The Philadelphia Eagles ranked 31st in kickoff return average (20.9 yards per return) in 2011 and their longest return of the season (33 yards) was worst in the league. Punt returns weren't much better, as the team averaged 7.1 yards per return (tied for 27th in the league) and had nearly as many fair catches (28, tied for the most in the league) as returns (30).
"We were terrible," April said Tuesday, according to Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News. "We had terrible results. ... Itâs hard to put a finger on, we were just really inept. I can only say the ineptitude comes from me, because what we were asking guys to do, they were unable to perform it. Either they couldnât or they wouldnât.
"In either case, thatâs a mistake by me. ... We were really poor, the poorest I can remember in a long time. Just nothing. We made nothing happen."
The Eagles began revamping their return game during April's draft when they selected Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin, who averaged 24.2 yards per kickoff return with four touchdowns. Boykin also averaged 12.8 yards with one touchdown on punt returns.
Johnson had nearly 4,000 return yards in 40 career games, averaging more than 25 yards per kick return and 12 yards per punt return with four total touchdowns (two on kicks, two on punts). Johnson was suspended for his senior season following an arrest on an embezzlement charge. (Johnson pleaded guilty, received a one-year deferred sentence, a $500 fine and 80 hours of community service.)
Bowen noted that April had a lot to do with the Johnson signing. There's nothing unusual about an NFL team taking a chance on an undrafted free agent with a red flag or two. What is interesting, and perhaps telling for how much of a priority improving the return game is in Philadelphia, is the signing bonus and financial guarantee the Eagles gave a player who did not play a down in 2011.
According to a source with knowledge of the contract, Johnson received a signing bonus of $15,000 and an additional $2,000 base salary guarantee for the 2012 season. While it won't guarantee a roster spot, the source added that Johnson's signing bonus was the largest the Eagles paid any undrafted free agent this season, and the total guarantee of $17,000 was one of the highest among this year's total crop of rookie free agents.