Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles' limited salary cap flexibility creates a challenging offseason

Eagles' limited salary cap flexibility creates a challenging offseason

The Eagles find themselves going into the offseason missing more than cornerbacks, wide receivers and running backs.

They’re also missing the salary cap flexibility the franchise has gotten used to since the early days of cap guru Joe Banner.

That means a tricky offseason ahead.

Lack of cap space means no free agency shopping spree, which considering this team’s recent record may be a good thing.

But it also means the Eagles are severely limited in how they can rebuild a roster that is sorely lacking at several positions and how quickly they can infuse talent on a roster that projects as the oldest in the NFL in 2017 based on players currently under contract.

They may have to release or try to restructure players they want to retain. They may be unable to bid for first-tier free agents. They may not be able to give extensions to players they want to keep.

So not only are the Eagles trying to rebuild after an eighth straight year without a playoff victory and a third straight year out of the postseason, they’re trying to do it with their hands essentially tied as well.

“Yeah, it's unusual, certainly since I've been here, to have a more challenging situation,” vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said.

“But part of our job in the front office is to look at this over a long period of time. So as we sit here today, it isn't like the first time that we are looking at that situation, and we'll do whatever's best for the football team.”

The NFL’s unadjusted cap is expected to increase about $10 million in 2017, from $155.3 million in 2016 to an estimated $164 million or $165 million.

Every team has an adjusted cap figure, which takes into account carry-over money. Generally speaking, money not spent under one year’s cap is added to a team’s cap figure the following year.

The Eagles’ adjusted cap figure in 2016 was $161,806,117, and their adjusted cap figure in 2017 projects to $165,096,643, according to Spotrac.com, which exhaustively tracks salary and contract information for all major sports.

According to Spotrac, the Eagles have the fourth-smallest amount of projected cap money this offseason at $12,440,825.

They have 49 players currently under contract for 2017 and 18 of them have a 2017 cap figure of at least $4 million.

They also have 21 players whose dead money will count against their 2017 cap. Those are players who were released with remaining pro-rated portions of their signing bonuses. Most of those dead money charges are minimal, but some are significant — namely, Sam Bradford ($5.5 million) and Eric Rowe ($904,496).

When a player’s cap figure is significantly higher than the amount of dead money releasing him would create, he becomes a candidate to be released in a cap move.

Here are some examples of players the Eagles could release to gain cap space:

Jason Peters ($9.2 million)

Connor Barwin ($7.75M)

Ryan Mathews ($4M)

Jason Kelce ($3.8M)

Leodis McKelvin ($3.2M)

Allen Barbre ($1.8M)

Ron Brooks ($1.6M)

“You’d like to have everyone back,” Roseman said. “As we look toward putting a plan in place, we've got to look at everyone on the team and figure out what the value is.

“Don't want to talk about anyone specifically out of respect for those guys about contract situations, but we've got to do whatever is in the best interests of this team going forward.”

The Eagles have to ask themselves this: Are we better off with Lane Johnson at left tackle, Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle and $9.2 million more cap money available or with Peters at left tackle and Johnson at right tackle?

Tough question.

The problem with releasing high-priced players is that you still have to replace them with cheaper players at the same position. And cheaper generally means not as talented, unless they’re draft picks. And the Eagles’ drafting has been poor to mediocre for years.

The best way to avoid overpaying free agents and getting into cap trouble is to draft well.

“No question,” Roseman said. “It's one of the things where you look back and when we made some decisions, we compromised on guys, as opposed to just sticking to the board and doing the right thing, not based on a need ... but based on who is the best player to be part of a core going forward. I sit here very confident that that will not happen again.”

One of the reasons the Eagles got themselves into this situation was the flurry of offseason re-signings last year.

In retrospect, did the Eagles need to sign Vinny Curry to a five-year, $47.5 million deal? Or Chase Daniel to a three-year, $21 million deal? Or Brent Celek to a three-year, $13 million deal? Even Fletcher Cox's six-year, $102.6 million deal raised some eyebrows.

Roseman, asked about last spring’s series of signings, said one of the benefits of adding a guy like Joe Douglas — the new vice president of player personnel — is that he brings a fresh set of eyes to the team’s roster where Roseman may have tended to overvalue those guys because he was familiar with them.

“Yes, I think there is that danger, and I think that's another one of the values that you have by bringing people outside this organization to look at your roster and to be able to give you different perspective, because we're human,” Roseman said.

“And there's no doubt that just like your kids, you want to see your own players succeed.
 I think we have that balance now to make sure that we have a good way of making these decisions and seeing it through a different lens.”

The bottom line is that the Eagles have some very difficult decisions to make in the coming months.

It’s hard enough to turn a losing team into a winner. Doing it without the benefit of cap flexibility is much tougher.

“Ideally in free agency, you're signing 26-, 27-year-old guys who can be part of the core,” Roseman said.

“Unfortunately, teams are doing a good job of locking those guys up, as well. 
So we have to try to balance that and bring in guys that fit what we're trying to do.

“(And) understand that there's no way to do everything in one offseason.”

Let's learn from past, keep Eagles' preseason positives and negatives in perspective

Let's learn from past, keep Eagles' preseason positives and negatives in perspective

It happens this time every year. 

Two preseason games are now in the books and the overreaction portion of the program has commenced. It's only natural. We're seven-plus months removed from the Eagles' last regular-season game. You have an entire offseason of hype and buildup. There's free agency, the draft, OTAs, training camp, and finally there's the wonderful world of exhibition games. We're dying for storylines and answers. And projections based on illusions become reality.

