The Juice and the Squeeze

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Sam Bradford, Quarterback

By: Justin Salmasi

Sam Bradford’s career up to this point has been a roller coaster ride. Coming out of Oklahoma University as one of the highest graded college quarterback prospects in recent history, Bradford  hit the ground running. He broke multiple rookie records and almost led his inept Rams squad to the playoffs. Since then, Bradford’s career has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency. In many cases, he was surrounded by a less than stellar supporting cast, but nevertheless, Bradford began trending downward and was all but written off as a bust in the minds of Ram’s fans and coaches alike.

In fact, when the Eagles traded Nick Foles and a second round pick for the former first overall pick, I thought Chip had officially lost his mind. Why would he trade a proven QB who we at least believe is in “good-not-great” territory for a QB that the St Louis Rams deemed unfit to lead their impotent franchise? Why should Eagles fans feel confident about Sam Bradford?

Never Had Talent Around Him

It’s easy, and irresponsible, to say that a great QB should make his entire team better. While cases have been made in some outliers (Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, etc.), most quarterbacks need at least some talent around them in order to reach their potential. The Rams fielded below average pass protection consistently over the course of Bradford’s tenure. Most of that time, if Bradford wasn’t being sacked, he had roughly three seconds to find his target before getting pummeled anyway by the opposing defense. When he was afforded time, he was normally on the money with his throws. Even those efforts were futile, because the Ram’s receiving corps also led the league in drop percentage with 13% and frequently abandoned their routes. In short, the line was useless and his receivers rarely bailed him out.

Chip Kelly never ceases to amaze me. Just when I thought he rid our offense of any talent, Bradford may be working with the most complete offense this team has had since Chip took over. DeMarco Murray, Bradford’s former college roommate and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion, is a workhorse tailback that will take much of the pressure off much like his days with Stephen Jackson. Additionally, the new receiving corps Chip has assembled is predicated on route running and getting open in space. While Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews may lack elite top-end speed, they were both 100+ catch possession receivers in college that rely heavily on fundamentals and physicality. They both have high motors and will push each other to be the #1 option, which will only make things easier for Bradford. While the Eagles offensive line isn’t getting any younger, they are laughably better than any unit Bradford worked with in St Louis.

Never Had a System that Catered to his Talents

While Bradford ran both Pro Style and Spread offenses during his time at OU, he particularly dominated when running the latter. Bradford doesn’t like to hold onto the ball. He has the ability to throw long, but would rather find the open receiver and move the chains. This was evident when Bradford played in St. Louis, where most of his success came in their 2-minute no huddle offense. When Pat Shurmer was the offensive coordinator during his rookie season, he realized this and called his plays accordingly. Bradford showed tremendous efficiency, which ultimately led him to winning Rookie of the Year. Since Shurmer’s departure, the Rams traditional Pro Style offense has not complimented Bradford.

Theoretically, this makes the Philadelphia Eagles and Sam Bradford a match made in heaven. In addition to reuniting with Pat Shurmer, who’s now the Eagles offensive coordinator, Bradford will be running Chip Kelly’s exclusively no-huddle, up-tempo offense. His targets will be running in space and getting open quickly, putting Bradford’s decisiveness to good use. What would otherwise resemble “game-managing” in a traditional offense could become elite level efficiency in Philadelphia. Factor all of this in along with Bradford’s highly touted mobility in the pocket, and this offense may be rolling better than ever in 2015.

The Juice is Worth the Squeeze

The only thing stopping Sam Bradford from career highs this season statistically speaking, is another freak injury. While that has proven to be a worthwhile concern, recent history has proven that athletes can bounce back from multiple ACL injuries. Also, while Bradford frequently uses his mobility to his advantage in the pocket, he is by no means a running quarterback. An ACL tear to Bradford is not the same as an ACL tear to Colin Kaepernick. He is a pure passer that has athletic ability to occasionally scamper for extra yardage, but his game does not rely on this. Also, as weird as it sounds, Chip makes a great point when he says that the Eagles were lucky that Bradford got injured again. Had that not happened, the Eagles would have had very little chance of acquiring him, as he was playing at his highest level as a pro before the setback. While that may sound a little optimistic, the reasoning is defensible and it doesn’t hurt to look at the proverbial glass as being half-full, especially if you’re an Eagles fan…

Chip Kelly sufficiently tore down “Andy’s Philadelphia Eagles” and rebuilt the team his way. Whether this will be a better team than what was fielded in 2013 remains to be seen. The only certainty is that Sam Bradford has never been in a better situation in his professional career. He now will play in an offensive system that fits his abilities. On top of that, he finally has the protection and pass-catching weapons that he has long yearned for. There’s a reason why Sam Bradford was the top overall pick and the Eagles’ highest graded QB coming out of the draft since Peyton Manning. 2015 might be the year that he finally lives up to the hype.

