3 reasons Eagles wise to keep Lane Johnson at RT

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3 reasons Eagles wise to keep Lane Johnson at RT

As the Eagles began the individual portion of Thursday's practice, Halapoulivaati Vaitai was at left tackle next to Stefen Wisniewski. Lane Johnson remained at right tackle. 

It might seem to go against some conventional wisdom, but the Eagles are planning for Big V to take over for Jason Peters as the protector of Carson Wentz's blindside instead of sliding Johnson over. 

On Sunday, the line will look like this (from left to right): Vaitai, Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Johnson. 

Either way, losing Peters (MCL, ACL) for the season is huge. It'll be tough to overcome. But in the past, the team has toyed with the idea of moving Johnson to left tackle in a situation just like this. But now they're not.

There are a few reasons why this is the right move: 

1. Doesn't weaken two spots
While Peters had been playing at an All-Pro level at left tackle through seven games this season, Johnson was nearly as good on the right side. 

"I think I'm better on the right for now," Johnson said on Wednesday. "I haven't had any reps over there."

The thing about moving Johnson over and then replacing him with Vaitai is that it would weaken two spots instead of just one on the line. Johnson wouldn't be as good as Peters at left tackle and Vaitai clearly wouldn't be as good as Johnson on the right. 

It would make plenty of sense to get their best offensive tackle covering Wentz's blindside, but then the Eagles would probably limit Johnson in some ways by asking him to play out of position.  

2. Big V looked OK
A lot of folks probably still think about that disaster Vaitai had against Washington last season when Ryan Kerrigan beat him up and down the field. Last year's fifth-round pick doesn't look like that guy anymore. Is he an All-Pro? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But at least Vatai looks like he belongs in the NFL. 

If you take the time to go back and look at his game against Washington on Monday after Peters' injury, Vaitai actually played pretty well (see story). Sure, he gave up a couple plays, but he kept Wentz clean and even had one big play in the run game. 

Big V isn't going to be Peters, but there's a chance he might look like a serviceable player for the last nine games of the season. 

3. Great players over RT 
Johnson has already faced some great pass-rushers this season but there are more to come. DeMarcus Lawrence from the Cowboys, Von Miller from the Broncos and Khalil Mack from the Raiders are three of the best pass-rushers in football. And guess where they like to line up? Yup. On the left side of the defensive line, across from the right tackle. 

Now, you're saying, 'Why wouldn't those guys move across the line and face Vaitai instead?' Fair point. Washington actually tried that on Monday. Two plays after Peters went down, Kerrigan lined up over Vaitai, who held his own. And why make life easier on those top pass-rushers? If they want to seek out a favorable matchup, let them move, don't bring that favorable matchup to them. 

Eagles hoping no-risk, high-reward veteran signings can rekindle past success

Eagles hoping no-risk, high-reward veteran signings can rekindle past success

When you’re in salary cap hell, you have to be creative when building a roster.

And one tactic Howie Roseman used when putting together the Eagles team that begins training camp Thursday is signing a handful of no-risk, high-reward guys.

Players trying to revive their careers. Players trying to reclaim past glory. Players running out of chances.

These are no-risk, high-reward guys. They could become contributors, but if it doesn’t work out? The Eagles can release them before the season with modest or no cap ramifications.

When you’re in salary cap hell, you can’t sign all the free agents you want. So you sign the free agents that you can. And you do that by signing players nobody else wants. Guys with no leverage.

One tool Roseman likes to use is the NFL’s minimum-salary benefit, which gives teams some salary cap relief when they sign veteran players to certain deals.

The minimum-salary benefit can be used only for veterans with at least four years of experience who sign one-year minimum-wage deals with combined bonuses equalling $90,000 or less. 

Here’s a look at four of these no-risk, high-reward players the Eagles added this offseason.

Markus Wheaton

The Eagles signed Wheaton to a one-year deal with a $790,000 base salary (sixth-year minimum) with a $45,000 signing bonus, a $45,000 workout bonus but a cap number of $720,000, thanks to the minimum-salary benefit.

