Eagles

Eagles' offense thriving as Carson Wentz spreads wealth among receivers

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Eagles' offense thriving as Carson Wentz spreads wealth among receivers

Good luck figuring out who the Eagles' No. 1 receiver is.

Depends on the game. Depends on the drive. Depends on the play.

It could literally be anyone from celebrated former Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery to unknown, undrafted Marcus Johnson.

Who's the No. 1 option? Who's Carson Wentz's favorite target? Who's getting the most catches?

Anybody. Everybody.

“Carson’s not one of those guys who says, ‘Oh, this is my favorite guy, so I’m going to him no matter what, (even in) triple coverage,'" rookie receiver Mack Hollins said.

"He’ll put the ball where it needs to be, and that’s why the offense runs so well. It’s not about favorites. Carson does what he’s coached to do and we do what we’re coached to do.

"It’s easy for defenses to say, ‘Hey, this is the main guy, we’re taking him out.' What about the other guys? We have a different guy making plays every week."

Tight end Zach Ertz had nearly 100 receiving yards in each of the Eagles' first two games. Jeffery was the leading receiver against the Giants and Panthers. It was Nelson Agholor's turn against the Cardinals, and Torrey Smith wasn't far behind.

Those four all have between 210 and 405 receiving yards, and Hollins, Wendell Smallwood, LeGarrette Blount and even undrafted rookie Corey Clement have all made big catches at various moments.

"You literally never know going into the game how many times you’re going to get the ball or what play it’s going to come on, I’ve had to learn that," Smith said.

"The touchdown I scored on a few weeks ago, the ball hasn’t gone there all year. So with Carson, you have to stay ready. You never know. And I think that’s the benefit of letting the offense play out and letting the receivers do their thing."

The Eagles have only one of the top 25 receivers in the league — Ertz is 10th in receptions and 11th in yards.

As for wide receivers, Jeffery leads the way with 24 catches — 45th-most in the league going into Sunday's games — and Agholor leads the way with 321 receiving yards, which ranked 26th.

Yet here are the Eagles, No. 3 in the NFL in offense and with the league's best record at 5-1 going into their Monday night showdown with the Redskins at the Linc.

“Just being able to spread the ball around is a huge thing that we pride ourselves on," Wentz said. "We have a number of playmakers and it’s all about mismatches. Finding your mismatches … whether it’s from the tight end position, the slot receiver position, the X, the Z, even our backs out of the backfield.

"It just makes us so dynamic and makes us so difficult to defend."

When the big-name veteran Pro Bowl receiver is unselfish, it really sets the tone for the whole team.

Even though Jeffery's numbers don't pop off the stat sheet, his coaches and teammates rave about his team-first attitude. Here's a guy who's been a Pro Bowler, who's caught 85 passes twice, who had the 10th-most yards per game in the NFL over the last four years and who's on a one-year, prove-it contract. And he's fully bought into Doug Pederson's team-first philosophy.

"You would think an established No. 1 guy would come in here and say, ‘I want the ball 10 times a game,’ and Alshon has been the complete opposite," Ertz said.

"He’s very humble, he’s extremely quiet, so I think that’s something that kind of rubs off on the rest of the guys. Just how patient he is. He doesn’t force anything and I think it speaks volumes as to who he is as a person."

Jeffery hasn't been bad, but his 52 yards per game is well below the 79 per game he averaged the last four years.

Ask him about the dropoff, and he sounds like a guy who's never played in a postseason game, averaged 6½ wins per year in Chicago and only wants to win.

“In order to win a championship, everybody has to be unselfish," Jeffery said.

"I’m comfortable, as long as we’re winning. We’re trying to win a Super Bowl and that’s my only goal. … Whoever the ball’s going to, as long as we’re catching it and we’re getting wins, that’s all that matters. We’re all after the same thing."

Receivers are often the flamboyant, hot-headed, selfish guys on any team. Demanding the football. Screaming for more targets. Obsessed with their numbers.

Good luck finding one guy like that on this team.

"We talk about it all the time," Hollins said. "We want to make a playoff run and we want to go to a Super Bowl and we have these aspirations as a team.

"It’s never about I, it’s about we. How far can we go? How many plays can we make? How much can we help the team?”

This is the mantra Pederson has repeated since he got here: The team is all that matters.

And they've all bought in.

"Alshon could easily say, ‘Hey, I need more targets,’ or Zach could say, ‘Hey, I need more targets,’" Pederson said. "LeGarrette could say, ‘I need more rushing attempts.'

"But you know what? When everybody has a piece of the pie, and you look at the end of the day and all our top receivers are getting equal amount of targets during the game and our rushing attempts and passing attempts are almost 50-50 and the bottom line is winning the game, then that's the exciting part. And then nobody cares.

"They don't care about their own stat sheet, their own bottom line. They're unselfish guys. I talk about team all the time with the guys. It's about ‘us’ mentality, not individuals, and that's what they've bought into.

"That's the way we coach. That's the way I teach, and it's been very, very successful so far."

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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