The Eagles survived without a kicker throughout most of Sunday’s 37-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys, and they now begin a week when Jake Elliott’s health will be an ongoing question while he recovers from a concussion.
Elliott remains the team’s top option at kicker. They have a potential Plan B in former starter Caleb Sturgis, but they’re still maintaining hope that Elliott is healthy enough to play this Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Coach Doug Pederson didn’t answer whether there’s another option they’d consider.
As it stands now, the Eagles don’t have a healthy kicker on the roster because Elliott is in the league-mandated concussion protocol after injuring his head on the opening kickoff against the Cowboys. But they also don’t play a game until Sunday, so they don’t need one at the moment. They just need clarity by the end of the week.
“I think we’ll find out more in the next couple days with Jake,” Pederson said. “And I don’t want to put myself in a box, but we’ll keep all the options open right now and still have conversations. But it kind of goes back to the same old thing is we still have a couple of days here, today and tomorrow, to evaluate Jake, see where everybody is at, and still a little while before we play Sunday, and we’ll make a decision as we go.”
It’s difficult for Pederson to offer a prognosis for Elliott because the decision is out of the Eagles’ hands. Elliott must clear all five steps of the concussion protocol and be cleared by an independent neurologist. It’s possible that such clearance could come within one week, and kicker is not the type of position in which a player misses valuable game-planning days. So there should be optimism that Elliott can play if cleared, but there’s no way of Pederson knowing until Elliott progresses through the protocol.
Sturgis has been on injured reserve since suffering a Week 1 hip injury. He’s eligible to be activated to the 53-man roster with one of the Eagles’ two “designated to return” provisions. He has started a kicking regimen and is “getting himself back to where he was prior to injury,” according to Pederson. But if the Eagles were to activate him, they would need to either burn an extra roster spot on a kicker to keep Elliott or move on from Elliott, and those are not appealing options.
“You’re talking about roster spots and making moves and things of that nature, and we’re not there yet,” Pederson said.
It would be easier to go that route if the Eagles had planned to give Sturgis his old job back. But that hasn’t been the organization’s thinking as long as Elliott remained healthy and productive, and Pederson confirmed Monday that the Eagles want Elliott to remain their kicker this season.
“If he’s healthy and can play, you’d hate to disrupt that right now,” Pederson said. “So I’d have to say yes to that.”
Elliott missed a 34-yard field goal after suffering the concussion on Sunday. He apparently reported the injury to the medical staff following the attempt. He is now 17 of 21 on field goals this season and 25 of 28 on extra points. His best attribute has been his leg strength; his five field goals of 50 plus yard this season have set a new franchise record. Even though there were inconsistencies on extra points, it sounded like the fault was not entirely on Elliott. During a bye-week interview, special teams coordinator Dave Fipp first indicated that the team planned to remain with Elliott even when Sturgis was eligible to return.
“I would say right now there’s no reason to make a change,” Fipp said. “But at the end of the day, Jake’s still got to improve, too. We’ve got to improve as a group in our operation …It’s a performance-based business. We all know that.”
“We” would include Sturgis. He became the Eagles’ kicker in 2015 after an injury to Cody Parkey, so he’s been the Lou Gehrig to Wally Pipp before. Sturgis was on his way to establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best kickers last season. He was second in the NFL last season with 35 field goals, which were the most in franchise history.
Sturgis is a free agent at the end of the season and Fipp’s message to the veteran had been to get healthy, focus on his future, and know that if the Eagles needed another kicker this season, Sturgis could potentially fill that role.
The Eagles might need a kicker after all. But the hope now seems to be getting Elliott healthy quickly enough for Sunday’s game and avoid fiddling with the roster.
“We haven’t made any decisions yet this week,” Pederson said. “We’ve still got a couple of days before we have to make any decisions on kickers.”