A fair amount of Eagles news emerged from the NFL owners meetings last week, but there was plenty I wasn’t able to get to either here or in print. Most of the leftovers come from on-the-record interviews with Andy Reid and Howie Roseman. But some of the information -- stowed away in the mental notebook – was picked up during the social conversations that make the owners meetings so valuable to NFL reporters.
So as the Eagles hunt for a left tackle and put the finishing touches on their draft board, it’s time to drain the notebook once again:
1. An Eagles contingent is in College Station, Tex. today to privately work out Ryan Tannehill, according to Peter King. With Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III firmly slotted to go Nos. 1 and 2 in the draft, the spotlight has shifted to the Texas A&M quarterback. A month ago, many considered Tannehill a late first round prospect. Now some mock drafts have him going as high as No. 4 to Cleveland. The Eagles need a quarterback. I spelled out the reasons for the drafting of one last week. But I’m a bit skeptical of how open the team has been about their interest in this year’s crop of quarterbacks. Tannehill told King himself about today’s workout with the Eagles. If the Eagles were indeed after him wouldn’t they have told him to keep it quiet? They did so with Kevin Kolb in 2007. That was five years ago, though, and it was a little easier for teams to keep pre-draft workouts hush-hush. But as one GM told me at the owners meetings, “You got 31 other teams that unfortunately now monitor everything everybody is writing. … You’re at the point where because I know that and you have 31 other guys that know that you’re going, ‘Alright, are they deliberately sending smoke signals or are they at the point where they’re so relaxed here that they’re really speaking what they think.’ You can drive yourself crazy going in that cycle.”
2. Tannehill is an intriguing prospect. As a freshman he was switched to wide receiver because he had two quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart. He started right away. Two years later he was back under center, but has only 19 career college starts heading into the draft. That isn’t as much film as teams would like, and then he missed the Senior Bowl and the combine because of a broken foot. I think it’s safe to say the Eagles won’t take 28-year-old Brandon Weeden. The age is certainly a factor, especially coming a year after the Eagles drafted Danny Watkins, but unless I’m falling for some misdirection they don’t have a high grade on the Oklahoma State quarterback. “Age is a factor on every player that you’re drafting,” Roseman said. “Last year was a unique situation with us and Danny.”
3. Reading the tea leaves, the Eagles will play more man-to-man press coverage with their cornerbacks, assuming Asante Samuel is dealt (which is safe to assume). Schematically it makes sense, but the most important reason may be comfort. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have made it no secret that they prefer to play man press. I’m not sure we’ll see Asomugha do his guard-the-team’s-best-receiver thing, though. The Eagles are still going to play plenty of zone defense. They still sound intent on having the flexibility to move Asomugha inside to cover a tight end, as he did effectively last season. Looking ahead to next season’s schedule, the Eagles will face some of the league’s best tight ends – the Saints’ Jimmy Graham, the Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez, the Lions’ Brandon Pettigrew, the Bucs’ Kellen Winslow, the Bengals’ Jermaine Greshem, not to mention Jason Witten and Fred Davis. “He enjoys those matchups,” Reid said Asomugha. “You want to have the flexibility to match certain people. He has the size and the ability.”
4. It had been reported that Darryl Tapp was due a roster bonus on April 11, but that was not the case since he didn’t reach an incentive based on his sack totals over the last two years. Some had speculated that Tapp may have had to take a pay cut or face being released before that date. Even though he’s slated to earn just shy of $2.6 million next season – a decent amount for a reserve defensive end -- Tapp will be back for the 2012 season. A few minor injuries have slowed Tapp during his two seasons with the Eagles, and he’s recorded only 5-1/2 sacks over that span. He’s playing in the last year of his contract, which could provide a little more urgency.
5. Despite handing out big contracts to Asomugha, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins – and a few cheaper, less effectives ones to Vince Young, Steve Smith and Ronnie Brown – locking up Todd Herremans and Trent Cole to extensions, and signing DeSean Jackson and Evan Mathis to long-term deals, the Eagles still have $16.25 million in salary cap space. And that doesn’t include the $10.5 million that will be trimmed off once Samuel is traded. Jonathan Tamari explained in greater detail the importance of the Eagles’ business acumen in Sunday’s story. But it bears repeating as the Eagles continue to negotiate what should be a blockbuster extension for LeSean McCoy.
