It took all of one season for Chip Kelly to get the Philadelphia Eagles franchise back on its feet. Now comes the hard part: building out the roster to compete for a Super Bowl.
In a perfect world, the Birds would spend lavishly on free agents this offseason, surround their impressive, young core with the NFL’s top available talent and take a run at a championship. Sadly, there’s this little thing called the salary cap that the team must work within the confines of.
Actually, it’s a big part of what makes the NFL offseason so much fun. The cap forces front offices to allocate ever dollar carefully when constructing the roster. Any money spent on one position naturally takes away from how much can be spent on another.
So how does it break down for the Eagles?
First, let's look at the club's overall cap health, followed by where those dollars and cents are going at each position. From that, we should be able to get a sense of where more spending is needed and what spending needs to be scaled back.
The nearly $20 million in cap space that EaglesCap.com estimates for 2014 might seem like a lot, but it’s not really. By the time the Eagles are done re-signing a few of their own free agents and setting aside money for draft picks, there will barely be enough left over to spend on more than a couple free agents.
We’ll reveal some areas where the team can stand to save a few extra bucks, but it's nothing that will greatly open up the budget.
One area where you’ll see very little fluidity is on offense, where $71.07 million is already accounted. That’s far more than the $47.56 million committed to defense, but that’s because there are a lot more established stars on the other side of the ball.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman is really going to have his work cut out him for next year.
Depending how next season goes, several young players, including Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin, could be asking for extensions. That's something to consider when the Eagles go to spend money this offseason.
All contract values come from EaglesCap.com except where noted. The figures are based on the top 51 salaries, which are all that count against the cap, while the estimated cap space accounts for any carryover money from last year, which is estimated to be $16 million.
What's the most underrated aspect of having Nick Foles back as the starting quarterback in 2014? He comes cheaply.
Foles is due to take up just a hair more than $750K of Philadelphia’s cap space next season, and no, there won’t be any of those pesky contract negotiations. Rules set forth under the most recent collective bargaining agreement force draft picks to play on their rookie deal for at least three years before signing an extension.
For one year, at least, Foles will provide the organization with tremendous financial flexibility. Of course, if he enjoys another season that's anything like last, he’ll only be more expensive come ’15.
Second-year backup Matt Barkley is also locked in at six figures.
The Eagles need a third quarterback, but there aren’t many free-agent veterans worth millions of dollars. The team could splurge on Michael Vick on the off-chance the four-time Pro Bowler is willing to return. Otherwise, the savings could be headed for the piggy bank.
As it stands right now, LeSean McCoy’s $9.7 million cap hit ranks third among all running backs for 2014, according to Spotrac. That sounds like a steal for the NFL leader in rushing and all-purpose yards.
The other $1.64 million is spread across three players—Bryce Brown, Chris Polk and seldom-used Matthew Tucker. The Eagles could save somewhere in the neighborhood of $500K if they trim down to two reserves, but they’re not going to get away with dropping less than a mil on backups.
The good news is that several of the wide receivers who represent the nearly $20 million in cap hits that are currently on the Eagles’ books for 2014 will not be on the roster come September. The bad news is that the team will likely wind up on the hook for significantly more than that anyway.
Dumping any combination of Jason Avant ($3.96M), Damaris Johnson ($570K), Arrelious Benn ($1.00M), Jeff Maehl ($570K) and Brad Smith ($1.3M) isn’t likely to make up the difference unless new contracts are back-loaded into future years.
Philadelphia already has $12.5M committed to DeSean Jackson, is expected to retain at least one of Mac or Coop and will need at least two others to round out the roster. You can see why re-signing two free-agent receivers might be a bit much.
The Birds have quite a bit invested in tight ends as well, although there is the potential for relief there.
Last offseason, the front office sprung for James Casey in free agency, but his relatively small role in the offense does not match the $3.985 in base salary he’s due in ’14. One million dollars of that are guaranteed, however, and Casey was contributing more by the end of the season, so he could be back as long as the team doesn’t need that money for anything.
Emil Igwenagu ($570K)—or anybody really—could replace Casey as a third tight end for a fraction of the cost.