Off-season in Philadelphia Pt. 3

Alabama Safety, Landon Collins

Alabama Safety, Landon Collins

By: Justin Salmasi

Chip Kelly and the Eagles have hit the ground running this off-season. Though I advocated for trust in this coach’s unorthodox decisions, even I was shocked when Nick Foles was traded to St. Louis for Sam Bradford. Nevertheless, the splash signings of DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews have reinforced some of that trust in Kelly. Now that there is an idea of where this team is headed, it’s important for fans to remain grounded. Chip Kelly is clearly a fan of Game of Thrones, considering the decisions he’s made, so it’s important not to get overly attached to any player. However, assuming this is the core group that Chip plans to move forward with, there are still many pieces that need to be added before Week 1.

Veteran Receiver

While signing a receiver with some mileage can be risky, it can prove to be invaluable for a quarterback like Sam Bradford, who is looking to rebuild his confidence. Jordan Matthews finished his rookie campaign red hot, but it’s important to acknowledge that he had the pleasure of being the second option behind Jeremy Maclin. Now that defenses are aware of Matthews’ ability, and Jeremy Maclin has departed, it would be wise to pair him with a legitimate threat and take the pressure off. Following his 2014 season, Pro Football Focus graded Riley Cooper (the current #2 threat to Matthews) as the worst starting wide receiver in the league. If Sam Bradford is to succeed, he’s going to need more options. A reasonably priced Michael Crabtree could be the missing piece to keeping this offense rolling in 2015.

Offensive Line

Chip Kelly has emphasized that he will not be “mortgaging his team” to land Marcus Mariota. If that is indeed the case, the Eagles’ offensive line needs to be addressed as soon as possible. There is still a void that must be filled after releasing Todd Herremans. Tobin and Gardner showed flashes last season, but fans will need to have more assurance that Sam “Mr. Glass” Bradford will have optimal protection when running Chip’s QB-centric offense. Justin Blalock is a decent stop-gap option for the upcoming season, along with other aging free agents that may accept an economically feasible contract. Ultimately, the Eagles should look to the draft to address the guard position.

Safety

Chip has made some serious moves this off-season. The signing of Byron Maxwell drastically improved the cornerback situation. While not nearly as exciting, the acquisition of Walter Thurmond is an unquestionable upgrade as well. However, Chip cannot stop there. Now that the team has officially given up on the Nate Allen experiment, the free safety position is vacant. While this may be a stretch, the Eagles’ best case scenario in this draft would be to target former Alabama safety Landon Collins. Since Malcolm Jenkins has the ability to play either safety position, this pickup could solidify the secondary for the foreseeable future. Forget Marcus Mariota, Collins is a player the Eagles might make a move for.

Ever since the start of Free Agency, Chip Kelly has been doing everything in his power to build the Philadelphia Eagles his way. While we saw many Philadelphia stars depart, Fans should look at this situation with a “glass-half-full” attitude. On paper, the Eagles defense has vastly improved and should only get better in the draft. Setting aside the eccentricity of his moves, thus far, Chip Kelly is finding ways to address the needs of his team. If new faces can help this offense produce the way it always has, the Philadelphia Eagles will be a more complete team in 2015. Hopefully our hearts can make it until then.

Gone Fishing

Chip Kelly

Chip Kelly

By: Justin Salmasi

Ah, Free Agency is officially upon us. Sure, the first contracts won’t be signed until tomorrow, but overreaction is running rampant in Philadelphia. While some of the criticism may be warranted, it’s important for Eagles fans to understand what they are upset about. Every move the Eagles made yesterday can be explained.

