Eagles chat: Les Bowen talks Chip Kelly, 2015 off-season

Les Bowen spoke with Bleeds-Green.com’s Cody Benjamin on Monday, addressing the headlining topics of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2015 off-season, including the team’s latest additions, ongoing speculation of a move for Marcus Mariota and coach Chip Kelly’s aggressive personnel strategy.

Bowen, who’s covered the Eagles for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com since 2002, also updated his March 12 report of a potential Evan Mathis trade, discussed the importance of Sam Bradford in 2015 and examined the differences between this year’s free-agency spree and the Eagles’ 2011 “Dream Team.”

Bowen is also the author of the 2011 book “Philadelphia Eagles: The Complete Illustrated History.” He can be followed on Twitter @LesBowen.

Listen to Bleeds-Green.com’s Eagles chat with Les Bowen on SoundCloud, above, or here:

Eagles Free Agent Watch: Updated timeline

Photo by Cody Benjamin

Photo by Cody Benjamin

Bleeds-Green.com presents “Free Agent Watch,” a spinoff of the 2015 off-season timeline and running list of Philadelphia Eagles news from this year’s free agency/trading period, updated with background information and live-reaction analysis.

March 18: The Eagles restructured outside linebacker Connor Barwin’s contract.

After re-signing fellow OLB Brandon Graham in free agency, the Eagles rewarded Barwin with a raise of approximately $750,000 in each of the final three seasons of his six-year contract, according to ESPN’s Adam Caplan. The restructured deal reportedly also includes an increase in guaranteed money.

Barwin, 28, signed a six-year, $36-million contract with the Eagles in 2013 and emerged as the team’s most prominent pass rusher last season. His career-high 14.5 sacks resulted in All-Pro honors and a Pro Bowl appearance. A consummate professional on and off the field who began his career with the Houston Texans, Barwin (6-4, 260 pounds) kicked off his Eagles tenure as a natural fit in the team’s 3-4 defense, posting five sacks and 10 pass deflections in 2013.

March 18: The New England Patriots signed Eagles free-agent cornerback Bradley Fletcher.

With a one-year, $2.5-million deal reported by ESPN, Fletcher becomes the latest unsigned Eagles free agent to land elsewhere.

Fletcher, 28, was one of the Eagles’ 2013 free-agent additions and started opposite Cary Williams the last two years. A 2009 third-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams, he totaled 37 pass deflections and three interceptions with the Eagles. Much like his four-year tenure in St. Louis, Fletcher seemed all-around more consistent than Williams. But he was regularly exposed on deep balls within an unpredictable 2014 secondary. His fate was all but sealed when the Eagles added two CBs this off-season.

March 17: The Eagles signed linebacker Bryan Braman to a one-year contract extension.

A day after hosting a workout for free-agent quarterback Tim Tebow, the Eagles officially made a move. Braman would have been a free agent after the 2015 season, but Philadelphia has extended his deal through 2016, according to ESPN’s Field Yates.

Braman, 27, signed a two-year deal as a 2014 free agent and played all 16 games last season, recording six tackles on a special teams unit that led the NFL in scoring. Prior to joining the Eagles, the former undrafted backup had a combined 36 tackles in a STs role for the Houston Texans from 2011-2013. He figures to be an integral piece of Philadelphia’s kickoff coverage groups.

March 12: The Eagles signed running backs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews.

The Eagles bolstered their RB corps and may have intensified their rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys in the process. If it weren’t for the disintegration of a reported deal with another unsigned RB, Frank Gore, the Eagles probably wouldn’t have entered the Murray sweepstakes, but Dallas’ free-agent veteran signed a five-year deal worth $42 million, half of which is guaranteed, after a much-publicized motorcade-led visit to Philadelphia. Mathews, formerly of the San Diego Chargers, visited the Eagles prior to Murray and signed a three-year, $11.5-million contract.

