Jalen Mills

NFC East Rumors: Cousins, Eagles, Cowboys

Kirk Cousins‘ second franchise tag impasse is dominating the NFC East headlines this July as well. The Redskins quarterback’s decision to sign his franchise tenders early and a willingness to accept this year-to-year setup has benefited him financially, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com writes. Noting Washington brass was right to question his legitimacy after the 2015 season — one that saw him finish strong after compiling a middling resume to that point — Brooks also points out how well this has worked out for Cousins. He received nearly $20MM last season, despite former GM Scot McCloughan reportedly being leery of that annual price, and now has a guaranteed $23.94MM salary. That said, one NFC scouting director understands the Redskins’ hesitance.

He is what he is,” an NFC pro scouting director said, via Brooks. “He is a solid starter capable of winning games when surrounded by supreme talent in that system, but I don’t think he is a difference-maker. … I would have a tough time paying $25 million for a guy that I don’t believe can carry us to the Super Bowl.”

Cousins, though, enters his age-29 season in position to complete a two-year, $44MM deal of sorts. And by Year 3 of this post-rookie-contract arrangement, Cousins could be in position to total $72MM or $78MM — on a transition or third franchise tag. Hitting the open market would obviously be a lucrative proposition as well, given the supply-and-demand crisis at this position.

Here’s the latest out of the NFC East.

  • The Eagles discussed the prospect of moving second-year cornerback Jalen Mills to safety, Geoff Mosher of FanRag Sports reports. Mills stayed at corner during offseason workouts, playing in the slot in nickel sets. The former LSU talent played both corner and safety in Baton Rouge, La. But Mosher adds the team appears to view its outside corner tandem of the future as Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones. Given those two are each rookies, with Jones potentially out for the season, it might be a bit early for those plans. But said blueprint would help explain Mills being stationed in the slot and discussed for a possible safety transition.
  • One ESPN NFL insider tabbed Dak Prescott as being in position to become the league’s best quarterback in five years, with Mike Sando (via the Dallas Morning News) projecting the offensive rookie of the year to ascend to that perch. ESPN’s Dan Graziano placed the Cowboys in the position to have the most success over the next five years, citing Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and an offensive line that’s been the best in the game over the past few seasons.
  • Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie viewing Carson Wentz as a special talent raises the stakes for Doug Pederson, Tim McManus of ESPN.com notes in a summary explaining why the Philadelphia HC is his pick for NFC East presence on the hottest seat. Pederson being merely a second-year coach would seemingly point him toward a third season at least, but McManus writes another 7-9 season won’t be acceptable for an owner antsy to see his franchise back in the playoff discussion. With Wentz in his second season and Alshon Jeffery being added to the mix, the Eagles offense looks to be in better position to help the team challenge for a playoff perch.

NFC Rumors: Lynch, Eagles, Saints

Aaron Lynch has an opportunity to play the Leo position in the 49ers‘ new 4-3 defense, according to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. That position in Robert Saleh‘s Seahawks-influenced scheme is viewed as the team’s top pass-rushing talent, but Lynch admitted the reports about his weight that surfaced earlier this offseason were true. The fourth-year edge defender clarified the weight struggles he’s having. Branch reports Lynch is currently in the 280s and wants to get down to around 270 pounds, but during his last year in San Francisco’s 3-4 scheme, Lynch ballooned to north of 300. This came during training camp, before he served a four-game suspension for substances of abuse. The then-outside linebacker was notified of a suspension last July. Lynch’s sack total plummeted to 1.5 last season after he registered 12.5 between his first two years.

I know last year I probably wasn’t as committed,” Lynch said, via Branch. “I mean, I was committed, but I basically [had] some off-field issues, getting suspended and getting hurt. So I don’t think my mind was in the right place as far as how the season was going. I wouldn’t say I wasn’t committed. I’m working my ass off right now. Getting down to the weight I need to get, doing everything they want me to do.”

