2018 Philadelphia Eagles (Cap Numbers as of 2/7; source Over The Cap.com; projected $179.5 M cap)
2018 Team Cap = $179,386,843
Total Cap Liabilities = $190,054,390
Top 51 = $187,166,783
Dead Money = $486,941
Team Cap – (Top 51 + Dead Money) = Cap Space
Cap Space = -$8,266,881
Rookie Pool = $4,618,436
Cap Space – Rookie Pool = -$12,885,317
6 draft picks: 1/32, 4/132, 4/133, 5/158, 5/171, 6/209
Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com Team Needs:
- LT, LB, CB
- “The Eagles addressed their need at RB with the addition of Jay Ajayi, but the season-ending injury to Jason Peters will likely make the left tackle spot a high priority in the offseason. It would be surprising if they didn’t look for help at linebacker, and the CB corps isn’t quite where it needs to be.”
Team’s Free Agents:
Andrew Beaton from The Wall Street Journal and I had a discussion regarding the potential of the Eagles trading Nick Foles for the article at this link, which got me started on my thinking for the Eagles offseason. The Eagles are projected to be almost $12.9 million over the cap after accounting for the cap space currently projected to go to their draft picks, which could be a bit of a concern, but they have almost the entire core of their roster signed through 2018 with many of those players signed through 2019 and beyond. This article from Jimmy Kempski at The Philly Voice appropriately titled “Eagles should be Super Bowl contenders for the foreseeable future,” laid this out, illustrating the years that players on their roster are signed through. It’s worth checking out.
There are three starters who are free agents in 2018: outside linebacker Nigel Bradham, running back LeGarrette Blount, and slot cornerback Patrick Robinson. Safety Corey Graham wasn’t a starter, but was a big contributor and played 84% of snaps in the Super Bowl. Tight end Trey Burton wasn’t a starter either, but was a key role player for the team as a back-up tight end and special teams contributor. Each of these players are candidates to be re-signed, but the cap space needs to get out of the red first before the Eagles can even think about re-signing them. Running back Darren Sproles is also a free agent, but I think that 2017 fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey was drafted to replace him, while Corey Clement has shown the potential to help in replacing Sproles’ production.
There are plenty of reasons to not move on from Foles. He just earned a Super Bowl MVP for a franchise that has never won a Super Bowl with 373 passing yards, three touchdowns, an interception, and a 65.1% completion percentage. Over the course of his three-playoff games, Foles completed 72.6% of passes for 324 yards per game, with six touchdowns to that one interception. He had a passer rating of 115.7 with 9.2 yards per attempt. He looked like the quarterback he was during a Pro Bowl 2013 season under Chip Kelly when he had an all-time record of 10.54 adjusted yards per attempt according to Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus.
With Carson Wentz coming off a torn ACL and LCL that was suffered on December 10th against the Rams, there’s a reasonable chance that he won’t be 100% for Week 1 with a nine to 12 month recovery window. If this is the case, the Eagles need someone who could give them a chance to win their first few games if Wentz is out and I don’t know if 2016 sixth round pick Nate Sudfeld is that guy. The Eagles decision regarding Foles will involve the opinions of doctors regarding the status of Wentz’s knee before they trade Foles. Even if Wentz wasn’t heading into 2018 coming off this injury, Foles is the kind of back-up quarterback that any team would want and be willing to pay as he can obviously come in and win if the starter goes down.
Foles is slated to cost $7.6 million against the 2018 cap, which is projected to be 4.23% of the cap. Wentz is below him at $7,275,365 (4.05%) and they combine for a very manageable 8.28%, which is a great number for two players who have proven themselves talented enough that they’d both likely be worth over 8% of the cap on their own if they were to hit the free agency market tomorrow. The issue for the 2018 Eagles though is that they’re already well above the projected cap and they need to find a way to make space, so Foles with just $2.4 million in dead money if he’s traded before June 1st and $600,000 in dead money if he’s traded after June 1st is a candidate to be moved at the height of his value to clear some of that cap space. In a way, it couldn’t have worked out better for the Eagles to win a Super Bowl and for Foles to play in a manner that shot his value sky high, but it’s also put the Eagles in a position where they might have to trade a player who became a local legend along his Super Bowl run. If they do trade him, it will be a public relations move they’ll have to get in front of and explain the reasons from a salary cap perspective to the fan base.