Caught the Big Fish Cornerback

The Eagles’ biggest problem last season was that they couldn’t stop the passing game if their lives depended on it. Regardless of who the opponent was, the Eagles’ incompetency at the cornerback position consistently put the opposing offense in a position to score. That problem was certainly addressed by the signing of Byron Maxwell. The Eagles may have overspent, as does every team during Free Agency, but MAXWELL IS NOT ASOMUGHA. Not only does Maxwell have above average coverage skills, he is a workhorse with a chip on his shoulder. He was drafted in the 6th round and has steadily improved with each passing season. His physicality and aggressiveness are second to none, and that’s going to come in handy playing in a division with the likes of Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., DeSean Jackson, and Victor Cruz. The Eagles did the right thing, throwing all that money at him. This was a slam-dunk signing.

Frank Gore Makes Sense

Before you start whining over his age, think carefully about what you’re getting in Frank Gore. Despite being 32, Gore has proven that he is durable and can be a bell cow back. He has played 14+ games in every season other than 2010, when a broken hip held him to 11. Furthermore, he has carried the rock 250+ times in every season since 2010, and rushed for 1000+ yards in 8 of the last 9 years. With his North-South style, Gore is a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s running scheme. Last season, Gore had a higher yards-per-carry average (4.3) than Shady (4.2). We love Shady and wish him well, but he ate up a lot of cap space and there was no way the Eagles would be able to bolster the defense had they kept him. Gore will be a significantly more affordable alternative even if the move resulted in a slight downgrade. Since he is a short-term solution, whoever we end up drafting should be able to take the reins by the time his contract is up. Until then, you should expect Gore to continue his adequate workhorse ways for the next two seasons.

Jeremy Maclin Chose to Leave

This is the complaint that really separates the logical fans from the emotional ones. For those that aren’t aware of the situation, the Eagles offered Maclin a contract. They wanted Maclin to return to Philadelphia. According to Rotoworld, Jeremy Maclin’s contract in Kansas City guarantees him $11 million per year. I’m sorry, but it’s time to put sentiment aside. $11 million per year is way too much money for a good, not great, receiver. Maclin was a pivotal piece of our offense, but make no mistake, he is not Calvin Johnson. He is not AJ Green. He is not Dez Bryant. $9 million per year is what the Eagles were offering, and that is no slap in the face to Maclin. Devin McCourty took a pay cut to stay with his team. Randall Cobb took a pay cut to stay with his team. Jeremy Maclin did not take a pay cut to stay with his team. Understandably, he took the money and I’ve got no problem with that, but only an ignorant fan would blame Chip and company for this. The loss creates yet another hole that will certainly have to be filled in Free Agency and/or the draft, but this too shall pass.

Eagles fans need to breath. The ship is not sinking, moves are being made, and Free Agency hasn’t even officially begun. It’s completely reasonable to have doubt or skepticism, but never forget that Chip Kelly’s decision-making has produced 20 wins in two years. Losing key players and former faces of the franchise is always a difficult pill to swallow, but Chip deserves the chance to do what he was brought here to do. He has never adhered to common logic as a coach, but has been successful at every level thus far. Keep Calm and have a cheesesteak.

Off-season in Philadelphia Pt. 2

Joe Nicholson – USA TODAY Sports

By: Justin Salmasi

Now that the football season is officially over, fans across the nation can begin spending their days and nights over-analyzing the upcoming draft and free agency. With the turmoil and disappointment that smothered what was, at one point, an excellent Eagles season, so many questions remain unanswered. Can this offense take the next step with Nick Foles? Is re-signing Maclin feasible? Can our defense succeed with high school caliber defensive backs? Will we ever find out who Marcus Smith is? The answers lie, at least partially, within the decisions yet to be made this off-season.

If the Eagles want to return to their playoff contending ways, the defense has got to be upgraded. The local media will mind-numbingly beat the dead horse that is a potential move for Marcus Mariota, but it’s time for Eagles fans to see reason. This team will not win a playoff game until it has competency at the cornerback position. Cary Williams shows flashes of talent here and there, but he’s excruciatingly inconsistent and, worst of all, a loud-mouth who rarely “walks the walk.” In fact, it’s not uncommon for him to negate his sporadic positive play with questionable conduct both on the field and in the media. Bless Bradley Fletcher’s heart. The guy is clearly trying to play competitive football. However, his physical limitations make watching him square off against any competent wide receiver a chore. The guy is nothing more than a backup on his best day.

Simply put, there is no way the birds can challenge the likes of Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., and DeSean Jackson TWICE a year with the starting cornerback tandem currently in place. They are a 10-win team that can make the leap to contender, but not before they address their biggest weakness this off-season. Listed below are three cornerbacks that can fill the void.