A stroll through some names of training camps past are a stark reminder not to go overboard anointing these guys the next big thing. Here are some blasts from the past: Henry Josey, Jeremy Bloom, JaCorey Shepherd, Gizmo Williams, Billy Hess. Remember them? No points off if you don't, but they were thought to be the answers in years past.   

Remember way back in the day, like Aug. 29, 2015? The Eagles played their third preseason against Green Bay. New Birds quarterback Sam Bradford's line that night: 10 for 10, 121 yards, three touchdowns and a 156.7 passer rating on three drives. They thought they had found their guy. Bradford went on to have a middling season with a 7-7 record as a starter. His individual stats matched the record, and a year later he was dealt to Minnesota. His coach, Chip Kelly, did not last the season. 

Take last year for instance — Paul Turner was Jerry Rice reincarnated. Now, the receiving corps was awful and Turner, an undrafted free agent stuck with the practice squad, eventually got time with the club during the regular season. But we may want to hold off on his Canton enshrinement.

Which brings us to the consternation surrounding the 2017 Eagles' first-team offense and running game. Granted, sans two amazingly athletic plays by Carson Wentz in the Packers game, the first team has not looked ready for prime time. 

But let's take some things into account. Teams game plan minimally for preseason games. Unless, of course, you're Dom Capers and you blitz an entire exhibition game. The Eagles did not prepare for the extra men sent, therefore they didn't handle it well. 

Thursday against the Bills, the Eagles' first-team offense was without left tackle Jason Peters. They were also missing Wendell Smallwood, and Darren Sproles barely sniffed the field. That will hurt production. 

In the Packers game, 5-foot-9, 180-pound Donnel Pumphrey ran the ball off-tackle multiple times. That ain't happening in the regular season. Would you like to see Wentz protected better and the ones be more productive? No question. Is it time to push the panic button? Certainly not.

The flip side is keeping some of the positive performances in perspective. It's beyond encouraging how Mychal Kendricks has looked through the first two games. But let's not lose sight of the non-factor he's been the last couple of seasons when things were real. 

There is no bigger believer in Derek Barnett than me. From the moment I knew where the Eagles would be selecting in the draft, I wanted him in midnight green. I'm a firm believer he will be starting sooner rather than later. And he has not disappointed in the exhibition games. But some of the guys he is facing will be pumping gas in Jersey real soon. Not playing in the NFL.

Perspective and long views are not easily attained. But they're necessary tools when it comes to this time of year.

NFL Notes: Jaguars open up QB competition after Blake Bortles' struggles

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NFL Notes: Jaguars open up QB competition after Blake Bortles' struggles

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Blake Bortles may have started his last game in Jacksonville.

Coach Doug Marrone opened up the team's quarterback competition Thursday night after another inconsistent performance from Bortles, the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

Bortles completed 8 of 13 passes for 65 yards in a 12-8 exhibition loss to Tampa Bay. All four of his drives ended with punts. The first-team offense now has three points in Bortles' six preseason possessions.

He misfired to Allen Robinson twice Thursday, including a woefully underthrown pass down the seam that drew boos from the home crowd and caused some head-shaking on the sideline.

"It's hard to not hear people booing," Bortles said. "But if they're cheering or booing, it's kind of irrelevant, at least for me it is. I think you've got to treat adversity and prosperity the same way. They're not booing for no reason. They're booing because you didn't do your job" (see full story).

Steelers: LB Shazier returns to practice
LATROBE, Pa. -- On a day when the Pittsburgh Steelers were set to break camp and return home, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier was just glad to be back on the field.

Shazier fully practiced during the Steelers last day in Latrobe after missing the previous two weeks with a slight hamstring pull.

"I was telling the guys on the sideline that I was so thankful to be back in the mix," Shazier said after Friday's practice. "It was great to be back out there, running around and seeing football from the inside of my helmet instead of from the sideline."

Shazier said he isn't playing in the team's second preseason game on Sunday when the Steelers host the Atlanta Falcons. Though he admitted to feeling behind, the fourth-year linebacker believes he can catch up.

Ravens: Zuttah returns after being traded
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have signed center Jeremy Zuttah, who returns to the team that traded him to San Francisco in March.

Zuttah started every game last year and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. He was dealt to the 49ers so Baltimore could save salary-cap space and move up 12 spots in the sixth round of the NFL draft.

Zuttah was released by San Francisco last week, and the Ravens signed him Friday to join a depleted offensive line in dire need of a veteran presence in the middle.

The Ravens were counting on John Urschel to play center this season, but he abruptly retired in late July. Ryan Jensen has been playing center, but he could move to guard to replace Alex Lewis, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

The 31-year-old Zuttah started 41 games in Baltimore over the past three years.

NFL: Gun charge against linebacker Greene
ELIZABETH, N.J. -- A gun charge against an NFL linebacker has been dropped because the man who said he gave him a weapon admitted he lied, the player's attorney said.

The charge against free agent Khaseem Greene was dismissed by a judge on July 17 after a request from prosecutors, NJ.com reported this week.

His attorney, Joshua McMahon, provided an audio recording to NJ.com of the other man telling detectives he lied about Greene's involvement in a shooting outside a nightclub in Elizabeth last December.

Jason Sanders' admission came the same day he told detectives that Greene was involved, but it wasn't included in a criminal complaint that alleged that Greene was seen on camera handing him a gun, McMahon said. Sanders is accused of firing into a crowd and remains jailed on aggravated assault and weapons offenses.

McMahon said the audio recording proves prosecutors moved forward with charges even though Sanders admitted he lied.