Murray, 27, a two-time Pro-Bowler and teammate of Sam Bradford at the University of Oklahoma, was the consensus top RB on the market. A 2011 third-round draft pick, he was the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year with an NFL-leading 1,845 rushing yards. Giving Murray (6-0, 217 pounds) big money despite an injury history and heavy 2014 workload (449 touches) is risky, but the Eagles essentially swapped LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso and Murray, a top-five back whose one-cut, physical style could offer a major upgrade.

Mathews, 27, played the last five seasons for the Chargers, who drafted him 12th overall in 2010. A sprained MCL and ankle injury limited him to a career-low 330 rushing yards in 2014, but Mathews (6-0, 220 pounds) has topped the 1,000-yard mark twice, including a 1,255-yard effort in 2013 and a 2011 Pro-Bowl campaign. He’s been as injury-prone as the jettisoned McCoy was explosive, but at a reasonable price, Mathews could be a solid downhill complement alongside Murray and Darren Sproles.

March 12: The Oakland Raiders signed Eagles free-agent safety Nate Allen.

Signed by the Raiders, Allen has joined Jeremy Maclin as the second unsigned Eagles free agent to depart for another team.

Allen, 27, an Eagles second-round draft pick in 2010, had a career-high four interceptions opposite Malcolm Jenkins in 2014 and departs Philadelphia having totaled 324 tackles, 29 pass deflections and 10 picks. He flashed promise as a solid, if unspectacular starter over the years, including a 3-INT rookie campaign, but Allen figured to be on his way out after a hard-working, albeit inconsistent, five-year tenure in a similarly unpredictable secondary. His departure solidifies the team’s need for more S help, though.

March 11: The Kansas City Chiefs signed Eagles free-agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to a five-year contract.

The Chiefs officially added Maclin in a move widely reported during the NFL’s pre-free agency negotiation period. Kansas City bested an offer by the Eagles to retain their unsigned WR, according to ESPN, and Maclin will earn $55 million as he becomes the latest ex-Eagle to land elsewhere (Todd Herremans and Trent Cole signed with the Indianapolis Colts and Cary Williams signed with the Seattle Seahawks).

The 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Maclin, 26, missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL but had a career-best 1,318 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in a Pro-Bowl 2014 season. From 2009-2012, he averaged 863 yards per season opposite DeSean Jackson, often earning the label of a solid all-around No. 2 target. The Eagles have potential replacements and they may not be derided for failing to give Maclin $11 million per year, but it also isn’t easy to let a weapon and character of Maclin’s caliber walk away.

March 11: The Eagles signed cornerback Walter Thurmond III to a one-year contract.

Looking to fill another CB void, the Eagles announced the addition of Thurmond, formerly of the New York Giants. With his one-year deal, Thurmond became the second former Seattle Seahawks defensive back to sign with Philadelphia this off-season.

At 5-11 and 190 pounds, Thurmond, 27, isn’t as big as Byron Maxwell, his Seahawks-turned-Eagles teammate, but has experience on the outside and in the slot. A torn ACL limited Thurmond, a 2010 fourth-round draft pick from the University of Oregon, to two games with the Giants in 2014. But he was Seattle’s No. 3 CB during the team’s 2013 Super Bowl run. He’s yet to play a full season, so Thurmond’s an inexpensive hit-or-miss addition, but his role figures to be immediate in the Eagles’ revamped secondary.

March 10: The Eagles signed cornerback Byron Maxwell to a six-year contract.

Maxwell, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, was frequently suggested as a potential free-agent target of the Eagles, and ESPN reported Sunday that Maxwell planned to sign with Philadelphia. The team has since announced his contract, worth a reported $63 million, $25 million of which is guaranteed.

Maxwell, 27, the consensus top cornerback available, emerged in the Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning defense. Although he surely benefited from playing alongside three All-Pro defensive backs, the 6-1, 207-pound veteran fits the bill as a physical CB and was around the ball (6 interceptions, 24 pass deflections) in 17 career starts since 2013. A 2011 sixth-round draft pick out of Clemson University, Maxwell might never live up to such a ludicrous contract but adds immense promise to a rebuilding Eagles secondary.

March 10: The Eagles traded quarterback Nick Foles, a 2015 fourth-round draft pick and a 2016 second-round draft pick to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for quarterback Sam Bradford and a 2015 fifth-round draft pick.

