Eagles

LeGarrette Blount has found a new home

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LeGarrette Blount has found a new home

A big piece of the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl season is moving on. 

Running Back LeGarrette Blount has signed with the Detroit Lions. Blount's deal will be for one-year, $4.5 million, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport

Blount, 31, was scheduled to visit the Lions on Friday and he didn’t leave without a new deal. He’ll reunite with Lions head coach Matt Patricia, who was the defensive coordinator in New England when Blount was there; the familiarity probably helped. 

Last offseason, Blount took his time deciding where he’d land. He didn’t sign with the Eagles until May and his contract was worth around $1 million. He apparently showed enough during 2017 to get a bigger deal this time around. 

After beginning the season as the Eagles’ primary runner, he eventually saw his role diminish after the Birds added Jay Ajayi through a trade. Still, Blount played in all 16 games and rushed for 766 yards during the regular season. More importantly, he had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LII. Blount had a rushing touchdown in all three playoff games after having just two during the regular season. 

Perhaps more important than his contributions on the field, it was Blount’s unselfish nature that seemed to rub off on his teammates. When he and Alshon Jeffery were on board with that unselfish mindset, it seemed like the rest of the team followed. 

As recently as late February, Blount indicated he wanted to return to Philadelphia, where he really seemed to fit in the locker room and under running backs coach Duce Staley, whom Blount clearly respects. 

"Obviously I like it a lot there,” Blount said in February on NFL Network. “They like me a lot there. It's a mutual respect and a mutual agreement thing about how we feel about each other. Obviously, you guys know how I feel about the team, the guys; I love those guys.”

While Blount said he wanted to return to Philly, it was unlikely the Eagles could have (or would have) offered him the type of contract he’s getting from the Lions. 

Meanwhile, the Eagles still have Ajayi and Corey Clement under contract from last season. Kenjon Barner is a free agent. The running back position still seems up in the air, but the Eagles have a few months and a draft to figure it out. 

How Eagles are using fake contract years to create cap space

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How Eagles are using fake contract years to create cap space

When the Eagles announced the Malik Jackson, Brandon Graham and DeSean Jackson contracts, they were referred to as three-year deals. When the Ronald Darby contract was announced, it was announced as a one-year deal.
 
Take a look at any of them and they’re actually five-year contracts.
 
Until they aren’t.
 
Confused yet?
 
We’re here to help!

The odd structure of Eagles contracts

In the often-baffling world of NFL contracts, Eagles vice president of football operations and salary cap guru Howie Roseman has been designing contracts with fake years, a tool that spreads out cap hit into contract years that are guaranteed to never exist.
 
It’s kind of cheating.
 
But according to the CBA, the collective bargaining agreement between the NFLPA, the players’ union, and ownership, it’s completely legal.
 
NFL contracts can be very complicated, but in simple terms, a player’s salary cap figure for a specific year is determined by adding together three components:
 
1. The player’s base salary
2. The pro-rated amount of his signing bonus, which is derived by dividing the amount of the bonus by the number of years in the contract (up to five years)
3, All so-called “likely-to-be-earned” incentives, which are generally speaking performance and playing-time milestones the player reached the previous year.

 
The longer the contract, the more years the signing bonus is spread out over and the less the cap hit.

The Ronald Darby contract

But what if you have a player like Darby, who has been hurt the last two years, and you’re reluctant to sign him to a long-term deal because of injury concerns?
 
Let’s take a look at Darby’s contract.
 
At first glance, it’s a five-year deal with base salaries of $1 million in 2019 and $15 million in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023.
 
Yes, $15 MILLION per year.
 
The deal also includes a $3.5 million signing bonus that he received when he signed on March 19 and a roster bonus worth as much as $2 million in the form of $125,000 weekly bonuses for each game that Darby dresses for in 2019.
 
The cap hit for 2019 is a modest $2.825 million - that’s the $1 million base salary, $700,000 of the signing bonus (the first 20 percent of the $3.5 million pro-rated over five years) and an additional $1.125 million representing the likely-to-be-earned portion of the roster bonus.
 
What about those $15 million annual salaries from 2020 through 2023?
 
That’s a ton of money!
 
The small print in Darby’s contract states simply that the 2020 through 2023 seasons “void automatically” if Darby is on the Eagles’ roster 23 days before the start of the official 2020 league year, which would be sometime in late February.
 
In other words, if he’s on the team, he’s no longer on the team.
 
And the $60 million base salaries? They evaporate. They disappear.
 
All that remains is the $2.8 million remaining pro-rated portion of Darby’s signing bonus, which accelerates into dead money under the Eagles’ 2020 cap.

What’s the point of all this?

Howie Roseman is clearing as much room under the Eagles’ 2019 cap as possible, presumably to give the team flexibility for the inevitable signing of Carson Wentz to a massive, $30 million-per-year ballpark contract.
 
Whether that happens now or next offseason, clearing cap room now helps because whatever the Eagles don’t use under their 2019 cap carries over to additional cap room in 2020.
 
And the more room the Eagles have after signing Wentz, the more flexibility Roseman will have to make additional moves.
 
