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.”

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Ezekiel Elliott was the fourth overall pick by the Cowboys in the 2016 NFL draft.

He went on to have a historic rookie season, leading the NFL in rushing behind the best offensive line in football.

But do you know who finished second in the league in rushing? That would be the Bears' Jordan Howard, another rookie, drafted in the fifth round. 

If you keep going down the list of the league's top rushers last season, nine out of the top 10 on the list were drafted after the first round. Only three backs in the top 10 were drafted in the first two rounds (Elliott, LeSean McCoy, Le'Veon Bell). 

Whether it's LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, the Eagles should stay away from running backs in the first round.

We'll start with Fournette, considered by most to be the best running back in the class. He was also mocked to the Eagles in a trade-up scenario by Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke with the No. 5 overall pick. Burke is an excellent evaluator, but in this case, he's off the mark. Fournette's talent is real. His combination of size and speed is unmatched by any running back in the class and perhaps any running back in the NFL. He'll correctly be the first back off the board and go in the top 10. 

But would the Eagles give up a second-round pick to obtain Fournette? It's just hard to see as realistic. This team has too many holes and not enough draft picks to make a move like Burke suggests. Fournette looks like he'll be a special player, just not for the Eagles.

Then there's Cook, who seems to be the belle of the ball with Eagles fans. Watching the tape, it's undeniable: Cook is an extremely talented player. But evaluations aren't black and white. Cook has issues with injuries (multiple shoulder surgeries) and has had a couple issues off the field. 

He also tested poorly at the combine. In the biggest audition of his life, Cook's numbers didn't match what you saw on tape. That has to make you wonder if he was fully prepared for the combine. If the Eagles take Cook, there's no doubt he'll make their offense better. The biggest concern has to be his long-term success and the value you get taking him at 14 over another player at a more valuable position.

Lastly, there's McCaffrey. It's easy to see the fit here. McCaffrey is an explosive back who runs routes and has the ball skills of a receiver. He's also incredibly dangerous in the return game. Unlike Cook, McCaffrey tested off the charts in Indy. His strength (10 reps at 225) is the only real concern.

From a scheme perspective, McCaffrey is perfectly suited for Doug Pederson's offense. Pederson can use McCaffrey much like Andy Reid used Brian Westbrook over a decade ago. McCaffrey's struggles running between the tackles are a little overblown, but it still has to be a concern for a team that doesn't have a proven, primary back. 

This is also a strong running back class. Toledo's Kareem Hunt would fit nicely in this offense and should be available in the third round. Clemson's Wayne Gallman is a tough, versatile back that could be available in the third or fourth. There's also BYU's Jamaal Williams, Pitt's James Conner and Wyoming's Brian Hill, all of whom should be there in the middle rounds.

When you look at who else could be there at 14, it just doesn't make sense to draft a running back. If you're looking to give Carson Wentz more weapons, either Clemson's Mike Williams, Western Michigan's Corey Davis or Washington's John Ross should be there. Any of them could give Wentz a long-term receiving threat. 

If you're looking to improve the defense, there are plenty of options. In case you've been living under a rock this offseason, this cornerback draft class is crazy deep. Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore is the best of the bunch and will likely be gone by 14. His teammate, Gareon Conley, should still be around at 14. So should LSU's TreDavious White, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, Clemson's Cordrea Tankersely and Florida's Quincy Wilson. 

Don't count out Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett as an option if he's on the board. With Vinny Curry's struggles and the Eagles' lack of depth, a pass rusher is a definite need. If Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster slips for a spat he had with a hospital worker during the combine, he's worth a long look. He's a game-changing 'backer.

Elliott was as close to a sure thing as you can get. There's a reason he was taken at No. 4 overall. If Cook and McCaffrey are there at 14, there's a reason for that, too. 

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie isn't often very outspoken on football or political matters. 

He has apparently made an exception. 

Just a few days before Lurie is tentatively scheduled to speak to Philadelphia reporters while in Phoenix for the league's annual meetings, the Eagles owner authored a story for Time Magazine railing against political polarization in Washington.

Lurie has not spoken to reporters publicly since last March in Boca Raton, Florida, at the 2016 owners meetings. 

The owner's essay was published just hours after House Republican leaders pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Friday afternoon. Lurie, for the record, donated money to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year.

Lurie, the Eagles' 65-year-old billionaire owner, in the story, uses football as an example for which Washington should strive. 

Here's how Lurie begins the piece:

"What do football, political polarization and autism have in common? They all illuminate aspects of the human condition, explaining who we are, where we are headed and the hurdles along the way. As a sports team owner I rarely publicly discuss politics, but as a member of a family touched by autism, I often think about the unspoken millions of people who live with the daily challenges of this disorder."

Lurie then goes on to explain why football can act as a guide for Washington when it comes to united for the common good:

"What I have learned from football can be applied to society at large. Just as we intensely game-plan against an opponent in sports, we need to game plan for the reality and consequences of polarization. Extreme polarization is the opponent -- not each other. A football team is made up of players from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and political viewpoints. What unites them is grit, determination, and the desire to win. They join in a common goal and do what is necessary to transcend their differences for the greater good of their team.

"What unites Americans is far more negative. We are now in an age where communicating verifiable information becomes secondary to the goal of creating a common enemy that unifies people in fear, negativity and opposition. This masks our inability to solve serious domestic problems (poverty, violence and institutional racism to name three current examples) and diverts our attention from obvious suffering."

Lurie then writes that we, as Americans, have the "necessary resources" to tackle serious problems, like autism, but lack the leadership to put aside differences. 

The whole piece isn't very long and is worth reading in full to gain a better understanding of its context. 

Next week while in Phoenix, Lurie will surely be asked about what motivated him to write the piece.