Eagles

Sidney Jones looks comfortable in debut

Sidney Jones looks comfortable in debut

The rookie report makes its triumphant return this week with the Eagles' meaningless, ugly 6-0 loss Sunday afternoon to the Cowboys at the Linc (see breakdown). Let's take a look at this week's highlights.

1st quarter, 11:43, 1st-and-10 at DAL 39 - Eagles 0, Cowboys 0
This is the kind of play we've seen from Rasul Douglas all season. Douglas is lined up in off coverage against wide receiver Dez Bryant. Quarterback Dak Prescott throws a screen his way. Left tackle Byron Bell is leading the way, getting out to block Douglas. Douglas plays it perfectly and engages and sheds Bell like a linebacker, then makes a nice tackle on Bryant. Douglas also engages in a little trash talk with Bryant after the play. 

A couple plays later, Prescott delivers a terrible throw and misses an open Bryant. Douglas then gives Bryant a nice shot at the end of the play. You have to love Douglas' enjoyment — not just willingness — of physicality as a corner. Again, he talks a little trash to Bryant. You also have to love the swagger.

1st quarter, 6:39, 1st-and-10 at PHI 18 - Eagles 0, Cowboys 0
As the season has gone on, Corey Clement has surprisingly taken on the role as the team's third-down back. On this play, he shows why. Quarterback Nick Foles is lined up under center with Clement as the deep back. Clement steps up, identifies the blitzer in linebacker Damien Wilson, meets him under control, keeps a solid base and stands Wilson up at the line of scrimmage. It allows Foles to make a great throw to Zach Ertz for nine yards on an otherwise rough day for the Eagles' QB. This was arguably the best play in pass protection an Eagles back has made all season.

1st quarter, 3:12, 3rd-and-5 at PHI 47 - Eagles 0, Cowboys 0
On this play, the Cowboys are trying to get the ball to wideout Terrence Williams quickly so he can make a play after the catch, trying to take advantage of Douglas' off coverage. Instead, Douglas reads the play, crashes in on Williams and makes another sure tackle.

Sidney Jones, making his NFL debut, also had a nice jam on Bryant, but it must be noted Bryant looked extremely uninterested on the play since it wasn't going his way.

2nd quarter, 12:51, 1st-and-10 at PHI 19 - Eagles 0, Cowboys 0
WR Mack Hollins gets in on the action during the start of the Nate Sudfled era (I kid). Hollins is lined up out right and runs a slant. Demarcus Lawrence realizes it's a three-step drop and instead of rushing the passer, gets in the passing window. Sudfeld makes a really nice play, getting Lawrence off the ground and then throwing around him. Hollins does a nice job staying alive and not giving up on the play. Hollins secures the catch, makes a nice move and gets nine yards.

2nd quarter, 4:48, 2nd-and-9 at DAL 5 - Eagles 0, Cowboys 0
Jones is in off coverage on this play on the outside receiver. Prescott throws yet another WR screen, this time to Ryan Switzer who is lined up in the middle of the trips formation. Jones engages the receiver attempting to block him, sheds him and makes a solid tackle on Switzer. Pretty impressive play for a guy that hasn't played a football game in a year.

3rd quarter, 10:30, 2nd-and-6 at DAL 41 - Eagles 0, Cowboys 0
The Cowboys give the ball to Ezekiel Elliott on a zone run to the right. Converted safety now LB Nathan Gerry is lined up to the left to the side of the run. La'el Collins comes out to block Gerry. Gerry does an outstanding job taking on Collins with his right shoulder to keep his left arm free. Not only does Gerry do this, he actually knocks Collins to the ground and is in on the tackle with Chris Long. This is a great play for any linebacker let alone a guy just learning the position after converting from safety in college.

4th quarter, 12:19, 3rd-and-7 at PHI 20 - Eagles 0, Cowboys 0
This was a nightmare drive for Douglas (see Roob's observations). He got beat by Brice Butler for 30 yards on a 2nd-and-22 from the Dallas 7. He was then called for an illegal contact penalty — as ticky-tack as it may have been — on a deep ball to Bryant. The rough drive ended with Douglas allowing the only points of the game. Playing off coverage as usual and looking like he had outside leverage on a zero blitz, Butler runs a slant. Prescott gets the ball out quickly to Butler and Douglas doesn't have the speed to recover and the play goes for a TD.

4th quarter, 10:34, 1st-and-10 at DAL 28 - Cowboys 6, Eagles 0
On this play, Prescott rolls out to his right. Jason Witten is running a crossing route. Gerry has outstanding coverage, but Prescott attempts to force the ball in anyway. Gerry breaks up the play and nearly makes an outstanding, backhanded interception.

Analysis
Douglas made some plays early but really struggled late, especially on the aforementioned touchdown drive. Jim Schwartz constantly plays him in off coverage because he fears Douglas doesn't have the speed to recover if beaten deep. Maybe Douglas can instill some confidence in his coach — which likely won't be Schwartz — to give him more reps in press coverage next season.

Considering Jones hasn't played football in a year and came out of the game with just some cramping, you'd have to consider it a successful debut. He bit the cheese on a double move by Williams but overall looked smooth and comfortable out there. He was an elite talent at Washington. I had him ranked as the best corner coming out, ahead of the Saints' Marshon Lattimore. You have to be excited at the thought of this guy being in the starting lineup next season. 

There's been a lot of clamoring for Hollins to get snaps over veteran Torrey Smith (see report card). It's a little late in the season to make a move like that, but I get what the fans are saying. Hollins will get plenty of chances to be a bigger part of this offense going forward. He's another prospect to be excited about going forward.

Have to say, I wasn't expecting to write a ton about Gerry in this space, but the kid impressed me. He put on weight and had to learn a brand new position so he didn't see much action all season. His experience as a safety will certainly help him in coverage. He hauled in 13 interceptions during his time at Nebraska. The Eagles might have found something here.

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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