Before we resign ourselves to shipping away Foles, let’s look at how they could clear some cap space without having to move on from him. Wide receiver Torrey Smith will almost certainly be traded or released with a cap hit of $5 million in 2018 with no dead money and Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson having been drafted as the candidates to replace his deep threat role. Hollins proved he has the potential to be that player during the 2017 season, while Gibson had the explosive big play ability in college that made him an enticing fifth round pick for the Birds. Smith had a good season for the team with 36 catches for 430 yards and two touchdowns, but as the fourth leading receiver behind Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffrey, and Nelson Agholor, the team can afford to move on from him and gain the $5 million they can from his release. With the team at about $12.9 million over the cap before this, his release brings them to $7.9 million over. With a projected cap hit of 2.79% of the cap in 2018, that’s the kind of player you want to produce at least 700 receiving yards in a season, which is not who Smith is for the Eagles, so they’ll move on from him.
The next likely release is long-time tight end Brent Celek who just turned 33-years old during this Super Bowl run. The Eagles gave him a three-year deal in January 2016 that has $5 million against the cap in 2018 with just $1 million in dead money, which will save them another $4 million for a player who’s totaled just 27 catches for 285 receiving yards with one touchdown in the two years since he signed that contract. Starting tight end Zach Ertz was Pro Football Focus’ fifth best player at the position with an 82.5 rating, Trey Burton was the 13th best tight end with a 75.6 rating, then Celek was the 62nd rated tight end out of 71 with a 43.6 rating. If they want to keep a tight end to back up Ertz, it seems that they’d ideally like to try to re-sign Burton, who could be available around three to four million per year, but who they’d have to clear even more cap space to re-sign. Joel Corry from CBS Sports points out that Burton’s receiving skills could entice some team into giving him something similar to the five-year, $32.5 million extension with $16 million in guarantees that Vance McDonald signed with the 49ers in 2016, which would be too pricey for Philadelphia. Burton would be a loss on special teams as well as he played the second most special teams snaps on the Eagles roster with 308, which was 67.54% of special teams snaps.
With Celek off the books, the Eagles would now be $3.9 million over the cap. Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap does think there is the potential for an extension that lowers his salary significantly if he wants to keep playing. As he rightfully points out, “Celek is an institution in Philly, having spent 11 seasons with the Eagles, and it’s hard to imagine the team without him.” With this in mind, if they could get him closer to $1 million, keeping him on the roster might be a good solution and still clear cap space, especially if Burton leaves.
A potential two-pronged option that could keep the rest of the roster intact would be signing defensive end Brandon Graham to an extension and re-structuring center Jason Kelce’s contract. Pushing their cap hits higher in the future has it’s risks as well considering that the team already has $180.5 million going towards their roster in 2019 with a projected cap of $193 million. This is a concern, but considering most of the core of their roster is signed through 2019, it can be managed. Free agents they may want to re-sign that hit free agency after the 2018 season are Graham, linebacker Jordan Hicks, cornerback Ronald Darby, running back Jay Ajayi, defensive end Chris Long, and Nick Foles, so there are some concerns regarding re-signing players, but the roster is in good shape to continue along the path it’s on.
Graham was PFF’s eighth best edge defender in 2017 with the sixth best pass rush rating and that epic sack fumble caused against Tom Brady in the final two minutes of the Super Bowl. He led all Eagles defensive linemen playing 64.37% of snaps in 2017 and was their highest rated edge defender. While he’s about to head into his 30-year old season, it seems he has plenty left in the tank, so extending him past 2018 seems to be a good strategy to lock a productive player in and create a bit of cap space. He is owed a salary of $7 million in 2018 with $1 million prorated against the cap, so an $8 million cap hit. A wrench thrown into this is that 31-year old Calais Campbell just signed a contract worth $15 million per season, which might make Graham and his agent want to wait a year to hit free agency as he’s been one of the most consistent and productive defensive linemen in the NFL for half a decade now. If they don’t think he’ll have that kind of market, he might be convinced to sign a three or four year extension worth $10 million per year. This wouldn’t be an inconceivable figure and would still be managable into the future. If they were to do this, they still might be able to save let’s say $2 million against the 2018 cap and convert most of his current salary into a signing bonus. If they did this, then they’d still be $1.9 million over the salary cap.