The 24-year-old Lynch not making weight could result in the 49ers moving on from him, but the team is thin on pass-rushers. Branch writes the team did not draft a “legitimate Leo” candidate until the sixth round (Pita Taumoepenu of Utah), and the Bay Area-based writer isn’t categorizing No. 3 overall pick Solomon Thomas (8.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss in 2016) as such.

Here’s more from the NFC.

  • Ron Brooks is still recovering from the quadriceps injury he suffered in October of 2016 and did not participate in team drills during the first segment of Eagles OTAs, Dave Spadaro of PhiladelphiaEagles.com reports. Brooks took a paycut in March that trimmed nearly $1MM off his 2017 salary. He will make $1MM this season. The Eagles remain thin at cornerback after losing Nolan Carroll and drafting Sidney Jones, who may not be ready to play in 2017. Rookie third-rounder Rasul Douglas lined up as Philly’s No. 3 corner, per Spadaro, with Jalen Mills shifting inside when the team lined up in that formation last week.
  • LeGarrette Blount‘s one-year deal on a $1.25MM base salary is plenty worth it for the Eagles to find out if he can thrive outside of New England, Bob Brookover of Philly.com writes, noting that Blount never being paid more than $1.85MM in a season doesn’t add up with his career production. The 30-year-old rushed for a career-high 18 touchdowns last season — the most any NFL back’s totaled since Adrian Peterson in 2009 — but averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. While he’s averaged 5.0 yards per tote twice, those seasons came with lighter workloads.
  • The Saints keeping their corners healthy could see the position look rather deep compared to the barren outlook of 2016, Nick Underhill of The Advocate writes. Marshon Lattimore joins Sterling Moore, Delvin Breaux and P.J. Williams in a secondary that did not feature a lot of the latter duo due to injuries last season. Underhill adds that Williams could see time in the slot for New Orleans and would have last year under optimal circumstances. Any optimism can, of course, be countered by mentioning how Lattimore comes with a history of hamstring trouble and that Breaux and Williams suffered severe injuries in 2016. But under ideal conditions, the Saints appear to be much deeper than they were for most of 2016.
  • Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson wouldn’t mind some competition coming in to push Kellen Moore for the team’s backup job.

Impact Rookies: Philadelphia Eagles

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Carson Wentz, QB (North Dakota State, No. 2 overall)

You can never have enough arms,” might be what you hear from the Philadelphia Phillies pitching coach, but it looks like Eagles GM Howie Roseman took that phrase to heart with his recent dealings at the quarterback position. He turned a journeyman quarterback (Mark Sanchez) to the Broncos for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2017. Sanchez had played in thirteen games for the Eagles since he joined the team in 2014, but with Doug Pederson taking over as head coach, the team decided to blow up the quarterback position. Carson Wentz

It was expected that Pederson would hang his coaching future to the fragile body of Sam Bradford, but in a surprising move, the team handed a high-priced multi-year deal to one of Pederson’s old quarterback students – Chase Daniel. There were rumblings that even with those two in the fold, that names like 49ers disgruntled passer, Colin Kaepernick, was brought up in serious discussions held by the front office. Even then, free agent Robert Griffin III was considered for added depth.

Then, the rumors refused to die – the Eagles wanted to move up in the draft and were in talks with Tennessee for the top pick, before the Titans agreed to ship that choice to the Rams. Roseman then turned to Cleveland, pulling off a trade that saw the Eagles send the Browns their eighth overall selection, their third round pick (No. 77 overall) and fourth round choice (No. 100) in the 2016 draft, along with a first rounder in 2017 and a second round pick in 2018. In addition to securing the second pick in the draft, Philadelphia also took home a fourth round in 2017 in the exchange.

Roseman did not hesitate to snatch away Carson Wentz after the Rams selected California’s Jared Goff, . Word was that if the Rams took Wentz, the Eagles simply would have taken Goff instead. Actually, for the system Pederson runs, Wentz might be a glass slipper fit, while Goff would have had to adjust from the system he was developed under in California.

