Biggest Roster Decisions Facing Philadelphia Eagles This Offseason
The Philadelphia Eagles are already well set up for a promising future beyond 2017, but they will still enter the offseason with plenty of tough decisions to make.
General manager Howie Roseman has orchestrated the last two seasons magnificently. It shows not only in the Eagles' 11-2 record but also when fans see a plethora of elite talent on the roster inked to long-term deals and young talent that gives this team the look of a juggernaut that will last for many seasons.
However, part of Roseman's genius has included manipulating his roster to come in just below the salary cap and shedding money where it's possible.
After a savvy 2017 offseason that saw him shed unwanted contracts and re-work current deals on the books, he has a number of key moves to make in the spring and summer of 2018.
The Eagles still have everything to play for in 2017 as they look to make a Super Bowl run, but general managers are always looking forward.
Let's go down the list of the most important decisions to come for the Philadelphia front office and coaching staff.
Do the Eagles Re-Sign Nigel Bradham?
The Eagles have gotten everything they wanted and then some from linebacker Nigel Bradham since he arrived from Buffalo prior to the 2016 season. Now comes the tough prospect of figuring out how they can keep him.
Bradham signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Eagles in 2016, per Over The Cap, on a contract that escalated to a $4.75 million cap hit this season. Simply put, he's been a steal.
The 28-year-old led the team in tackles last season by a whopping margin with 102, and he's on pace to do so again this year.
After the 2016 season in which he starred in cleaning up plays, Bradham has become one of the biggest pieces of an elite defense during this season. He's especially thrived since the loss of teammate Jordan Hicks, sliding into the middle linebacker role and mastering it.
Just like last offseason, the Eagles face the perilous prospect of navigating their many big-money contracts to come in below the salary cap. It will be difficult to bring Bradham down to a number that works for both him and the Eagles.
However, both sides are benefiting so well from his presence in Philly that it leads one to believe the 28-year-old and the team will be committed to working out an extension.
It's hard to imagine where the middle of the Eagles defense would be without Bradham this season, and they can ill afford to have that become a reality in 2018.
Long-Term Clarity on the Pass Rush Is Needed
The 2017 Eagles are flush with talent at the defensive end position, so much so that an exodus of talent may be inevitable for the team to stay flexible for contracts at other spots on the roster.
Vinny Curry, 29, is the big moneymaker on the unit with a $9 million cap hit in 2017 that escalates into eight figures next season, per Over The Cap. But Brandon Graham is the biggest difference-maker on the edge, and he's due to become a free agent at the end of next season.
Philadelphia likely drafted Derek Barnett, who has excelled as a rookie with five sacks, in the hopes he could effectively take either Curry or Graham's place in the long term. He's certainly proved he can, which now begs the question of who he'll be replacing.
Graham, 29, is a critical member of the defense and the leader in the pass rush, but it's unlikely the Eagles would tie up the money required to keep him past 2018 while keeping Curry's huge contract on the books.
Waiting and seeing how things unfold through the 2018 season could put the Eagles in a position where they lose Graham for nothing or risk seeing Curry's trade value plummet if he doesn't perform.
Roseman has been one step ahead of his colleagues in these types of situations, so it would be surprising if he doesn't have something up his sleeve to deliver some long-term clarity to his pass rush.
Who Will Inhabit the Backfield?
The Eagles have transformed the mysterious backfield that began the 2017 season into one of the league's deepest and most productive units. It won't be easy to keep it that way in 2018, though.
The first half of the season saw LeGarrette Blount take over the by-committee backfield with his downhill running that has allowed him to become a great NFL back. The 31-year-old has become more expendable since the midseason trade for Jay Ajayi, however, with just 22 carries for 59 yards over the last three games while the newcomer's role has expanded.
Blount's veteran presence would be welcomed next season, but he'll be a free agent and the Eagles may need him to take another deal around the $1 million range to make the money work. Philly may not even want to go down that road, with Corey Clement excelling as a rookie and Wendell Smallwood's ability being overshadowed.