The other wrench thrown into a potential extension for Graham is that the Eagles likely drafted Derek Barnett in the first round in 2017 to eventually replace him or Curry, so having that low-cost defensive end might already be factored into their internal future cap spending projections as they consider where their cap will be once Carson Wentz finishes his rookie contract and is on a second contract worth over 10% of the cap. Joel Corry writes that he doesn’t think Graham would accept anything less than a four-year, $58 million extension with $34 million in guarantees similar to what Everson Griffen received in July.
Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan’s cap hit of $13 million in 2019 is one thing that could come back to bite the Eagles as he’s not the same caliber of player as Graham and fellow interior defender Fletcher Cox has a $22 million cap hit himself in 2019. This may force them to move on from Graham after 2018 if they don’t figure out an extension that works for both parties.
Kelce was PFF’s #1 center in 2017 with a 91.3 rating. His run blocking grade of 95.1 was over four points higher than Travis Frederick at number two and while his pass block rating of 62.0 isn’t excellent, centers often get help in pass protection, which makes this an inefficiency that can be avoided through offensive scheme. With two tackles in Jason Peters and Lane Johnson that can win one-on-one match-ups, the interior of the line usually has the numbers to double team defensive tackles. He’s currently signed through 2020, which is his 33-year old season, an age that interior linemen can be effective through because of the position relying more on strength than speed or quickness. A comparison that I often use in thinking about football athletes is a comparison with UFC fighters. The heavyweight division, one filled with strong sluggers, has multiple title contenders in their late-thirties and current champion Stipe Miocic is 35-years old. Similarly, interior linemen can use their strength to stay relevant longer than positions that need to use more athleticism and finesse to succeed.
Kelce’s in the last year with dead money on the books as he has $1.2 million in dead money against a cap hit of $7.2 million. His 2019 and 2020 seasons have salaries of $6.5 and $7 million with no dead money against the cap, so if he were to see his performance decrease in 2018, he’d be at the risk of being released. Now, considering his level of play in 2017, this is unlikely, but they may be able to add another year to the contract, convert much of his $6 million salary in 2018 into a signing bonus and decreasing his cap hit by a few million. Let’s say they create another $2 or 3 million in cap space through doing this. That’d put the team at $100,000 to $1.1 million under the salary cap. Even if they restructured these two deals, the Eagles are still in a position where they wouldn’t be able to do much from a free agency perspective. They’d be able to clear some more space with some cuts on the bottom half of their roster, but they’d basically be in a position where they’d only be able to add draft picks and not be able to re-sign their own free agents.
If they’re looking for a candidate to take a pay cut, Jason Peters might be one. Joel Corry writes, “It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Eagles asked Peters to take a pay cut. The 36-year-old balked at a salary reduction last year. Instead, he was given a one-year contract extension running through the 2019 season in which his 2017 salary was fully guaranteed while his 2018 pay dropped by almost $3 million. Peters may continue to resist any pay cut efforts because the knee injury limiting his playing time triggered a $1 million salary de-escalator for 2018.”
These are potential solutions to getting closer to their cap breakeven point, but I’m not sure how likely they even are, especially when Nick Foles presents an opportunity to clear cap space and acquire picks in the first three rounds, which would be important with no picks between #32 and #132 currently. There’s the potential to get up to about a million under the cap by restructuring Graham and Kelce, but that feels a bit more unlikely than moving on from a back-up quarterback making 4.23% of the cap who could net you a couple draft picks or even potentially a draft pick and a competent back-up quarterback in a trade as well.
