Reunions in sports are extremely popular among fan circles. Die-hard fans of teams are suckers for nostalgia when it comes to former players that became icons with that city. Seeing a player “come home” when perhaps they left too soon is always met with a feel-good vibe to it.
Just look at LeBron James who was vilified for choosing Miami over Cleveland in 2010 and then became a hero after he returned to Cleveland in 2014 and won a championship two years later.
The typical one-day contract reunions for players that are announcing their retirement is a popular tradition but rarely do you see a player still at the top of their abilities, that has moved on to another team, find their way back to the original stomping grounds.
In Philadelphia however, the Eagles have pulled this off three teams in only two years. The fact that Nick Foles, Jordan Matthews, and DeSean Jackson all were over-joyed to return to the city of brotherly love is a true testament to the culture the Eagles and the city has established.
Each circumstance is different but all three players had to part ways with Philadelphia because of the team’s decision to either trade or release them.
Chip Kelly traded Nick Foles away for Sam Bradford clearly telling Foles that he wasn’t good enough to be the guy. Foles nearly ended his career after a disastrous 2015 with the St. Louis Rams
A year prior, Kelly released DeSean Jackson after six-dominating years with the Eagles. He was coming off a career year in 2013 but Kelly didn’t like Jackson and believed the system was the reason for the receiver’s success. Some even believe that Kelly’s fingerprints were on the NJ.com story about Jackson having ties with gangs.
As for Jordan Matthews, the Eagles traded him away a month before their 2017 Super Bowl season began after adding Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in the offseason.
All three decisions were made by the organization. Not the players. And yet all three were more than willing to come back to Philadelphia.
That is a true testament to the bond these players formed with the city’s passion for the Eagles, and the culture that Andy Reid, Howie Roseman, and now Doug Pederson have established.
Unlike Kelly, Reid and Pederson knew that emotional intelligence is key to grabbing the commitment of a locker room. There may not be a more player-friendly culture in the league. The players have a sense of ownership and can have a personality which Kelly seemed to absolutely despise.
Not only off the field but on the field too. So many coaches force players to mold around their scheme. The Eagles have made a knack for maximizing what a players’ strengths are.
It is why Nick Foles was able to rally the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory two seasons ago, and have the best statistical playoff performance in NFL history. How many coaches would go into the film of the former coach and take plays from him that Foles was comfortable in?
It is also why Jackson has been clamoring for a reunion with the Eagles since 2016. He never wanted to leave in the first place.
— Kyle Bennett (@KBizzl311) March 11, 2019
Not only these three players have pursued a second stint with the Eagles. Jeremy Maclin nearly rejoined the team twice the last two seasons.
LeSean McCoy has never really detached from the team since he was traded in 2015.
The culture in Philadelphia is what players want to be a part of. There were Eagles players just last year discussing how pending free agents texted them about wanting to play for Pederson and the organization.
These reunions are just another example of how the Eagles were able to get back to their winning ways both on and off the field after the departure of Chip Kelly.
Who could the Eagles target from 49ers?
It appears the Eagles could be cooking up another trade. This time with the San Francisco 49ers.
49ers have talked to the Eagles about a trade. All I got on that.
— Vincent Frank (@VincentFrankNFL) March 16, 2019
What could Howie Roseman be looking for from San Francisco? The Eagles have already taken care of their DT, WR, and LB needs in free agency by trading for DeSean Jackson, signing Malik Jackson, and L.J. Fort.
They locked up their offensive line core keeping Jason Peters and extending both Jason Kelce and Issac Seumalo.
They even added to the log jam that is the CB position by bringing back Ronald Darby on a one-year deal.
Here are some players the 49ers could be willing to deal to the Eagles that makes sense for Philadelphia.
RB Matt Breida
With the signing of RB Tevin Coleman, the 49ers could be looking to shop one of their running backs.
Breida makes the most sense of anyone on the 49ers for the Eagles to have interest in. At just 24, Breida is young, and on an inexpensive contract which are two things Roseman loves to deal for.
After Jerick McKinnon went down last season, Breida carried the 49ers backfield finishing with 814 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns.
He averaged 5.3 YPC and early on in the season, he was averaging over 7.0 YPC.
That fast start included a Week 2 showing against Detroit that resulted in 138 rushing yards on just 12 carries.
Breida is explosive in short areas, and has the receiving skills Doug Pederson’s offense loves to have in the backfield.
His receiving DVOA (@fboutsiders ) was 2nd in the league behind Kareem Hunt. 44.8% is outrageous.
— Gino Cammilleri (@Gino_LOE) March 16, 2019
The third year running back surpassed 1,000 yards from scrimmage and would be an all-around weapon the Eagles desperately need at RB.
RB Jerick McKinnon
If the 49ers decide to keep Breida as Coleman’s counter-part in the backfield, that could spell the end of Jerick McKinnon in San Francisco before it even got started.
The former Viking signed with the 49ers last offseason and was expected to be Kyle Shanahan’s new version of Coleman but he tore his ACL before the season started.
McKinnon still has three years left on his contract with a $5.7 million cap hit in 2019.
