Monday, December 29, 2014

Eagles Thoughts for a Blustery Day

So far, Wednesday has mostly been about what isn't happening with the Eagles.

Eagles Thoughts for a Blustery Day

Nnamdi Asomugha runs out of the tunnel before the Eagles game against the Lions. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)
Nnamdi Asomugha runs out of the tunnel before the Eagles game against the Lions. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

So far, Wednesday has mostly been about what isn't happening with the Eagles.

First we had a tweet from Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellberbe, alluding to an "interview" in Philly today. Given that Ellerbe will become a free agent next week if the Ravens don't strike a deal, and that he is an absolute beast of a 3-4 linebacker, this had the potential to blow up big. Didn't make much sense, though, since interviewing a player who hasn't been released, nearly a week before the March 12 start of free agency, would be big-time tampering that surely would call down the wrath of King Roger of Goodell. Teams tamper all the time by talking with agents; they aren't dumb enough to brazenly bring players into town early.

Sure enough, after I interrupted agent Hadley Englehard's quick pre-free agency Florida vacation with his family, Englehard explained that Ellerbe was doing an interview Wednesday with NFL Films, in Mount Laurel, N.J. No connection with the Eagles. Thanks, Hadley, sorry to bother you. (Over the years, about half the "coach/player in Philly" rumors have turned out to be related to NFL Films, I'd say.) Will the Eagles be interested in Ellerbe if the Ravens are crazy enough to let him hit the market? They'd have to be. But he wants to stay in Baltimore and the Ravens want to keep him.

Next up was a Howard Eskin report that corner Nnamdi Asomugha would be released today. Not true, said both the team and a source close to Asomugha. But it has been nearly two weeks now since Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and agent Ben Dogra sat down at the combine in Indianapolis to discuss restructuring Asomugha's contract, which calls for him to make $15 million this year. When the meeting occurred, I figured maybe this meant Asomugha was staying. It was clear the Eagles weren't thrilled about paying him the required $4 million to play somewhere else in  2013, and it's hard to turn over the entire secondary in one offseason.

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But I've talked to key people on both sides since then, and nobody seems optimistic. At 31 this summer, Asomugha might make more sense for a contender. Plus, he gets that $4 mil, plus whatever another team is willing to pay him, which almost certainly will be more than he would net from a restructuring here. And for Eagles fans, he has become a symbol of the franchise's decline. He won't be released today, but Nnamdi almost certainly will be eating his 2013 lunches in some other team's parking lot.

People also are keenly interested in what's up with the Eagles and Lehigh. I've been pressing this for a few weeks now, and the more "gee, we don't know yet" answers I get, the surer I am that the Eagles are going to be camping at NovaCare.

Yeah, fans are going to be upset, because the access can't possibly be what it was at Lehigh. But this year, Jeffrey Lurie and co. are all about what Chip Kelly wants, and if the Chipper doesn't want to go running off to Bethlehem this summer, the Eagles won't do it; they will risk the backlash, just as they did with bringing back Michael Vick, which absolutely wasn't going to happen before Kelly was hired.

There's a chance Kelly really hasn't made up his mind on this, and the Birds could return to Lehigh for an 18th summer. But the longer we go, the more I think the delay is about figuring out what sort of fan events are possible at the Linc. That calculation is complicated by the renovations at the stadium this spring and summer.

I can't believe camp will be totally closed to fans, but I also don't think the Eagles are going to try to cram thousands of people into NovaCare. They promised the surrounding neighborhood they wouldn't do that when they built the complex a little more than a decade ago. Could you accommodate a few hundred people a day, hold some sort of lottery?

There is no buzz whatsoever about having camp at another college campus in the region.

Meanwhile, free agency officially starts next Tuesday, but for the first time, the NFL is acknowledging what has been happening in flagrant disregard of the rules for many years. Starting March 9, teams will be able to officially approach the agents of pending UFAs with offers. They can't actually sign the players until March 12. Presumably, a lot of those UFAs will want to see if their current teams are interested in matching, while those teams still hold exclusive signing rights.

This is a new twist and it's hard to see how it will work out. My gut feeling is that even fewer top UFAs will actually hit the market Tuesday, after a weekend of wild speculation and hype.

As Roseman noted last week, the league meetings, March 17-20 in Phoenix, for the first time will be held in the early days of free agency, with the market still hot, presumably. Another twist.

It's tempting to look at free agents at just about every position and think "hey, that guy could help the Eagles." When you're 4-12, even mediocrity looks appealing. Two things, though: trying to build through free agency helped get the Eagles into this mess, and the nature of free agency ensures that a lot of mediocre guys are going to get overpaid.

Are the Eagles going to be players in the market? They just about have to be. They have eight draft picks in April, one in every round until the seventh. They need way more help than that. And they're changing their defensive look, which is going to involve retooling even beyond the all-new secondary. They have at least $30 million in cap space, a figure that will grow when they jettison Nnamdi.

But the focus has to be on younger guys who can add longterm value, not on Pro Bowl veterans with gaudy stats. It's really interesting that the market seems most enticing with regard to defensive backs and offensive linemen, two areas where the draft also is deep. If you help one area considerably in free agency, that lessens the drafting pressure, frees you up to really, truly take that "best available player" everybody always talks about drafting.

Les Bowen Daily News Staff Writer
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