The Graham, Malik Jackson and DeSean Jackson deals are a little more complicated because they include an option bonus that is added to base salary if the Eagles don’t execute it, but in each case, the deals are listed as five-year deals but can’t last more than three years.
 
The Graham deal includes a $12.5 million signing bonus that pro-rates to $2.5 million per year, so if Graham plays all three years that would mean $5 million in dead money in 2021.
 
Malik Jackson’s deal similarly includes a $9 million signing bonus, initially spread out over five years, which means $3.6 million in dead money in 2021.
 
DeSean Jackson’s deal has a $7.17 million signing bonus, initially spread out over five years, which means $1.434 pro-rated per year. So if he’s here for the life of his contract, that would mean $2.868 million in dead money in 2021.
 
Without the fake years?
 
Darby’s 2019 cap hit would be $5.625 million instead of $2.825 million. Malik Jackson’s would be $4 million instead of $2.8 million. DeSean’s would be $4.12 million instead of $3.164 million. Graham’s would be $5.17 million instead of $3.5 million. 
 
So by adding fake years into four contracts, the Eagles saved about $6.6 million under their 2019 adjusted cap figure of $197,901,096.
 
According to a league source familiar with league-wide free agency contracts, there are only a few other instances of teams using guaranteed voidable years during this free agency period
 
The Lions used the technique in the contract for tight end Jesse James, the Panthers used it with center Matt Paradis and the Cards with Terrell Suggs.

Could this all blow up in the Eagles’ face?

If it seems like the Eagles are simply deferring salary cap hell into the future, don’t forget, this is Howie. He knows what he’s doing.
 
First of all, the salary cap has been increasing more than 10 percent per year. As recently as 2013, the unadjusted cap figure was $123 million. In 2019, it’s $188 million. That’s more than a 50 percent increase in just six years. It will likely be close to $200 million next year.
 
So the exact same cap hit in the future is a smaller percentage of a team’s cap in the present. So it’s just common sense to defer as much cap hit as possible as long as possible.
 
But also the current CBA expires after next year, so nobody really knows what’s going to happen in 2021. Some expect a lockout or a strike. There’s a chance 2021 will be an uncapped year, just as 2010 was after the last CBA expired.
 
And if the next CBA includes a bunch of new rules? Rest assured Roseman will figure out a way around them as well.

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Eagles mailbag: RB in Round 1, Chris Long, old guys

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Eagles mailbag: RB in Round 1, Chris Long, old guys

We’ve reached the end of the mailbag line. You guys gave me enough Eagles questions to split this into three parts. 

Part 1

Part 2

And, now, here’s part three: 

If I had to guess between Josh Jacobs and the field, I’d still choose the field by a wide margin. But I also wouldn’t be completely stunned if the Eagles were on the clock at 25 and they deemed him to be the best player available and went that way. Ultimately, I still think they end up with a lineman there, but Jacobs is an intriguing fit for the Eagles. He would fill their greatest need on offense and could become a true three-down back in the NFL. He really could step in and be a starter in his rookie season. 

As for Love, I think the second round is too early for him. If he’s there in the fourth round or later, that would be an option. Remember, the draft is about value. You don’t draft someone in an early round if you think they’ll be there later. It’s hard to figure out where injured players will go, but Love isn’t a sure thing to me. I’ll get into other running back options in a bit. 

Nah, I thought Long had another pretty good year. He had 6 1/2 sacks, two forced fumbles. He’s played in every game since coming to Philly. I don’t know if he’ll be back, but the Eagles should want him back. Without Long, they’re down to Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, and Josh Sweat. There’s a really good chance they draft a defensive end with a high pick too, but with the rotation, the more the merrier. Long has a $5.6 million cap hit in 2019, but I can deal with that. I think he’s worth keeping around. 

There aren’t many running backs still left on the open market, but Yeldon would be a good fit. He’s a big back but can also be used as a receiver out of the backfield. He’s still just 25 too. The trade options are also open and it wouldn’t hurt the compensatory pick formula, something that’s been important to Howie Roseman this offseason. 

In the draft, we already talked about Jacobs. He would fit. In the second round, the two players I like most are David Montgomery and Miles Sanders. Montgomery didn’t put up a great 40 time, but I don’t care. His tape says enough to me. I think he has star potential in the NFL. And the Eagles have shown a lot of interest in Sanders. He is quicker than Montgomery, but is also a little more unproven after sitting behind Saquon Barkley for two years. But that means he has less mileage too. 

It’s interesting because this has been the way the Eagles have used free agency in the last few years. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The Eagles have signed guys like Chris Long who worked and guys like Mike Wallace who didn’t. The important thing for the Eagles is making sure these old guys still have some sort of fire left in them, that they’re not collecting paychecks. It’s not always easy to tell. 

These contracts show the Eagles are clearly in a win-now mode (as they should be), but most of them don’t really change the organization’s longer-term plans. It does, however, put even more emphasis on nailing their draft picks. That’s how the Eagles need to get younger now, so there’s a lot of pressure on Joe Douglas and his team.

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