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.

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself. And it’s not a winning pattern.

Week after week, the Eagles are digging themselves a first-quarter hole. And week after week, they’re too far behind to catch up.

They trailed the Lions 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed the Redskins 14-0 a minute into the second quarter. They fell behind the Cowboys 10-3 early in the second. The Giants jumped up on them 14-0 just six minutes in. And on Sunday, the Bengals led 10-0 before the first quarter was over.

If football games began at the start of the second quarter? This would be a different season. The Eagles would be 7-4-1.

The Eagles has actually outscored their opponents in the second, third and fourth quarters.

But the first quarter has been fatal.

The Eagles have been outscored by 32 points in the first quarter – 65 to 33. That’s their fourth-worst first-quarter scoring margin in the last 25 years, behind only three other nightmarish seasons – 1998 (minus-52), 2005 (minus-51) and 2012 (minus-75).

It’s also fourth-worst of any NFL team this year, ahead of only the Jets (minus-36), Broncos (minus-37) and Dolphins (minus-56).

Some teams – like the Broncos and Dolphins – have enough firepower to fight from behind.

The Eagles don’t.

They’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter, 1-1 when tied after the first quarter and 0-6 when trailing after the first quarter.

At 0-6, they share the second-worst record in the NFL when trailing after 15 minutes with the Jaguars and 49ers. The Browns are 0-8 when trailing after the first quarter.

Last time the Eagles didn’t win a game all year when trailing after the first quarter was 1998. Before that 1977.

“It’s tough, especially in this league, to dig yourself a hole,” Carson Wentz said. “Whether the defense is struggling or the offense giving them points with turnovers and different things, it’s been a variation of a lot of those things. 

“It’s tough to dig yourself a hole against anybody, especially against good teams. So we’ve got to avoid that and we’ve got to come out swinging a little better early in games.”

The last time the Eagles won after trailing following the first quarter was the Dallas game last year, when they trailed 7-0 and won 33-27 in overtime.

What does it say about a team when it’s allowed twice as many points as it’s scored in the first quarter?

It sure seems like the Eagles several times this year simply haven’t been ready to play.

“The start to games, it's a mindset,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's truly a mindset. It's one of those things where as a team you want to come out and you want to kind of make the first punch, so to speak, or swing first. 

“We did it against Green Bay. We went down and scored, we matched touchdown for touchdown there. And we've done it throughout the course of the season. We've got to be a little more consistent offensively, too. That can also help. And then defensively it's just a matter of working to get off the field.

“It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game if you can do that early in a football game.”

The Eagles have scored just three first-quarter touchdowns all year (only the Broncos have fewer) and haven’t scored more than seven points in any of their 12 first quarters.

They’ve allowed nine first-quarter touchdowns, and only one team has allowed more – the Dolphins with 10.

Wentz has completed 67 percent of his first-quarter passes but with just one TD pass and four interceptions.

Incredibly, the Eagles have only five plays all year of more than 20 yards in the first quarter – just one in the last four games. Only the Saints, Jaguars and Broncos have fewer.

Why are the Eagles so bad early in games?

“There is no other answer than to execute one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There's no magic formula. I think we've had good energy at practice. I like the way we practice. I feel like we are putting together good plans.

“We're showing flashes of being a good football team. We need to be more consistent. We need to make more big plays. It's hard to sustain 14-play drives. We've missed a few plays here and there. We just all – coaches, players together – need to make it work one play at a time.”

The only teams to outscore the Eagles in the second half are the Cowboys (13-10), Seahawks (10-8) and Packers (13-3).

When a team has outscored its opponents by 61 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined and it’s 5-7, the focus has to be on the first quarter.

That means preparation. That means being mentally and physically ready. 

“Yeah, I do look at all of that, and that's part of my job is the (pregame) schedule and all,” Pederson said. “But these guys are in a great frame of mind on game day. They're loose; they're energetic; they're ready to go. They're focused. 

“You see it in pregame. It's been unfortunate, but it's something we've got to focus in on a little bit more … and try to strike first.”

The Eagles will try to end their three-game losing streak at 1 p.m. Sunday when they face the Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins, 6-5-1 but with a two-game losing streak, beat the Eagles 27-20 in Landover, Md., in October.

“I think it just comes down to being focus and locking in,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen us. There’ve been games where we’ve come out and we’re rolling right away.

"We just have to find a way to maintain that and be consistent with that. The goal is to come out swinging right away.”

Eagles Injury Update: Jordan Matthews back at practice again

Eagles Injury Update: Jordan Matthews back at practice again

Jordan Matthews, the Eagles' best receiver, was back at practice again on Thursday. 

Matthews was a full participant on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday, which is a very good sign for the Eagles. Last week, he returned on Thursday, but then had to sit out Friday and missed Sunday's game. 

It was the first game Matthews had ever missed in his career. Even with the missed game, Matthews still leads the Eagles in receptions (57), receiving yards (686) and receiving touchdowns (3). 

Fellow receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (abdomen) was on the practice field early but left as the Eagles began to stretch. He did not practice for the second straight day. 

Without Green-Beckham and with Matthews hobbled, the Eagles are light at receiver, with just Nelson Agholor, Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner. Head coach Doug Pederson said the Eagles want to keep Turner involved in the game plan even with the return of Matthews. 

Ryan Mathews (knee) was on the practice field again on Thursday, while Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee) is still out. It looks like Vaitai will miss his third straight game this weekend.