The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) Nick Fierro columnThe Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) — Nick Fierro The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
Feb. 14--To the victors go the spoils.
Also in the case of Super Bowl winners like the Philadelphia Eagles, a whole lot of potential spoilers.
They've already lost two of their valuable coaches to better jobs elsewhere. Soon, they will lose valuable players to the realities of the NFL's salary cap, which makes it impossible to pay every player what they're actually worth.
This is where the value of player development can really pay off.
That said, here are five key young Eagles who could really help the team stay on top of the league with breakout performances in 2018.
1. Running back Donnel Pumphrey. The all-time NCAA rushing leader out of San Diego State struggled with consistency and injuries all through training camp and the preseason as a rookie last summer. He probably didn't do enough to merit a roster spot, but the Eagles weren't ready to give up on him after such a small sample size and using a fourth-round pick to get him.
So they stashed him on injured reserve with a hamstring injury at the first opportunity and are hoping a full year in their program will transform him like so many others. Pumphrey only goes 5-9, 175. But he packs a powerful punch and was a proven receiver at the college level as well.
The Eagles aren't expected to re-sign LeGarrette Blount and may not elect to keep Jay Ajayi beyond his rookie contract, which expires after the 2018 season. So there will be a great opportunity for this young man.
2. Tight end Billy Brown. In contrast to Pumphrey, Brown definitely played well enough as an undrafted rookie last summer to earn a spot. The problem is that there just wasn't room because the Eagles already had Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Trey Burton at his position. So they took a chance by leaving him unprotected on the practice squad and exhaled when nobody signed him.
Now, with the prospect of seeing Celek and Burton depart for salary cap reasons, they would get a huge boost if Brown could step in making as little as he does and contribute to the offense in 2018.
He finished his college career at Division II Shepherd with the most receptions (249), receiving yards (4,071) and TD catches (43) in school history.
3. Defensive end Steven Means. Means has actually been on the roster for the last two seasons but has rarely played because the Eagles have been so loaded at his position.
This year could see him finally break into the rotation because the Eagles likely won't be able to afford both Vinny Curry, who will count $11 million against the cap, and Brandon Graham, who will count $8 million.
Means' salary for 2018? Less than $1 million.
4. Wide receiver Mack Hollins. Last year's fourth-round draft pick already has established himself as a core special-teamer. Now, with Torrey Smith and his $5 million cap hit expected to be released, Hollins will have a great chance to earn a starting spot while playing for a cap-friendly fee of a little more than $500,000.
Hollins in 2017 caught 16 passes for 226 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown. He's a proven run-after-the-catch receiver who just needs to be more consistent catching the ball.
5. Punter Cameron Johnston. He arguably outperformed veteran Donnie Jones last summer, but probably not enough in the Eagles' eyes to trust the rookie to keep it going all the way through the season. They kept Jones, and it turned out to be a great decision.
However, they have re-signed the former Australian Rules football player for another go -- and this time he just may succeed, especially because the Eagles would stand to get $1.6 million in cap relief without Jones, who will turn 38 before training camp opens.
However it unfolds, the Eagles know they won't have a chance to repeat as champions if they don't get major contributions from at least some of their players at the bottom of the salary scale.
The color of money
Here are the projected 2018 salaries of five Eagles who could give the team an immense boost by stepping into regular spots on the offense and defense:
RB Donnel Pumphrey: $555,000 (cap hit of $700,000)
TE Billy Brown: $555,000 (cap hit the same)
DE Steven Means: $800,000 (cap hit of $900,000)
WR Mack Hollins: $555,000 (cap hit of $714,000)
P Cameron Johnston: $555,000 (cap hit the same)
Salary information provided by Spotrac.com
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