During the 2013 NFL regular season, the Philadelphia Eagles moved the ball at a faster rate than everyone else in football. In fact, it wasn't even close. You could argue that the offensive pace under Chip Kelly was as quick as any we've seen at a pro level.
Apparently, that approach has carried over into what is turning into a dream offseason in the City of Brotherly Love.
Thanks to three extremely important in-house deals in about a 24-hour span, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has become a February favorite for NFL Executive of the Year. It's the sort of uber-efficient magic that is reminiscent of what made this franchise so great a decade ago, but that shouldn't surprise anyone when you consider that the 38-year-old Roseman had already started rising through the ranks of the Philly front office in the early part of the 21st century.
Wednesday, the Eagles announced they signed potential Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters to what looks like a team-friendly four-year extension. On the surface, that seems to be a hefty deal, length-wise, for a 32-year-old, but the reality is that Peters will essentially be guaranteed a fair salary of approximately $10 million each of the next two years before the team gets to decide his fate in 2016.
Thursday, the team confirmed that two more crucial offensive cogs—wide receiver Riley Cooper and center Jason Kelce, both of whom are 26 years old and coming off breakout seasons—have been locked up long term.
Cooper will receive $10 million in guaranteed money, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, which for all intents and purposes means that the first two years of his five-year, $25 million contract are set in stone, which is similar to Peters' situation.
That's not cheap. However, according to Spotrac, 24 NFL wide receivers have been guaranteed just as much, so, comparatively speaking, it's not such a big deal. In terms of guarantees, this is Danny Amendola money. In terms of average salary, it's stuck between Amendola and Eddie Royal.
Not bad when you consider that Cooper was one of only 17 receivers with 800 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last year, according to Rogers Sportsnet, and he established one hell of a rapport with quarterback Nick Foles, especially in the red zone. That's huge.
Foles had a 136.5 passer rating when throwing to Cooper last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). You can't possibly let that get away.
If Riley Cooper keeps playing the way he did after Nick Foles took over last year, this deal will look like a bargain in hindsight— Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom) February 27, 2014
Remember, Cooper's career was jeopardized only seven months ago when he was caught on tape using racial slurs at a concert. Somehow—and thanks in part to his performance on the field—he has managed to smooth things over in the Philly locker room.
That the team was able to move past that incident is also significant.
"He made the most of his opportunities last year and we all expect him to build upon that," said Roseman of Cooper, per PhillyMag.com. "Riley wants to be an Eagle and expressed that several times to us throughout this process. We were very excited to get this done before the start of free agency."
And then there's Kelce, who, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan, signed a six-year, $37.5 million deal with $13 million guaranteed. Sure, that's a lot of cash, but we're talking about a guy whom PFF graded out as the league's best center in 2013, only his third season in the NFL.
The 2011 sixth-round pick excelled as both a pass- and run-blocker in a fast-paced offense, paving the way for the league's leading rusher, LeSean McCoy. The Eagles knew they couldn't afford to risk letting Kelce hit the open market after the 2014 season.
The deal makes Kelce the fifth highest-paid center in the game, both in terms of guaranteed money and average salary. It's a hell of a commitment, but it's also hard to argue against.
As Roseman said about Kelce, per CSN Philly:
You just don’t see many interior linemen with the athleticism that Jason Kelce possesses...It shows up on film many times where you just see him 10 or 15 yards down the field making blocks. His intelligence, work ethic and pride in his game are just off the charts. He’s the proverbial gym rat and is always at the NovaCare Complex working on his game. This was the first offseason we had to re-sign Jason and we jumped all over the opportunity.
There's a chance Roseman isn't done. Jeremy Maclin, who, in 2012, had 69 grabs, 857 yards and seven touchdowns before missing the 2013 season due to a torn ACL, could be inked to a new deal in the very near future, at least according to Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Take the league's No. 2-rated offense from 2013, keep all of the ingredients and add a dynamic former first-round pick like Maclin, who will be just 26 at the start of next season. That's scary.
And that would leave punter Donnie Jones as the team's most important free agent, the signing of whom McLane doesn't think will be a problem.
We don't have the full details of the Cooper and Kelce contracts yet, but even if the Eagles do bite an $11.25 million bullet on those two players in 2014, they're saving $2 million on Peters' deal, according to Caplan.
Considering that before this mini-spree they had over $25 million in projected cap space (per Spotrac), the Eagles are left with more than enough money under the bloated new projected cap to sign Maclin, veteran backup quarterback Michael Vick (assuming he doesn't find a starting job elsewhere) and maybe even an outside free agent or two without running into any trouble, now or in upcoming offseasons.
They're not supposed to be big spenders on the open market, and why should they be? Everyone, especially Roseman, knows that you build through the draft while tweaking in free agency. With a $17 million cap rollover from last year, the Eagles have given themselves a nice buffer in which to sign a safety or a linebacker to bolster the defense, but they also have a full set of draft picks with which to address those weak spots.
They have the money, but they might not need it. That's how good Roseman's been. The entirety of the NFL's best offensive line is now under contract through 2016. So are Cooper, Peters, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Trent Cole.
The only key players who even have a chance to be unrestricted free agents in 2015 are Maclin (in the case that he signs a one-year deal), Cedric Thornton (who is slated to become an RFA next month) and Bradley Fletcher.
That essentially gives Kelly a two-year window in which he can operate unfettered with this dynamic group. In the meantime, Roseman can start thinking about the key members of that sparkling 2012 draft class—Foles, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry and Brandon Boykin—all of whom will see their rookie deals expire after 2015, alongside veterans Cary Williams and DeMeco Ryans.
|Jeremy Maclin||WR||25||Right now|
|Michael Vick||QB||33||Right now|
|Donnie Jones||P||33||Right now|
Spotrac (2012 rookie class not included); Thornton is a projection
Between now and then, there's almost nothing in Philadelphia that is remotely in flux. These deals have brought stability to an organization that only 15 months ago resembled a dumpster fire. Joe Banner is long forgotten, and Andy Reid's somewhat messy final gasp—also known as the "Dream Team"—can already be forgiven.
Since that now-infamous signing spree after the 2011 lockout, it's hard to find a major mistake made by the Philadelphia front office. Roseman doesn't hand out bad contracts. I mean, the jury is still out on James Casey's three-year, $12 million deal from last offseason, but that isn't a backbreaker anyway, and there's still time for Casey to start living up to the contract.
Patrick Chung was a miss, but he only cost them $4.25 million for a single season.
Nothing the Eagles are doing is hurting them long term, which sort of makes them the anti-Cowboys.
And now we're looking at a team that appears set almost everywhere except maybe safety, which can certainly be addressed on the open market and/or in the draft. They could use another corner, and it wouldn't hurt to bolster the pass rush but the key pieces are still in place at both of those spots.
Necessary tweaks aside, Roseman has Kelly's Eagles right where they need to be. A roster that is already capable of winning playoff games should only get better.
You get the sense this is the start of something really big.