If the Eagles release Wheaton before the season, he would count just $90,000 against the cap, the value of his two bonuses.

Wheaton is only 27 and should be in his prime but has done nearly nothing the last two seasons after two very good years.

In 2014 and 2015, he combined for 97 catches for 1,393 yards, seven touchdowns and a 14.4 average. He had seven catches of 40 yards or more during those two years. Pretty good production.

But the last two years, Wheaton had just seven catches for 102 yards and one TD for the Steelers and Bears.

If he’s healthy and can be even half the player he was in 2014 and 2015, he could really help as a fourth receiver.

Matt Jones

The Eagles signed Jones to a two-year, $1.51 million deal that includes base salaries of $705,000 this year and $805,000 next year with no bonus money, which means no dead cap money if he’s released.

Even though Jones’ deal is not subject to the minimum-salary benefit, his base salaries of $705,000 and $805,000 are minimum wage for a third-year veteran in 2018 and a fourth-year vet in 2019.

Jones was one of the NFL’s best running backs the first half of 2016. Through seven games, he had 460 yards and a 4.6 average with three TDs. In a mid-October win over the Eagles at FedEx Field, he ran for 135 yards, the most rushing yards against the Eagles the last two years.

But he hurt his knee and never got his job back, then was released before last season. He resurfaced with the Colts but had only five carries all year.

Jones is only 25 and is a good enough receiver that he caught 19 passes for 304 yards and a TD as a rookie reserve.

With LeGarrette Blount gone, Jay Ajayi on a pitch count because of chronic knee soreness, Corey Clement’s role still undefined and Darren Sproles likely to be limited on offense at 35 years old, Jones will have a chance to work his way into the mix.

And if it doesn’t work out? No cap hit.

Richard Rodgers

The Eagles signed Rodgers to a one-year, $880,000 contract that includes a $790,000 base salary, a $45,000 signing bonus, a $45,000 workout bonus and a $720,000 cap figure, courtesy of the minimum-salary benefit rule.

If the Eagles release him, he’ll count $245,000 in dead money, the amount of guaranteed money in his one-year deal.

As recently as 2015, Rodgers caught 58 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns, which ranked him 12th among all NFL tight ends in catches and fifth in TDs. But he dropped to 30 catches in 2016 and just 12 last year.

Rodgers is only 26 and should be in his prime, but he’s reached only 30 yards twice in his last 31 games.

With Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, the Eagles have a potent 1-2 punch, but if Rodgers can regain his form of 2015, it would give Doug Pederson even more options in a ridiculously talented array of skill players.

LaRoy Reynolds

The Eagles signed Reynolds to a one-year, $880,000 contract that includes a $790,000 base salary, a $90,000 roster bonus and a reduced $720,000 cap figure.

Because there’s nothing guaranteed in his contract, the Eagles would not absorb any dead money under the cap if they release him before the season.

Reynolds, now with his fourth team in four years, has played in 68 games with seven starts. He’s only 27 and is considered an above-average special teamer and adequate depth linebacker.

The Eagles have some big question marks at linebacker, with Paul Worrilow (Reynolds’ former teammate) out for the year, Mychal Kendricks now with the Browns, Nigel Bradham suspended for the opener and Jordan Hicks able to finish one of his first three seasons.

Reynolds will have a chance to work into that mix. If not? No harm done.

More on the Eagles

Eagle Eye: When does a contract negotiation become a problem?

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Eagle Eye: When does a contract negotiation become a problem?

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, John Clark and Barrett Brooks are pumped for the start of training camp. Following MLB Commissioner's comments on Mike Trout's marketability, the guys discuss if it's on the player or the league to market an athlete? The Falcons said they will not give Julio Jones a new contract. At what point does a public contract negotiation become a distraction in the locker room?

1:00 - Guys are excited for the start of training camp.
4:45 - Is it on a player or a league to market an athlete?
11:00 - When does a Julio Jones contract situation become a locker room distraction?
18:00 - When money starts dividing a locker room.

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