Eagles' limited salary cap flexibility creates a challenging offseason

Eagles' limited salary cap flexibility creates a challenging offseason

The Eagles find themselves going into the offseason missing more than cornerbacks, wide receivers and running backs.

They’re also missing the salary cap flexibility the franchise has gotten used to since the early days of cap guru Joe Banner.

That means a tricky offseason ahead.

Lack of cap space means no free agency shopping spree, which considering this team’s recent record may be a good thing.

But it also means the Eagles are severely limited in how they can rebuild a roster that is sorely lacking at several positions and how quickly they can infuse talent on a roster that projects as the oldest in the NFL in 2017 based on players currently under contract.

They may have to release or try to restructure players they want to retain. They may be unable to bid for first-tier free agents. They may not be able to give extensions to players they want to keep.

So not only are the Eagles trying to rebuild after an eighth straight year without a playoff victory and a third straight year out of the postseason, they’re trying to do it with their hands essentially tied as well.

“Yeah, it's unusual, certainly since I've been here, to have a more challenging situation,” vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said.

“But part of our job in the front office is to look at this over a long period of time. So as we sit here today, it isn't like the first time that we are looking at that situation, and we'll do whatever's best for the football team.”

The NFL’s unadjusted cap is expected to increase about $10 million in 2017, from $155.3 million in 2016 to an estimated $164 million or $165 million.

Every team has an adjusted cap figure, which takes into account carry-over money. Generally speaking, money not spent under one year’s cap is added to a team’s cap figure the following year.

The Eagles’ adjusted cap figure in 2016 was $161,806,117, and their adjusted cap figure in 2017 projects to $165,096,643, according to Spotrac.com, which exhaustively tracks salary and contract information for all major sports.

According to Spotrac, the Eagles have the fourth-smallest amount of projected cap money this offseason at $12,440,825.

They have 49 players currently under contract for 2017 and 18 of them have a 2017 cap figure of at least $4 million.

They also have 21 players whose dead money will count against their 2017 cap. Those are players who were released with remaining pro-rated portions of their signing bonuses. Most of those dead money charges are minimal, but some are significant — namely, Sam Bradford ($5.5 million) and Eric Rowe ($904,496).

When a player’s cap figure is significantly higher than the amount of dead money releasing him would create, he becomes a candidate to be released in a cap move.

Here are some examples of players the Eagles could release to gain cap space:

Jason Peters ($9.2 million)

Connor Barwin ($7.75M)

Ryan Mathews ($4M)

Jason Kelce ($3.8M)

Leodis McKelvin ($3.2M)

Allen Barbre ($1.8M)

Ron Brooks ($1.6M)

“You’d like to have everyone back,” Roseman said. “As we look toward putting a plan in place, we've got to look at everyone on the team and figure out what the value is.

“Don't want to talk about anyone specifically out of respect for those guys about contract situations, but we've got to do whatever is in the best interests of this team going forward.”

The Eagles have to ask themselves this: Are we better off with Lane Johnson at left tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle and $9.2 million more cap money available or with Peters at left tackle and Johnson at right tackle?

Tough question.

The problem with releasing high-priced players is that you still have to replace them with cheaper players at the same position. And cheaper generally means not as talented, unless they’re draft picks. And the Eagles’ drafting has been poor to mediocre for years.

The best way to avoid overpaying free agents and getting into cap trouble is to draft well.

“No question,” Roseman said. “It's one of the things where you look back and when we made some decisions, we compromised on guys, as opposed to just sticking to the board and doing the right thing, not based on a need ... but based on who is the best player to be part of a core going forward. I sit here very confident that that will not happen again.”

One of the reasons the Eagles got themselves into this situation was the flurry of offseason re-signings last year.

In retrospect, did the Eagles need to sign Vinny Curry to a five-year, $47.5 million deal? Or Chase Daniel to a three-year, $21 million deal? Or Brent Celek to a three-year, $13 million deal? Even Fletcher Cox's six-year, $102.6 million deal raised some eyebrows.

Roseman, asked about last spring’s series of signings, said one of the benefits of adding a guy like Joe Douglas — the new vice president of player personnel — is that he brings a fresh set of eyes to the team’s roster where Roseman may have tended to overvalue those guys because he was familiar with them.

“Yes, I think there is that danger, and I think that's another one of the values that you have by bringing people outside this organization to look at your roster and to be able to give you different perspective, because we're human,” Roseman said.

“And there's no doubt that just like your kids, you want to see your own players succeed.
 I think we have that balance now to make sure that we have a good way of making these decisions and seeing it through a different lens.”

The bottom line is that the Eagles have some very difficult decisions to make in the coming months.

It’s hard enough to turn a losing team into a winner. Doing it without the benefit of cap flexibility is much tougher.

“Ideally in free agency, you're signing 26-, 27-year-old guys who can be part of the core,” Roseman said.

“Unfortunately, teams are doing a good job of locking those guys up, as well. 
So we have to try to balance that and bring in guys that fit what we're trying to do.

