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 pick up compensatory fourth-round pick from Browns

Eagles pick up compensatory fourth-round pick from Browns

The NFL announced the list of compensatory picks for the 2017 draft and the Eagles weren't awarded any.

They're still going to get one, though. 

Thanks to the trade with the Browns to move up to No. 2 in last year's draft, the Eagles got back a conditional fifth-round pick that has now turned into a fourth. 

Basically, if the Browns received a fourth-round compensatory pick, the Eagles would get it. The Browns were awarded two (Nos. 139 and 142), so the Eagles get one. According to a league source, the Eagles will get No. 139 overall, the higher of the two.  

This is the first year teams are allowed to trade compensatory picks. The Bengals, Browns, Broncos and Chiefs were each awarded four compensatory picks. The highest compensatory pick awarded this year belongs to Miami at No. 97 in the third round. 

The Eagles still don't know where they'll pick in the first round -- either No. 14 or 15. That will be determined by a coin flip next week at the combine in Indianapolis. They have eight draft picks in total.

Eagles wise to bring Jason Peters back, even with full salary

Eagles wise to bring Jason Peters back, even with full salary

This isn't a big surprise, but Jason Peters will be back with the Eagles -- big salary and all -- for the 2017 season.

While the Eagles approached the veteran left tackle about his contract in January, Peters has not restructured his deal, according to a league source. 

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport on Thursday morning reported that Peters will be back next season on his normal contract. 

Yes, Peters is expensive in 2017. His base salary after hitting another Pro Bowl escalator written into his contract is up to $10.45 million for next season (plus a $250K workout bonus), which comes with a big cap hit of $11.7 million. That cap hit is the highest on the team, but not outlandish for a high-caliber left tackle. 

The Eagles could have very well cut Peters and moved on. It would have saved them significant cap space to use elsewhere. They just wouldn't have found any player more valuable to pay with that money. 

Peters, 35, is still their best option to protect Carson Wentz's blind side. He made his ninth Pro Bowl in 2016 after playing all 16 games. The team hasn't been shy about wanting him back and Peters toward the end of the season said he wanted to return for another year. 

"We certainly want to have him back," Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said of Peters in early January.

“I love him. I want him on the team,” head coach Doug Pederson said with two games remaining this past season. “I don’t want him to go anywhere."

With Peters back, it means Lane Johnson's eventual trip to left tackle will be held off for another year. Eventually, he'll take over that spot … just not right now. 

During the season, Peters opened up about his future, saying he hopes Wentz can be the guy who finally gets him a Super Bowl ring (see story).