Whether or not DeSean Jackson returns to the Eagles, one thing is certain.
The Eagles are going to have to make several difficult and most likely unpopular decisions in the next year to get under the 2015 salary cap.
Forget this year for a minute.
The Eagles are already in cap trouble next year.
The good news is that the cap is expected to increase by $7 million to $10 million next year, thanks to revenue from the new TV deal.
Although the actual figure won’t be announced until next winter, people who track this stuff believe the unadjusted cap will increase from $133 million in 2014 to about $142 million in 2015.
The Eagles currently have 51 players under contract in 2015, and their combined cap figure is $144,766,514.
Several members of that 2012 draft class will be eligible for contract extensions after the season, and there is no way the Eagles would risk losing Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, Mychal Kendricks and Fletcher Cox through free agency after the 2015 season, so re-signing those four after 2014 will be imperative for the Eagles next winter.
Foles, if he comes anywhere close to his 2013 performance, will demand a massive contract. Boykin, if he repeats his six-interception breakout 2013 season, will also be due a commanding deal. Cox and Kendricks are fundamental building blocks of the Eagles’ young defense, and they will be due sizable, long-term, multi-million dollar deals as well.
So you see the predicament the Eagles are in. They’re already over the projected cap figure, they still have to re-sign at least four key players, and they’ll certainly need money available to go after some free agents a year from now and sign their 2015 draft picks.
Something has to give.
A look at the Eagles’ 2015 contracts shows that 13 players make up nearly half of that $144.77 million figure.
Those 13 players have a combined 2015 cap hit of $68,025,140, or 47 percent of the Eagles’ current 2015 total cap figure.
• $10.25 million … LeSean McCoy
• $10.025 million … Trent Cole
• $10 million … DeSean Jackson
• $7.55 million … Jason Peters
• $6.9 million … DeMeco Ryans
• $6.5 million … Cary Williams
• $5.5 million … Connor Barwin
• $4.8 million … Brent Celek
• $4 million … James Casey
• $4 million … Riley Cooper
• $4 million … Todd Herremans
• $4 million … Malcolm Jenkins
Safe to say that anybody on that list, other than McCoy and Peters, could become a cap casualty after this upcoming season.
The Eagles still have plenty of room under the 2014 cap, and they’ll probably carry over $10 million to $12 million in unused cap space to 2015, which would increase their adjusted cap figure to somewhere in the $155 million range.
But they’ll still have some decisions to make about the veterans listed above to get under the cap.
No team in the NFL currently has the 2015 salary cap commitments the Eagles do. In fact, no team is within $10 million of the Eagles.
Here are the top five current 2015 cap responsibilities in the NFL:
• $144,766,514 … Eagles
• $131,941,818 … Cardinals
• $129,786,728 … Dolphins
• $125,454,961 … Chiefs
• $123,585,579 … Saints
Any player the Eagles release or trade after the 2014 season would give the Eagles dead money in the cap if he got a signing bonus that is still being pro-rated. To determine the amount of dead money, you simply add the remaining pro-rated amounts. The longer the player is still under contract and the larger his initial signing bonus, the higher that number will be.
How much dead money would the Eagles incur releasing some of their higher-priced veterans after the upcoming season? Remember, the cap savings is a player’s projected cap number minus dead money:
• $4 million … DeSean Jackson
• $3.2 million … Riley Cooper
• $2.6125 million … DeMeco Ryans
• $2 million … Evan Mathis
• $1.8 million … Connor Barwin
• $1.7075 million … Brandon Graham
• $1.666668 million … Cary Williams
• $1.6 million … Trent Cole
• $2.4 million … Todd Herremans
• $0 … Brent Celek
• $0 … James Casey
So you see whose jobs are in jeopardy. But it’s always risky unloading a player with a high cap figure because now you have to replace him.
If the Eagles cut ties with, say, Trent Cole, DeMeco Ryans, Cary Williams, Brent Celek, Todd Herremans and James Casey in January, they would have a net gain of $37,970,832 in cap space, which is a lot.
But that raises a whole new set of challenges.
Casey didn’t contribute last year, but Cole has been the Eagles’ best pass rusher for the past decade, Ryans was the Eagles’ defensive MVP a year ago, Williams is one of the team’s emotional leaders and a physical corner, Celek has been one of the NFC’s most consistent receiving tight ends since 2007, and Herremans has been a steady starter since late in 2005.
Which leads us to why it’s so critical that the Eagles put together a third consecutive outstanding draft.
It’s easy to get rid of expensive players. It’s a lot harder to replace them with younger, cheaper versions who are just as talented.