He is only 26 and like Breida, McKinnon can make defenses pay on the ground and through the air.
In 2017 after Dalvin Cook suffered a season-ending injury, McKinnon became an important piece to Minnesota’s offense finishing with 570 rushing yards and 421 receiving yards.
Between 2016 and 2017, McKinnon had 94 receptions. Much like in Shanahan’s offense, Pederson’s offense is better with that kind of RB.
DE Solomon Thomas
The former third overall pick in the 2017 draft hasn’t met that potential in his first two years with the 49ers.
Thomas has just four sacks in two seasons but he could be another young (24 years old), buy-low trade target Howie Roseman takes a chance on.
The 49ers would likely be more willing to deal Thomas after trading and extending DE Dee Ford. San Francisco also holds the second overall pick in a draft class that even Roseman labeled “historic” when it comes to pass rushers.
With Chris Long’s future up in the air, Thomas could be someone the Eagles bring in to compete with Josh Sweat and a rookie if Long doesn’t think more playing time is coming his way for the 2019 season.
If the Eagles do make a trade with the 49ers, San Francisco’s loaded backfield is likely where Philadelphia would like to grab a play-maker from. Expect a deal to involve a draft pick but don’t be surprised if someone like Jalen Mills is also involved.
The CB group is now six-deep after re-signing Darby. With four other young, promising corners to develop and Mills hitting free agency in 2020, it seems likely Philadelphia could look to get some value for him now.
The 49ers already have Richard Sherman and signed former Chargers CB Jason Verrett this offseason but Mills has the versatility to play outside, in the slot, or even at safety.
Mills or a late pick for McKinnon/Breida could make sense for both sides.
T.J. Yeldon fits in Philadelphia
It doesn’t appear the Eagles were in on big names at running back in free agency. Le’Veon Bell signed with the Jets. Tevin Coleman signed with the 49ers. Mark Ingram signed with the Ravens.
Seeing Ingram and Coleman’s deal both in the $5 million a year range has many scratching their heads about why the Eagles potentially didn’t pursue those two on inexpensive contracts.
While Philadelphia could have been in the hunt for both, a lack of interest would certainly concern fans that want to see the organization invest legitimate resources into the position. It is certainly something to keep a closer eye on.
Howie Roseman can be lackadaisical when it comes to RB including last year, failing to replace Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. However, there is no need to panic just yet. The NFL Draft has talent across all seven rounds.
There are also some intriguing options still out there through trades and free agency that fit what the Eagles want to spend, and how they want to use their backs. Former Jacksonville Jaguars RB T.J. Yeldon is perhaps the most interesting option. And he would be a great fit in Doug Pederson’s offense.
An even cheaper option than Coleman and Ingram
It was a bit surprising seeing Coleman and Ingram get less than expected. If the Eagles weren’t players for either, it could be as a result of their serious interest in the draft class, or their plans to spend even less at the position.
Yeldon could be a cheaper option.
If Coleman and Ingram both got $5 million, it seems evident that Yeldon, a less proven player than the other two, would get less.
The Eagles have not spent significant dollars for a running back since Chip Kelly signed DeMarco Murray in 2015. They have targeted younger, cheaper players.
At 25 years old, Yeldon fits that mold.
The perfect complementary RB
If Yeldon and Corey Clement were the compliments to a rookie the front office invests in, it would be hard to do much better.
The former Alabama prospect has the receiving skills this Eagles offense has valued since the days of Brian Westbrook.
Yeldon has 135 catches in the last three seasons, with a career-high 55 receptions for 487 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns in 2018.
He can make some impressive plays with his hands.
The production is there but he isn’t built like other receiving-backs. At 6’2 218 pounds, Yeldon is a few inches taller, and only two pounds lighter than Jay Ajayi. The majority would agree that Ajayi’s label is that of a power runner.
That allows him to be an option in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
Chunk plays are abundant
Yeldon has the ability to turn a four-yard hole, or a three-yard check down into a 15-30 yard play. He is extremely explosive for his size and he isn’t easy to bring down when he is caught. At Alabama, Yeldon forced 54 tackles in his final collegiate season.
Having that kind of weapon with the five dangerous pass-catchers the Eagles already have could be deadly. Wendell Smallwood isn’t that weapon.
In 2018, Yeldon finished with eight receptions of 15+ yards. Four of which were above 20 yards. Tevin Coleman only had five receptions of 15+ yards.
Compared to Alvin Kamara, an elite pass-catching running back, Yeldon only had seven fewer receptions that went past 15 yards.
Moves the chains on third down
In short and long situations on third down, Yeldon was a focal point for the Jaguars.
Whether it was a passing play or a running play, he was effective in moving the chains.
Being capable of converting through the air and ground with just one running back helps make an offense less predictable.
The Eagles still have quality options if they want to add an RB before the draft. The Browns and Bears are actively shopping Duke Johnson and Jordan Howard. If the front office wants to keep their draft capital however, T.J. Yeldon could be their guy.
On today’s Locked on Eagles:
Analyzing the Eagles signing LB L.J. Fort
DeSean Jackson’s press conference was encouraging
The Giants continue their blueprint of not having a blueprint signing Golden Tate