As if the Eagles needed to top their blockbuster LeSean McCoy trade, which became official upon the start of free agency, an ESPN report unveiled another headlining deal that Philadelphia has since announced. Despite longstanding speculation that Eagles coach Chip Kelly coveted his former college QB, 2015 draft prospect Marcus Mariota, the team has landed Bradford in a swap that also involves a conditional 2016 draft pick.

The future of Foles, 26, was the subject of much debate after an injury- and turnover-riddled 2014 season, his first as an uncontested starter. A 2012 third-round pick, he had as many turnovers (13) as touchdown passes before suffering a broken collarbone last season but posted a historic 27:2 TD-to-interception ratio and record-tying 7-TD performance during a 2013 Pro-Bowl campaign as the successor to Michael Vick. The 6-6, 243-pound QB went 14-4 as a starter under Kelly, but his regression, highlighted by a QB rating that dropped roughly 38 points from 2013-2014, prompted change.

Trading Foles, who was perhaps more lauded for his persona than skill set, wasn’t unforeseen thanks to Kelly’s roster overhaul. But packaging him with two picks to acquire Bradford, 27, who’s torn his ACL in consecutive seasons and is set to earn nearly $13 million in 2015, was a dicey curveball. The No. 1 overall pick out of the University of Oklahoma in 2010, Bradford logged a 14:4 TD-to-INT ratio in 2013 and earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors under the Eagles’ Pat Shurmur, an ex-Rams coordinator. The Eagles’ compensation seems steep for Bradford and his so-so resume, but if any system can play to the QB’s strengths, it’s probably Kelly’s.

March 9: The Eagles re-signed outside linebacker Brandon Graham to a four-year contract.

Just under 24 hours before the start of free agency, Graham agreed to an extension worth $26 million, $14 million of which is guaranteed, according to PhillyMag.com’s Tim McManus. Despite reports that Graham was close to signing with the NFC East’s New York Giants, the Eagles have since announced the deal.

The 13th overall draft pick of Philadelphia in 2010, Graham, 26, was perhaps the most notable of the Eagles’ own free agents aside from Jeremy Maclin. As a converted defensive end, he produced in a rotational role in 2014 (5.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) and could be on the brink of a full-time starting job after an injury-riddled start to his career. Graham’s never posted double-digit sack totals, but he figures to have a chance to do so in 2015 and beyond as a familiar successor to Trent Cole.

March 8: The Eagles re-signed quarterback Mark Sanchez to a two-year contract.

A day before the official free-agency kickoff, the Eagles retained one of their 10 unsigned players in Sanchez. The veteran’s two-year deal, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, is for $9 million, $5.5 of which is guaranteed, but incentives could boost its worth to upwards of $16 million.

Sanchez, 28, started eight games in his 2014 Eagles debut, filling in for an injured Nick Foles after five years with the New York Jets, who drafted him fifth overall in 2009. He was up and down, throwing 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in a 4-4 stretch, but in a league desperate for quality QBs, the Eagles ensured the return of a competent veteran presence by extending Sanchez. His new contract is curiously large, too, so the team may envision a potentially large role for the QB regardless of Foles’ future.

March 7: The Eagles offered restricted-free-agent (RFA) tenders to running back Chris Polk and defensive end Cedric Thornton.

In advance of the NFL’s “tampering” period, which runs from March 7 until free agent moves can become official March 10, the Eagles have extended offers to two of their own unsigned players. Thornton, according to ESPN’s Field Yates, received a $2.35-million second-round tender and Polk, according to NJ.com, received the lowest-level tender, worth $1.6 million.

Transitioning from undrafted defensive tackle project to full-time 3-4 DE opposite Fletcher Cox, Thornton, 26, has started all 32 games for the Eagles since 2013. Entering his fifth season in the NFL and in Philadelphia, he would return under a one-year contract if he signs the Eagles’ RFA tender for the second consecutive year, but if he signs elsewhere and the Eagles don’t match his new deal, the team would receive a second-round draft pick in return.

