Lane Johnson

Eagles RB Darren Sproles Suffers Setback, Will Miss Multiple Weeks

Sunday, 8:55am: Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets that Sproles is expected to miss multiple weeks (one estimate suggested an absence of three to four weeks). The Eagles will be cautious with him so that when he returns to the field, he will be back for good. The way Sproles’ injury was handled by the team’s medical staff may be cause for concern, as we detailed yesterday.

Thursday, 11:39am: Earlier this week, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said he expected Darren Sproles to play on Sunday versus the Cowboys. Unfortunately, those plans were derailed after the running back aggravated his hamstring injury (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter). 

Sproles has not been on the field since hurting his hamstring in practice prior to the Eagles’ Week 2 game. Sproles showed significant improvement this week and the team believed that Sproles would be able to resume punt-return duties against the Cowboys. Instead of facing Dallas and joining Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement in the backfield rotation, Sproles’ outlook for the rest of the season is now in question.

Sproles’ 2017 was shortened by multiple injuries in September, meaning that he has played in just three games over the last two years. He already cashed in on a $1MM guarantee for this year, but Sproles is eager to resume the form that earned him three straight Pro Bowl nods between 2014-2016.

On the plus side, Eagles tackle Lane Johnson resumed practice this week after recovering from a Grade 2 MCL sprain. Pederson is hopeful that Johnson will play, but that would mark a faster-than-usual turnaround from the injury.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lane Johnson Tears MCL

Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson suffered an MCL tear in his left knee during the team’s win over Jacksonville in London today, per Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link). The Eagles are on a bye next week, but Johnson nonetheless could miss an extended period of time. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets that Johnson, who was already dealing with an ankle injury (to the same leg), will be sidelined for about a month. McLane adds that the 2017 First Team All-Pro will have further testing when the team returns to Philadelphia.

Johnson, whom the team selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 draft, is having another excellent season. He is currently ranked as the 10th-best tackle in the league, per Pro Football Focus, and the Eagles — whose running game is already sputtering — will miss him dearly during his absence.

Johnson’s fellow bookend, left tackle Jason Peters, also left today’s game with a head injury. Though Peters did return to action, he has not been playing to his usual standards this year, and he is dealing with other health issues of his own (plus, he is 36 and is clearly on the tail end of his career).

There have been no trade rumors surrounding tackles in advance of Tuesday’s trade deadline, and the Eagles will likely ask Halapoulivaati Vaitai to fill in at right tackle while Johnson is out.

Johnson signed a lucrative five-year extension in January 2016, which was restructured (to his benefit) last March. He is under club control through 2021.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Eagles Don’t View RB As Key Need?

Some big-name running backs have been connected to the defending Super Bowl champions as trade possibilities after news broke of Jay Ajayi‘s season-ending ACL tear. But the Eagles may not view the position as a must-address spot.

The Eagles don’t see running back as one of their top needs as the trade deadline nears, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Instead, Philadelphia views its tackle situation and the need for consistent cover men to emerge as bigger deficiencies than running back post-Ajayi.

The Eagles have done their due diligence about what it would take to acquire a big name, however. Breer reports Philly made calls to both Pittsburgh and Buffalo about the respective availability of Le’Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy.

Recalling the Eagles’ 11th-hour trade for Ajayi last year, it shouldn’t be ruled out the team will use some of the recent cap space (now up to $10.4MM) it created by reworking Fletcher Cox‘s deal on this position. But Breer does not consider it likely the Eagles trade for a running back.

Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood split time on Thursday night against the Giants, combining for 94 rushing yards and a touchdown. A UDFA out of Wisconsin, Clement’s missed time due to injury this season. But he came up in Super Bowl LII. Smallwood came into the season as the Eagles’ No. 4 back — behind Ajayi, Clement and the now-injured Darren Sproles — but is averaging 4.7 yards per carry in an extended look this season.

