With the Eagles season officially a disaster I wanted to look back at some of the decision making they made this year, most of which came under scrutiny during the offseason and will come under more scrutiny now. Plus Ill give some thoughts on what the team can maybe do in the future to improve and get back to the playoffs.
The Sam Bradford Trade
The Eagles kicked off free agency with this move that never really seemed to make much sense at any level. Bradford, a former number 1 pick, had spent most of his NFL career on the injured list and when he played he never looked like anything more than a mid tier/replacement level player. His style of play certainly did not seem to match what people believed Kelly was looking for in a quarterback.
The rumor was the Eagles thought that they could flip Bradford in a second trade to obtain the rights to Marcus Mariota in the draft. Targeting Mariota makes more sense because he had a brighter future and would have fit what Kelly wanted to run.
Making a gamble like that, however, just reeks of fantasy football management. Mariota was always expected to go second in the draft and the odds of obtaining him were always rare. Teams that are desperate for a quarterback simply do not budge on their opportunity in the draft. The position is so important that they can not afford to bypass a QB for anyone else.
Since 2000 there have only been four trades of top 5 quarterbacks in the draft and two of those were pushed, in part, by the contract demands of the players. That leverage no longer existed in todays NFL because the rookie wage scale stripped agents of the ability to make demands the way they did in the past. Even still the cost was steep to get those players.
San Diego traded the rights to Mike Vick when they could not come to terms on a contract. The Chargers received the 5th overall pick in the draft plus a 2nd and 3rd round pick. Eli Manning refused to sign with the Chargers in 2004 so they sent him to the Giants for the 4th overall pick (Philip Rivers), a future 1st and two mid round picks. Washington gave up three 1st round picks to pry Robert Griffin III away from the Rams, who already had Bradford on the roster.
The only low cost move for a QB came when the Jets engineered a trade with the Browns, whose GM/coach was coach of the Jets the year prior, to draft Mark Sanchez 5th overall. That was the lone QB trade that could give the Eagles hope because the Jets only gave up the 17th pick and a 2nd round pick to go along with some low level starter/high level backup veterans who were favorites of Mangini’s the year before. It was a trade that only came down because of Mangini’s inexperience as a GM and thinking more like a coach trying to fill a roster with players for immediate improvement. The odds of the Eagles finding that trade partner was pretty much non existent.
The Eagles only had the 20th overall pick in the draft so a team with no holdout concern was most likely going to want three first round picks unless Bradford could be flipped for a top 10 pick. At the least it would have been two 1sts, a 2nd, and a 3rd. Maybe they felt they could eliminate one of those picks by including a player like Fletcher Cox.
The Eagles gave up Nick Foles, a 2nd round pick and swapped mid round picks for Bradford. If you put a “draft value” on Foles that trade essentially boiled down to two second rounders for Bradford. That is a realistic value for Bradford given the Chiefs had given up two second rounders for Alex Smith a few years back. The bottom line is they were going to be way short in getting the value for Mariota from Bradford alone and it’s very doubtful that the Titans were going to take a deal anyway.
The trade didn’t sink the Eagles season by any means, but it was just unnecessary. Bradford has missed two games because of injury and has basically been a replaceable player when he played. Foles has been terrible for the Rams. But the trade cost the Eagles a 2nd round pick and about $10 million in cap space and never had much upside. That money could have gone to much better uses to improve the team.
Signing DeMarco Murray
I don’t believe for a second that this is a move the Eagles front office makes if not for Kelly pulling the strings. The signing of Murray came across like a move made out of frustration. The Eagles original plan was a solid one. They would take running back LeSean McCoy, set to cost $10.25 million in cash and spin him into two starters- Kiko Alonso and Frank Gore and save some cap room (trading McCoy saved $7.55 million in cap space) for other moves.
While the McCoy trade was somewhat controversial I do believe it was very fair to believe his body was beginning to break down (he missed two games this year and is on pace for about 100 less carries this year than usual in Philly) and that they had replaced him in their passing game. While reportedly personality clashes with the coach played a role in the trade, I don’t see any football reason to say that absolutely should not have made the trade.
But then Gore backed out of his contract and the Eagles scrambled for a back and didn’t think straight anymore. They agreed with Ryan Mathews on terms. Mathews was a good fit for the offense and a high reward player, but also had an injury history to consider, but at $3.7 million a year it was a reasonable gamble. As they were agreeing on that contract it seemed as if Murray’s people contacted the Eagles about a contract. Murray was the NFL’s leading rusher but found a lukewarm market due to being a bit older and having played behind the best offensive line in the NFL. The Eagles offered a pretty crazy deal with $18 million guaranteed and a value of $8 million per year.
Murray was not the kind of runner that really fit the Eagles mold which became evident when the team force feeds him the ball outside the tackles and he doesn’t get back to the line of scrimmage. His YPC is down from 4.7 to a paltry 3.5 and he is one of the worst signings of the NFL offseason. The Eagles should have seen it coming but panicked because of Gore and then fell into the lure of the name value of Murray. It wasn’t a football move it was a headline move.
Rather than spinning McCoy into savings, they ended up spending over $11 million a year on the position, most of which was on a player that they clearly had no intention of targeting when free agency began. At $8 million a year, Murray cost nearly $4 million more than the next closest free agent player. They could have just kept McCoy at that point too. The Murray/Mathews tandem for McCoy swap will cost $23 million in cash and $23.4 million in cap room over the next two years. McCoy would have cost $17.4 million in cash and $20.8 million on the cap. They handed over $23 million in guarantees for the duo and would have had just $1 million in guarantees remaining for McCoy. The team let the situation get the best of them and stray too far from a good idea.