This brings us to the potential landing spots for Nick Foles and why they might move on from him. The first four rounds of the draft are where teams have the highest probability of successfully drafting starters and the Eagles don’t have a draft pick for 100 selections in this window. They traded their second round pick in the Carson Wentz trade, they traded their third round pick with Jordan Matthews for Ronald Darby, and they traded away the fourth round pick they received from Minnesota in the Sam Bradford trade for Jay Ajayi, so they made some moves that directly contributed to their Super Bowl win. Zierlein writes that the Eagles only needs are at left tackle, linebacker, and cornerback with linebacker being the only potential immediate need with the possibility that they won’t be able to re-sign Bradham if they don’t clear enough space. Turning 29 in September, Bradham could still continue to be a very valuable and productive player who might see a contract that pays $5.5 to $7 million a year, so trading Foles to clear space to that kind of player at a position of need could likely be worth it for the team. Corry writes that the Eagles could “revisit trading linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who is under contract the next two seasons for $13 million and has a $7.6 million 2018 cap number. Kendricks would revert back to his role as the third linebacker, where his playing time would be limited with a healthy Hicks and Bradham sticking around because of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s preference for putting five defensive backs on the field. $4.4 million of cap space would be created by trading Kendricks.”
They might be able to do both if they add the clearance of $5.2 million more of cap space through a Foles trade before June 1st, plus some smaller ancillary moves. If they want to hold on to Foles until after June 1st to give more time to see if Wentz will be ready for the 2018 season, then a trade after June 1st would leave the Eagles with just $600,000 worth of dead money, which would clear $7 million worth of cap space. Foles has a $3 million roster bonus that comes to fruition on March 18th that could make the Eagles want to trade him before then, but that may be unlikely, leaving them with $3 million in sunk cost that they’re fine with taking if it nets them a healthy return in a trade. They’ve proven they’ll sink costs into quarterbacks with their trade value on the market in the past with the Bradford deal.
If they want to hold onto Foles, it might serve them well the same way Bradford did for a desperate team with an injury to their quarterback and in a position where they feel they could succeed shelling out a first round pick. Think about it, in 2016 Teddy Bridgewater went down and Minnesota traded a first and a fourth round pick for Sam Bradford who was a second tier quarterback the year before. In 2017, Ryan Tannehill went down, so the Dolphins gave Jay Cutler $10 million to play for them, which was 5.99% of the cap, and he’s not even worth that lower price. If that trend continues, which it has a decent chance of doing, don’t forget Tony Romo going down in 2016 preseason as well, maybe the Eagles can get another first round pick and a third or fourth in the 2019 NFL Draft for Foles if they can’t that kind of draft haul prior to the 2018 draft.
If the Eagles really want to clear some cap space and gain some draft picks or low-cost talent, trading Vinny Curry could be an option. Curry was terrific in 2017, but it’s still an option. He was PFF’s 21st ranked edge defender with an 84.8 rating and he had the 21st highest pass rush productivity rating of all edge defenders at 10.8, so moving on from him would be a pretty unexpected move. With just $2 million in dead money after June 1st and an $11 million cap hit, I don’t think a trade will happen because of his ability, but the potential clearance of that much cap space makes it worth mentioning. It becomes more possible if they draft a defensive end who seems like he could become a starter with Graham, Derek Barnett, and Chris Long already under contract as edge rushers. Having Curry in that group with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan on the interior would make their defensive line one of the best in the NFL again in 2018, so I don’t see this move as a likely one, but, again, worth mentioning as it makes it all the more likely that a Foles trade occurs. For the record, I don’t think they move on from Curry, especially not because they’d rather keep a back-up quarterback than a top 20 to 30 edge defender.
As I write in Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions, the goal of teams in the NFL seems to either be to win through elite quarterback play or have a low-cost quarterback and build a pass rush that can decrease the performance of the opposing team’s quarterback. The Eagles are in position to have an elite low-cost quarterback in Carson Wentz, probably the best rookie contract quarterback in the NFL, plus the league’s best pass rush. That’s an opportunity for success they probably can’t pass up to keep a back-up quarterback who could net them multiple draft picks and maybe even a back-up quarterback to replace him in the process.
Left tackle still has Peters signed through 2019, Halapoulivaati Vaitai is signed through 2019 as well, and right tackle Lane Johnson, who could become their left tackle one day, is signed through 2021. They’ll likely lose cornerback Patrick Robinson, who was a terrific slot cornerback for them, but it seems that second round pick Sidney Jones will easily slot in and replace him in 2018. Darby is signed for 2018, Jalen Mills is signed through 2019 and Rasul Douglas seems like a future starter for the team who might allow them to move on from Darby after 2018. The team doesn’t have any desperate needs and may be poised to repeat as champions better than any champion we’ve seen this decade, other than the Patriots who are always prepared to repeat.