Polk, 25, wouldn’t net the Eagles any compensation if he signs elsewhere, as the lowest-level tender equates to the round the player was drafted. A rookie free agent signing in 2012, the 5-11, 222-pound RB scored seven touchdowns over the last two seasons as the team’s No. 3 back and also had a kickoff return TD. The Eagles apparently aren’t too concerned about losing Polk, who has an injury history, but he could very well reprise his role in 2015, especially with LeSean McCoy’s reported departure.

March 3: The Eagles will trade running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Talk about shaking up the off-season. Trades can’t officially be processed until March 10, the start of free agency, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Philadelphia and Buffalo have a deal in place. News of the blockbuster swap capped off the Eagles’ busy Tuesday, not to mention weeks of speculation centered on McCoy’s 2015 salary of approximately $11 million.

McCoy is one of the premier figures on the team, let alone the NFL, having racked up the league’s third most rushing yards (6,792) since becoming an Eagles second-round draft pick in 2009. A three-time Pro-Bowler and two-time All-Pro honoree, he is also the franchise’s all-time leading rusher and his 1,607 yards in 2013 set an Eagles single-season record. The University of Pittsburgh product has long been a consensus top-five NFL back, scoring 54 career touchdowns en route to a five-year, $45 million contract in 2012, although his yards-per-carry and TD totals dipped last season.

On the surface, cutting ties with a RB of McCoy’s caliber through a player-for-player trade looks risky, to say the least. McCoy’s popularity might be just as notable as the additional hole the Eagles will create at the RB position, too. That being said, if Alonso, 24, a 2013 second-round pick out of the University of Oregon, returns to rookie-season form (159 tackles, 4 interceptions) after missing 2014 with a torn ACL, the Eagles might have nixed the need for a long-term DeMeco Ryans replacement at ILB. Around $10 million in cap space would also be cleared at the expense of McCoy, who at times appeared less shifty than his signature self last season.

March 3: The Eagles will release outside linebacker Trent Cole.

In the coming days, the Eagles will part ways with yet another longtime veteran in Cole, as first reported by CSN Philly. Releasing Cole, who reportedly couldn’t settle on an agreement to restructure his 2012 contract extension, will open up approximately $8.245 million in salary cap space.

Cole, 32, was the team’s longest-tenured player after Todd Herremans was released. A fifth-round draft pick in 2005, he departs with 85.5 career sacks, the second highest mark in Eagles history. Despite four double-digit sack seasons, two Pro Bowl appearances and a productive transition from defensive end in 2013, Cole was due to make upwards of $11.625 million in 2015, even without a guaranteed starting role. It’s unclear how much Cole has left in the tank, but his departure intensifies the Eagles’ thinning OLB corps.

March 3: The Eagles released cornerback Cary Williams.

Less than a week after parting ways with 10-year veteran Todd Herremans, the Eagles announced Williams as the third salary-saving release of the off-season (James Casey was also released Feb. 19). The move, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, saves the team $6.5 million.

Williams, 30, signed a three-year contract with the Eagles in 2013 and started all 32 games over the last two seasons. After a six-year tenure with the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens to start his career, he totaled 126 tackles and five interceptions for the Eagles. Williams’ fiery mentality seemed to mirror his tendency to play up and down to competition. The Eagles apparently preferred to to replace Williams within what could be a drastically remade secondary.

March 2: The Eagles signed linebacker Brad Jones to a two-year contract.

With a little over a week until the NFL’s official signing period kicks off, the Eagles wasted little time exploring the current market of veteran free agents. The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt reported Monday that Jones visited Philadelphia, and the Eagles have since announced the LB’s signing.

Jones, 28, was released by the Green Bay Packers Feb. 20 after six seasons with the team. Converted from outside to inside linebacker, he started 22 games from 2012-13 but primarily played special teams last season. A 2009 seventh-round draft pick, Jones gives the Eagles some low-risk competition in a thin ILB corps.

Eagles rumblings: Free agency, CBs and Mariota mania

The widespread gossip of the Philadelphia Eagles off-season is hardly a surprise. It is the off-season, after all.