Philadelphia’s still waiting on Sidney Jones‘ development, per Breer, and does not have much in the way of reliability beyond Ronald Darby at cornerback. Even though Jason Peters has encountered a potentially constraining biceps injury, he and Lane Johnson represent one of the NFL’s top tackle pairs. But the team is seeing Johnson “underachieve” this season, and a torn biceps may not be the kind of malady Peters can simply play through.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Garoppolo, 49ers, Bryant, Irving, Cowboys, Johnson, Eagles

There were high hopes for the 49ers in 2018, hopes that were mostly dashed when Jimmy Garoppolo was lost for the season with a torn ACL. The team has insisted they have confidence in backup C.J. Beathard, but the new-look 49ers will almost certainly have to wait until next year to make a serious run at a playoff spot. The good news is that Garoppolo recently underwent surgery, and everything seems to have gone very well.

San Francisco’s GM John Lynch said he spoke to the doctor who performed Garoppolo’s surgery, and that he got a “great report” from the surgeon according to Eric Branch of The San Francisco Chronicle. Lynch added that doctors are “very optimistic about the prognosis for his future.” Separately, Branch notes that coach Kyle Shanahan said the team is hoping Garoppolo will be able to participate in OTAs in some capacity. It sounds like Garoppolo is expected to make a quick recovery and be 100% well before the start of the 2019 season, which is music to the ears of 49ers fans.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Earlier today, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made clear the team wouldn’t be bringing back Dez Bryant despite the receiver’s eagerness to return to Dallas. Now his son Stephen Jones, the team’s player personnel boss, has elaborated on why. The younger Jones said it has a lot to do with quarterback Dak Prescott, saying “the last thing unfortunately that Dak needs right now is to continue to change a lot of things up again.” The Cowboys’ receiving corp has been much maligned, but it sounds like it will be staying as is.
  • Cowboys defensive tackle David Irving is coming back from suspension this week. It’s a huge boost to Dallas’ defense, but to make room for him on the roster they’ll have to make a tough decision. It’s getting close to game day and they still haven’t made the call, so David Moore of Dallas News broke down all their potential options. Jones has said Irving will play, so something will need to be done in the next 36 hours or so.
  • “A federal judge has denied Eagles OT Lane Johnson’s motion to vacate an NFL arbitration award for his 10-game suspension in 2016″ according to Liz Mullen of Sports Business Journal (Twitter link). Johnson filed the suit last year, alleging his suspension for PEDs was unwarranted, and that there was bias by the judge in the appeals process.

Eagles Restructure OT Lane Johnson’s Deal

The Eagles have significantly improved their cap situation. The Eagles have created $7.5MM in cap space for 2018 by restructuring tackle Lane Johnson‘s deal, as Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. His new cap hit is now $4.98MM, down from $12.48MM, with Johnson also collecting a $4.192MM signing bonus. 

Johnson will now have a base salary of $790K for 2018, down from $10.25M (Twitter link). He’ll earn the same amount of money in total, so it’s a win-win for the team and player.

The Eagles entered the offseason with one of the most dire cap situations in the entire NFL. Now, they have given themselves some much-needed flexibility. In theory, the move could allow them to retain defensive end Vinny Curry, though they might look to apply their new found money elsewhere after acquiring Michael Bennett from the Seahawks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Notable 2018 Pro Bowl Incentives/Escalators

The NFL announced the 2018 Pro Bowl rosters earlier tonight, and aside from determining which players will spend a week in Orlando early next year, the rosters also dictate several important bonuses and/or contract escalators for individual players. Former NFL agent and current CBSSports.com contributor Joel Corry has rounded up the notable incentives earned tonight, and we’ll pass those along below. As Corry notes (Twitter link), only first ballot Pro Bowlers who actually participate in the game (unless injured or playing in the Super Bowl) are in bonuses, which are typically paid out by the end of March.

