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?
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.”