Why Eagles believe Jay Ajayi won't spoil 'established culture'

Dave Zangaro | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Why Eagles believe Jay Ajayi won't spoil 'established culture'

The Packers were 8-3 in late November 1996 but had lost their last two games when they claimed troubled wide receiver Andre Rison off waivers from the Jaguars.

Rison, who had been a four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver much earlier in his career, had been dogged for years by off-the-field issues and when he joined the Packers that fall, they were his fourth team in under a year.

There were those who felt it was a bad fit, that Rison would ruin the Packers' chemistry. But with Rison in the fold, the Packers closed out the regular season with five straight wins before beating the pre-Tom Brady Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Doug Pederson was on that Packers' team, and he said that experience with Rison — who he didn't mention by name — goes a long way toward his comfort level bringing in Jay Ajayi this week.

Rison wound up playing only five regular-season games for the Packers before finishing his career with the Chiefs and Raiders, but he did catch two TDs in the postseason that year, including a 54-yard TD from Brett Favre just three minutes into Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans.

"Everybody’s got a past, everybody’s got a past," Pederson said Wednesday, one day after the Eagles traded a fourth-round pick to the Dolphins for the former Pro Bowl running back.

"I was in a situation where we brought in a player and there were reports of character issues and all kinds of things, and you know what? The guys rallied around him, and there was not one issue whatsoever with this player, and we went on to win a Super Bowl."

There have been numerous anonymous reports floating out of Miami in the last few days about Ajayi and his negative effect on the Dolphins' locker room. One report said it was Ajayi's inability to fit into the Dolphins' culture that led to the team shipping him.

But Pederson and Carson Wentz both said Wednesday they're comfortable with the addition.

"I got a chance to speak with Jay, texted him yesterday, he seems like he'll be a great fit for this team, a great fit for this locker room," Wentz said. "I don't foresee any issues with that. …

"You never want to kind of mess with the mojo so to speak, but this move I don't think anyone's concerned about. And we have such good leadership, such good veterans, that if there is any of that, it'll get squished real quick.

"The beautiful part of this team, this locker room, we have a lot of guys, a lot of leadership. We have older guys, younger guys, we just have a lot of guys, a lot of mature individuals who just want to win.

"The usual leaders, the captains, are the guys that jump out, but we have a handful of other guys who'll make sure to keep this train rolling."

Pederson echoed what Howie Roseman said Tuesday, that the Eagles wouldn't have made this move if they weren't confident in Ajayi's ability to fit into the Eagles' culture.

“Listen," Pederson said. "In this business, nobody’s perfect. Even coaches. I stand up here not being perfect.

"But, you know, we’re getting a really good person off the football field as well as on. …

"I can’t speculate what happened in South Florida. But I trust the guys on this team to handle players."

How will the 24-year-old Ajayi handle being in a running back rotation? How will he handle Pederson's carefully crafted team-first culture? How will he deal with a game where he only gets a few carries?

"We’ve established a culture on how we do things around here, so I implore (the players) to just embrace it and to bring him in," Pederson said.

"I had a conversation with him and you’ve got to be open and honest and say, 'This is how we do things around here,' and welcome him in and get him up to speed."

Pederson said the Eagles did their due diligence in regard to investigating Ajayi's background before they made the trade.

The Eagles are 7-1 with a six-game winning streak, but anybody who was around here in 2004 and 2005 knows the dramatic effect — both positive and negative — that one player can have on a talented team.

How can the Eagles be so sure about Ajayi?

“You can reach out to the (Dolphins) coaching staff and then just ask them, 'How was he in the building? How was he in the locker room? Game day?'" Pederson said. "And you can get a lot of your answers solved right there.

"And you can go back and read your reports. If you evaluated him coming out (of college), you can go back and read and see what he was like then and see if things have changed.

"But you just have to pick up a phone and call people who’ve been around him."

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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