Here are the notable Pro Bowl bonuses and escalators that were preliminarily netted this evening (all links to Corry’s Twitter):

Bonuses

  • Ravens S Eric Weddle, $1MM; requires Baltimore in playoffs (link): Still playing like one of the league’s best coverage safeties at the age of 32, Weddle needs the Ravens to land one of the AFC Wild Card slots in order to earn his incentive. Baltimore appears to on course to do just that, as FiveThirtyEight gives the club an 87% of earning a postseason berth. That playoff appearance will be largely due to the Ravens’ defense, which ranks second only to Jacksonville in DVOA.
  • Bills S Micah Hyde, $400K (link): Sean McDermott can coach defensive backs. After spending years finding gems at safety for the Eagles and Panthers, the Bills head coach has helped Hyde transform into a top-notch DB. Hyde, who inked a five-year, $30.5MM contract with Buffalo in the spring, ranked a respectable 53rd in Pro Football Focus‘ safety grades a year ago. This season? He’s ninth.
  • Raiders G Kelechi Osemele, $300K (link): Under general manager Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders have employed what is often referred to as an “all cash” salary cap management system, wherein prorated signing bonuses are rarely used while base salary guarantees, roster bonuses, and — as evidenced by the number of Oakland players on this list — incentive clauses are heavily employed. Osemele, the league’s highest-paid interior offensive lineman, is signed through 2020 with cap charges north of $10MM in each season.
  • Rams K Greg Zuerlein, $250K (link): While the Los Angeles offense garners the most headlines, the club’s special teams unit has maintained its dominance under coordinator John Fassel, who briefly took over as the Rams’ interim head coach in 2016. Fassel, Zuerlein, & Co. have managed a No. 2 ranking in special teams DVOA, while Zuerlein himself has been worth 15.1 points of field position (second in the NFL).
  • Raiders T Donald Penn, $200K (link): Penn’s summer holdout lead to extra guarantees in the future, but didn’t end with a change to his 2017 salary, meaning this bonus part of his original deal. The 34-year-old Penn is currently on injured reserve, and will miss his first game since 2007 on Sunday. Still, his renegotiated contract now contains a $3MM guarantee for 2018, meaning he’s likely part of the Raiders’ plans.
  • Patriots ST Matthew Slater, $150K (link): Slater has now earned a Pro Bowl berth in every season since 2011. At some point, it’s fair to wonder if Slater is skating by on reputation, as he played only a quarter of the Patriots’ special teams snaps this year. Slater missed more special teams tackles than he made prior to his 2016 berth, tweets Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus.
  • Raiders C Rodney Hudson, $100K (link): For all of Oakland’s problems this season, the Raiders have continued to boast some of the NFL’s best pass-blocking offensive lineman. Hudson is the best pass-blocking center in the league by a wide margin, meaning he’s eminently affordable at $8.9MM annually.

Escalators

  • Lions CB Darius Slay, $550K base salary increase in 2018 (link): As Corry reports, Slay had three ways to earn this heft escalator — post five or more interceptions (he sits at seven), play on 80% or more of Detroit’s defensive snaps (he’s at 97.6%), or earn a Pro Bowl berth. Slay managed all three in what has become the best season of an increasingly impressive five-year career.
  • Eagles T Lane Johnson, $250K base salary increase each season from 2018-21 (link): Depending on Jason Peters‘ health and the Eagles’ plans, Johnson could very well be playing left tackle as soon as 2018. Even with his base salary set to increase, Johnson won’t have a cap charge north of $13.5MM over the life of his contract.
  • Eagles G Brandon Brooks, $250K base salary increase each season from 2018-20 (link): General manager Howie Roseman zeroed in on Brooks at the outset of the 2016 free agent period, and the 28-year-old has quickly proved to be one of the best free agent signings in recent memory. Brooks will earn an $8.5MM base salary — the largest during his five-year deal — in 2018.
  • Eagles TE Zach Ertz, $250K base salary increase from 2019-21 (link): Per Corry, Ertz also picked up a $100K bonus for 2017. Ertz has already set a career-high in touchdowns (eight) and has a shot to set new marks in receptions and yards even though he missed two games with injury. A former second-round pick, Ertz ranks among the top-five tight ends in catches, yards, and scores.