In just two years as a starter, Wentz has delivered the Bison a pair of NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national championships. He has started just 23 games, compiling a 20-3 record at the helm. A right wrist fracture sidelined him for most of the second half of the 2015 schedule, but he returned in time to help the team record its fourth consecutive FCS title.

Despite having just two seasons as a starter under his belt at NDSU, you could tell from that first practice that Wentz was a good student of the game, one that can easily adjust from college ball to raise his game to another level in a pro-style passing attack. There is no question that he has a solid feel for pre-snap reads, doing a nice job of making checks and locating secondary targets (he distributed the ball to an average of eight different receivers per game in 2014-15). He is a smart passer with keen eyes scanning the field and follows through with his progressions. With innate instincts and ever-improving developing decision making skills, it seems like he’s not far off from being able to handle a pro offense.

With Bradford starting and Daniel also on the depth chart, Wentz does not have a clear path to play in 2016. At least, not just yet. If the oft-injured Bradford finds himself sidelined again, we could see the rookie under center. Wentz still needs time to develop, of course, but he already has the acumen to lead an NFL offense if called upon.

Continue reading about the Eagles’ rookie class..

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Extra Points: Broncos, Long, Eagles

Trevor Siemian, the Broncos‘ presumptive No. 2 quarterback, was more consistent in many ways than presumptive starter Mark Sanchez during the team’s OTAs and minicamp, and given that head coach Gary Kubiak said in his offseason-ending press conference last week that Sanchez and Siemian are in a virtual tie for the starting job, there has been some speculation that Siemian could be under center when Week 1 rolls around. But Mike Klis of 9News.com, while acknowledging Siemian’s strong performance, agrees with the prevailing consensus that, unless Sanchez completely flops in the first two games of the preseason–which is a distinct possibility–his experience will force Kubiak’s hand and he will be named the starter prior to the all-important third preseason contest.

Now let’s take a look at some more links from around the league:

  • Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says that a long-term deal between Von Miller and the Broncos remains the most likely outcome, but if the July 15 deadline for a new contract comes and goes, the two sides could work out an alternative one-year agreement that provides Miller with a little more incentive to sign. For instance, the team could promise to not use the tag on Miller again in 2017, which means that Miller, assuming he is willing to risk injury/ineffectiveness in 2016–while earning the full $14.129MM of the franchise tender in the process–would be guaranteed to hit the open market and get his big payday in 2017. If stubbornness prevails and there is no new deal by July 15, that currently unlikely scenario suddenly becomes more plausible.
  • Before coaching at yesterday’s University of Michigan Big Man camp, free agent left tackle Jake Long said that he is finally healthy. The former No. 1 overall pick added, “This is the healthiest and best I’ve felt in probably about five, six years. My knee’s back. I’ve just been working out, feeling good and ready for the opportunity when it comes along” (article via Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com). Long, of course, spent the first five years of his career with the Dolphins and was widely-regarded as one of the best left tackles in the league during that time, but he tore his ACL in each of his two subsequent seasons, which he spent with the Rams, and he appeared in only four games with the Falcons last year, starting none. If he is, in fact, completely healthy, he should be able to land a job as teams look to replace injured or underperforming players during training camp and the preseason.
  • Two of the Chiefs‘ best players, Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston, are recovering from torn ACLs, and the team is being cautious with both, as Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com writes (citing Adam Teicher of ESPN.com). Houston will not be ready for the start of training camp and may not suit up until sometime after the regular season begins, while Charles will be eased into camp and should be ready for Week 1. Neither player, though, will be on the field before they are completely healthy, as they are too important to the team’s plans to risk re-injury.
  • In the Eagles‘ crowded and confusing defensive backfield, it is too early to predict who will emerge as the regular contributors. But Mark Eckel of NJ.com writes that a source with knowledge of the way DC Jim Schwartz and DB coach Cory Undlin are thinking says that, if the season started today, the top of the cornerback depth chart would look like this: Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, Jalen Mills, Ron Brooks, and Eric Rowe.

