charles johnson

Eagles place veteran WR Charles Johnson on IR

Eagles place veteran WR Charles Johnson on IR

The Eagles on Wednesday placed veteran receiver Charles Johnson on Injured Reserve. 

Johnson, 30, has been dealing with an ankle injury since Aug. 19. He was seen working out on a side field this week during practice. 

The Eagles put Johnson on IR to create a roster spot they used to sign rookie offensive tackle Riley Mayfield, who should play in Thursday’s preseason finale. The Eagles’ roster is still full at 90, but will have to be down to 53 by 4 p.m. on Saturday. 

By placing him on IR, the Eagles will keep the former seventh-round pick (2013) out of Grand Valley State around the facility for now. It is important to note that while Johnson is on IR, since he wasn’t on the initial 53-man roster after final cuts, he will not be eligible to return from IR this season. Remember last year, when the Eagles kept Richard Rodgers and Mack Hollins, only to put them on IR before the first game. 

There’s probably be a good chance the team will eventually reach an injury settlement with Johnson and release him at some point, freeing him to sign with another team. 

For a while it seemed like Johnson had a real chance to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster. After all, he was the leading receiver in the short-lived AAF and has had success in the NFL before. From 2014-16, he caught 60 passes for 834 yards and 2 touchdowns with the Vikings. 

And in the AAF, Johnson had 45 catches for 687 yards and 5 touchdowns for the first-place Orlando Apollos. His short stint in the now-defunct league also helped him re-find his love for the game

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How AAF restored Charles Johnson's love of football, led him back to NFL with Eagles

How AAF restored Charles Johnson's love of football, led him back to NFL with Eagles

When he heard the news, Charles Johnson cried. 

He really cried. 

Johnson and his Orlando Apollos teammates were in their meeting room before practice in April when they heard the news that the Alliance of American Football was going under. Just like that — poof — it was over. Johnson, 30, broke down in front of his younger teammates, some of whom looked at him askance. They didn’t understand, he said. This was important to him. 

“I cried like a baby that day,” Johnson said this week. 

After what they had built in Orlando — a team with a 7-1 record and championship dreams — Johnson was simply sad for everyone to go their separate ways. Those who got to know him best understood his emotions. 

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” fellow Apollos receiver Jalin Marshall said by phone. “I got to know Charles really well and got to know what kind of guy he was. Anytime you’re having fun and there’s something like that in your life, it’s very emotional for all of us.”

But things worked out for Johnson. Almost immediately, the former NFL receiver had plenty of teams interested. After all, he was the leading receiver in the AAF and was playing for the league’s best team. Before long, he was in Philadelphia signing a contract with the Eagles, getting another chance in the NFL. 

For most, the AAF will be a mere footnote in the history of American football. It will be more remembered for mismanagement of money and shadiness from the folks in charge than for its one shortened season on the field. 

But for Johnson, it will always hold a special place. The AAF helped him fall back in love with football. 

Finding joy in the game 

Initially, Johnson was hesitant to join the AAF. From 2014-16, he played in 39 games (17 starts) for the Minnesota Vikings and caught 60 passes for 834 yards. He had more than a cup of coffee in the NFL. But then he joined the Panthers, suffered a knee injury and was released. Then he spent last spring and summer with the Jets and was released. At some point, Johnson admitted on Wednesday, he lost his love for the game. 

Three of his friends — RB Matt Asiata, LB Steven Johnson and DB Robert Nelson — were already in the AAF and kept sending Johnson messages urging him to give it a go. Johnson said the one common theme in all of them was the word “fun.” They sold him on the one thing he needed without necessarily knowing he needed it. 

“I didn’t know that personally,” said Steven Johnson, who has been friends with Charles for years and was on the Arizona Hotshots in the AAF. “He never told me he wasn’t having fun. But I can kind of relate. Me and C.J. are about the same age (Steven is 31, Charles is 30) and when you get to a certain time in your career, the NFL can start taking a toll on you and the fun can just be sucked out of the game. 

“For me, when I was playing in Arizona, when I was talking to him, I was like, ‘Man, this fun. You gotta come out here.’ It was almost like being in college again but playing in the NFL at the same time.”

That’s how it started. Steven Johnson and Nelson were trying to convince Charles to join them in Arizona, but Orlando owned his rights and was unwilling to give him up, so he went to Florida. He got to Apollos training camp a couple weeks late, but Marshall said Johnson immediately became one of the leaders in the receivers room. Johnson said he would watch tape and see himself smiling again. 

According to Marshall, Johnson talked all the time about how the AAF had restored his love of football. 

Is it worth it? 

While Johnson is in Philadelphia, his family is back home in Kentucky, living life without him. He’s missing milestones in the lives of his children and he’s missing irreplaceable time with his ill father. He’s not giving all that up for nothing. 

“So I’m going out every day,” Johnson said, “and I’m like, ‘I’m missing all that to be here, so I’m not going to waste it.’”

The payoff for Johnson is pretty simple. He gets to play football, the game he loves again. That’s his job. There are way worse ways to earn a paycheck. 

“I tell the guys, especially in the AAF, once I stop having fun, once I stop loving it, I ain’t going to play,” he said. “There’s no point.”

