Good morning, Eagles fans. The Eagles practice at 11:25 on Wednesday. Doug Pederson has a 10:30 news conference and the players will be available after practice. This is the first time Pederson and the players will address the cancelled White House visit. Follow along at Philly.com all day for updates. (And I should mention, there will be actual football coverage of the organized team activities, too, including Jeff McLane's practice observations and updates about the key storylines surrounding the team.)
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— Zach Berman
The big story is obviously that the Eagles' invitation to the White House was rescinded. Even though it's mushroomed into one of the most-discussed national stories during the past 36 hours, it has been a sensitive topic with the Eagles ever since they won the Super Bowl. At the league meeting in March, when owner Jeffrey Lurie was asked whether the Eagles would go, Lurie brushed off the question and said they had not even discussed it. Mind you: this was nearly two months after the Eagles won the Super Bowl, and Lurie was interested in talking about almost anything else Super Bowl related. That signaled that this was not going to a cut-and-dry issue.
Even when the Eagles confirmed they would go to the White House, the official public statements and Doug Pederson's quotes kept referring to how the team needed to figure out logistics. This is a team that can figure out how to practice in California for a week and can prepare for the Super Bowl travel in a few days. Clearly, there was much that needed to be figured out beyond logistics. And in the locker room, players were hesitant to offer a firm answer about whether they were going. They either avoided the question or said they were still deciding. It became a much bigger story after President Trump rescinded the invitation, but it was something that had been a sensitive topic behind the scenes for the Eagles.
Ultimately, it will blow over and it will be a topic of outside discussion more than anything that affects the team. Even when they were scheduled to attend and some players had publicly said they would skip the visit, it was never going to be a divisive issue. There's a level of maturity with this locker room that is admirable; they can disagree on topics or respect different viewpoints. In a locker room of 53 players (90 at this time of year), there is seldom a consensus viewpoint on anything.
The questions about societal issues will not go away even beyond the life cycle of this particular story. Once the national anthem is played for the first time, there will be curiosity about what the Eagles do. (Along with 31 other teams.) Whenever something noteworthy happens in the league or even in the country, Malcolm Jenkins' opinion will be sought. (And he often welcomes it; he knows the value of his platform.) You can be sure that Lurie's next news conference will have a lot of questions about the cancelled White House visit and the league's national anthem policy. But the bottom line is I don't think anything that happened during the past 36 hours will have any bearing on what happens to the team this season. The microscope might be larger, but it was going to be regardless. And the reality is the Eagles would likely take these kind of problems. It means they're Super Bowl champions.
Carson Wentz held a charity softball game on Friday night. It was an impressive event – they sold 25,000 tickets at Citizens Bank Park and raised more than $850,000 for charity. (For more on the night, check out Les Bowen's article from the event.)
Similarly impressive was the turnout from teammates. It was a Friday night in June, yet many of Wentz's teammates came to support him. And it wasn't just the 20-plus players who played, but also veterans such as Alshon Jeffery, Jason Peters, and Jay Ajayi who were in the dugout. (Even Lurie was there.) That speaks volumes about the respect that Wentz has commanded on the team. Remember in "Draft Day" when Bo Callahan's teammates didn't go to his birthday party? That was obviously a fictional movie, but you want your quarterback to have the respect of his teammates. Friday was an example for Wentz. As Wentz explained, he sent a text to many of the key players when the date was set and most responded right away that they would come. Wentz said some of the other players who couldn't come had previously scheduled commitments, but would have otherwise been there.
You can bet that Pederson's pre-practice news conference and the locker room interviews will be full of White House-related questions. But the next two days are also valuable opportunities to watch the Eagles on the practice field in OTAs. Obviously, the health of the injured players will be monitored. But I'll pay close attention to how the Eagles divvy up their linebacker snaps – will Nate Gerry continue to get first-team snaps? Will those be Corey Nelson's snaps? I also want to see how the Eagles continue rotating at slot cornerback. Tight end Richard Rodgers is a player I plan to watch closely. Dallas Goedert is obviously going to get the attention as the second-round pick, but I've heard positive reviews of Rodgers inside the locker room.
Nelson Agholor is far from a one-year wonder. He was dynamic in the slot last year, and I see his game continuing to grow this season. He has his confidence back, which was an issue two years ago. The slot could be a good place for him. I don't know if he'll become an 80-catch, 1,200-yard receiver – the Eagles like to spread the ball around and that might not be his ceiling anyway – but I can see him building on last year's 62-catch, 768-yard campaign. If he improved both by 15 percent, he's at 71 catches and 883 yards. That should be a reasonable expectation.
I don't think Donnel Pumphrey is trade bait unless he has a standout preseason. There's not enough NFL tape on him, and what he showed in the preseason last year wasn't particularly good. More likely, I think someone like Wendell Smallwood could be trade bait. He's had his moments, he's still young, and the Eagles could be compelled to give him away for cheap if they have the depth they want at running back.
I don't see the Eagles keeping six running backs. Even five is pushing it. Pumphrey is absolutely a candidate to make the team, but he has competition – Smallwood, Josh Adams, and Matt Jones are all in that mix.
Jason Peters takes part in group installation but not team drills. I think that's a good sign. Even if he was fully healthy, the team would manage his snaps this time of year. The fact that he's out there doing offensive line work should be seen as a positive.