Byron Maxwell

Fresh off a horrendous Super Bowl blunder, the Seattle Seahawks have some financial decisions to make. It’s been well documented that Russell Wilson will be taken care of, Marshawn Lynch could be in line for another extension, and the rest of the defensive backs already have large contracts. Despite what the Seahawks’ front office is saying, the general consensus is that Maxwell will be too expensive to return to Seattle. The Eagles have been burned before by paying the price for over-hyped free agent cornerbacks. However, this is a risk that they must absolutely take. Maxwell is as physical as they come, he’s young, and frequently displays above average coverage skills. Those qualities would automatically make him the best defensive back on the Eagles. Maxwell is a no-brainer.

Marcus Peters

This target may be a bit of a reach, especially when considering the culture that Chip Kelly has begun to implement in the Eagles organization. As far as on-the-field talent goes, Marcus Peters is the best cornerback talent coming into the draft. Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton has even compared him favorably to Darrelle Revis. His gritty physicality and superb ball-hawk tendencies make him a prospect that the Eagles would be extremely lucky to land. However, character concerns surround the talented Washington product. After multiple scuffles with the Husky coaching staff, Peters was ultimately dismissed from the team. He will have to explain that situation, as well as why teams should trust that he has since matured. Hopefully he can handle public speaking in a high pressure environment better than his proclaimed mentor, Marshawn Lynch.

Trae Waynes

Perhaps the safest, albeit blandest cornerback prospect in the draft, Trae Waynes possesses consistent coverage skills and above average athleticism. He has an adequate height at 6’1″, and displays great leadership intangibles that can prove to be invaluable in an NFL locker room. With a listed weight of 183 lbs, some analysts are worried that Waynes may lack the necessary bulk to continue playing at the same competitive level, but Waynes is still very young and will continue to grow, the Eagles would be undoubtedly improving upon their biggest deficiency if they land the Michigan State prospect.

The Philadelphia Eagles are both near and far from Super Bowl contenders. Near in quantity of need but distant in quality. Both the cornerback and quarterback positions may be the most difficult to scout and fill in the sport.  Whether Foles is or isn’t the guy, Mariota isn’t a reasonable option. Aside from the Heisman trophy winner and Famous Jameis (also not happening), there aren’t any incoming QBs worth a look in the first round. Barring the unthinkable Foles will be the starter in 2015. The Eagles cannot afford a second-consecutive first round reach. If bona fide talents such as Peters or Waynes are available at #20, the Eagles should pull the trigger.

Picking Poisons

Michael Vick (left) Nick Foles (right)

By: Justin Salmasi

It’s that time of the year. OTAs are finished and minicamp is on the horizon. Chip Kelly has already garnered both praise and skepticism for “shaking things up” with his nutrition advocacy and unorthodox offseason training regimens. However, the giant elephant in the room still remains; who will be the starting quarterback for the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles? I certainly have a strong opinion as to who should start, but my opinion doesn’t factor into Chip Kelly’s decision making. Here is a mostly unbiased analysis of the pros and cons of the two most viable contenders for the starting quarterback position.

Michael Vick

PROS:

Who can forget about that miraculous campaign #7 had in 2010?  Vick showed no rust after spending nearly two years incarcerated. In fact, he displayed better arm strength and accuracy than he ever had during his tenure in Atlanta. Defenses had to remain modest at all times, because if this Virginia Tech product wasn’t going to beat you with his arm, he certainly was going to make you pay with his legs. Defenses didn’t know whether to blitz or remain in shell coverage at times, which is why Michael Vick was runner-up only to Tom Brady in MVP voting during his awe-inspiring comeback year. 2010 was indeed the Michael Vick Experience Version 2.0.

2010 showed that he still has the ability to be a duel-threat quarterback if put in the correct system. Chip Kelly’s past systems would logically suit an athlete with Vick’s skillset, if of course that is what he plans to implement in Philadelphia. He’s got a strong arm and quick legs, which are two qualities that are becoming more and more important in this new NFL era of read option offense.

CONS:

Philadelphia Eagles fans would like their last two years back. However, 2012 wasn’t entirely his fault when you consider that nearly the entire starting offensive lineup was injured, so I will keep the focus on 2011. After nearly coming off of an MVP season, Vick was in his first stage of his identity crisis. Is he a pocket QB or a scrambler? His 30 TDs dropped to 19, his interceptions emphatically rose from 6 to 14, and the man just looked lost out there trying to read coverages.

