The NFL season has been over for almost two months for the Philadelphia Eagles, but there is no offseason at all for Howie Roseman and the rest of the team's front office. They're working around the clock right now, crunching the numbers for the team's salary cap, as well as preparing for both free agency and May's draft.
Over the last few days, the Eagles have given four contract extensions to players on their own offense. Wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, both free agents, were re-signed. Maclin signed a one-year deal worth $5.5 million with $3.5 million guaranteed. Cooper signed for five years and $25 million, although the deal is cap-friendly, with just $8 million in guaranteed money.
On the offensive line, left tackle Jason Peters signed a four-year extension worth $41.3 million, keeping him in an Eagles uniform through the 2018-19 season. His deal includes $19.55 million in guaranteed money. Center Jason Kelce also signed a hefty contract extension, a deal worth $37.5 million over six years, which includes $13 guaranteed.
Now that the Eagles have re-signed their own players, they can focus on free agency, where general manager Howie Roseman has already stated that his team will spend money more like they did last year. This means they won't focus on one or two big-name players (cough: 2011) but will instead focus on filling various needs on both sides of the ball with solid starters and backups.
The Eagles currently have $123,775,568 committed to 2014 salaries. That leaves $9,224,432 left in cap space, plus an additional $17,169,768 in rollover money from the previous year. That means the Eagles have approximately $26,394,200 in available salary cap space for this offseason. That ranks the team 12th in the NFL, according to Spotrac.
Before the Eagles can even look to free agency, though, they need to take care of a few roster cuts on their own team. There are two players on the team who are virtual locks to be cut, with a number of other players who could also be salary cap casualties.
Veteran wide receiver Jason Avant is expected to be cut within a few days. He is owed $1 million on March 15th as a roster bonus. Don't expect him to be around to claim that money. He's scheduled to make $3.96 million in 2014, which is way too much money for a receiver who will be 31 years old coming off his worst season since he was a rookie. Factor in the re-signing of both Maclin and Cooper, and there's simply no way Avant is on the team in 2014.
Safety Patrick Chung is a virtual certainty as a roster cut. He was probably the worst player on the team in 2013 and is scheduled to make $3.25 million in 2014. The Eagles can cut him with no cap hit. He's as good as gone.
Tight end James Casey was a hot commodity when he signed with the Eagles on the first day of free agency, but the drafting of Zach Ertz dropped Casey to third on the depth chart, where he finished the 2013-14 season with just three catches. He's scheduled to make $3.985 million in 2014. If he is cut, the Eagles will lose $2 million. He's a candidate to be asked to restructure his contract.
Which of the following players should the Eagles cut this offseason?
A few veteran players on the defensive side of the ball are possibilities as surprise cuts, notably outside linebackers Trent Cole and Brandon Graham and cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher.
But Cole is a valuable member of the defense and should be able to turn in one more solid year before he is almost certainly released before 2015, when he'll be scheduled to earn $10 million against the cap. Graham is likely trade bait, while Williams and Fletcher both had solid seasons and will likely enter 2014 as starters again.
So if the Eagles had $26,394,200 in salary cap space before they make their offseason cuts, they should have between $33 and $38 million after cuts. That will give the team plenty of options to sign some prized free agents if they should choose to do so. But first, they need to decide which of their own players should be brought back.
Veteran punter Donnie Jones is the only remaining free agent who absolutely needs to be brought back, preferably on a long-term deal. If not, he's worthy of the franchise tag, even as a punter.
Michael Vick likely won't return. He wants to compete for a starting job somewhere, and it looks like the New York Jets are interested in bringing in the former No. 1 overall pick, likely to compete with last year's rookie Geno Smith as the starter. He's a terrific presence in the locker room and would be one of the top backup quarterbacks in the league if he did return, but don't expect it to happen.
Should the Eagles re-sign Nate Allen?
On the defensive side of the ball, safety Nate Allen is the big decision for the Eagles. The former second-round pick has been a disappointment during his four years in the NFL, although he probably had his best season in 2013. If re-signed, expect him to be a starter, although if the Eagles do choose to sign a free agent and invest a top draft pick on a safety, Allen could find himself as a backup.
Defensive end Clifton Geathers and safety Kurt Coleman aren't worth bringing back. Neither provides much to the Eagles, even as a backup. Special teams ace Colt Anderson had a down year in 2013 and may not return, especially since he doesn't contribute much as a safety.
Phillip Hunt, a restricted free agent, missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL and has been a big disappointment since a solid 2012 year off the bench. The Eagles should let him walk. And defensive end Cedric Thornton, an exclusive rights free agent, is worthy of a multi-year deal.
As far as other free agents around the league, the Eagles really need to focus on the defensive side of the ball. There's no starting position on the offensive side of the ball that is up for grabs. Depth is needed, especially on the offensive line. But the Eagles need to shore up their defense.
Obviously the big question is whether the Eagles will pursue prized free agents Jairus Byrd and/or T.J. Ward. While it's still possible that the Browns sign Byrd to a long-term deal or slap him with the franchise tag, Byrd is expected to hit free agency. You know the Eagles will take note.
Should the Eagles pursue Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward?
Byrd has already publicly stated that he would like to be the highest-paid safety in the National Football League. He's one of the better safeties in the game. He's also just 27 and has proven himself as a playmaker. But he spent the 2013-14 season dealing with plantar fasciitis in his foot, causing him to miss five games. The Eagles also have to be wary of a player who has made it such public knowledge that he's after the money. Is he the type of player who will cause trouble in the locker room? Is he worth the risk?
Ward is a more likely option. He's also 27, and although he isn't as good as Byrd, he's still a top-10 safety in the NFL. He earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2013, rating as the third-best safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. He would likely command a deal in the $8 to $9 million a year range. The Eagles have plenty of space to pursue him if they choose to make a move.
The more likely option is the Eagles looking at a number of reasonably priced free agents on the defensive side of the ball. Some options include defensive end Red Bryant, defensive tackle Paul Soliai, linebackers Jason Worilds, Parys Haralson, cornerback Vontae Davis and safeties Malcolm Jenkins, Stevie Brown and Major Wright.
Should the Eagles spend big in free agency?
Expect the Eagles to be active, like they were in 2013. Just don't be surprised if the majority, if not all, of the signings are under-the-radar players, exactly like they did in 2013 when they signed players such as Isaac Sopoaga, Bradley Fletcher, Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips. Only Connor Barwin and Cary Williams signed big contracts, and even those deals weren't enough to cripple the franchise if either player flopped (and thankfully, neither did).
General manager Howie Roseman made a huge blunder in the 2011 offseason, when he signed big-name free-agent players such as Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins. All three players lasted just two years on the team. Asomugha was a total bust. Babin played well on the field but was a disaster off the field. And Jenkins played okay before the Eagles released him last offseason.
Over the last two offseasons, the Eagles' general manager has done a tremendous job. He's drafted well, signed the right players to the right deals and kept his own players happy with a number of long-term contract extensions. Now it's time for him to keep the hot streak going with a successful spending spree in the free-agency period.