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.