Eagles have cash but are reluctant to spend

Eagles have cash but are reluctant to spend

Gonzalez: Eagles need to be 'judicious' with free-agent spending

March 8, 2014, 7:00 am

Eagles GM Howie Roseman handed out nearly $130 million worth of theoretical money to re-sign Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Cedric Thornton (USA Today Images).

At noon Saturday, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman can pick up his phone, speed dial to Jairus Byrd’s agent and start discussion about awarding the NFL’s top free-agent safety with a handsome contract to play for Chip Kelly.

All NFL teams can start negotiations with free agents at 12 p.m. Saturday. Not until 4 p.m. Tuesday can free agents officially sign on the dotted line.

Even though Roseman committed nearly $130 million in theoretical money over the past 10 days to secure several standouts from last year’s NFC East championship team, he left the cupboard full enough to dig deep for someone of Byrd’s caliber.

Are we sure of this?

“Yes,” Roseman said. Actually, he cautioned more than said. “It will affect other things going forward,” he added, “but yes.”

By “other things going forward,” Roseman dropped a big hint about the team’s free-agent strategy and revealed why the Eagles aren’t likely to land Byrd -- who’s seeking upwards of $9 million annually -- or any other free agent seeking to capitalize on Jeffrey Lurie’s prior habit of stretching the pocketbook.

Looking forward -- say, one year from now -- several pieces of the Eagles’ nucleus will be eligible for contract extensions. Among them are Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and potentially Jeremy Maclin.

Roseman has talked all offseason about the team’s newer model of building from within, of manicuring home-grown talent, of stockpiling draft picks and farming them through the system the way Green Bay and Pittsburgh do.

Given the windfall he just lavished on Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Riley Cooper, and the money he’ll need next season to keep the foundation intact, it becomes fairly clear why Roseman isn’t sending out strong signals that he’s about to authorize some big checks.

“It doesn’t take an expert researcher to go back and look at teams that are having success and how they’re having success,” he said. “Most of the time when guys are on the free-agent market, their teams have chosen not to sign them for one reason or another.

It may be cap room. It may be because they have a particular player at a position.

“But I don’t know that we can go back in the history of free agency and look at free agency and say, 'Well, there’s a team that built totally on free agency and it worked.' You have to draft well to the extent that you can. You have to keep your own players and you have to keep supplementing through the draft."

This doesn’t mean the Eagles won’t be active in free agency.

They have no depth at safety and they need help at outside linebacker, inside linebacker and on the defensive line. They can’t address all these needs in the draft, especially with Roseman firm on picking the best overall prospect regardless of position.

But they’re likely to repeat last year’s blueprint that netted them several mid-level free agents who didn’t break the bank but played significant roles, guys like outside linebacker Connor Barwin and corners Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher.

So maybe the Eagles decide to mortgage the house on Byrd, or maybe they go the economical route with Malcolm Jenkins or Mike Mitchell.

Only the folks at One NovaCare Way know what will happen over the next three days, but Roseman’s warnings about the perils of big free-agent spending were fairly telltale.

“It’s almost like the draft, where you don’t want to force anything,” he said. “We look at it as just try to grade players as they are, not do it because we need a particular position. We’re going to go out and try to do things that make sense for our football team.”