With this in mind the Eagles don’t really have much in terms of immediate needs, they could survive without a pick in between #32 and #132 because their Super Bowl roster is almost completely intact heading into the 2018 season, but we should be looking towards the free agents in 2019 and 2020 for a picture of positions they would be wise to draft potential low-cost, rookie contract replacements for upcoming free agents. This is something that the best organizations are able to do, when your roster is in good shape, you can plan for needs that are a year or two ahead and the Eagles are in position to do that right now.
Looking at their free agency class for next year, Graham would be one if they don’t agree on an extension, linebacker Jordan Hicks, Darby, Ajayi, Foles if they don’t trade him, Celek if they don’t cut him, Long, reserve offensive guard Chance Warmack, defensive end Steven Means, defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao, and quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
Their free agency class for 2020 includes left tackle Jason Peters, outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks, Torrey Smith in the unlikely case that he’s not released this year, starting guard Stefen Wisniewski, wide receiver Nelson Agholor after the fifth-year option tied to his first round rookie contract, Mills, Vaitai, special teamer Chris Maragos, punter Donnie Jones, reserve guard Isaac Seumalo, running back Wendell Smallwood, linebacker and their leading special teamer in terms of snap count Kamu Grugier-Hill, linebacker Joe Walker, and running back Corey Clement. They have three exclusive rights free agents in long-snapper Rick Lovato, wide receiver Marcus Johnson, and kicker Jake Elliott.
This brings us to potential destinations for Nick Foles if he is to be traded, then after that we can discuss the draft strategy the Eagles could take on. The candidates I have considered are the Browns, Jets, Bills, Bengals, Broncos, Vikings, Cardinals, and potentially the Jaguars with it really coming down to who loses out on the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes or who decides to excuse themselves from paying Kirk Cousins far more than it’s likely he’ll ever be worth.
Just to sort that out before we get into Foles, I think Cousins ends up either going to the Browns or Vikings. The Browns have over $100 million in cap space with a projected cap near $225 million, so they could construct a contract similar to Jimmy Garoppolo’s deal with the 49ers that took advantage of their cap carryover and excess cap space.
Cleveland has had a historic number of players on rookie contracts the last two seasons with all of their draft picks. In those draft picks they have some good pieces on rookie contracts at key positions like defensive ends Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah, wide receivers Josh Gordon (still under team control at a low-cost with an exclusive rights free agent designation for 2018) and Corey Coleman, tight ends David Njoku and Seth DeValve, cornerback Brien Boddy-Calhoun, and others. They have good veterans on their offensive line. Cousins would be protected and they could draft Saquon Barkley with the #1 or #4 pick and have a great rushing offense to support Cousins. He could be the missing piece to a good roster and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was that strategy of what they’ve been building towards the last few years with the cap space to sign him and a bevy of young players around him to further minimize the impact of his high cap hits. As I wrote in my New York Jets offseason overview, Scot McCloughan believes Cousins is looking for a situation where he can succeed and, surprisngly, the Browns may be one of the best ones.
An issue with Cousins going to the Browns is that McCloughan just started with the Browns as a draft consultant and he said recently that Cousins’ is not a “special” player and McCloughan has Baker Mayfield as his best quarterback on the draft board hands down.
The next potential landing spot is the Vikings as they’re a place where Cousins could succeed, which, along with the ability to pay him, is the main thing I’m concerned with when looking at this situation. I think he and his agent smartly took the money they could from Dan Snyder and moved on knowing something a friend with a unique perspective on the situation told me in 2009: the Redskins will never win with Dan Snyder as their owner. The Vikings have a projected $52.5 million after paying out their rookie pool contracts, so having Cousins at $27 or $28 million would still leave an already good roster with the cap space to pursue some players who could fill some holes. The pass catcher group is already deep and at a reasonable cost with Adam Thielen, Stephon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, Jarius Wright, and Laquon Treadwell. They have Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray under contract next season and they have a great defense. The Vikings made the NFC Championship with Case Keenum as their quarterback, so Cousins may rightfully be thinking: “if they can do that with him, then shouldn’t they be able to do the same or better with me?”