Signing Byron Maxwell
Of the big moves made by the Eagles this one may get the most attention though it probably should not. Did they overpay for Maxwell? Yes. Were they a ‘hype buyer”? Yes. But this was closer to a market buy than some of the other spots. The market began to shift when the Packers re-signed Sam Shields to a contract for just under $10 million a year. After the market movers all signed contracts in the realm of $14 million a season it basically meant the next tier was going to land around $11 million a season at some point.
Could the Eagles have gotten a better deal? Maybe but it would be the difference between $10 and $10.5 million a season, which is not significant. They did not have the same leverage to do what the Broncos did with Chris Harris. This was a bad personnel decision because of the hype buy, but its probably not as bad financially as many have made it out to be.
Letting Jeremy Maclin Walk
This move is really the move that I believe broke the Eagles offense. In some ways it was the correct move- Maclin is not worth $11 million a season- but when you look at the other moves the team made he should have been worth $11 million a year to the Eagles. If you want to argue financial reasons for not signing Maclin that’s fine, but you can not do that after signing Murray for $8 million, Maxwell for $10.5, and Bradford for $13.
Too often we get enamored with players on other teams and sometimes overlook our own when they begin asking for a huge price tag- “the grass is always greener” syndrome so to speak. The Eagles, like the Seahawks, would have likely balked at signing Maxwell for $10.5M had Maxwell played on the Eagles for four cheap seasons. The Eagles would have bailed on Murray just as they did McCoy. That’s why they bailed on Maclin, but the Eagles desperately needed a receiver to make this offense function.
Instead of Maclin as the team’s number 1 they went with Jordan Matthews, who is a nice player but is essentially a possession type and without Maclin spreading the field his YPC have dropped from 13 to under 11. Two unproven draft picks, 2014 3rd rounder Josh Huff and 2015 2nd rounder Nelson Agholor, were expected to pick up the slack and both have been disappointments in the short term. Riley Cooper is still taking up a roster spot and they signed Miles Austin for $2.3 million. Austin’s drops a few weeks ago arguably ended the season for the team.
Maclin may not be a true number 1 and was not going to produce true number 1 numbers on a consistent basis but he would have been this teams 1 as is as much of a number 1 receiver as Maxwell is a number 1 corner. Without Maclin the vertical aspect of the Eagles offense has basically vanished. It may or may not have impacted the run game. Both Foles and Sanchez last season looked ok with Maclin in the lineup keeping the field from bunching up. Without that type of player neither has looked as good when playing this season. Maybe Bradford would have been better as well. For a team looking to win now, turning the receiver spots over to question marks and never weres is not the smartest play.
Where From Here?
The first question that needs to be answered is what happens with Kelly. The way the team has played the last two weeks it seems clear that the players have lost confidence in the coach. That’s not surprising as expectations were high and there are veterans on the team that do not like the manner in which they practice or play. Those players cant wait for the season to end and are likely dreading the remaining home games which will have more boos directed at the home players than the road ones.
It is hard to bring back a coach whose voice falls on deaf ears, but once the Eagles ownership made the decision to replace Howie Roseman, which was a mistake from the start, with Kelly as the final decision maker on personnel you leave yourself little choice. This team is built for Kelly and you will take multiple steps back from both a roster and financial standpoint if he goes.
The team only has Sanchez under contract next year and seeing how the team responded to him it seems clear he will not be the solution in 2016, even as a stop gap starter. If Kelly sticks around the team probably should make some kind of move on a Colin Kaepernick or a RG3 to see if what Kelly wants to do can work with the right personnel. Both are boom or bust prospects but both are a higher upside play in this offense than Bradford. Neither should cost much if released.
If Kelly goes then the team will either need to sign Bradford to a short term deal or just find some throw away from another team for the year. They look poised to get a high draft pick and this go around could have the juice to move up in the draft if a QB is there. Four of the teams currently slated to pick top 5(Titans, Chargers, Cowboys, and Ravens) have a quarterback under contract and are not drafting one in the top so the trade market would be there this time.
I would figure the Eagles should have around $33-$37 million in cap room next offseason and I think its back to fundamentals for them. They need to upgrade their offensive line if they want to compete better next season. That is more than enough money to do that with. Im assuming Lane Johnson is not the long term answer at left tackle so if they don’t draft a quarterback finding Jason Peters successor might be a priority.
They need to move away from the big splash in free agency and try to move forward with this group unless they find a trade partner for Murray. Id look around free agency for a number 2 receiver with some upside that can replace the vertical threats that have departed from the team as well. There should be a few solid players that they can sign for their secondary that wont break the bank like Maxwell.
The Eagles are only one year removed from a 10 win season and in this NFL it is not difficult to get back, but that wont happen by signing a few big priced players to make headlines in the offseason. This past season was generally a return to the ways of the Eagles “Dream Team” season which was a complete failure. The Eagles have always been at their best when they were financially well managed filling their roster with a number of solid players and using early re-signings for cap flexibility to build a roster of complementary talent where the overall product produced better results than you would have thought by looking at the players making up the roster. They need to return to that to get back to playoff contention next season.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.