Chip Kelly loves Brent Celek ($4.075M) as an in-line tight end, while Zach Ertz has a very bright future ($1.22M). That’s nice value for what might be the top tight-end tandem in the league next season.
Jason Kelce is on the final year of his rookie contract and is coming off of what many analysts believe was a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He graded out as the best all-around center in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription only).
Kelce is due $1.41 million in 2014, but if the Eagles extend him this offseason, they could dump some of his new deal on this year’s cap.
Otherwise, don’t expect much change.
The rest of the starting offensive linemen are deservedly locked in at cap hits in excess of $4 million for the upcoming season, and unless the team brings in a prospect early in the draft—Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are all in their 30s—there isn’t any reason to spend more on reserves.
EaglesCap.com already accounts for Cedric Thornton at $645K. The defensive end is an exclusive rights free agent, which means he cannot negotiate with other teams. Technically, the Birds can offer him a long-term deal, but Thornton will be restricted again next season, so they won’t.
At $2.79 million, 2012 12th-overall pick Fletcher Cox is the only rostered defensive lineman with a cap hit of more than six figures. It’s amazing value for a unit in which none of the players will be over the age of 26 next season.
That being said, the team could stand to upgrade, particularly at nose tackle. Bennie Logan ($703K) held his own in his rookie season, but he’s a tad undersized. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult position to improve, particularly through free agency.
Philadelphia should probably continue to focus on building out the line through the draft, which will push costs down for another year or two until some players start earning serious extensions.
The Eagles currently have eight interior linebackers accounted for in the top 51, which clearly will not be the case on the final roster. Six reserves are on the books for anywhere between $495K and $754K, so even if only half of them are gone, that’s around $3 million in savings right there.
The team could also reduce the bloated number up top by trading Brandon Graham and his $3.38 cap figure. Graham is an excellent pass-rusher—even if he isn’t an ideal fit for the Birds’ 3-4 defense—but that’s a large number to justify paying somebody who plays on only about a quarter of the snaps.
Graham could probably start somewhere in a 4-3 defense, and he’s in the final year of his deal, so the time is now to make a move.
Of course, with or without Graham, the Eagles probably need to add another outside linebacker to the mix. Trent Cole isn’t going to be around forever, and there is nobody else behind him and Connor Barwin, so much of the savings should go right back into a high draft pick at the position and possibly a modestly priced free agent, too.
Cole, Barwin, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are all set to return in their starting roles.
Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher bring stability to the cornerback position for the reasonable price of about $9.31 million. Neither one is a lockdown defender, but the Birds will get by for another year.
Nickel corner Brandon Boykin will be a steal at $673K.
The big issue here is depth.
Roc Carmichael ($570K) wasn’t cutting it when pressed into action, and after three seasons, it’s safe to say Curtis Marsh ($645K) was not a wise third-round draft choice in 2011.
Obviously, the Eagles aren’t going to run out and drop more money on the position in which they have three quality players already. The next step is to draft behind Williams and Fletcher, either of whom could be gone in ’15.
A high draft pick this May will raise the overall cap hit by some, but it ultimately could wind up saving the Eagles some dough in the years ahead.
The Eagles essentially have two safeties on the roster right now, and Patrick Chung seems unlikely to return. After Chung's $1 million in dead money, that’s another $2.25 million that should come off the books by the end of the summer, as long as the rest of the offseason goes according to plan.
Obviously, this is a situation the front office must address, and not one the franchise can merely draft its way out of. The Birds need a veteran starter for sure, and even the next tier below the elite free agents is probably costing $6 million-plus per year.
It would be wise to bring in a veteran backup around the $1 million mark, along with another draft pick to compete with Earl Wolff ($549K).
Unless the Eagles want to sign a top free agent, such as Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd, they can probably field a group of safeties for right around $10 million, provided they are able to move on from Chung.
The Eagles need to re-sign Donnie Jones, even if it takes the franchise tag to do it. For a punter of his caliber, that could take upwards of $3 million, so the amount going to specialists will rise dramatically.
Alex Henery currently accounts for $751K in cap space, but he’ll face competition over the summer. Depending on who the Birds bring in, it could drive the amount up even higher, although probably not by too much.
Jon Dorenbos will snap a football for a living for slightly less than $1 million again this year. Ever seen him make a mistake?