These are the two prime locations for Cousins, but the loser will be a very likely candidate for Foles, which forces us to consider what kind of package that a) the Eagles would be willing to take for the reigning Super Bowl MVP and b) what each team has to offer. As noted earlier, the Eagles don’t have a draft pick between #32 and #132, which would be helpful considering there’s a probability of finding low-cost starters in that range and a cap crunched team with a high percentage of their cap invested in a big core group of veterans could use. The team could use re-enforcements at cornerback, linebacker, and potentially both wide receiver with the release of Torrey Smith plus quarterback if they trade Foles.
I don’t think they’ll need help at receiver because I believe Hollins and Gibson will replace, and exceed, the 18 catch and 193-yard gap between Smith’s production and theirs in 2017, so a receiver isn’t a need in my opinion. Cornerback is more of a need with Patrick Robinson likely being signed to higher terms elsewhere than the Eagles will be able to afford, but a group with Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, and Rasul Douglas makes it a stable situation and one they’d like to solve through the draft. The linebacker situation with Bradham potentially gone, plus the loss of Foles makes those the two positions to focus on if the team is going to gain one back in a trade. The main focus will be on draft picks, but we’ve seen so many smart trades involving players the last few years that it seems teams are understanding how to put a proper valuation on players within their system.
The only way I see Foles being traded in a situation where the Eagles acquire cornerback is added to the deal is if they somehow pull off a trade for Tre’Davious White of the Bills or William Jackson III from Cincinatti, but I don’t see that happening unless that playoff run convinced one of those franchises that Foles is a far superior option to their other solutions, which could include retaining their starters or cutting them and finding others. The gained cap space from releasing or trading Taylor or Dalton could entice them into trading for Foles at his low-cap number, but I don’t think they’d be willing to give up such prime players.
At linebacker, there are some reasonable candidates as trade pieces in a deal for Foles that also includes draft picks and they are Joe Schobert from the Browns, Matt Milano from the Bills, Haason Reddick from the Cardinals, or Ben Gedeon from the Vikings. Each of those players has varying degrees of value attached to them, so the draft picks associated with them would be determined on their perceived value to the Eagles. If a trade involves a back-up quarterback, a trade with the Browns that includes DeShone Kizer could be attractive to the Eagles. I know Kizer wasn’t good for the Browns in 2017, but he was on a bad offense with a rushing offense in the bottom half of the league, so he could be improved with the talent in Philadelphia, while still having a perceived value low enough for the Eagles to net a second round pick in the deal as well.
If Denver wants Foles, then both Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch could be candidates the Eagles would consider for the back-up role. The Broncos had the fourth worst offensive line in the NFL against the pass in 2017 according to Football Outsiders, giving up a sack rate of 9.1%. Their quarterbacks were getting sacked almost once every ten times they dropped back. If I’m the Eagles, I look at that situation and I think that both players could look much better if they’re behind Pro Football Focus’ top offensive line in 2017. As I note in Caponomics, in 2016, “simply applying pressure to quarterbacks this past season dropped their passer rating from 96.7 to just 62.5 (league-wide averages).” Siemian is only under contract through 2018, but he could likely be retained for a lower cost than Foles as a good back-up to Wentz for the next few seasons. I think the Broncos trade Siemian before Lynch due to Lynch being a first round pick and Siemian being under contract for one more year compared to Lynch’s two. Siemian would still give Philly what they would need most with Foles gone: a back-up quarterback at a lower cost who could still lead a stacked roster to victory in a Doug Pederson crafted game plan.
The thing about Foles that would be very attractive to the Browns if they don’t sign Cousins is that Foles would be an inexpensive one year player and they could still use one of their top four picks to draft their quarterback of the future, while Foles provides a bridge that could secure the coaching staff’s jobs for another year to give them a chance to see this whole rebuilding process through. Hue Jackson cannot afford to go through another season like the last two, even though I believe in the process the Browns are going through, I think he has to go at least 6-10 or 7-9 to retain his job with some reasons for real excitement heading into 2019. Foles could also have a good season for them in that one year, earn an expensive NFL starting quarterback contract and net the team a compensatory pick down the line. If they draft Barkley or another bellcow in the first three rounds, they could have a terrific rushing attack to help Foles carry the offense in 2018 and the understudy turned leading actor in 2019.
