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    Eagles Insights: Howie Roseman's trade deadline, Nolan Smith's development, ground game vs. Dallas

    Zach Berman Avatar
    November 1, 2023

    1. The Eagles did not make a trade on deadline day, although last week’s deal for Kevin Byard would suffice as a major move to try to boost the roster. Safety was the Eagles’ biggest position of need and Byard is a two-time All-Pro who stepped in to play 100 percent of the defensive snaps during his first week. 

    They also sent Kentavius Street to Atlanta, getting a 2024 conditional sixth-round pick for a 2025 conditional seventh-round pick. With this deal, think about roster spots. The Eagles are already at a crunch considering Cam Jurgens is eligible to come off injured reserve as soon as this week and Julio Jones will need to move to the 53-man roster. Street had a role as a depth lineman, but the Eagles are in a crunch for spots on the roster. Look for Moro Ojomo to step into Street’s role. The seventh-round pick impressed during training camp this summer to earn a spot on the roster.

    2. There were rumors that the Eagles could try to acquire a linebacker, although that’s not a position in which the Eagles typically devote notable resources. The Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017 with Dannell Ellerbe, a midseason signing, playing a role down the stretch. They generally think if their front is elite and their cornerbacks can cover, they do not need to invest valuable picks or cap space at linebacker. 

    Plus, the team remains committed to the development of Nakobe Dean. He’s the highest-drafted linebacker Roseman has made since 2012. That’s also why it’s curious that Dean is not taking a full allotment of snaps. The Eagles continue to rotate Dean, Nicholas Morrow, and Zach Cunningham.

    So why isn’t Dean an every-down player now three weeks post-foot injury?

    “I think he is,” defensive coordinator Sean Desai told reporters on Tuesday. “I think the snap count thing can be a little bit deceiving when we are rotating guys because there’s a function of who our depth is and matchups and things like that that we want to create. And it’s the same at that position, at the linebacker position; where we have three guys that play really good football for us. So, we want to get everybody healthy for the season and we are in this thing for the long haul, and we want to manage that, and we haven’t really had a drop off in performance regardless of who is in so we feel confident in anybody that we put out there.”

    Pay attention to the playing time in the coming weeks. The Eagles built their depth chart this offseason with the expectation that Dean would play a big role.

    3. Edge rusher would have made sense as a spot to bolster, considering it’s a priority position for the Eagles and they’re not getting enough production from their second and third group. Josh Sweat played 85 percent of the defensive snaps against Washington and Haason Reddick played 82 percent of the snaps. This is typically a rotation position, so it stood out that Brandon Graham played 19 percent of the snap and Derek Barnett and Nolan Smith played a combined 11 snaps. For comparison, in Week 8 last season, Reddick played 63 percent of the snaps and Sweat played 55 percent of the snaps.

    As I said on Tuesday’s PHLY Eagles show, the Eagles need Smith to be a version of a trade deadline acquisition. Smith has played only nine percent of the defensive snaps this season. He has one sack, one quarterback hit, and two pressures. He was the No. 30 overall pick who came from the top defense in college football and brought elite athletic traits. That profile should command more playing time — especially when there is a clear need for productive depth. 

    If there’s any player on the depth chart who I’m expecting to take on a larger role in the big half of the schedule, it’s Smith.

    4. So what about a big deadline splash, such as cornerbacks Patrick Surtain Jr. or Jaylon Johnson? I was skeptical that Roseman would surrender significant draft capital and/or spend resources on someone who would require a big contract. The Eagles have core players eligible for new deals after the season, including DeVonta Smith and Landon Dickerson. Sweat and Reddick both are entering the final year of their contracts in 2024 and would make sense as potential extension candidates. Plus, the Eagles have contracts that are about to swell. It would behoove Roseman to be careful with his most valuable draft resources — two first-round picks and three second-round picks during the next two years — knowing that he needs cost-controlled contributing talent. The first two rounds are the best place to find those players. 

    I could have understood trading major assets to land a cornerback such as Surtain considering he’s a blue-chip player at age 23, but those picks are going to be critical for the Eagles. A big reason why the Eagles were able to rebuild the roster after 2020 was stockpiling valuable draft picks, drafting well, and maneuvering to add future picks. For sustained success during Jalen Hurts’ contract, the Eagles need to draft and trade with effectiveness.