What could possibly top the daily discussions of the Eagles and their plans for the coming months? Perhaps the likelihood that those talks will only intensify as the off-season progresses.

In an effort to digest and dissect some of the latest hot topics, here are a few random observations on the rumblings of the 2015 Eagles:

Veteran sacrifices: Replacing both James Casey and Todd Herremans, the Eagles’ respective salary cap casualties of February, shouldn’t be insurmountable. But I also wouldn’t overlook the team-first character that Casey displayed the last two years and Herremans displayed the last 10. They were perfect fits for coach Chip Kelly’s preferred culture.

Marcus – wait for it – Mariota: I’ve actively attempted to avoid the Marcus Mariota talk, but, my goodness, it just can’t be ignored, can it?

Mariota may be out of reach as a consensus top-two quarterback prospect in April’s draft, but it hasn’t stopped a hefty faction of Eagles fans from pouring unhealthy amounts of fuel on the fire that is Mariota’s connection with Oregon-turned-Eagles coach Chip Kelly. I stand by the belief that Nick Foles deserves at least a semblance of patience as the team’s QB, and I similarly think the team is best suited to build around Foles. That being said, the more I’ve been subjected to Mariota mania, the more I’ve found reason to believe the hot-topic rookie could be a viable option if Kelly is, in fact, as enamored with Mariota as some believe.

Aside from the Mariota ordeal, the draft gives everyone plenty of players and possibilities to discuss. But until free agency unfolds along with inevitable roster tweaking, it’s kind of premature to project what’s going to happen in April. Then again, when isn’t it?

Cornerback talk: Cary Williams isn’t a shutdown cornerback and it’s not unreasonable to expect the Eagles to try to restructure his contract (3 years, $17 million). But regardless of whether Philadelphia gets aggressive in its efforts to upgrade a lackluster secondary (see: Maxwell, Byron), I think you can do a lot worse than Williams at the No. 2 CB spot in 2015.

As far as addressing the soon-to-be vacant spot opposite Williams, you probably won’t find a more ideal free-agent candidate than Maxwell, of the Seattle Seahawks. Even if the New England Patriots let Darrelle Revis hit the market, I can’t imagine the Eagles dumping a lucrative deal on a guy who turns 30 this summer, but I also don’t think it’d be necessary to do so – the main reason being that one acquisition isn’t going to fix the entire secondary, but rather serve as a stepping stone to improvement.

Nate Allen: It was good to hear that Fort Myers, Fla. police cleared Eagles safety Nate Allen of all wrongdoing in a recent incident involving allegations of indecent exposure. Allen’s career has been one of many ups and downs and he may or may not have played his last game in Philadelphia, but he’s never been one to attract a negative spotlight. From two conversations I had with Allen in recent years, I came to know him as an example of humility.

Blitzing the market: It’s hard to say what the best option is for the Eagles when it comes to their pass rush.

It seems likelier each day that Brandon Graham is going to test the market. Ditto for Jason Worilds of the Pittsburgh Steelers, an oft-speculated Eagles target. If Worilds and Graham are seeking similar contracts, it might be smart to pony up the dough for the latter, if only because Graham is already familiar with the Eagles. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if Philadelphia sees Worilds as a better pure 3-4 outside linebacker in the mold of Connor Barwin. If both options are too pricy, maybe the Eagles take a second annual draft-day swing at an OLB.

Eagles free agency: The one-liner guide

NFL draft talk is well underway – and rightfully so considering the arrival of the Scouting Combine Feb. 17.

But before all eyes turn to the college football prospects that highlight the NFL come spring, there are deals to be made.

A day before the Combine kicks off, teams will be eligible to use franchise or transition tags. And on March 7, clubs can negotiate with impending free agents in hopes of striking an agreement before the official signing period begins three days later.

Like most teams, the Philadelphia Eagles have a handful of needs this off-season. And while the impending market probably doesn’t have the options nor do the Eagles have the power to fill all those needs through free agency, there is assuredly some action that awaits.

