12), wide receiver Don Maynard (13) and running back Curtis Martin (28) — had their numbers retired by the team. Even defensive lineman Joe Klecko (73), not a member of the HOF (even though he should be), had his number retired. Why should Hill, who wore No. 75 with distinction for 14 seasons, be different? By the same token, offensive lineman Kevin Mawae (68), inducted in 2019, also should be afforded that honor. No current player has No. 68.
Vera-Tucker wore No. 75 at USC, so his preference is understandable. Chuma Edoga, another former USC lineman, wore it for the Jets the past two years. No one should wear it again now that Hill has been posthumously honored in Canton.
The Jets, aware of the Hill situation, haven’t ruled out adjustments in the future.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) April 30, 2021
4. Inside the schedule: Every team’s schedule is filled with quirks and trends. Let’s take a closer look at the Jets’ slate:
Positives: They have 13 games at 1 p.m. ET, a franchise record. That’s not great for national exposure, but it makes the coaches happy. Prime-time games cut into the following week’s preparation. … The Jets and Chicago Bears are the only teams without back-to-back road games. … They face only one 2020 playoff team (Tennessee Titans) in their first seven games. … Starting in Week 10, they have six home games in a span of eight weeks, their first such stretch since 1976. … They could benefit from an unbalanced schedule. Due to the 17-game schedule and a London game, the Jets have nine home games, seven true road games and one international game. The Miami Dolphins have the same situation.
Negatives: The bye is Week 6, the earliest it can be. (Three other teams have the early bye.) For the Jets, it comes after their trip to London. That means they have to close the season with 12 straight games, which will be taxing. … Their rest differential is minus-2 days. That’s not ideal, but it’s better than the New England Patriots (-15) and Dolphins (-6). (Note: The Jets had a plus-8 differential last season, which did them no good.) … They’re away from home in four of the first six games, which could be a factor now that stadiums are expected to be at full capacity again. … Five of the Jets’ final 10 games are against 2020 playoff teams.
5. Did you know? The Jets play the Patriots in Weeks 2 and 7. If Wilson starts against Mac Jones, who will supplant Cam Newton at some point, it will mark the first time in the history of the Jets-Patriots rivalry that two rookie quarterbacks started. That covers 121 regular-season games. Tom Brady started 36 of them, none as a rookie, which explains a lot.
6. No opt-outs: Before the 2021 NFL draft, Douglas was on the fence when asked how he would evaluate prospects who opted out for 2020. On one hand, he said it would be a “challenge” to grade players based on 2019 tape. But he made sure to note he respected the wishes of those who decided not to play, ostensibly for COVID-19 concerns. (Wink, wink.)
As it turned out, no fewer than 19 teams drafted at least one player who opted out for the entire college season — but not the Jets. Wide receiver Elijah Moore opted out for the final two games at Ole Miss, but he still had eight highly productive games on tape in 2020. Douglas picked players who played, and I don’t think that was a coincidence. He’s all about minimizing risk, and he recognized opt-outs carried more risk than other players.
7. Super sleeper: For obvious reasons, the Jets’ third-day defensive draft picks didn’t get much exposure, but one name to watch is fifth-round pick Jamien Sherwood, the safety/linebacker hybrid. He was a tackling star at Auburn, but his pro evaluation dropped with a disappointing 40-yard dash (4.74 seconds) at his pro day. The Jets see him as an ideal fit as a weakside linebacker in their 4-3 front — a wide-open position — and there’s some thought he could emerge as the starter. He played safety with a linebacker mentality.
8. Looking for gems: The Jets were aggressive in signing undrafted free agents, doling out relatively large guarantees for coveted players. Oregon State cornerback Isaiah Dunn got $185,000 and Ole Miss tight end Kenny Yeboah received $180,000, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Those were two of the league’s biggest guarantees.
9. Whatever happened to…: Most of the members of the Jets’ previous coaching staff landed jobs in the pro and college ranks. Of the coordinators and position coaches on Adam Gase’s staff, only Gregg Williams (defensive coordinator), Joe Vitt (outside linebackers) and Jim Bob Cooter (running backs) are out of coaching. Vitt, Gase’s father-in-law, could retire. Gase, too, is not coaching; he has two years left on his contract.
10. The last word: “He’s a fantastic guy. I think he’s the leader of men that the Jets need. I think he’s going to be one of the biggest parts of the rebuild phase.” — center Connor McGovern on coach Robert Saleh, via inforum.com in Fargo, North Dakota (his hometown).
Saying he feels ‘great about it,’ rookie RB Travis Etienne aims to ‘maximize my opportunity’ at WR for Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars have had Etienne taking the majority of his reps at receiver during the first two days of the team’s rookie minicamp to begin the process of turning the ACC’s all-time leading rusher into a player who can line up anywhere — in the backfield, wide, or in the slot.
