Heading into the NFL’s signing period, the Philadelphia Eagles are an estimated $20 million under the salary cap according to EaglesCap.com. While that puts the Birds reportedly 10th among all teams in cap space, via OverTheCap (h/t Bleeding Green Nation's Brandon Lee Gowton), it’s not necessarily as much as you think.
It goes fast. Until the Eagles re-sign a few of their own impending free agents and maybe hand out a contract extension or two—not to mention set money aside for the incoming draft class—there’s only enough left over to spend on a handful of players.
You can never have enough cap space.
Fortunately, there are ways to create more. The Eagles can probably stand to clear as much as an additional $10 million in cap space by trimming the fat, so to speak: cutting players they no longer have use for.
For what it’s worth, it was really difficult getting to five names with whom the team could realistically part ways.
There were some veterans who might garner consideration for one reason or another, such as guard Todd Herremans or outside linebacker Brandon Graham, but they would create more dead money against the cap than savings. And while you may feel the club could upgrade over Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher at cornerback, the Eagles are not going to release quality starters when there is no viable alternative on the roster.
So we had to make some difficult decisions to get to five. Thankfully, since the Eagles are $20 million under the cap, they shouldn’t be required to do the same.
Forget clearing cap space. The Eagles should probably cut Patrick Chung based on performance alone.
Acquired last offseason, Chung is one of Philadelphia’s worst free-agent signings in recent memory, which is saying something. Penciled in as a starter at safety upon his arrival, the former New England Patriot was pretty low-key the first few weeks of the season before a shoulder injury forced him to miss time.
When Chung returned, he was a mess. Missed tackles, blown assignments and colliding with teammates were par for the course, and it’s not like he was compensating by making big plays.
Chung agreed to a three-year deal worth $10 million, but the Eagles can get out from under the remainder of the contract for the low cost of $1 million in dead money according to EaglesCap.com. That would still save over $2 million against this year’s cap, and close to $4 million in 2015.
Unfortunately, as of right now, Chung is probably going to training camp with the Birds. He and Earl Wolff are the only two safeties signed through '14 with any NFL experience, so releasing him is easier said than done.
The front office might as well account for that money being freed up, though, because Chung is a long shot to make the roster.
James Casey can do a little bit of everything. He can line up all over the formation, including in the backfield. He’s a strong blocker who also has the athleticism to get open as a route-runner. He even pitches in on special teams.
The question the Eagles must ask themselves is whether their third tight end is worth $4 million per year.
That’s the deal the Birds gave Casey to sign as a free agent from the Houston Texans, which of course was before they chose Zach Ertz with the 35th-overall pick in last year’s draft. The selection moved Casey to the backburner for obvious reasons—Ertz looks like he could become a star in this league.
It sounds like granting Casey his release would be a no-brainer, but it’s not. According to Geoff Mosher for CSNPhilly.com, $2 million—or basically half of his salary—is guaranteed in 2014, so until we take into account the dead money and the cost of signing a replacement, even at the league minimum, the savings would only be $1 million and change.
Casey’s role did grow in the second half of the season, as well. He finished with just three receptions, the lowest total of his career, but he was called upon to block in obvious running situations during the second half of the season.
Still, $4 million is a lot for the 157 offensive snaps Casey lined up for, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The Eagles have a dilemma on their hands with this one.
Some would suggest Arrelious Benn’s release is a foregone conclusion rather than a money-saving move, and this columnist won’t argue.
Acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a sixth-round pick last offseason, Benn promptly suffered a torn ACL in training camp and wound up missing the entire 2013 campaign. Fair or unfair, injuries are what caused Tampa sour on the wide receiver in the first place.
The Eagles did sign Benn, who was in the final year of his deal when he arrived, to a one-year extension at $1 million, but nothing is guaranteed.
Most likely, the team will carry Benn into camp and give him one last try. He’s 6’2”, 220 pounds and ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, per Rivals.com, so there’s a lot to like about the 2010 second-round pick.
That being said, his spot on the roster is far from assured, so if the Birds suddenly needed to free up a cool million, nobody would complain or likely notice if this is where it came from.
At $1.3 million in 2014, Brad Smith is making a surprising amount of money for somebody the Eagles picked off the scrap heap midway through last season.
Actually, the Buffalo Bills granted the do-it-all wide receiver his release when he was ready to come off of injured reserve early, so there’s no telling if another team would have offered Smith on the open market. Maybe he could’ve gotten more.
In truth, Smith is probably a steal at $1.3 million.
He would be perfect in the slot but is effective outside as well. Believe it or not, he has more rushes in his career than receptions, and an impressive 7.3 yards per carry to boot. Formerly a quarterback for the Unviersity of Missouri, Smith is a threat to throw the football as well. He returns kicks and even plays on the kick-coverage unit.
That’s not bad for $1.3 million.
The purpose of the article is to identify areas where the Birds could clear some cap space, though, and this is one of them. While Smith is effective doing all of those things, he’s not really an every-down player. The returning and special teams contributions are something they could potentially get from a rookie at a fraction of the cost.
The feeling here is Smith will be back with the Eagles next season, and he's far more valuable than a late-round wide receiver/specialist would be. That said, if the team needed to, they could free Smith's salary quickly and easily.
You would hate to see Jason Avant’s eight-year career in Philadelphia end with a callous release rather than have him play out the final year of his contract, but it’s an option the front office has to consider. Releasing Avant would free up $3.2 million under the cap, per EaglesCap.com, with only a modest $700,000 in dead money left behind.
And unfortunately, it’s a decision the Eagles may need to make soon. As Tim McManus points out at Birds 24/7, Avant is due a roster bonus at $1 million on the fifth day of the new league year, which is March 15.
If Avant is not cut before then, that million eats into what they would save by releasing him later.
There’s no question the 30-year-old wide receiver’s production dipped significantly in 2013. His 38 receptions for 447 yards were the lowest since ’08, his third season in the league. Avant's best days are clearly behind him.
Then again, he’s a leader inside the locker room, reliable on the football field and understands his role.
Money talks, though, and if the Eagles think they have an alternative solution for less money in Brad Smith or an incoming draft pick—or if they simply re-sign both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper—Avant is as good as gone.