In this one-liner guide of both the Eagles’ own free agents as well as some of the team’s most glaring weaknesses, one opinion is offered on how the Birds’ 2015 ventures on the market could unfold:

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Eagles best suited to ride with Nick Foles in 2015

Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles have made their concerns about the team’s quarterback position as public as, well, their 1999 jeering of the franchise’s last record-breaking signal-caller, Donovan McNabb.

Former third-round draft pick Nick Foles caught the league by surprise with a 27:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his first year under coach Chip Kelly. But, as fans know all too well by now, the 6-foot-6 veteran suffered a steep decline in 2014, his first year as the Eagles’ uncontested starter. A broken collarbone sidelined him for the latter half of a season in which the team missed the playoffs. And before his absence, Foles had as many touchdowns (13) as turnovers.

Clearly, even without the unpredictable nature of Foles’ future, concern about the position is warranted.

In today’s day and age, the argument can be made that unless a team has an elite quarterback (or a historically dominant defense to mask the QB’s flaws), it hardly has a chance to capture a Super Bowl title. And in Philadelphia, where championship potential has been teased and the thirst for a Lombardi Trophy is as strong as ever, the team and its fans alike want to know if they have “their guy” at quarterback.

Believe it or not, the debate over whether Foles should remain the man at the forefront of Kelly’s offense is already a tired one. The same fans, analysts and “experts” who understand patience is a virtue in evaluating young quarterbacks are also hesitant to crown Foles the next Philadelphia savior – something that many rushed to do after his all-star showing in 2013.

What clouds all debate over Foles’ level of competency, however, is the fact that – for better or worse – the Eagles aren’t exactly in a position to do much about solving the issue that is identifying a franchise quarterback.

Firstly, regardless of whether or not Foles proves to be a consistent, top-10 starter down the road, the Eagles’ options are limited in terms of potential 2015 replacements.

Rumors, reports and pure speculation have linked the Eagles to Kelly’s former University of Oregon quarterback, consensus top-five draft prospect Marcus Mariota. But even if Mariota doesn’t come off the board well before Philadelphia’s first-round selection at No. 20 or even if Kelly convinces Philadelphia to mortgage a heap of compensation to trade up for Mariota, who’s to say that a rookie – one who excelled without any hint of work in a pro system, no less – would promise the Eagles more immediate production and/or security in owning a “franchise quarterback” than Foles?

The same can be said for just about any other alternative in the draft. And unless a veteran free agent like Brian Hoyer, Matt Flynn, Matt Moore, Shaun Hill, Jake Locker, or Colt McCoy inspires the team more than Foles does, there’s hardly an incentive for Philadelphia to bank on landing a new starter. That’s not to say someone like Locker wouldn’t intrigue the Eagles as a high-potential backup, but the most logical approach in 2015 could very well be to give Foles more time to earn his role.

“Franchise quarterbacks,” unless superficially drafted as such, are rarely mentioned among the league’s best until they’ve had enough time to build a hefty resume for themselves. And in Foles’ case, there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence to either support or deny his status as a No. 1 passer, so instead of putting stock in someone who’s both unproven in all aspects and likely out of reach (e.g. Mariota) or someone whose track record indicates a lower level of production (e.g. a free agent), the Eagles might be best suited building around the possibility they have in Foles.

Foles has at least provided the team with a taste of his potential – a sampling that may or may not result in long-term success but at least gives the Eagles a semblance of a promising QB. And if they do, in fact, ride with him as their signal-caller in 2015, what better way to improve the team and its chances at the ever-elusive Super Bowl than building around him? Fans would surely agree that a position like cornerback could use just as much work.

Until 2016, of course. Then, perhaps, the debate can rage on, and rightfully so.

The 2015 Eagles off-season timeline

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Photo by Cody Benjamin

The NFL likes to pride itself as a year-round operation, and its teams – the Philadelphia Eagles included – are no different.

As is often the case, the off-season brings about just as much, if not more, news than when games are being played. And for the Eagles, 2015 has already brought about plenty of headlines.

Updated in accordance with rumors, reports and official transactions, here is a timeline of what’s going on with the Eagles:

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