Eagles, NFL might benefit from Junior Bowl

PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles’ coaching and personnel staffs are in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl practices. In the past, the annual all-star game as featured many of the players the Eagles would go on to draft.

That may be changing, however.

In the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts, the Eagles selected 19 players who appeared in the Senior Bowl. They included Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, Danny Watkins, Riley Cooper, Brandon Graham and Nate Allen.

Last year, though, the Eagles took just two Senior Bowlers, first-round pick Lane Johnson and seventh-round pick, Jordan Poyer. In the second and third rounds, they took tight end Zach Ertz and defensive tackle Bennie Logan, two of the record 73 underclassmen who declared for the 2013 draft.

This year, that record has been shattered again. A total of 98 underclassmen have declared themselves eligible for the 2014 draft.

There is a reason for the trend. The NFL’s newest collective bargaining agreement, carved from the lockout of 2011, was not especially kind to incoming rookies. There are limits to what teams can pay their draft picks, and players are stuck with those rookie contracts through at least the first three seasons.

That is why Foles, for example, can’t receive a contract extension until after the 2014 season, at the earliest.

For players, that means coming into the league earlier makes more financial sense in the long term. The real money is now in the second contract, even for high first-round picks. If the player can get that second contract at 25 instead of 26 or 27, that means adding a prime earning year or two to their careers.

For teams, it means adding a year or two of prime performance. Running back LeSean McCoy, for instance, turned 21 in July before his rookie season in 2009. He’s only 25 after completing his fifth season. That means the Eagles can get a full 10 years of McCoy’s best before he hits the dreaded 30 barrier.

McCoy is only two years younger than Johnson and Matt Barkley, two of the Eagles’ 2013 rookies, but he has four more seasons of NFL experience and earnings.

All 98 of the underclassmen who declared this year won’t get drafted. Using last year’s numbers – 52 or 71.2 percent of the 73 underclassmen were selected – would translate to about 70 sophomores and juniors being taken in the May draft.

That’s nearly a third of the typical draft class. The NFL isn’t at the point reached by the NBA, where seniors are suspect because most of the really elite players come out early, but it is heading in that direction.

So the Eagles will work the Senior Bowl as always. Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com noted a few of the players they seemed interested in talking with Monday, notably Nebraska cornerback Stan Jean-Baptiste. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t draw as heavily from this talent pool as they have in the past.