Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles to face major 2015 salary cap decisions

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Eagles to face major 2015 salary cap decisions

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.

They are:

• $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.

Extending legacy of toughness, Darren Sproles hints at comeback

Extending legacy of toughness, Darren Sproles hints at comeback

As Darren Sproles lay on his back during the second quarter of Sunday's game at the Linc, and as trainers rushed to him and his teammates kneeled around him, it was already too late. His ACL was already torn. His forearm was already broken. His season, and maybe even his career, was already over. 

Then Sproles did the most Sproles-like thing ever. He got to his feet, pressed his broken right arm against his body and walked off the field, down the sideline, through the tunnel and into the Eagles' locker room on a torn ACL. 

He looked pissed off the whole time. 

When news about the extent of Sproles' injuries surfaced Monday morning (see story), my first reaction was pretty simple: It would be a shame if that's how his career ended. That's still true. 

On Monday night, Sproles took to social media to thank folks for their support and hinted that a comeback is in his future.

Great news for fans, though at the start of next season, he'll be a 35-year-old free-agent running back coming off two major injuries. 

So if Sunday was indeed the last time we saw Sproles as an NFL player, it would be pretty fitting. That will be a big part of his legacy. He was talented, sure. He was dynamic, absolutely. The numbers and the accomplishments are incredible, no doubt. 

He just also happened to be one of the toughest little mother f'ers to ever step on the field, too. 

If Sproles got a dollar for every time he was asked about his height, he could have played the game for free. At 5-foot-6, Sproles always understood the height questions and he was still getting them this season as a 34-year-old in his 13th NFL season. It sort of goes against what people expect from an NFL athlete. They're supposed to be Greek Gods, after all, bigger than life. Not the height of your teenage nephew. 

In a way, Sproles' height (or lack thereof) became a secret weapon. Do you want to underestimate me because I'm short? Go ahead. 

Sproles, eighth all-time in career all-purpose yards, isn't just extremely well-respected and liked within the Eagles' locker room. He's that well thought of around the league as well. In fact, when Odell Beckham Jr. entered the field Sunday, the first thing he did was find Sproles. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the league who doesn't like Darren Sproles. If you found someone, he'd probably be a linebacker who had once been on the receiving end of one of his punishing blocks. 

Because although Sproles is just 5-6, he's also 190 pounds and packs a hell of a punch. And throughout his career, he has always been more than willing to take on guys who weigh way more than he does. 

Sproles and I have always seen eye-to-eye and I'm not talking about some common understanding. We're pretty much the same height. So last year, when he was flagged for a chop block in Detroit, we both got a chuckle out of it. The next day, after Doug Pederson's press conference, I was standing outside to tape a segment with coworker Reuben Frank when Sproles walked out of the NovaCare Complex toward his car. He stopped for a brief chat and, of course, the first thing we talked about was that chop block. He wasn't trying to chop block of course; he's just short. It was arguably the toughest loss of the 2016 season but Sproles couldn't help but laugh, too; he basically got flagged for not being tall enough. 

Then the conversation rolled into his general enthusiasm for blocking and how he's always understood how important it is for him. And it got me wondering a little bit … when linebackers see a 5-6 running back about to block them, they probably don't know what's coming, do they? 

Sproles' eyes widened and the corners of his mouth lifted into a sheepish grin. 

"They're never ready for it," he said. "That's fine with me." 

This will be the first time in his lengthy career Sproles will play fewer than 13 games in a season. In 10 of his 13 seasons, he's played at least 15 games, proving to be as durable as he is talented. 

The Eagles are going to miss Sproles for the last 13 games of the 2017 season. There's no way to sugarcoat it and there's no reason to. They're going to miss him on offense, where he's a uniquely dynamic player in the run and pass game. They're going to miss him on special teams, where he's become one of the best punt returners in NFL history. 

And they're going to miss him in the locker room, where he's about as well-respected as any player on the roster. 

"He's a great man," Pederson said Monday. "He's a great leader, well-liked on this team and in this locker room and in this community. He's a lot of energy, and that's hard to replace. It's hard to replace. And so guys are just going to have to rally and pick up that spot and move forward. But, it's unfortunate. It is part of the game, and it's unfortunate that an injury has to happen, and sometimes it happens to great people and great men. It's just the unfortunate side of the business."

Well before the start of the 2017 season, Sproles was preparing for this to be his final NFL season. In June, he softened on that, saying, "We're gonna see" and to ask him after the Eagles made the playoffs. Despite growing pressure from his family to hang up the cleats, Sproles seemed genuinely rejuvenated by the opportunity to teach younger players like Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey and Corey Clement. During last season, he even lived next door to Smallwood. 