NFC East Rumors: Cowboys, Foster, Johnson

The Cowboys decided not to pursue an extension for Demarcus Lawrence before this season, with the defensive end’s history of back trouble leading to hesitancy on this front, Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News notes. Dallas’ brass wanted to see if Lawrence could stay healthy and deliver on the intermittent promise he showed during his career, per George, who adds the franchise tag could be in play for Lawrence come March. That would cost the team more than $17MM, but with Lawrence’s 9.5 sacks second in the league (despite the Cowboys having already had their bye) and considering he had back surgeries the past two offseasons, it would seem reasonable the team would still want to opt for a temporary arrangement for the time being. George describes Lawrence as playing through severe back pain last season rather than opting for season-ending surgery, and he’s on the verge of becoming a high-end UFA if he can make it through this season healthy.

Here’s more from Dallas and other NFC East cities.

  • Ezekiel Elliott will play for the Cowboys on Sunday, but the seminal event for the running back will come Monday afternoon when his team and the NFL face off in New York’s Southern District Court. The latest Elliott-vs.-NFL chapter is set for 4pm CT Monday, and Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News expects it to determine the running back’s 2017 fate. Should Judge Katherine Polk Failla green-light an Elliott injunction, Hairopoulos expects him to play the rest of this season while the court battle plays out. If not, the reporter doesn’t see him skirting the six-game suspension.
  • Mason Foster fired off a string of tweets voicing his frustration with the Redskins, who placed him on IR Friday. However, the veteran linebacker met with Bruce Allen, senior VP of football operations-general counsel Eric Schaffer and other members of Washington’s front office on Saturday to clear the air about the IR decision, Master Tefatsion of the Washington Post reports. The inside ‘backer described his state of mind upon sending those tweets as being “too emotional,” and the UFA-to-be is open to staying with the Redskins. “I’m a Redskin until they tell me I’m not a Redskin,” Foster said, via Tefatsion. “That’s how I feel about it. I love this team. This is where I wanna be. We handled it internally, and I appreciate Bruce sitting down with me and Eric Schaffer so that we could get it squashed and go about business.” Foster played through a 2014 injury that affected his free agent stock the following spring and will be shut down this time around after playing through a torn shoulder labrum for three games.
  • The Eagles will not move Lane Johnson to left tackle midseason, instead installing swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai at Jason Peters‘ spot, Zach Berman of Philly.com notes. Vaitai struggled replacing Johnson last season at right tackle, and considering the Eagles’ hot start, there will be a bright spotlight on the second-year player this season on the left side. “Right now, Lane is playing extremely well at right tackle and looking down the road, and I hate to look down the road, but we’ve got some teams coming up that have some players on our right side, their left side, the Von Millers of the world, Khalil Macks of the world that play on that side of the ball,” Doug Pederson said of the decision to keep Johnson at right tackle.

Details On Lane Johnson’s Lawsuit

Earlier this year, Eagles tackle Lane Johnson filed suit against the NFL and NFLPA for what he said were unfair practices in the wake of his ten-game suspension. We now have some new information on the lawsuit, courtesy of Alex Marvez of The Sporting NewsLane Johnson (vertical)

Johnson was hit with a ten-game ban as a repeat offender of the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. When it comes to this latest positive test, he insists that it was the result of taking an NFLPA-approved supplement. He also says the appeals process was flawed, noting that arbitrator James H. Carter previously represented the NFL in other matters. Carter’s firm received millions of dollars from the NFL for said work and Johnson says that led to bias. The union, he says, was negligent in allowing Carter to swing the gavel. The NFLPA has countered by saying that Carter was a “properly selected neutral arbitrator with impeccable credentials and no evident partiality in this matter.”

