Estimated 2015 Cap Space: $17.5M ($140M cap limit)
Players Under Contract: 60
Pro Bowlers: 5
Unrestricted Free Agents: 7(4 with 50%+ playtime)
Draft Selection: 20
Salary Cap Breakdown
Free Agents to Re-sign
Retaining wide receiver Jeremy Maclin should be a priority on the offseason to-do list. If Maclin walks away in free agency it would leave the Eagles with a void at the top receiver position. Coming to an agreement with Maclin may be difficult. He has over-inflated 2014 numbers due to the high use he had early in the season that may boost his value around the NFL. This may be a similar situation to the ones with LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, where a contract is worked out that hits a higher annual value but in reality is a two year contract…I think the Eagles have an interesting financial decision on their hands with Mark Sanchez. Due to lack of available QB’s, Sanchez will likely be the best free agent on the market, but will still come relatively cheap. The highest end comparison I can make is former 49er Alex Smith who was allowed to test free agency after one decent season and came back on a deal that paid him $9 million a year following the lack of interest. On the lower end would be Matt Schaub in the $6M range. Nick Foles has just one year left under contract and would cost more than Sanchez in free agency. In addition Foles may have trade value whereas Sanchez is a free agent. It may be in the Eagles best interest to work out a deal with Sanchez. He’ll bring better value based on his cost and you will still have the flexibility to move on if you happen to draft someone….The Eagles have a great deal of work to do with the secondary so if they can keep Nate Allen on a cheap one year deal they can focus more of their attention on the cornerback position. Allen will likely test free agency again, however.
Free Agents to Let Walk
Brandon Graham is a talented pass rusher that doesn’t seem to have a place in the Eagles defense. Though he did get more opportunities this season I don’t believe he will play enough to justify the cost it might be to keep him away from free agency. There are recent instances of part time, unproven pass rushers getting big contracts, such as Everson Griffen’s huge $8.5 million contract and Paul Kruger’s $8.1 million deal with the Browns. Based on the Eagles use he is probably closer to a $4-$5M player which is going to be a big gap before free agency begins. Once he hits free agency maybe he won’t get a big offer, but I think anything $6M or more is not worth the risk …Given the struggles in the secondary I can’t picture Bradley Fletcher coming back. They need to upgrade and bring in new talent.
Contracts to Modify
This day was always coming for Trent Cole. Cole’s 2012 extension was more or less a contract designed to buy out one year of free agency and potential holdout headaches at a dangerous age for extension in return for around $13 million to be paid out over a three year period. Now his salary balloons to $10.025M. Cole can still play, but the market for 33 year old rushers is more in the $4-4.5 million per year range. They should be able to bring his number down by around $5 million….LeSean McCoy put together the quietest 1,300 yard season I could ever remember. He is set to earn $10.75M after earning a combined $11.25M in the last two years combined. This was always the season the Eagles intended to have as a decision year and with the state of the running back market they should be able to bring his price down while keeping him in Philadelphia for the next two or three years….DeMeco Ryans will earn $6.9 million this year and is coming off injury. This is the final year of his contract so they could consider a more economical deal. Jon Beason who is a slightly younger and higher talent level, but more injury prone, player signed a 3 year deal for $5.67M a year with nearly 20% of the deal hinging on staying off IR. That might be a reasonable point of reference to work back from.
Players to Consider Releasing
Cary Williams struggled at times last year and his release saves the team $6.5 million. That $6.5M number is more than the Eagles paid him in 2013 ($5.75M) and 2014($4.75M), so this would clearly be too high a price tag…I still scratch my head over the James Casey signing. He only plays in about 15% of the teams snaps and makes $4M to do so. He is a fine special teams players, but the most anyone should be getting for specials is maybe $2M. The guarantees are gone from his deal so it would seem to be time to move on and save that $4M in cap space….Cutting Nolan Carroll saves $2.9 million. He is one of those players that might be a later release once they guarantee a replacement….Cole and Ryans would both be on this list if they are not willing to talk on a contract.
This is a very interesting offseason for the Eagles. In the blink of an eye they can create the cap room necessary to either keep whatever players they want or to go out there and find new players. They also have chips on the team that could potentially be moved for draft picks the way they peddled Kevin Kolb off on the Cardinals years ago. Very rarely do the Eagles miss on re-signing or keeping their players, so regardless of what players are allowed to leave the team, I would be confident if I was an Eagles fan that they won’t regret the move.
After the failures of the “Dream Team” movement a few years back I would not expect the Eagles to get in the hunt for any of the high priced players in free agency unless it is at a safer and more moderate cost position such as guard, where there are some good options this year, which would fill an immediate need. The team already has a great left tackle and center so it would not be a shock to upgrade that interior. Otherwise I think free agency will be used to improve the depth, which can be accomplished for safety, inside linebacker, and cornerback, where the deals are likely no longer than 3 years in length.
I don’t believe the QB situation will have any bearing on the team’s offseason plans. If the re-sign Sanchez he will start. If they don’t Foles will start. Neither is good enough to prevent the Eagles from making a move to draft someone they think is a better fit. If they need a backup in free agency they can target an athletic reclamation project like a Jake Locker for a low cost similar to Sanchez last season.
What they do with Maclin will have more of a bearing. If they are comfortable letting Maclin walk will they look to get in on someone like Torrey Smith, who has blazing speed but questionable hands? Would they take a flier on a Michael Crabtree type? I don’t think they can avoid the position if Maclin is gone since Josh Huff is still a complete unknown and Riley Cooper played down last season. There is enough depth in free agency where they should be able to get a fill in if they need one.
The team should find better value in the draft than free agency in targeting a top notch cornerback and outside linebacker. These are high cost free agent positions and can really hurt a team when the acquisitions don’t work out. I would expect both of these spots to be a target come draft time and potentially provide long term solutions for some very expensive spots. If they are lucky enough to get two quality starters in the draft it would give them a somewhat unique roster construction of a relatively low cost QB, pass rusher, and cornerback which should allow them more free agent flexibility down the line.
While the 2014 season ended on a sour note the Eagles are probably best set up for the future among all the teams of the NFC East. They already has a talent base, a unique head coach that was still effective even after a season of preparation, and flexibility to improve in the future. There is no scrambling for salary cap space or desperation to sign free agent players. The postseason is clearly within reach but they need to hit in a few key spots, specifically on defense, to ensure they have a chance to advance in the playoffs if they get there.