2010 could also be looked at as an anomaly from a statistical perspective. Michael Vick played all 16 regular season games only one time in his 10-season career (2006). Vick completed over 60% of his passes only once in his 10-season career (2010). Vick passed for over 3000 times only twice in his 10-season career. The bottom line is, what he did in 2010 could have very well been due to teams preparing for Kevin Kolb, (the incumbent starter in 2010) having minimal tape or time with which to prepare for #7.

Nick Foles

PROS:

At a time of flux, Nick Foles came in and did an admirable job as the Philadelphia Eagles interim quarterback. He was thrown to the wolves, and still managed to have a passing yards-per-game average that would have been second to only Andrew Luck for 2012 rookie QBs. His game against Tampa Bay showed that he may possess that “clutch gene” that many Philadelphians say McNabb and Vick lacked. He’s got a long way to go before that’s a proven quality but the bottom line is that this kid has tangible potential. I’d even compare his playing style to Joe Flacco and Eli Manning, both of whom are Super Bowl champions.

CONS:

Although this hasn’t been the case during this year’s OTAs, Foles arm was called into question many times during 2012. Many wonder if he can throw the long ball with velocity on a consistent basis. It doesn’t matter if the ball goes 65 yards if the final product is a wobbling duck. Furthermore, Nick Foles is not exactly Collin Kaepernick. Using a QB with his athleticism in Chip Kelly’s Oregon-style read option offense would garner more laughs than many of Adam Sandler’s recent films. The truth is that the jury’s out on Foles and whether he can be that complete quarterback that is immeasurably important in today’s NFL.

My Take:

Michael Vick can still play QB, but it shouldn’t be for Philadelphia. He should have been gone last year with Andy Reid. Like Reid, I respect Vick and everything that he did for the city of brotherly love, but last year was as apt a time as any to make a fresh start. If he isn’t going to bow out gracefully, he runs the risk of being metaphorically run out of town, which is something I don’t think any of us is hoping for. There’s a reason why his 10-year, 100 million dollar contract was reduced to a 1-year, incentive based contract this offseason.

While Nick Foles was erratic at times, he was thrown into the worst possible situation for a rookie quarterback. The Eagles’ offensive line was completely decimated by injury, Desean Jackson was done for the year with I-don’t-want-to-injure-myself-for-nothing-itis, Maclin was questionable week-in and week-out, and the defense was…well, the defense. Nick Foles might very well be incompetent and a bad fit for the Philadelphia Eagles, but 2012 should not be the deciding factor in the argument. Foles has a strong arm and surprising poise at times. Let’s see what the kid’s made of.

On Why We Love Sports: Justin Salmasi

A year ago, I found myself staring into an infinite abyss. The Indianapolis Colts had announced that they were releasing the face of their franchise, and my childhood hero, Peyton Manning. Speculation spread like wildfire indicating that the perennial Pro Bowler, the Super Bowl MVP, Mr. “Cut That Meat” himself was unlikely to return to the gridiron at his elite level due to recurring neck injuries. To me, this was like finding out Santa Claus isn’t real, Patrick Swayze lost his battle with cancer, another attempt of a modern Superman movie was in production, and so forth. The end of an era was believed to be approaching, and it was a tough pill to swallow.

The Temple Floor Hockey “Beers.”

Then it happened. Denver Broncos General Manager, John Elway, found a way to become more awesome. A former quarterback who experienced a similar battle with proving skeptics wrong, Elway aligned himself with the fellow gunslinger and the rest was history. The following season, a physically and mentally rejuvenated Peyton Manning returned to the field as the Denver Broncos starting QB and showed no rust. In fact, the Tennessee alum had one of the most decorated seasons of his prolific career, taking his team to the playoffs as the #1 seed and finishing 2nd in MVP voting. People said he should hang it up. Call it a career. Instead, Manning proved his doubters wrong and made his return to NFL dominance. He also became an endorser for tapenade. Stud.

It’s stories like this that exemplify the romance that sports can achieve. The glory, heartbreak, and the unknown are what make fans so passionate. Whether it’s the electricity that runs through the sections of a stadium after a walk-off homerun for the home team, or the venom that fans wear on their sleeves when their star player lets them down, sports bring people together. Sports bring revenue to cities. Sports bring excitement to life. My name’s Justin Salmasi, and I love sports.