All three of those teams won their respective division in 2012, but they combined for just nine wins this year. That means a collective 35-13 record was followed up by a 9-39 mark; that’s a 26-game decline, showing anything really can happen from one year to the next.
So while there’s no guarantee the Philadelphia Eagles are headed to the postseason in 2014, fans can take comfort in several factors.
The Redskins and New York Giants saw serious problems with their rosters this season, and neither seems to have the defense to contend next year. Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys are in a salary cap mess and have a 33-year-old quarterback coming off back surgery.
Eagles GM Howie Roseman has done an exceptional job managing his team’s financial success. The team has nearly all of its key players signed to long-term deals, and there is very minimal dead money weighing on the cap room.
But there are a few contracts that need adjusting, and they’re ranked in order from least important to most important.
The Philadelphia Eagles pulled off a steal when they drafted undersized center Jason Kelce in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL draft.
Kelce broke out this past season, playing at an extremely high level for all 16 games. In fact, Pro Football Focus rated him as the best overall center in the NFL (subscription required).
His rookie deal expires after next year, and the Eagles will absolutely lock him up to a long-term deal. It makes sense to act on that now. The highest-paid center in the NFL is Nick Mangold at $9.1 million, but then the salaries drop down to $6 million or so.
Buffalo’s Eric Wood just signed a four-year, $25 million deal with $9 million guaranteed. He’s a good player, but Kelce is younger and more talented. A five-year deal for around $35 million sounds reasonable.
The James Casey signing seemed like a great idea, but for whatever reason, Chip Kelly never used him.
Casey had topped out with 34 receptions for 330 yards and three touchdowns in 2012, and he looked like a great addition as a fullback, H-back, and tight end. But he saw just 157 snaps this past season and caught three passes.
He’s due to make almost $4 million against the cap next year, as the second year in a three-year, $12 million deal. The Philadelphia Eagles have Zach Ertz and Brent Celek as their primary tight ends, and plenty of other weapons in DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Riley Cooper/Jeremy Maclin (assuming at least one of the latter two returns).
There’s just no reason to bring back Casey again and not play him.
Trent Cole had an interesting 2013 season. He moved from 4-3 end to 3-4 outside linebacker, having to learn an entirely new position at the age of 31.
Cole started slowly, failing to pick up a sack for the first half of the season. Then he registered eight of them in the last eight games. Per Pro Football Focus, Cole rated as the seventh-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the league, and the second-best in stopping the run.
He’s due to make a $5 million base salary in 2014 with a $6.6 million cap hit, per Eaglescap.com. That’s a lot of money to pay, especially considering the Eagles owe about the same amount of money to their other 3-4 linebacker, Connor Barwin.
The Eagles didn’t really generate much of a pass rush against either Kyle Orton or Drew Brees in the season’s final two games, and there’s a good chance the team targets a pass rusher in the first round of the draft. That may make Cole expendable if he doesn’t agree to restructure his deal.
The Philadelphia Eagles have a handful of decisions to make with their wide receivers this offseason. DeSean Jackson is already unhappy with his new contract, and the team may want to restructure slot receiver Jason Avant’s deal, given he’s entering his eighth season.
Jeremy Maclin is definitely worth bringing back, but a one-year deal to prove he’s healthy is the best bet. Don’t forget that Maclin missed all of 2013 with an ACL injury, and it’s the second one he’s suffered since his collegiate career.
Maclin was a first-round pick of the team back in ’09, and he’s managed to be productive while still underachieving. Chip Kelly’s offense should bring out the best in the speedy Maclin, who is still just 26 years old. A one-year deal for $8 million works. That way Maclin can prove he’s healthy, as he knows may have to be the case.
If that works out well, a long-term deal may be a good idea.
Five weeks into the regular season, there wasn’t a fan in Philadelphia who thought Riley Cooper would be back in 2014. Or that many fans would actually want him back.
Then Nick Foles took over as the starting quarterback, and Cooper’s performance took off. In the final 11 games of the season, Cooper put up borderline Pro Bowl numbers. He finished with a 47/835/8 statline, and he topped out with a three-touchdown performance in Foles’ record-tying game.
Cooper is 26 years old, and he’s entering free agency for the first time. He’s a big receiver at 6’3”, but the fact that he’s only ever produced with Foles as his quarterback may hurt his value in the open market. If Chip Kelly wants to go with Foles as his quarterback for 2014—which seems very likely—it’s probably a good move to bring back Cooper.
After all, Foles and Cooper had unbelievable chemistry. Foles posted a 141.4 passer rating when throwing to Cooper, and he averaged a ridiculous 12.6 yards per attempt, due to their propensity of connecting on the long ball.
Even in the postseason loss, the Foles-to-Cooper connection was working. Foles’ passer rating when throwing to Cooper in that game was 139.6, tops of any QB-WR combo in the playoffs thus far, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
So what kind of a deal will bring back Cooper? It’s tough to think what the rest of the NFL will make of Cooper, and whether his off-the-field remarks back in training camp will hurt his value (doubtful at this point). But how about a four-year, $18 million deal to Cooper that pays him $4.5 million per year?