Eagles

Halapoulivaati Vaitai rebounds after brutal start against Panthers

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Halapoulivaati Vaitai rebounds after brutal start against Panthers

It looked like "Big V" was heading for another big disaster. 

It was almost impossible to watch Julius Peppers go around Halapoulivaati Vaitai on the fifth play of Thursday night's game and not think back to his first start last year, when Washington's Ryan Kerrigan turned him into a turnstile. 

That's the way things looked when the 37-year-old Peppers went around Vaitai and got a strip sack on Carson Wentz to set up the Panthers' first drive in great position. 

"Yeah, it's unfortunate," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He took just a bad set line on the sack. He learned from it, obviously, the hard way. But, hey, listen, Peppers is a great player. But he settled in. He did some nice things after that. Trust his technique. Trust his fundamentals, and he did a nice job. It's great to see, again, a young player step in on a short week and play against a fine defensive end like he did. It just gives us a lot of confidence moving forward with him."

It was a bad start for "Big V," who was filling in for a concussed Lane Johnson, but it didn't turn into a complete disaster.

"After that first drive, I bounced back and I trusted my coach," Vaitai said after the Eagles' 28-23 win. "There's always room for improvement so I'm going to take the time off, reflect and then come back ready to work."

No, Vaitai wasn't great the rest of the game, but he wasn't awful either. He at least didn't ruin the Eagles' entire game plan. 

And while the Birds finished 2-8 without Lane Johnson last year, they're now 1-0 without him this season. 

Getting Vaitai ready to start in just a few days probably wasn't very easy. Johnson suffered a first-half concussion against the Cardinals and the short week didn't allow him enough time to clear the league's concussion protocol. 

Then, on Thursday night, the Panthers sent all kinds of blitzes and used a lot of D-line stunts that seemed to confuse the Eagles early. Eventually, the Birds were able to settle down and figure out where the blitzes were coming from. 

Thursday was the 2016 fifth-round pick's seventh career start. He had played this season as an extra tackle in run formations; that role was assumed by Isaac Seumalo against the Panthers. 

Johnson will have extra time to clear the NFL's concussion protocol because the next game is a Monday night tilt. So it seems likely Vaitai will be heading back to the bench. But maybe he'll have more confidence after taking a punch and getting back up. 

"Being the sixth man off the bench, it's unfortunate for Lane," Vaitai said, "but that is my job and so I have to step up and fulfill that." 

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

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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 veterans players to certain deals.

The minimum-salary benefit can only be used 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 only had 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 only reached 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, so 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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