“(And) understand that there's no way to do everything in one offseason.”

Eagles 2020 breakout candidate: Will Jalen Reagor have a big rookie season?

Eagles 2020 breakout candidate: Will Jalen Reagor have a big rookie season?

Over the next two weeks, I’m taking a look at 10 Eagles players who might be primed for a breakout season in 2020. I have already looked at Boston Scott, K’Von Wallace, Sidney Jones and T.J. Edwards

Up today: Jalen Reagor 

Age: 21

How acquired: Drafted in 1st round (No. 21) 

Entering: Year 1

There will be high expectations for the Eagles’ first-round pick during his rookie season. The Eagles chose Reagor over several other options, including Justin Jefferson, who might have been the more pro-ready player. But they chose him because of his speed and big play-making ability. 

There’s no question the Eagles can use a big-time playmaker on offense. 

After DeSean Jackson went down last season, the main element the Eagles lacked on offense was elite speed. While Reagor didn’t run very well at the combine, putting up a 4.47, he was much faster at his virtual pro day and those faster numbers backed up what the Eagles saw on tape. They think they’re getting a speedy and explosive player. 

DraftKings right now has the over/under number on receiving yards for Reagor as a rookie at 650.5. 

To put that number into perspective, there have been just seven players in Eagles history to have 651 receiving yards in their rookie seasons. In the last 30 years, the only three are Jordan Matthews in 2014, Jeremy Maclin in 2009 and DeSean Jackson in 2008. 

One reason why Reagor has the chance to hit the over on that prop bet is because he should have some opportunity. The Eagles need him to get involved early on in his career because there are significant question marks at the position. The top two returning receivers in 2020 are Jackson and Alshon Jeffery. And Greg Ward is a nice piece but shouldn’t keep Reagor off the field. 

Now, it won’t be easy for a rookie receiver to come in and make an impact, especially in a year where there were no OTAs or minicamps. And maybe the Eagles’ goal is to bring Reagor along slowly. But they shouldn’t. 

Reagor should get ample playing time to start his rookie season and it should increase as the year goes on. With all that opportunity and with his explosive ability, he has a real chance for a big rookie season. 

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What we've learned the past week about the Eagles

What we've learned the past week about the Eagles

I was really struck by something Nick Foles wrote the other day in his powerful and heartfelt message explaining his feelings following the death of George Floyd.

And even though Nick isn't an Eagle these days, I think his message really helps define what's truly special about this franchise.

"My favorite part of playing football has not been winning a Super Bowl or running the Philly Special," Foles tweeted out. "It has been to glorify God and to play with men from all different backgrounds and races. Men come together to achieve the common goal of winning games no matter what their background. To do that, they must love one another, genuinely. It becomes a real brotherhood. I have been a part of some special teams. The special teams did not always have the best playbook, but they did have the strongest brotherhood."

I think we all understand what teams Nick is talking about.

This is a special place. This is a special franchise. And it didn't just happen by accident.

It's easy to scoff at Howie Roseman when he talks about bringing in character guys. And it's easy to dismiss Jeff Lurie as a billionaire who's only interested in making money. 

But Lurie is a community-minded owner who's created a culture where people genuinely respect each other, where doors are always open if there are conflicts, where communication and dialogue and understanding are paramount.

And Roseman has for the most part brought in players who fit that culture. And generally, if you're wondering why the Eagles haven't signed some guy who made a bunch of Pro Bowls or why they've cut ties with a productive player seemingly in his prime, it's because of fit.

And it's pretty clear after four years of watching Doug Pederson that his greatest strength is his ability to inspire 53 men not just to play football at the highest level but to be good people.

To care about each other and listen to each other and understand each other.

Which is what Foles was getting at. 

That 2017 team was very good but it wasn't the most talented team we've ever seen around here. But the togetherness and unity and trust was off the charts. 

And I think we're really seeing the exact same thing right now.

Man, you listen to Jason Kelce, Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz and DeSean Jackson, and maybe I'm naive or overly idealistic, but I get a real sense of people who want to make a difference and genuinely care about each other.

You can't have two more different people than Jason Kelce and DeSean Jackson. 

A burly, white offensive lineman from Cleveland who plays Jack Johnson on the guitar and a speedy African American receiver from Los Angeles who blasts hip-hop in the locker room.

But to hear Kelce talk about how DeSean inspired him to open up and speak about racism, and then to hear DeSean speak about how much that meant to him, this is meaningful and this is real and this is inspiring.

The more athletes and celebrities who use their platform to influence and educate and demand change the more we have a chance to move beyond the racism, homophobia, bigotry and sexism that are so prevalent in our society.

Talking about winning football games seems irrelevant in the big picture right now, but there's no question that a team that has unity and respect and understanding in the locker room is going to be better equipped to withstand the challenges of a football season.

But this is about more than that.

This is a franchise that's easy to be proud of not just because of how many games they win but because of what they're all about as people.

And anybody who still believes athletes can't make a difference just hasn't been paying attention.

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