Looking ahead to Eagles' final 8 games

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Looking ahead to Eagles' final 8 games

If you like boxes checked, you've come to the right place. Welcome to the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles through eight games.     

• Best record in the NFL at 7-1

• Perfect in the NFC at 6-0

• 3 for 3 vs. the NFC East

• Unbeaten at home (4-0)

• Just one loss on the road (3-1)

Throw in six straight wins for good measure and the Birds enter the second half of their season with some major mojo after a first half that has gone beyond even the wildest imaginations of their fans. So while Doug Pederson and the team need to stay focused on their next opponent, we can and will allow ourselves to look ahead to what's on the horizon the rest of the way. As everyone knows, to play in January you need to win in November and December. 

Nov. 5 vs. Broncos (3-4)
Denver lost Monday night to the Chiefs, who handed the Eagles their only loss. The Broncos' defense ranks in the top five against the run and the pass. Von Miller is still a ferocious pass rusher, but this is not a team that scares you offensively. Trevor Siemian should be a backup, and Broncos head coach Vance Joseph was non-committal about who would be the starter. They have Brock Osweiler in his second stint and Paxton Lynch, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, backing up Siemian. Keep in mind the Broncos have to travel to the East Coast on a short week. Denver should not be able to do much offensively against the Eagles' defense.  

The Eagles enjoyed a mini-bye when they had 11 days off between their Thursday night win over the Panthers and their home win over the Redskins. Now a few weeks later comes a full-blown off week, which should bode well considering their next opponent.

Nov. 19 at Cowboys (4-3)
A Sunday night matchup in Dallas, where the Birds lost a heartbreaker last season. The Cowboys, after a 2-3 start, have begun to resemble last year’s 13-3 team, winning their last two games by an average of more than three touchdowns. That said, the Ezekiel Elliott saga continues. On Monday, he lost his bid to block his six-game suspension, but he still has the option to appeal. Your guess is as good as mine whether he’ll play against the Eagles in Week 11. The Cowboys are once again leaning heavily on him — he’s racked up 297 yards and four touchdowns the last two games — and Dak Prescott is following up his phenomenal rookie season with a strong sophomore campaign. Dallas will get the Chiefs at home this week before traveling to Atlanta. This game could either give the Eagles serious distance in the division on what appears to be the only other team standing in their way or allow the Cowboys to back in it. But the Elliott factor will be huge.   

Nov. 26 vs. Bears (3-5)
The Bears are bad. They are rightfully allowing rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to learn on the job and he has shown flashes but doesn't have much help. Their lone bright spot is second-year running back Jordan Howard. He ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing. They're stronger defensively but this should be a win at home.  

Dec. 3 at Seahawks (5-2)
Seattle's defense is still strong and opportunistic. The Seahawks rank seventh in points allowed. And CenturyLink is one of the toughest places to play in sports. The Seahawks' offensive line just got a whole lot better with the acquisition of Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown from the Texans. This had been a major weak spot for Pete Carroll’s team. Russell Wilson’s uncanny ability to keep plays alive had made up for a lot of the shortcomings in front of him. Jimmy Graham has started to come on in the last couple of weeks, so he will be a problem. This is a tough spot for the Eagles and could result in a loss.

Dec. 10 at Rams (5-2)
The Rams are the pleasant surprise of the NFL. After going 4-12 last season and firing Jeff Fisher, L.A. brought in 30-year-old Sean McVay and he has not only transformed second-year quarterback Jared Goff but also the entire franchise. They are second in the league in scoring at 30.3 points per game. Goff, written off by some as a bust after just one season, looks worthy of that first overall pick in the 2016 draft. Todd Gurley looks reborn in McVay's system. And defensive tackle Aaron Donald might be the most disruptive player in the game. This looked like an automatic win before the season but not so fast, my friends. 

Dec. 17 at Giants (1-6)
We saw this mess up-close, and personal in Week 3. The Giants are 1-6 on merit. Not only are they bad but they're injured as well. You always have to take into account the NFC East factor, where goofy things happen. But if you're a team that is looking to close out the season strong and win a division or possibly post the best record in the conference, this is a game you should win, division or no division. 

Dec. 25 vs. Raiders (3-5)
Ho, ho, ho. In what sets up for a great day of sports in Philadelphia on Christmas, the Sixers kick off the festivities in New York at noon and the Eagles provide the nightcap. A lot could happen between now and Dec. 25 but the early returns for the Raiders have not been favorable. MVP candidate Derek Carr has been inconsistent and banged-up. Despite bringing in Marshawn Lynch, the Raiders have not developed a run game, and wide receiver Amari Cooper has been very quiet. Again, they still have Khalil Mack and were a 12-4, playoff team last year. Factoring in another West Coast team traveling East and this looks like an Eagles win. But again, there's a great deal of land between now and this game. 

Dec. 31 vs. Cowboys (4-3)
The Birds could close out 2017 in style with a win over the Cowboys on Dec. 31. Tough to know what this game will mean by then. With the Eagles off to a 7-1 start, the best-case scenario is this game is meaningless and they are resting their starters like the Cowboys did in the game last year. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. now, but this could be flexed out to later depending on the stakes. It would be a pretty sweet scenario, crushing the Cowboys then heading off to close out the year with visions of the playoffs dancing in Eagles fans' heads.

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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