Andrew Kulp

Eagles could struggle to afford Brandon Graham beyond 2018

Eagles could struggle to afford Brandon Graham beyond 2018

If there’s one Eagles player who deserves a contract extension and a pay raise right now, it’s Brandon Graham, whose strip-sack in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LII helped cement a world championship.

Unfortunately, there are a bunch of factors working against Graham entering the final year of his current deal. He’s 30, the Eagles don’t have a ton of salary cap space and the going rate for a top NFL edge defender is somewhere around $17 million per season.

The question is whether the Eagles can even afford to keep Graham long term.

It’s a valid concern, seeing as the club was incapable of rewarding its longest-tenured defensive player earlier this offseason. In fact, the Eagles had to jump through hoops to get under the cap in March. They released a handful of key contributors, restructured some deals, then watched as most of their free-agent class walked. The money that did become available was put toward adding new talent or navigating more immediate contract crises than Graham’s.

Today, the Eagles sit at $6.094 million under the 2018 cap, according to figures provided by the NFLPA. That’s not a lot, and a sizable chunk of that cash only became available with the release of Mychal Kendricks a few weeks ago.

Estimates currently project the Eagles to be over the cap in 2019 as well.

There seems to be little doubt the Eagles would like to keep Graham beyond this season. The nine-year veteran is a leader in the locker room, a positive force in the community, an extremely hard worker, an all-around decent human being and, now, a hero to the city of Philadelphia. He happens to be pretty good at football, too.

Yet, so far, the club’s perceived willingness to re-sign Graham has not been matched by reports of progress on a new contract. And when pressed for an update in March, Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman sounded noncommittal about the future. 

“He’s been one of the most productive players at his position,” Roseman said. “He deserves whatever he can get. At the same time, we have a cap and we’re trying to fit everyone in. We’re trying to fit in as many good players. We went through this yesterday a little bit. We have a lot of players who are under contract, not just for 2018, but 2019, but when we get into the 2020s. And they’re good players and we want to keep as many of them around as possible and add players on top of it. That’s the puzzle we’re trying to figure out.”

Graham registered a career-high 9½ sacks during the 2017 regular season and finished tied for ninth in the NFL with 15 tackles for loss. He also got to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for the pivotal strip-sack in the Super Bowl while playing through a high ankle sprain that later required surgery and a pulled hamstring.

Despite being “one of the most productive players at his position,” 25 edge defenders carry a higher cap figure for 2018 than Graham at $8 million — five of whom are set to earn more than double, according to OverTheCap.com.

The Eagles are facing a significant pay increase here, but where’s the money coming from?

Graham realizes he’ll be 31 next season, which could impact his earning power, and he wants to remain in Philadelphia, a combination that suggests the so-called hometown discount is a possibility.

He’s also content to play out the season and test free agency. If it comes down to a bidding war, the Eagles will be at a disadvantage.

In the meantime, the Eagles appear to be preparing for the worst-case scenario. First-round draft pick in 2017 Derek Barnett is gearing up for a larger role in his second season, veteran Chris Long’s contract was extended and three-time Pro Bowl selection Michael Bennett was acquired in a trade. The team is built for life without Graham should things come to that.

The harsh reality is Graham’s run with the Eagles is in danger of coming to an end. The two sides have over eight months to hammer something out, which is plenty of time, though what they could really use is more cap space.

More on the Eagles

Despite being held back, Darren Sproles flashes vintage self

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Despite being held back, Darren Sproles flashes vintage self

Darren Sproles’ first Eagles practice since 2017 was nothing memorable. Just a lot of waiting to see how he looked followed by the disappointing revelation he wouldn’t be participating in most of the drills soon after.

At one point, Sproles even appeared to plead his case with running backs coach Duce Staley.

“If they’d let me go full-go right now, I could,” Sproles said Tuesday. “They’re holding me back a little bit.”

The three-time Pro Bowl selection seemed dynamic as ever coming off a torn ACL, albeit in extremely small doses. He ran a little bit. He fielded a few punts. And that was about all.

It sure looked like vintage Sproles out there, but the limited workload provided few firm answers to the question, “How his recovery is progressing?”

We likely won’t get a true sense of where Sproles is at until the pads go on at training camp come July. What we were able to learn, however, is what would compel a soon-to-be 35-year-old running back to re-sign with the Eagles return for his 14th NFL season.

