Eagles

Wendell Smallwood appears to be odd man out in Eagles' RB rotation

usa-wendell-smallwood-sad.jpg
USA Today Images

Wendell Smallwood appears to be odd man out in Eagles' RB rotation

Despite the acquisition of Jay Ajayi, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson insisted on Wednesday he will continue to employ a rotation at running back.

"I think it's kind of the way it's been going," Pederson said. "There's certain things that (LeGarrette Blount) does, and there's certain things that Jay can do, and there's certain things that (Corey Clement) can do.

“We continue to embrace that and design our run game around their strengths.”

But there was one name that was conspicuous by its omission when Pederson went over the rotation — Wendell Smallwood.

Maybe that doesn't mean anything. Maybe Pederson was simply rattling off a few examples and left it at that.

Or maybe it's a sign of things to come. Maybe the Ajayi trade will finally butt Smallwood out of consideration for regular playing time, at least for the time being.

“Nothing changes with Wendell," Pederson said. "We just keep him coming and keep feeding him when we can.”

Smallwood has 38 carries and 10 receptions so far this season. But in the Eagles' last game, the second-year back only touched the ball twice, and it was the third time he finished with fewer than five.

If nothing changes, as Pederson claimed, we can assume Smallwood's role will remain limited, at best. And when pressed further on the issue, the head coach admitted he really wasn't sure how everything would play out.

“I can't tell you until I get to gameday, honestly," Pederson said. "I don't know. I'm not going to speculate until (Ajayi) knows our system how we're going to necessarily use him.”

Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich also tried to make the case that the club “loves” Smallwood.

“We are happy with all the guys that we’ve got in the building,” Reich said. “To get a spot in this building is not easy and when you get a spot in this building, it means we love you and you're ours. You're our family and you get treated like that, with the respect that you've earned your way here.

“Every person, whether it's the top guy or the quote-unquote bottom guy on the roster, every spot is valuable.”

A fifth-round draft pick in 2016, Smallwood did have an opportunity to earn a job as one of the Eagles’ primary backs in training camp. However, a hamstring injury sidelined the second-year player for a portion of the summer.

Smallwood also missed two games this season with a knee injury, and was sidelined multiple times during his rookie season as well.

The 23-year-old’s health has been one issue. Another, the Eagles seem hesitant to rely on him in pass protection, which can often conspire to sideline young backs. Nor has Smallwood seized a bigger role with his performance on the field, averaging a modest 4.0 yards per carry during his brief NFL career.

The bottom line is the Eagles clearly felt Ajayi upgraded the roster, and no matter how they spin it, at least somewhat at Smallwood’s expense.

"The message has never changed," Pederson said. "We're going to constantly look at bringing in competition at every spot.

“Competition makes us better. Competition makes each individual better. This is no different. Whether it's OTAs or Week 9, Week 8, whatever it is in the regular season, it doesn't change."

The Eagles are trying to make the claim nobody’s role has to change after the addition of Ajayi. Both Pederson and Reich also said the meager 13 snaps Smallwood played against the 49ers was simply the way the rotation worked out.

But between the Eagles signing Blount in May, trading for Ajayi on Monday, and Clement’s emergence as a viable option this season, Smallwood continues to lose ground in that competition.

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-julio-jones-jalen-mills-eagles-falcons.jpg
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.

Subscribe and rate Eagle Eye: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19