For the Foles trade, we’re mostly going to be looking at picks in the first four rounds, so taking what teams in this Foles sweepstakes have for draft picks into account. I’m going to narrow the group of potential landing spots for Foles to the Browns, Broncos, Cardinals, Vikings who just hired Eagles QB coach John DeFillipo to be their offensive coordinator.
The Browns have the #1 and #4 pick, three second round picks, a third round pick and two fourth rounders. The Broncos have the #5 pick, a second round pick, two threes and two fours. The Cardinals have the #15 pick, a second rounder and two third round picks with just $18.6 million in post-rookie pool cap space, which makes them more of a dark horse for Cousins in my opinion. They’ve become too overextended at the top of their cap with Larry Fitzgerald, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu all over 7.86% of the cap. They may go in the veteran quarterback direction as that’s been a trend there from Kurt Warner to Carson Palmer now, so Foles could be the best candidate at $5.4 million, which would be just 3.01% and they would be smart to try to use that #15 pick on a quarterback as well. The Vikings have a first, second, and third round pick to trade the Eagles.
For the Browns to acquire Foles I could see them trading a second and third round pick or DeShone Kizer and a third round pick dependent on what the Eagles want from them. The more I think about it though, the more I see them as the front runner to acquire Cousins because of that ability to construct the Jimmy G type of deal with so many rookie contract players making Cousins’ cap hits far more managable.
The Vikings seem like they’re out of the Foles sweepstakes because they don’t have the picks to afford acquiring him when they could just as easily have Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, or Teddy Bridgewater as a fallback plan if they don’t get Cousins. Any of those three would work and would probably cost as much as Nick Foles would over a three or four year window, but without giving up a second and third round pick or a second and fifth round pick if that’s the price. I also don’t see them trading for an Eagles quarterback again as Sam Bradford ended up being a bad deal for them not only with his injury, but also the first and fourth round picks they sent Philly becoming Derek Barnett and Jay Ajayi, two key pieces in the Eagles NFC Championship Game victory. As I wrote two weeks ago, Barnett’s strip sack turned the game around. The Vikings were heading in to score down 14-7 and before they knew it, the Eagles were up 31-7.
This leaves us with the Broncos and the Cardinals. The Cardinals really like Haason Reddick, so I don’t know if they’d move him, but he could be paired with a second or third round pick to net Foles. They have all of their picks in the first four rounds, plus an extra third round pick, and their window for success with the core of this roster is closing. They are a top candidate to make a move for Foles considering a salary cap situation that has Larry Fitzgerald, Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson, and Tyrann Mathieu all over 7.86% of the projected cap, so they need a low-cost quarterback and it’s unlikely they find one who can help this team win a championship at #15 in the first round.
I think the Broncos are a very likely landing spot for Foles as they’ve built out their defense, plus they have the receivers to compete for a playoff spot with Foles at quarterback and, like the Cardinals, they don’t want to let this window close on them. As I said, I don’t think they move Lynch, so a deal involving a quarterback would likely involve Siemian. I could see the Eagles accepting a trade for Siemian and a second round pick, which might just be what happens. If the Eagles don’t like Siemian more than they like someone they could select in the draft, then they might try to acquire Denver’s second and third round picks, but I don’t think Denver wants both Foles and Siemian under contracts that expire after 2018. If that’s the case, they might need to offer the Eagles a second round pick with him, which wouldn’t kill Denver if they think Foles can give them what they need to compete.
I should note that it’s very hard to determine what Foles’ value is considering the last few years. Bradford netted a first and fourth round pick from the Vikings. Alex Smith got the Chiefs one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL in Kendall Fuller and a third round pick from the Redskins. Foles could net a second and third round pick, a third and fourth round pick, or a second and a fourth or fifth. I don’t know, but his approximate value is probably in the neighborhood that’s been discussed.
