Eagles-Seahawks thoughts: Chance to send message now and into future

Eagles-Seahawks thoughts: Chance to send message now and into future

8:30 p.m. on NBC
Eagles favored by 5 1/2

Handicappers have installed the Eagles as favorites against the Seahawks at CenturyLink Stadium in Seattle. The Eagles can clinch the NFC East and a playoff spot with a win on Sunday night, in Week 13, no less. Just as everybody anticipated all along!

It’s incredible to think about where the Eagles stand today, on Dec. 3, in contrast to popular opinion a little less than two months ago. The last time this team was preparing to play an opponent with a winning record, it was a three-point underdog heading into Carolina on Oct. 12. Now, the Eagles are supposed to handle one of the conference’s perennial powerhouses in one of the NFL’s toughest places to play.

Can it really be that easy?

The Eagles are 10-1, winners of nine straight. Talk of a division title or playoff berth has taken a backseat to hope for a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. But they have to get through the regular season first, and the 7-4 Seahawks — banged-up as they might be — are no pushovers. This may finally be the matchup people are taking lightly.

Or, the Eagles truly are one of the league’s dominant teams and will take care of business against an inferior opponent on the road. Either way, we’re going to learn more from this game than any other they’ve played thus far.

No place like home?
Seattle’s dominance at CenturyLink is well documented, although the mystique has taken a big hit in recent weeks. The Seahawks have lost back-to-back games in their own building, falling to the Redskins and Falcons, and dropping their home record to 3-2 in 2017.

Consecutive home losses are unusual for the Seahawks, but not a total anomaly, last occurring in 2015. Still, for a team that has a 37-8 record on its own turf since the ’12 season, it's perhaps a sign that there is something larger amiss.

Make no mistake, the Eagles will face loud noise on Sunday. Ultimately, that’s only so important if the Seahawks prove incapable of using it to their advantage.

Legion of Gloom
One of Seattle’s glaring issues is in its once-great secondary, where two All-Pro players are out with injuries and a third is hobbled. Cornerback Richard Sherman and strong safety Kam Chancellor are done for the season, while free safety Earl Thomas is battling a heel injury.

Not surprisingly, teams have had success throwing the ball against the Seahawks the past two weeks. Falcons and 49ers quarterbacks combined to complete 64.1 percent of passes for 396 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Those aren’t earth-shattering numbers — granted, one of those signal callers was San Fran's C.J. Beathard — but the 88.9 passer rating is nearly 10 full points better than Seattle’s 79.1 mark for the season. The defense is becoming increasingly vulnerable through the air, which bodes well for the Eagles’ aerial attack led by Carson Wentz.

MVP watch
Wentz won’t be the only candidate for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award taking the field on Sunday. Russell Wilson has a legitimate case because, let’s face it, he’s the Seahawks’ only shot at winning a game like this.

Wilson has accumulated 3,029 yards passing and another 401 on the ground. Subtract 163 yards lost on sacks, and that gives the sixth-year veteran 3,267 net yards of offense. The Seahawks have 3,994 yards of offense as a team, which means Wilson has accounted for 81.8 percent of their total production. That’s insane.

What’s more, Wilson is doing it behind a horrendous offensive line and with essentially zero help from his running backs. Love him or hate him, the guy is phenomenal, and somehow the Eagles must find a way to keep him from taking over this game. Easier said than done.

Keep out
Wilson is a unique talent, the likes of which the Eagles haven’t faced under center in some time. Maybe that’s been reflected on the scoreboard of late. Or maybe the Eagles' defense has been so stifling it doesn’t matter who is taking snaps for the opposition.

The Eagles’ D receives its fair share of praise, but maybe not enough for their smothering efforts over the past month. In the last four games, the unit has only surrendered two touchdowns, and neither of those have come in the last two contests. All told, the Eagles' defense and special teams are on the hook for just 38 points during that span — 9.5 per game.

Meanwhile, the Eagles have also scored two touchdowns defensively — a Jalen Mills interception and Nigel Bradham fumble recovery — in the last four games. In other words, the unit has scored almost as many points as it has allowed. The best offense is a good defense, indeed.

Class of the NFC?
Yes, this is a down season for the Seahawks given all their injuries, and the franchise hasn’t been quite as dominant since back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 2013 and ’14. Regardless, an Eagles win in Seattle would still feel significant.

There’s a hierarchy within the conference, and the Seahawks were one of the two teams, along with the Packers, consistently at the top. This is an elite team that’s won a lot of games this decade, and knocking Seattle off in its own building still means something.

Not as much as beating the Rams in Week 14 would, or beating the Vikings or Saints in the postseason this January would. But beating Seattle would certainly be a step in the right direction for the Eagles — maybe even a step toward establishing a new hierarchy in the NFC.

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?

USA Today Images

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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