Richard Rodgers

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

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at tight end?

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse at tight end?

Brent Celek and Trey Burton are out at tight end for the Eagles. The team’s top pick in the 2018 draft, Dallas Goedert, is in.

Two-thirds of the tight ends are new for this year, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We examine whether the Eagles got better or worse at the position coming off a Super Bowl championship season.

Better

More big play potential

There’s no denying the changes at tight end should make the Eagles’ offense more dynamic. Celek, age 33, could barely move anymore, while Burton is undersized at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds.

Selected No. 49 overall out of South Dakota State, Goedert lists at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, and the 23-year-old plays “above the rim,” with plus speed and a knack for highlight-reel catches. Even Richard Rodgers, a fifth-year veteran from the Packers and frontrunner for the third tight end spot, is larger than Burton at 6-foot-4, 257 pounds with roughly twice as much career production.

More athleticism. Bigger targets. Defenses are going to have their hands full with this group.

Worse

Intangibles

Celek made up for declining ability on the football field with tremendous leadership off of it. He was a consummate professional, somebody who commanded the respect of his peers. Most of all, he showed young players how to prepare for the rigors of an NFL season, missing only one game in 11 years with the Eagles.

Burton was another positive influence, quietly going about his business as the third tight end despite possessing the talent for a larger role.

The Eagles lost a pair of hard workers. Goedert, a rookie, and Rodgers may turn out to be perfect teammates, but they have a lot to live up to in that regard.

The same

Zach Ertz

Few tight ends are as reliably productive as Ertz, who’s coming off his third consecutive season with at least 70 receptions and 800 yards receiving. He’s a top-five player at his position, 27 and in the thick of his prime.

The unknown

Depth

In the two games Ertz missed due to injuries last season, Burton recorded seven receptions for 112 yards with three touchdowns. Even Celek managed to pitch in with a three-catch, 39-yard outing — by far his most productive game — and hauled in his lone touchdown during the other contest.

Goedert has out-of-this-world potential, drawing comparisons to the likes of Ertz and Chiefs superstar Travis Kelce, but has yet to play a down in the NFL. Rodgers racked up a 500-yard, eight-touchdown season back in 2015, and has accomplished little since.

As long as Ertz is in the lineup, the offense will run smoothly. Beyond him, the Eagles can’t be certain what they have.

Better or worse?

The real sting would be Burton’s departure via free agency, except he was used so sparingly. Rodgers has proven capable of posting TE3 numbers at least.

The Eagles decided Celek was no longer a viable option and released him in March, which was difficult to argue. Whatever hidden advantages he provided, it’s difficult to believe Goedert or a replacement-level player couldn’t outperform him at this stage.

Celek posted 14 receptions for 136 yards in 19 games last season, including playoffs, along with some less than stellar blocking. Sentimental value aside, a Goedert-Rodgers combination looks like a big upgrade. BETTER

More on the Eagles

Richard Rodgers sees new life with Eagles

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Richard Rodgers sees new life with Eagles

It’s impossible to look at his stats and not wonder what exactly happened to Richard Rodgers.

In 2015, he ranked 12th among all NFL tight ends with 58 catches for 510 yards and fifth with eight touchdowns. 

His 58 catches were the fourth most in NFL history by a tight end 23 years old or younger, behind only Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez and Kellen Winslow Sr. Pretty good company.

He was just 23 years old, he had a future Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, and he looked for all the world like one of the league’s brightest tight end prospects.

Since then?

His catches dropped nearly in half to 30 in 2016 and then down to 12 last year. Yards dropped to 271 and then 160 last year. And TDs to two and then just one.

Rodgers’ decline has been steep.

When his contract expired in March, the Packers moved on from Rodgers, who on Wednesday agreed to a one-year deal with the Eagles.

Rodgers met with reporters Friday afternoon and was asked about his dramatic decline in production.

“Yeah, I just did what I was told, did what the coaches asked me to do, and that’s all you can do as a player,” Rodgers said. “Just do what the coaches ask you to do. My numbers just dropped for whatever reason.”

Rodgers said he’s healthy and remains physically the same player he was when he caught 58 passes two years ago, which made him Aaron Rodgers’ second-favorite target, behind only Randall Cobb.

“I was playing a lot of snaps,” Rodgers said. “That was my highest snap-count year. And we had a lot of injuries. A number of things contributed to that [season].

“I was just trying to be consistent and trying to help the team win and if that’s having 100 catches or having 10, it doesn’t matter.”

Rodgers is right.

From 2015 through 2017, his targets dropped from 85 to 47 to 19, and his snaps on offense dropped from 70 percent to 56 percent to 29 percent.

With a one-year contract, Rodgers could find himself in line for a huge deal next offseason if he approaches those 2015 numbers. Heck, Trey Burton got a four-year, $32 million deal, and he had about half as many catches and yards in his four years as Rodgers.

"Obviously, it’s a good opportunity for me to reset my value,” he said.

Playing behind Pro Bowler Zach Ertz will be a different experience for Rodgers, who was always the Packers’ No. 1 tight end.

“I don’t know him very well,” Rodgers, a Cal grad, said. “He played against me, went to Stanford — unfortunately — but I’m looking forward to getting to know him and see how he is in practice and see how he works, because I haven’t really had many veteran tight ends to look up to, so I’ll be looking to learn a lot from him and my coach.”

From the outside, it seems like this is a great chance for Rodgers to prove himself after two disappointing seasons.

He said he’s not looking at it that way.

“That’s not really my mindset,” he said. “I just want to come out and help the team win, and if I can do that, I can be satisfied.”