“Because of the way I went out last year,” Sproles said. “If I would’ve retired after that, I might think later on down the line it wouldn’t have been right for me.”

Sproles previously indicated the 2017 campaign might be his last. That was before he suffered the season-ending ACL injury, as well as a broken arm, in a Week 3 victory over the Giants.

The truth is, Sproles was already contemplating another year before the injury. The thought of his career ending in such an unceremonious fashion wasn’t exactly easing him into retirement, either.

[RELATED: Eagles minicamp observations, Day 1]

Watching the Eagles go on to win the Super Bowl while he stood on the sideline was the last straw.

“Man, it was the toughest time ever,” he said. “That’s why I worked so hard to get back, so we could make another run at this thing.”

The Eagles were eager to have Sproles back as well, signing him to a one-year contract in April to reprise his role as a return specialist and situational weapon on offense. For now, the focus is purely on making sure he’s ready to go come September.

“He's ready to get back out there and go full speed,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “But at the same time, I want to make sure these guys are a 100 percent before they're on the field.”

Though Sproles is not yet a full participant at practice, his presence is already being felt.

Sproles was lining up alongside teammates for drills he was not taking part in at Tuesday’s practice and talking shop with teammates. At one point, he pulled Nelson Agholor aside during a punt return drill to discuss fundamentals.

It’s not just Sproles’ ability that’s important to the Eagles. He’s one of the leaders of this team.

Time will tell whether Sproles can overcome his age and injury to once again become a weapon on the field. Then again, if that first practice told us anything, the Eagles will be better off regardless for having him around.

More from Eagles minicamp

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Fletcher Cox wants to be Defensive Player of Year — can he?

After ring ceremony, Eagles will be done celebrating Super Bowl

Duce Staley confirms Eagles will have a lead running back

Terrell Owens is just being a man of his word with Hall snub

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Terrell Owens is just being a man of his word with Hall snub

It turns out Terrell Owens is a man of his word. At least, the former Eagles receiver will be, if he follows through on his pledge to snub the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in August.

While some voters and media types are struggling to come to terms with Owens’ decision to skip Canton, the truth is the announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. After being passed over for the Hall for the second year in a row in 2017, the legendary wideout more or less admitted he wouldn’t take part in the festivities if and when he eventually did get in.

Owens expressed on numerous occasions he had lost respect for the Hall’s process, that he no longer cared if he made it, and in one exchange with WFAN’s Mike Francesca over a year ago, strongly implied he would not attend his own enshrinement. Via ProFootballTalk:

“(Hall of Fame linerbacker) Harry Carson got upset and got to a point where he said, ‘I don’t care,'” Francesa said in February, 2017. “‘If they vote me in now I’m not going.’ When he got in he went. You’ll do the same thing. When they vote you in, you’ll go because you’ll be happy that you got in, and you will get in.”

“I’m not Harry Carson,” Owens replied, “and I’m sure if you’ve done your research, everybody will tell you.”

Though Owens never explicitly stated he wouldn’t attend the ceremony in the exchange, he made it quite clear what his intentions were.

“But if you get in, you’ll go right,” Francesca asked. “You’ll still acknowledge it and accept it, right?”

“Don’t interpret anything,” said Owens. “I’ve already given you my answer.”

This is not to imply Owens, 44, is behaving anything less than childishly, simply because he was not honored as quickly as he feels he deserved. While the Hall of Fame voting process has its flaws, and Owens’ NFL career and statistics obviously merit entrance, this is the definition of a frivolous grudge to harbor. He waited three years, not 30.

But that’s also T.O. for ya. The guy wore a faux gold jacket during one televised media appearance last year, essentially making a mockery of the Hall. Voters can’t act shocked and appalled Owens – known as much for being brash and petulant as he is for being one of the greatest players in NFL history – isn’t suddenly gracious now.

There’s a reason Owens played for five different teams during his Hall of Fame career.

One voter claims he wouldn’t have voted for Owens had it been known beforehand he would decline the invitation. Other writers have pushed theories Owens isn’t attending because of the cost, because he doesn’t like Canton, or because he has anxiety about the ceremony.

The fact is Owens said all along he wasn’t going, pointing to the very voters and writers trying to figure out his motives as the reason why. You don't have to respect his decision, but, so far, he's sticking to his guns.