6. Roseman has been very candid about tinkering with his approach to the draft this year. He essentially admitted that the Eagles may have gotten a touch caught up in pre-draft rituals like the Senior Bowl and combine when evaluating prospects. Brandon Graham was a Senior Bowl stud two years ago. Both Roseman and Reid also addressed the drafting the best player on the board vs. reaching for a need argument. “Inevitably you better pick the best player that’s there,” Reid said. “That’s easier said than done once you get there if you’re short … at the safety positions.” Reid was obviously indirectly referencing the selection of Jaiquawn Jarrett, who many teams graded a fourth round safety. My general sense is that Reid is sticking his beak a little more into crafting the draft board. I have no proof of this. Call it hunch. Roseman told me last week that he was as involved in the draft as he had been in the two prior years, though.
7. Re: Jackson’s long-term deal. I had hoped to write this as a longer piece, but time constraints preventing me from doing so. Jackson seemed generally pleased with the contract he signed last month even though many had pointed out that it was less than some receivers of comparable or less talent had also gotten this off-season. I think we’ll see a different DeSean next season, one much happier than the 2011 version. But his grumpiness wasn’t isolated to just one season. Jackson fired the first salvo as far back as Nov. 2009 when he fired his first agent and hired Drew Rosenhaus. A few weeks after his sophomore season ended Jackson was already talking about a new contract. As well as he played in 2010, his production dipped some, and some around the team attributed it to his dissatisfaction with his deal. He was obsessively texting back and forth with Rosenhaus during team meetings and began to show insubordination when he refused to field punts before the Bears game. Reid, of course, reamed Jackson out after the Eagles lost in Chicago. Last season’s headaches have been chronicled. With all the money Jackson got up front in his new deal, he should be content for the coming season. But what happens in 2013 if Jeremy Maclin scores a big pay day? “When DeSean’s right he’s hard to stop,” Reid said. “Listen, these guys have personalities like anybody else and they can get weighted down on one or another, it can affect them.” If it affected him once why can’t it again?
8. Asked about why he stuck with Juan Castillo for another season, Reid pointed to the faith the defensive coordinator maintained in his players even through last season’s tough times. “The first thing that happens in this league is, if the coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about, the players are going to let you know,” Reid said. “They’re going to be very verbal about that. But everybody stayed on board with Juan Castillo.” That was true as far as I could tell. There were a few players that confided in me that Castillo wasn’t exactly ready for the hand he was dealt, but his loyalty won them over. Of course, if Reid was so confident in Castillo he wouldn’t have approached Steve Spagnuolo in January. The additions of Todd Bowles and DeMeco Ryans should help, but as a GM from another team told me last week, putting Castillo in charge of the defense last year was “still a head-scratcher.”
9. A fair amount of Reid’s roundtable interview with reporters in West Palm Beach, Fla. was devoted to the importance of Michael Vick staying healthy. But just as noteworthy was Reid’s admittance that he gave Vick too much responsibility in calling out protections pre-snap last season. “You can’t take quite as much as we did early and do that with a guy,” Reid said. “Even though he’s been in the league as long as he has, it’s a different [protection] scheme. If I had to go back on it, I would have backed up and just gradually fed him the stuff.” Much was written during the preseason about Vick’s reading of blitzes and how his success or failure would greatly influence the offense’s production. Well, aside from the first Cowboys game, he wasn’t very good in that regard. With a year under his belt, I wouldn’t be surprised to see center Jason Kelce take over pre-snap protection calls.
10. Reid has taken a lot of criticism over his gruff demeanor during press conferences. Often I’m asked, “How do you put up with that?” Put simply, it’s not my job to get huffy if Reid snaps at one of my questions or tells me in response to one that “this isn’t a game of Clue.” If I didn’t get a straight answer – or any answer at all – I feel like I haven’t done my job. But those on-camera press conferences are only a percentage of a reporter’s relationship with Reid. He’s typically much better away from the podium. For instance, I was able to chat amiably with Reid for about an hour during a party at the owners meetings. Conversations in social gatherings are off the record, but I will relay one anecdote. At one point during our chat an agent sat down at the table. Eventually, the agent got up and walked over to Reid to say hello. Before he parted he asked Reid if he was going to bring back one of his clients – an unrestricted free agent of the Eagles that will go unnamed. Reid responded slowly, “I … like …” so-and-so as he looked at me. The agent responded, “Well, that’s not a good sign.” The agent didn’t know me, so I told him that Reid was probably hesitant to answer because I was at the table. But I said, ‘Coach, don’t worry I know [unnamed player] isn’t coming back.” Hilarity ensued. Alright, maybe it wasn’t that funny.