East Notes: Wilkerson, Eagles, Giants

Last month, our Zach Links observed that Jets standout defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson could hurt his leverage for a long-term deal if he were to report to the club prior to July 15, the deadline for signing his franchise tag tender. However, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reports that Wilkerson was spotted in the team’s locker room last week, and his appearances at One Jets Drive have not been infrequent. Of course, we learned yesterday that Wilkerson is not expected to draw a long-term offer from the Jets anytime soon, so it could be that the 2015 Pro Bowler simply does not see any harm in making use of the team facility and staying in touch with his teammates.

Now let’s take a look at a few more notes from the league’s east divisions:

  • The top of the Eagles‘ depth chart at defensive tackle looks pretty good, with Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan stabilizing the interior of the team’s D-line. But beyond that, Dave Zangaro of CSNPhilly.com says the picture gets pretty murky, as players like Beau Allen and Taylor Hart appear better-suited to a 3-4 defensive front, and new acquisition Derrick Lott was unable to stick with Tampa Bay last season. As Zangaro observes, that means that at least one of the Eagles’ three undrafted free agent DTs–Aziz ShittuDestiny Vaeao, and Connor Wujciak–have a real shot at cracking the club’s roster. Vaeao and Wujciak were very impressive in spring workouts, Zangaro notes.
  • Eagles rookie cornerback Jalen Mills fell to the seventh round of this year’s draft due to injury and maturity concerns, but thus far, he is making the case for significant regular season playing time. As Andrew Kulp of CSNPhilly.com writes, Mills has impressed coaches and teammates alike with his excellent performance in offseason workouts, and there is a real chance he could wind up as the team’s primary nickel corner.
  • John Munson of NJ.com offers 10 takeaways from Giants OTAs as the team prepares for minicamp. For instance, he says that Andre Williams performed surprisingly well during OTAs after transforming his body in the offseason, but Munson believes the team will have major pass rush concerns despite the splashy addition of Olivier Vernon.
  • Earlier today, we learned that the Dolphins have contingency plans just in case Reshad Jones makes the surprising decision to hold out.

Eagles Sign Five Rookies

The Eagles announced that they have agreed to terms with five members of their draft class. Running back Wendell Smallwood (fifth round; pick No. 153), defensive back Blake Countess (sixth-round, pick No. 196), defensive back Jalen Mills (seventh-round; pick No. 233), defensive end Alex McCalister (seventh-round; pick No. 240), and linebacker Joe Walker (seventh-round; pick No. 251) are now officially members of the Eagles after inking four-year pacts. Wendell Smallwood (vertical)

[RELATED: Eagles Likely To Hire Joe Douglas As Personnel Chief]

Smallwood, a West Virginia product, declared early for the draft after enjoying his best season to date. In 2015, Smallwood ran for 1,519 yards off of 238 carries with nine touchdowns. The 5’11”, 201-pound tailback also added 26 catches for 160 yards. In 2014, Smallwood was arrested after allegedly intimidating a witness in a murder case implicating his longtime friend, as Les Bowen of The Inquirer details. Since then, the tailback says that he has grown as a person and the Eagles ostensibly agree.

I was just in a wrong situation,” Smallwood said. “I was young, hanging out with the wrong people. I was never around whatever happened. I wasn’t involved. There was no evidence, no witness against me. “I’ve just been learning from it and letting everybody know the truth. I’ve been completely honest with the guys here and the guys at every team I spoke to. They were well aware of it . . . I think they have confidence in me, that that’s not me, and that was a one-time thing, and it won’t happen again.”

With five rookies signed, the Eagles have only three players from this class left to take care of: quarterback Carson Wentz, guard Isaac Seumalo, and tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Earlier today, new Falcons safety Keanu Neal became the first-round pick to ink his a rookie deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.