    5. On the injury front, pay attention to Jurgens’ status. He traveled with the team to Washington and has been out of his walking boot. He’s eligible to return to practice as soon as Wednesday’s walkthrough. Once the Eagles activate him for practice, there’s a 21-day window to return. Coach Nick Sirianni did not rule out Jurgens playing Sunday against Dallas. That would be a boost to the offensive line.

    Jalen Carter left the Washington game with a back injury, although it’s not considered significant at this point. Sirianni wanted to wait until Carter was on the field to see how the rookie felt, but he also could be in line to play against the Cowboys.

    Grant Calcaterra’s concussion is a situation that requires consideration even beyond the normal due diligence required for head injuries because of his history. Calcaterra retired from football in college because of concussions. He briefly became a firefighter before returning to football. This is his first known concussion in the NFL. 

    “Obviously, every person that has a head injury we want to give the ultimate care to. That’s something we’ll never mess around with,” Sirianni said. “Their long-term health is more important to me than winning a football game, to be quite honest with you. With him and his history we’re going to do our due diligence like we do with every player, and to be honest with you, and then some just because of his history and because we care about our guys. We’ll see where that is.”

    Oct 1, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles center Cam Jurgens (51) blocks against the Washington Commanders at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    6. The Eagles offense has been so productive through the air in recent weeks that it can overshadow inconsistencies in the running game. They averaged only 79.3 rushing yards per game during the past three weeks, and just 3.1 yards per carry. One could try suggesting the average is skewed by quarterback sneaks, although the running backs are averaging three yards per carry during this period. 

    As for the reason? They’ve played good defensive fronts, including the Jets and Washington. Jurgens’ injury could be a factor. Jalen Hurts’ knee injury limits his running, which takes away some of the plus-one element in the running game. But this needs to be a focus for the Eagles going into the Cowboys game. 

    Remember the fourth quarter drive last year when the Eagles relied on the ground game to push their lead against Dallas? (To spark your memory: they rushed the ball on 10 of the first 11 plays of a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive.) That’s a recipe the Eagles can use against the division rivals, who rank No. 18 against the run and No. 3 against the pass.

    “The run game can be unique at times. It can be tough sledding for a while and then you continue to push and pound and then you break one and that evens kind of out your yards-per-carry,” offensive coordinator Brian Johnson told reporters on Tuesday. “But for us, what we want to accomplish is really to try to be both efficient and explosive in the run game. We have to continue to find ways to put the guys in great spots. Make sure our landmarks are right and make sure we are doing a great job of making plays once we are blocked up to the second and third level.”

    Johnson added that on the RPOs, the Eagles were getting hand-off reads and it’s been reversed in recent weeks. So part of it is the way defense plays against them.

    7. Roster development is always enhanced when a team can hit on an undrafted rookie. It looks like that might be the case with cornerback Eli Ricks, who continues to push for more playing time. He played a season-high 35 percent of snaps against Washington. He was inactive Week 1, didn’t play on defense until Week 5, and keeps carving out a bigger role. Ricks is ahead of Kelee Ringo, a fourth-round pick who the Eagles traded a third-round pick to acquire. And the way he’s able to acclimate to the slot shows his movement skills for someone who is 6-foot-2 and 188 pounds.

    Ricks was a heralded recruit who was a standout as a freshman at LSU in 2020. Injuries affected him in 2021 at LSU and 2022 at Alabama, leaving him undrafted as an early entry. He clearly earned a roster spot in training camp and the preseason, where his upside was apparent to anyone watching. He’s looked like he’s belonged on the field in recent weeks. This was a good signing by the Eagles that could pay dividends in the coming seasons, especially with a long-term need for starting cornerbacks.

    8. If you saw the overnight news out of Las Vegas, the Raiders fired Josh McDaniels eight games into his second season. McDaniels was a finalist for the Eagles’ job in 2021 that went to Sirianni. At the time, McDaniels was the more credentialed candidate. The Eagles saw promise in Sirianni, who has won 71 percent of his games. Part of a coach’s success is environmental — perhaps McDaniels would have done better in the Eagles’ organization — but the way this decision worked out shows three it’s difficult to judge a hire on the day it’s made, that a coach should be hired for leadership/organization/management more than play-calling success, and that sometimes the best decisions are those you don’t make.

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