Johnson has already served his suspension, but he is continuing his fight in an effort to recoup his lost salary as well as having $25MM+ in guarantees reinstated in his five-year, $56MM deal. Both the NFL and the NFLPA have moved to have the case dismissed without prejudice, but a win in the courts could have far-reaching implications for all parties involved.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Lions, Stafford, Eagles, Seahawks, Bears

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford suffered a hamstring injury and a sprained ankle in Detroit’s 27-24 loss to Carolina, a source tells ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano. Stafford’s status is currently up in the air and his week of practice will determine whether he plays Sunday against New Orleans. The good news is that if Stafford does miss time, it sounds like it won’t be a lengthy absence.

Here’s a look at the NFC:

  • Eagles coach Doug Pederson admitted to reporters that it’s going to be tough to get lineman Lane Johnson through the league’s concussion protocol in time for Thursday night’s game (Twitter link via Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com).
  • Seahawks running back Chris Carson lost a good chunk of money thanks to his injury and the split in his contract, as Joel Corry of CBSSports.com (on Twitter) points out. His weekly salary is now based off $348K while on IR rather than $465K.
  • Bears linebacker John Timu, who was carted off the field on Sunday with a scary-looking injury, only suffered a high-ankle sprain (Twitter link via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com). He’ll be out 2-4 weeks, which is a much better prognosis than many expected at first.

NFC East Rumors: Jones, Johnson, Giants

Jerry Jones spoke at length after Sunday’s Packers-Cowboys game and expanded on his stance about players’ protests that have intensified this season. The longtime owner announced a policy that figures to be a key talking point across the league.

If there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play,” Jones said, via Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. “OK? Understand? If we are disrespecting the flag, then we won’t play. Period. Period. We’re going to respect the flag, and I’m going to create the perception of it. And we have.”

Although no Cowboys decided to sit or kneel during the national anthem today, David Irving and Damontre Moore raised their fists. Jones was asked directly about that. It’s not known if the owner considers what the defensive ends did as disrespecting the flag. Jones said he was “not aware” of Irving and Moore’s protests and called the team “very much on the same page together” regarding this issue. The defensive linemen (via Williams) each did not view it as such. Jones’ decree comes two weeks after the owner knelt with his team during a nationally televised game against the Cardinals, doing so before the anthem played.

The NFLPA also released a statement after these comments and Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to leave the 49ers-Colts game once players knelt during the anthem.

NFL players are union members and part of the labor movement that has woven the fabric of America for generations,” the statement read (via Mike Florio of PFT). “Our men and their families are also conscientious Americans who continue to be forces for good through our communities and some have decided to use their platform to peacefully raise awareness to issues that deserve attention. … We should not stifle these discussions and cannot allow our rights to become subservient to the very opinions our Constitution protects.”

Shifting to on-the-field matters in this division, here’s the latest on that front.

  • Lane Johnson may have a difficult time taking the field for the Eagles on Thursday after suffering a concussion in Philadelphia’s Week 5 rout of the Cardinals. While the Eagles said their right tackle left the game because of a head injury, Les Bowen of Philly.com reports a concussion caused Johnson to miss the second half. Halapoulivaati Vaitai took over for Johnson at right tackle and would seemingly be in line to start there Thursday night against the Panthers, with the league’s concussion protocol making it difficult for players to return on short weeks.
  • The Giants lost four wide receivers during their loss to the Chargers on Sunday, and while Odell Beckham Jr.‘s broken fibula will hit the team hardest, Big Blue also will likely be without Sterling Shepard in the near future. The complementary wideout sprained an ankle and is expected to miss a couple of weeks, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). The Giants believe this injury is similar to one Shepard suffered over the summer. The Giants will travel to Denver next week and will likely have to make roster moves before taking the field against the Broncos, considering Brandon Marshall and Dwayne Harris also left the game due to injuries. Beckham and Harris will be out for sure, with the latter fracturing his foot.
  • Adding to this nightmarish Giants season that’s spiraled to 0-5, Eli Manning underwent a neck X-ray after the loss to the Chargers, John Healy of the New York Daily News notes. The 36-year-old quarterback’s X-ray was negative, however. Manning has never missed a start since taking over in that role midway through his rookie season.