“At the worst-case scenario, you have a running back with the skill set of a wide receiver,” coach Urban Meyer said. “Best-case scenario, you’ll have a hybrid player who does both and that’s what we’re hoping to develop out of Travis.”
Meyer finalized the plan in his mind the moment the Jaguars selected Etienne 25th overall last month, and Etienne was all in when Meyer told him the next day that once he got to Jacksonville he would spend most of his time learning the fundamentals of playing receiver.
“I feel great about it,” Etienne said. “It’s going to help me maximize my opportunity and skill set. I feel like Coach knows what he’s doing and I think it’s going to work out well. … Football is a game of matchups. We’re just trying to get the best matchups. I feel like he knows what he’s doing and I think it’s going to work out well.”
One of the reasons Etienne returned to Clemson for his senior season was to show that he could be a reliable pass-catcher. In addition to rushing for an ACC-record 4,952 yards and 70 TDs in four seasons for the Tigers, Etienne also caught 102 passes for 1,155 yards and eight TDs — including 48 receptions for 588 yards and two TDs in 2020.
Meyer’s hope is Etienne can turn into another Percy Harvin, who was one of the country’s most dynamic players when he played for Meyer at Florida. Harvin lined up in the backfield, in the slot and at receiver, and ran for 1,852 yards with 19 touchdowns and caught 133 passes for 1,929 yards with 13 touchdowns in three seasons for the Gators.
“I’m glad he’s getting work that, getting those reps right now,” Lawrence said of Etienne. “He’s just a dynamic player. He can do a lot of different things but that’s something that he’s not very used to. At Clemson he was pretty much in the backfield all the time. He ran a lot of routes out of the backfield, but splitting out wide is something he hasn’t done a lot.
“It’s cool seeing him out there, working, learning something new. Just to see the improvements he makes every day is really cool.”
It’s unclear how much work Etienne would have gotten at running back during rookie minicamp because of the restricted workload the team placed on Lawrence as he returns from offseason labrum surgery on his left shoulder. He was limited to 30 to 40 throws and Meyer also said the Jaguars didn’t want him taking snaps or handing off to ensure the shoulder doesn’t get bumped or battered.
“We’re just worried about any chance of that arm getting jammed right now,” Meyer said. “They told me the labrum has healed after three months, which it’s been three months, but we can’t have a guy on the ground. That’s the biggest thing: We’ve got to keep people away from him.
“The pitch count’s not as big as the fact of keeping him upright.”
Meyer said Lawrence should be fully cleared in time for the beginning of training camp in late July. Lawrence said the shoulder feels great and he has full range of motion, though the team is also limiting how much weight he can lift. He said he’s eager to go back to a full load of throws in practice.
“Obviously, that’s what I want to do right now but I know there’s a right way to do things and to be careful and put myself in the best position so I’m trusting that,” Lawrence said. “That’s the medical staff, the coaches, everyone’s on the same page. We’ve got a good plan. We know what we’re doing and I’m just trusting that — and it won’t be long before I’m full go.”
It also doesn’t look like it’ll be long before the Jaguars sign Tim Tebow. Meyer said the staff will meet Sunday and determine if they want to sign the former quarterback to play tight end.
“I imagine the decision’s going to be soon,” Meyer said. “… All our focus is on [rookies] right now.”
Rookie defensive tackle Jay Tufele did not participate because Meyer said Tufele had a positive and negative COVID-19 test and the team opted to hold him out, though he added Tufele could return for the final day of minicamp on Sunday. Cornerback Tyson Campbell suffered a minor hamstring strain on Friday and was limited on Saturday.
Dallas Cowboys CB Nahshon Wright cleared air with Richard Sherman after comparison
It didn’t take long for Sherman to respond on social media, so Wright sent Sherman a direct message to explain himself and said the veteran responded quickly.
“I actually reached out to him because after I said it I kind of seen what people perceived it as,” Wright said after his second rookie minicamp practice Saturday. “I wanted to reach out to him personally and kind of clear it up and just tell him that I actually modeled myself after him, I emulate my game after him.”
Wright said Sherman, a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro who is currently a free agent, was not offended.
“We kind of have a mutual respect,” Wright said. “For me, I think it was just genuine confidence in myself and looking up to someone like that. He played under [Cowboys defensive coordinator] Dan Quinn. So now I have the opportunity to play under him and hopefully do the same things that Richard Sherman did. So we spoke, and we have a mutual respect. And he told me if I ever needed help I can reach [out] to him.
“Richard is a great guy.”
At 6-foot-4, 183 pounds, Wright has a similar frame to Sherman, who is 6-3, 195 pounds. The Cowboys can only hope he can be another Sherman.
“I really try to emulate his mental process,” Wright said. “The way he kind of slows the game down for himself. It’s kind of like playing chess. So being able to see the formation, know the call, know what you have and just execute. He has done a great job with that, and hopefully he continues to do that.”
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