Big V excelling with help from Hall of Fame mentor

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Big V excelling with help from Hall of Fame mentor

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Having Jason Peters as a mentor is kind of liketaking piano lessons from Vladimir Horowitz or acting lessons from De Niro.

You can't help but improve.

And Halapoulivaati Vaitai sure has improved.

Vaitai played his best game yet in the NFC Championship Game, neutralizing feared pass rusher Everson Griffen in the Eagles' 38-7 blowout win over the Vikings at the Linc.

"Yeah, I was just locked in that night," Big V said. "I didn’t have any worries. I just try not to have any worries going into a game, but yeah. In my opinion I think I played pretty good."

And Peters was there the whole way to encourage him, support him, help him.

"He's been playing great, man," Peters said. "I always encourage the guy and keep him calm. He's been doing great. I'm just happy for him.

"It's going to take time. Guys are going to beat you. You just have to have a strong mindset to just keep coming back and battling."

Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowler, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second Redskins game. Big V struggled at first but has gradually grown into the left tackle role.

With Stefen Wisniewski healthy and solidifying left guard, the left side of the offensive line has gone from liability to a real strength of this offense.

“It’s gotten (more) calm as each week’s gone by," Vaitai said. "Still not comfortable, still have to work to do, but as the weeks go on I guess my nerves have calmed down a little bit.

“The more repetition, the more experience I get (the better I'll play). I just have to continue doing what I’m doing. It’s night and day (over earlier this year)."

With All-Pro Jason Kelce at center and Pro Bowlers Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson at right guard and right tackle, the Eagles have dominated on the right side all year. Now the left side is holding its own.

The Eagles' offensive line muscled the Vikings' vaunted defensive line out of the Linc in the NFC Championship Game and will have to play just as well Sunday if the Eagles are going to have a chance in Super Bowl LII against the Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

"He's made strides throughout the year," Brooks said of Vaitai. "He did the same thing last year (at right tackle).

"The biggest thing J.P. told him out of the gate, there's no replacing Jason Peters. Just be you and do what you do well and he took that to heart."

The Eagles have had elite left tackles in their two previous Super Bowl appearances.

Stan Walters was a two-time Pro Bowler in his ninth NFL season when the Eagles faced the Raiders in 1980. And Tra Thomas was a three-time Pro Bowler in his seventh NFL season when the Eagles faced the Patriots in 2004.

Vaitai is a second-year fifth-round pick who has still only started 18 games in his NFL career, including the postseason.

On Sunday, he starts in a Super Bowl.

“It’s always been about the next man up," Vaitai said. "It’s crazy to be in a Super Bowl and actually be the left tackle here, but I’ve got to give it all for J.P.

"It’s unfortunate for him to go down but it’s just one of those deals. It’s crazy, but it’s just another game. Just another game.

"I treat every game like a big game. But it’s really cool to be in this spot, on this stage."

Obviously there are a ton of factors, but in the seven games Peters started, the Eagles' offense averaged 27.4 points and 381 yards per game and went 6-1. With Vaitai at left tackle, those figures were 24.5, 361 and 9-2.

Vaitai is clearly holding his own.

"He's a great player," said Peters, one of the best ever. "Once he gets his confidence up, you just can't really stop him. I'm going to be by his side all the way."

Trey Burton denies report questioning his Eagles future

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Trey Burton denies report questioning his Eagles future

Several hours after an NJ.com report surfaced that the Eagles were unlikely to re-sign Trey Burton, the tight end denied it on Twitter.

Replying to a tweet about the report from former Eagles teammate Emmanuel Acho, Burton said he hasn't spoken to anyone.

NJ.com's Matt Lombardo reported Friday that the Eagles made Burton an offer that the soon-to-be-free-agent "didn't consider serious."

"We are fully expecting Trey to sign elsewhere," the source said.

It wouldn't be surprising whatsoever if Burton leaves in free agency. A team will likely pay him starter's money and offer him a chance to start, which he doesn't have here with Zach Ertz firmly entrenched.

The Eagles are over the projected salary cap, and while they could create space in numerous ways, they also have to worry about re-signing key linebacker Nigel Bradham.

6 ways for Eagles to create cap space

6 ways for Eagles to create cap space

The Eagles are coming off a thrilling season but there's a lot of work to be done. 

The NFL's new league year begins on March 14 and the Eagles must be under the salary cap by then. The problem is that based on projections, the Eagles are set to be more than $9 million over the cap, according to OverTheCap. So it's time for some maneuvering. 

The good news is that Howie Roseman's specialty has always been finding unique ways to get the Eagles out of cap trouble. There are ways for him to do it again.

Cut Torrey Smith 
Probably the easiest one. Smith was a great teammate and a solid addition to the Eagles' locker room, and he really stepped up his game in the playoffs, but it's probably not enough to bring him back. He just wasn't good enough last season, and cutting him would save the Eagles $5 million in cap room with no dead money. The Birds still have Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, while Mack Hollins is entering Year 2. 

Cut Brent Celek
This one will hurt, but Celek can take away the sting if he decides to walk away as a champion. He's set to have a cap number of $5 million. That's just way too much for what Celek provides these days. By cutting him, the Eagles would save $4 million in cap space. So just between Smith and Celek, the Eagles will almost get back to zero ... but there's other work to do. They'll still need money to sign free agents and draft picks. 

Extend Brandon Graham 
Graham is entering the final year of his contract with a cap number of $8 million. He wants a new contract and deserves one. Good news: An extension would work for both sides. Graham would get more money long term and the Eagles could get his cap number down this season. 

Rework/cut Vinny Curry
Curry is coming off of probably his best season in the NFL but will have an $11 million cap number. That's tough to swallow, especially with Derek Barnett waiting for his chance to start. It seems likely the Eagles will ask Curry to take a pay cut or rework his deal. If not, cutting him would leave $6 million in dead money but would also save $5 million in cap room. 

Trade Mychal Kendricks
If you remember, Kendricks actually wanted a trade last offseason. Good thing that didn't happen. Kendricks ended up being a big part of the Eagles' success in 2017. Depending on what happens with Nigel Bradham in free agency and with Jordan Hicks' Achilles recovery, trading Kendricks might again be an option. A trade would save $4.4 million in cap space. 

Trade Nick Foles 
This is such a tough one — we explore it more here. But basically, Foles is a pretty amazing insurance policy until we know when Carson Wentz is going to be ready. If the Eagles do trade Foles, it would save them $5.2 million that they could certainly use. The problem is that by the time they know Wentz's status, free agency will be long gone and that cap space won't help this year. But it could help in 2019.