More veteran than most 

As soon as his age was brought up, Johnson grinned and proudly declared he’s not old. In the real world, that’s true. He’s just 30, hopefully plenty of time left on Earth. But how much time does he have left playing football? 

Johnson is the second-oldest receiver on the Eagles’ roster behind only DeSean Jackson at 32.  

But Johnson hasn’t looked old at OTAs this spring. He was in great shape coming from the AAF and it has shown. His wealth of experience compared to his younger competition has been apparent this spring too. With some guys missing time, Johnson has gotten reps with the first team on several occasions at OTAs. 

“In the NFL, the age is always going to be something everybody looks at,” he said. “I just don’t even focus on that. I still feel young, I still feel like I can go out there and compete against anybody. They can line me up against a 21-year-old and I can guarantee you he’s not going to beat me in a race, he’s not going to be more explosive than me. That’s just my mindset.”

Like so many from the defunct AAF, Steven Johnson and Jalin Marshall are waiting for their next opportunities. There were so many players in that league left without a next step. 

“I’m still training, hoping I get one more shot, but if anybody deserves to make it or get a shot, it should be him,” Steven Johnson said. 

We won’t know for another few months whether or not Johnson will be able to parlay his AAF success into a regular-season job in the NFL. For many, he’ll forever be remembered as the leading receiver in the fledgling and short-lived league. 

Johnson said having that distinction is cool, but he’ll remember the AAF for a much more important reason. 

Said Johnson, “I had fun.”

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Eagles have intriguing depth at WR beyond Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor

Eagles have intriguing depth at WR beyond Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor

The Eagles have three pretty darn good wide receivers in Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor.

That’s probably the best three-deep depth chart the Eagles have ever had at receiver and no doubt one of the best in the NFL.

But they’ll keep at least five. Last year, they kept six — Jeffery, Agholor, Mike Wallace, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson and DeAndre Carter. So there’ll be a tremendous amount of competition this summer, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

The Eagles will probably also draft a receiver, and that could come fairly early. With the draft a week and a half away, here’s a look at what the Eagles have beyond the Big Three.

2017 draft picks

Mack Hollins

Hollins, a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina, did some good things as a rookie, with 16 catches for 226 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown against the Redskins and some excellent work on special teams.

Hollins missed all of last year with a mysterious groin injury that wasn’t considered serious during the preseason, but he’s got great size at 6-4, 220, and got a lot of good experience as a rookie, so he’s probably most likely at this point to be the fourth wideout.

Shelton Gibson

A fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, Gibson has only three catches to show for two NFL seasons. It was kind of odd last year that he caught a 48-yarder against the Vikings, then got just 12 snaps on offense the rest of the year and was never targeted again.

Gibson also played less and less on special teams as last year went on, which isn’t a good sign. 

Futures contracts

Braxton Miller

A really intriguing prospect, and the Eagles seem to like the former Ohio State quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist who converted to wideout. Miller spent all last year on the practice squad, so the Eagles know how athletic he is. 

Miller caught 34 passes in two seasons with the Texans. He’s only 26, he’s played at the highest level in college, and he knows this offense now. Keep an eye on him in camp.

Carlton Agudosi

Agudosi, a former Rutgers receiver from Franklin Township High in Somerset County, New Jersey, split the 2017 season on the Cards’ active roster and practice squad but was out of football last year.

He didn’t play a lot in college, but at 6-6, 220, he’s got unusual size and that could get him a good look this summer.

Johnny Holton

Holton played at Cincinnati before bouncing on and off the Raiders’ active roster and practice squad as both a receiver and cornerback. 

Now 27, Holton has only 11 career catches but three of them have gone for 44 or more yards, all from Derek Carr in 2017. Interesting speed prospect.

Dorren Miller

Raw prospect who played at JUCO Georgia Military College and Division II Carson-Newman, Miller ran a 4.39 coming out of school, which opened a lot of eyes. 

He was in camp last year with the Jaguars and then spent all year on the practice squad. 

Marken Michel 

Michel was in camp with the Vikings in 2016 and then spent three seasons in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders, catching 72 passes for 1,215 yards and eight touchdowns.

His brother is Patriots running back Sony Michel.

AAF refugees

Greg Ward Jr.

Ward remains an intriguing prospect. Former Houston quarterback who led the Cougars to a Peach Bowl win over No. 9 Florida State, he’s three years into his conversion as a wide receiver.

Ward, still only 23, got a Super Bowl ring with the Eagles in 2017 as a member of the practice squad but was released after camp last year and didn’t get a job until the AAF came along. He caught 22 passes for 214 yards playing for the San Antonio Commanders before the league was disolved earlier this month.

Charles Johnson

CJ2 was a seventh-round pick of the Packers in 2013 and is 30 years old, so kind of unusual for a camp body. 

He bounced around with the Packers, Browns, Vikings, Panthers and Jets, piling up 60 catches for 834 yards and two TDs in three seasons in Minnesota.

Johnson spent this past winter with the Orlando Apollos of the AAF, where he caught 45 passes for 687 yards. In a game against the Commanders, he had seven catches for 192 yards and a touchdown from Apollos QB Garrett Gilbert.

Keep an eye on Johnson. The Eagles gave him a $25,000 workout bonus, which is a sign that they really wanted him.

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