I think Foles lands in Cleveland, Denver, or Arizona and the Eagles clear cap space, while either acquiring a competent back-up quarterback or the draft pick that they hope will select that player. The benefits from a cap and acquisition standpoint of a Foles trade outweigh the Eagles need for a back-up quarterback, even though he is a great one. If they want to draft another position, then go to free agency for a low-cost back-up, then there are viable candidates like Chase Daniel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Moore, or maybe Tyler Bray who was in the same system in Kansas City, but who is a total unknown. I think it’s very likely they could go back to Daniel because he could be worth under $1 million.
If the Eagles net Kizer or Siemian, then lets say the Eagles have a second or third round pick with them. If this is the case, then their draft needs in my opinion will be a linebacker to replace Bradham, a left tackle, a defensive lineman, probably a defensive end over a tackle with Graham and Long both potentially being gone after 2018, a cornerback, and maybe a big running back to replace Blount. If they do clear enough cap space for him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them retain Blount as he was a still very valuable even as Ajayi and Clement were added to the rotation. The Eagles have the potential to have the best running back group in the NFL in 2018, especially when Donnel Pumphrey is added after missing 2017 with an injury.
I’m not going to attempt to predict who they draft, but I think the Eagles will go with a linebacker or left tackle at #32. The left tackle would be Jason Peters’ eventual replacement, while also upgrading their previous back-up option of Vaitai. Using the first round pick on an offensive lineman would help prepare them to slightly lower costs in the near future too as Peters retires and they’ll need some more cap space to go to Wentz.
If they don’t retain Bradham, then they should take the best linebacker available, that could be more of a need than left tackle. Even so, considering how much dime is played in the NFL today, Hicks and Kendricks could be a fine combination. Linebacker is a position that’s available later in the draft, so maybe they address another position here like cornerback again knowing that Darby and Mills will be gone in the near future and knowing that saving money and gaining value at cornerback with a first round pick would be a very smart strategy with the upcoming spending on their offense. This team is so well prepared to compete for a championship in 2018 that there isn’t really a clear picture of what position they should take in the first round.
Using the second or third round pick gained from the proposed trades above, the Eagles could take a defensive end to replace Graham or Long when they move on after 2018, which would help keep the line producing pressure moving into the future.
The five picks between #132 in the fourth round and #209 in the sixth round that the Eagles have can be used to bet on talented players they see filling a role for them in the short term with the potential to grow into something more in the future. With back-up tight end Trey Burton, third safety Corey Graham, goal line power back Blount, and rotational defensive tackle Beau Allen as free agents, those are four roles they could be solved with these picks. They could also bet on a linebacker in this area as talent can be found here. Even the small roles they could be losing in free agency can be solved in the draft.
I’m no draft expert right now, but just looking at players that I like that are currently projected in this area, there are some pieces they could add that could replace each of these players. For tight ends there’s Mike Gesicki from Penn State, Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State, Troy Fumagalli from Wisconsin, and Adam Breneman from UMass. Tight ends are deep in this area of the draft, so that could play a role in their decisions regarding Celek and Burton. Safeties in this area include Ohio State’s Damon Webb, Armani Watts out of Texas A&M, Kyzir White from West Virginia, and Siran Neal from Jacksonville State. Power running backs like Bo Scarborough from Alabama, Lavon Coleman from Washington, Josh Adams from Notre Dame, and Darrel Williams from LSU will be there late. Defensive tackle has great finds in the later rounds, I watched much of the University of Texas’ season this year and Poona Ford pops out at me in this later rounds. For linebackers there’s Josey Jewell from Iowa, Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and many others. With Jordan Hicks coming up on free agency after 2018, they may even want to draft two linebackers in this draft.
Like the 2013 Seahawks and the 2016 Patriots, the Eagles are primed to make another run at a Super Bowl in 2018 and they’re my favorite to win the NFC again. They don’t have many holes and they have the resources to fill the holes they do have. The Eagles will have to deal with the Super Bowl brain drain where other teams come hire the people who helped coach you to a championship with their offensive coordinator Frank Reich becoming the Colts head coach and quarterback coach DeFilippo to the Vikings, the Eagles are primed in every way to be the same team they were in 2018 and probably even better considering they’ll theoretically have Wentz for the playoffs this year. After years of no titles, Philadelphia might go back-to-back.
Zack Moore is a writer for OverTheCap.com, an NFLPA certified agent, and author of the recently released book titled, “Caponomics: Building Super Bowl Champions,” which is now available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL.
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