Sproles will have a decision to make eventually. He'll need surgery on his arm and his knee and the recovery process won't be an easy one. It sounds like Sproles wants to come back but he won't have to make that final decision for a while. 

If Sunday ends up being his final NFL game, his 13-year career will have ended on a fluke injury, followed but something that probably just shouldn't surprise us anymore. When the injury happened, it didn't sound good — "Ahh s---!" was heard from the microphone on the field. But Sproles collected himself, saved the cart a trip, and marched his beat-up body off the field. 

That's one tough little dude. 

Roob: Talented, young cornerbacks no 'Band-Aids' for Eagles

Roob: Talented, young cornerbacks no 'Band-Aids' for Eagles

It's hard not to wonder: With Jalen Mills on the brink of establishing himself as a true No. 1 cornerback and rookie Rasul Douglas shining in his first two NFL starts, what happens when Ronald Darby gets back? And what happens when Sidney Jones gets back?

Answer? Who cares!

All I know is that after a decade of watching recycled, over-priced, disinterested veterans like Ellis Hobbs, Nnamdi Asomugha, Byron Maxwell, Bradley Fletcher, Nolan Carroll, Cary Williams and Leodis McKelvin, it sure is encouraging to see the Eagles stockpile promising, young largely home-grown cornerbacks.

Soon after last year ended, Howie Roseman vowed to finally stop trying to solve the Eagles' cornerback problems with what he called "Band-Aids."

"What we’ve done at the cornerback position is put Band-Aids on things," he said.

And then Roseman and Joe Douglas went and did something about it.

The Eagles drafted Jones and Douglas in the second and third rounds, then traded Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to the Bills for Darby, and with Mills returning for a second season, all of a sudden the Eagles found themselves with four promising cornerbacks 23 or younger, something unprecedented in franchise history.

The thinking was that the Eagles would be patient and take their lumps waiting for these raw, young corners to develop into legit NFL starters instead of riding the free agent veteran carousel year after year.

And that's where their plan went awry. Because Mills and Douglas are both playing at a high level, and that long-term plan seems to be way ahead of schedule.

It sure looks like for the first time since Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown first became starters 15 years ago, the Eagles have capable cornerbacks they can grow with.

Mills has come so far. He now has the technique to match his confidence. He had Terrelle Pryor most of opening day, and Pryor finished with six catches for 66 yards. Last week in Kansas City, he tracked explosive Tyreek Hill most of the game, and Hill caught four passes for 43 yards with a long gain of 18 yards. Mills drew one of the league's best Sunday — Odell Beckham Jr. — and although he caught seven passes, none went longer than 14 yards. 

Douglas, inactive on opening day, has been shockingly good in his two starts. He's proven to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical corner who makes up for average speed with very good technique, and he's as sure a tackler as the Eagles have had at corner since Brown.

How can you not be excited about these two?

The Eagles were without four defensive backs Sunday — Darby, Jaylen Watkins, Rodney McCloud and Corey Graham (five if you include Jones) — and they still beat a healthy division opponent with a Hall of Fame quarterback who threw 47 times and went after Mills and Douglas snap after snap.

I don't care what Manning's stats say, Mills and Douglas have both given the Eagles distinguished cornerback play the last two weeks, and now remind yourself that Mills just turned 23 in April, and Douglas doesn't turn 23 until next summer.

Which brings us to the future.

Jones, a projected first-round pick before his Achilles injury, has the glossiest résumé of any of these guys. He doesn't turn 22 until May. And Darby, who the Eagles liked enough to part with Matthews and a third-round pick, doesn't turn 24 until soon after the season ends.

Now maybe if the Eagles knew what they had in Douglas, they never would have made the Darby trade. But it doesn't matter at this point.

What's important is the Eagles have stocked the cornerback position with enough young talent that they should be in good shape for the foreseeable future. It's tough to find talented young cornerbacks, and the Eagles seem to have found a bunch of them.

And maybe it seems like they have too many. What do you do with all these guys?!?!?! But if you've lived through Asomugha and Maxwell and Fletcher and all the other guys the Eagles have paraded through the Linc over the last decade you're never going to worry about having too many young corners.

So what do the Eagles do when guys start coming back? And remember, even 30-year-old Patrick Robinson has been way better than expected in the slot.

We know Mills will play somewhere. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz could start Darby and Douglas and use Mills in the slot. Or he could keep Robinson in the slot with Mills and Douglas outside, leaving Darby as the fourth corner. He could go with Darby and Mills outside and Douglas in the slot.

And when Jones enters the picture? Jones and Mills outside with Douglas in the slot? Darby and Jones outside with Mills in the slot and Douglas at safety?

There are a million different ways to go, but all that stuff will sort itself out.

Really, all that's important now is that the Eagles have a stable of young corners to grow with. And not a Band-Aid in sight.