Eagles leaning toward playing Alshon Jeffery, Ronald Darby on Thursday

Eagles leaning toward playing Alshon Jeffery, Ronald Darby on Thursday

It looks like the Eagles will unwrap two of their biggest additions on Thursday night at the Linc. 

Head coach Doug Pederson on Tuesday said he's leaning toward playing receiver Alshon Jeffery and cornerback Ronald Darby in the second preseason game of the summer. It will be the first time either player will suit up with the Birds. 

Jeffery was held out of the first preseason game by Pederson, who has been limiting the star receiver's practice time over the last couple weeks. Jeffery had a shoulder injury but even after he healed wasn't a full participant in practice for about another week. Jeffery finally took 11-on-11 reps Monday. 

"I am leaning toward playing [Jeffery], yes," Pederson said. "He feels comfortable, we've talked about it, so I'm comfortable with it."

This will offer Carson Wentz his first opportunity to play with Jeffery in game action. The two have worked hard to build chemistry while at practice and away from the field. Jeffery was a part of the group that went to North Dakota to work out with Wentz during the offseason. 

"It seems like it's been a long time coming with [Jeffery]," Wentz said. "I'm not sure if he'll play or not or how much, but hopefully he does and hopefully we can start getting that chemistry, that relationship out on the field in live situations."  

The Eagles didn't trade for Darby until last Friday, so this will be his first chance to play in a game with his new team. By pure coincidence his first game as an Eagle will come against his old team, the Bills. 

"Yeah, it will be a little weird knowing I was just there a few days ago," Darby said earlier this week, "but that's just how the league works." 

While Darby will likely play on Thursday, his counterpart in the trade, Jordan Matthews, will not. Matthews suffered a cracked sternum in his first practice with the Bills on Sunday. 

Meanwhile on Sunday, Darby practiced with the Eagles for the first time and was immediately thrown into action with the starters at left cornerback. It's likely that's where he'll play on Thursday night. 

"Same thing [as with Jeffery]," Pederson said. "Give him an opportunity to play and [it will] be exciting to watch him in live action."

Pederson said while the plan wasn't definitive, he'll probably play Wentz and the starters for just a series or two against the Bills. He just wants the starters to stay in game shape while avoiding injury. 

"You know how it is, you get in the middle of the game and it starts flowing and you get a feel for when it's right," Wentz said. "I trust he'll make the right decision. Obviously, I want to play as much as he thinks is fit and we'll roll with that." 

Brandon Brooks (ankle) and Wendell Smallwood (hamstring) will be game-day decisions. Both have been back at practice after missing the preseason opener but aren't guaranteed to play this Thursday. If Brooks doesn't play, Chance Warmack will make his second straight start at right guard. 

Jason Peters was excused from practice Tuesday for personal reasons. In his absence, Lane Johnson took over at left tackle and Matt Tobin filled in at right tackle because Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) is still out. It's unclear if Peters will be back in Philly in time for the game. 

If nothing else, putting Johnson at left tackle is good practice if something were to happen to Peters during the season. 

"Lane obviously worked at left tackle all spring (during OTAs)," Pederson said. "Big V obviously at the time was right tackle. But this will be a good opportunity if something were to happen and they have to do that at least this Thursday."

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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