Ajayi, 24, has improved every week, and he will remain on a dirt-cheap rookie deal through 2018, so he figures to be the lead guy starting next season.
Where it goes beyond that remains to be seen, but the Eagles aren't short on options.
Who Are the Starting CBs and Where Do the Rest Fit?
Given where this unit stood a year ago, the Eagles can't be upset at the plethora of cornerback talent they have on the roster. But deciding who the No. 1 and No. 2 starters are moving forward won't be easy.
The preseason trade for Ronald Darby allowed the team to etch him in as a long-term starter, but he's struggled at times since his return from a Week 1 ankle injury that kept him out for eight games. Jalen Mills has been great in stretches, but a heavy workload in 2017 has also exposed some of his weaknesses.
Rookie Sidney Jones has yet to make his debut, and he figures to be a big piece moving forward. That would bump either Darby or Mills out of a starting spot. And let's not forget Rasul Douglas, who has enjoyed some nice stretches of play as a rookie, or versatile veteran Patrick Robinson.
Action may not be required over this offseason for the Eagles to figure out who they should go to in 2018. They may want to let training camp play out before making that decision. But the Eagles have five cornerbacks on the roster who should be considered to have trade value, and it wouldn't be shocking to see them take up a desperate team's offer if the price is right.
Perhaps Roseman will make a deal over the offseason that provides a little more clearance as to who will be the go-to guys in 2018.
Do the Eagles Cut Torrey Smith and Ride Young WR Core?
There have been moments when Torrey Smith has looked like the dependable veteran No. 2 receiver they expected him to be when signing him this offseason. But those moments have been few and far between.
The 28-year-old's production in 2017 isn't terrible, as he's caught 35 balls so far for 425 yards and two scores, but the Eagles simply haven't gotten what they hoped from him. He's averaging a career-low 12.1 yards per catch and has only caught six passes of 20 yards or more, failing to emerge as the deep threat he's been over the course of his career.
One development that could spell trouble for Smith is the emergence of Nelson Agholor, 24, who has effectively stolen his spot as the No. 2 receiver. He's put up 722 yards and caught eight touchdowns in his breakthrough third season and will still be on a rookie deal through 2018.
The Eagles worked a team option into the final two years of Smith's three-year deal in anticipation of these types of struggles, and it will be interesting to see whether they take action or keep his veteran influence. The team would save $5 million in cap space by passing on the club option, per Over The Cap, and that money could be critical for other key negotiations.
There are plenty of reasons for having an established veteran in the fold to help mentor Agholor and Mack Hollins, even if he's not putting up big numbers. But are there five million reasons?
Figuring out the Futures of Jason Peters, Darren Sproles
Jason Peters will be 36 in January, and Darren Sproles is 34. Both will have to decide whether they want to come off tough season-ending injuries to return to the Eagles.
But along with those personal choices will come business decisions by the organization.
Peters tore his ACL and MCL in Week 7, not long after he restructured his contract to give Philadelphia more financial flexibility. But he still carries a huge cap hit of $11.6 million in 2018, per Over The Cap, and the Eagles will have to decide if they want to absorb that hit for a player who has long been one of the league's best left tackles but is up there in age and coming off a bad injury.
Cutting Peters would only open up a little more than $5 million in cap space, and the Eagles still don't truly know what they have in big Halapoulivaati Vaitai. If Peters is capable of returning to full fitness in 2018, don't be surprised if the Eagles stick by him.
The Sproles situation is quite different. He's not on the books next season, but he expressed to The Game Plan presented by Lincoln Financial he is leaning toward returning for 2018.
The legendary return man and offensive Swiss Army knife is still a weapon the Eagles could use in their potent offense, but that's only one aspect of a complicated situation involving Sproles' own decisions about his future.
It's safe to assume the Eagles will get by without Peters or Sproles in the fold next season, but their influences on and off the field are paramount for this franchise.
Navigating these two situations in a delicate manner will be one of the toughest tasks for Roseman and company this offseason.