The Eagles have too many quality players and not enough shaky contracts. General manager Howie Roseman is thus faced with the loftiest of high-class problems.
Ten of Philadelphia's 22 starters in Super Bowl LII arrived via free agency, with three more key additions (Ronald Darby, Tim Jernigan and Jay Ajayi) joining the team last year via trade. Unlike many teams last season, the Eaglesused almost all of their cap space to maximize every avenue possible in putting the best team on the field. The bill for this veteran- and free agent-heavy approach is now coming due.
While the Eagles nucleus should remain more intact overall than it has in years, this is not an organization likely to drown in sentiment just to retain the same roster.
That brings us back to not having enough questionable contracts. While most February rosters have a handful of bloated deals that are painlessly severed to create cap space, Philadelphia's balance sheet is marked by critical contributors on fair or below market contracts. It's hard to find Eagles starters who are overpaid, while many like Carson Wentz, Stefen Wisniewski and Brandon Graham are bargains. With so many difficult decisions ahead, here's a look at what Roseman could decide to do next.
The most likely cuts: Releasing wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Brent Celek would save the Eagles $9 million in cap space. The fact that these two contributors would be the easiest cuts highlights the high-wire act Roseman is trying to pull off. Smith made key plays throughout the playoffs, is under contract at a reasonable $5 million and is a respected presence on and off the field. But the team could view 2017 fourth-round pick Mack Hollins as a less expensive replacement to Smith's skill set.
Celek could retire and save the Eagles the pain of cutting a franchise favorite, or he could take a pay cut like he did before last season. But his potential departure will only help create a need at tight end, where the team is also expected to lose Zach Ertz's talented young backup Trey Burton in free agency. With only one pick (No. 32 overall) in the first three rounds of this year's draft, the Eagles can't count on rookies to fill their needs.
Potential big-name trades:Jason Peters will one day be debated as a Hall of Fame candidate. For now, the Eagles could debate whether the 36-year-old coming off ACL surgery is worth bringing back at a $10.6 million cap figure. Peters is so beloved by the organization that it's hard to see the Eagles trying to trade him with an inferior option in Halapoulivaati Vaitai waiting in the wings. If there's a player the Eagles are likely to get sentimental about, Peters is the man.
It's far more likely that the Eagles entertain offers for defensive end Vinny Curry or linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Curry was far more disruptive than his 2017 sack total indicates, but the Eagles may believe they can live without the rotational end, considering his $11 million cap figure. In this barren free-agent market of pass rushers, I believe Curry could have modest trade value with his $9 million base salary. If the Eagles can't get a late-round pick for him, they may just release him and designate him a post June-1 cut to save $9 million against the cap.
Trading Kendricks will be trickier. Starting linebacker Nigel Bradham is set to hit free agency, and the Eagles will be wary of losing too many players at the same position. Still, don't discount the possibility of dealing Kendricks to open up room for Bradham. Roseman and Co. are nothing if not aggressive.
The trade-happy mentality doesn't figure to extend to quarterback Nick Foles. The Eagles have a Super Bowl MVP and a regular-season MVP candidate (Wentz) under contract for $14.8 million combined. Peter King of TheMMQB reported that it would take a preposterous offer to pry Foles away from the Eagles while Wentz recovers from his torn ACL, and there is little reason to think teams will go after Foles aggressively in this relatively QB-rich class of free agents and draft pospects. Center Jason Kelce or safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod could be dark-horse trade candidates if Roseman truly wanted to upset the apple cart, but all three players have earned the right to stay.
The Eagles can also free up some room by giving defensive end Brandon Graham a well-earned extension or restructuring the contracts of Lane Johnson and Fletcher Cox. But those would be typical cost-saving moves from an atypical front office. March is Howie Roseman's time of year, and a Super Bowl title seems unlikely to slow down a franchise that won it all by acting boldly. The excellent construction of this roster practically requires Roseman to blow up his masterpiece.
Before Wednesday's parade of press conferences in Indianapolis, let's tie a bow on three big items of NFL news from the days leading up to the combine.
1. The Blake Bortles contract didn't require much faith: The immediate social media reaction following Jacksonville's three-year extension for Bortles was heavy in scorn with a dollop of derision. A closer look at the numbers provided by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reveals this deal acts like an engagement ring for a wedding that has no date and may never happen. It should pacify Bortles and his agent in the short-term without truly making a long-term commitment.
The Jaguars gave Bortles a $1 million raise for 2018, essentially an AFC Championship Game bonus. After that, Bortles is guaranteed at least $6.5 million next season, even if the Jaguars decide to cut him. That total could potentially be offset by what another team who trades or signs Bortles pays him. The extension helped lower Bortles' cap hit for 2018 by $9 million, according to Over the Cap, allowing Jacksonville to spend more in free agency. If Bortles improves this season, the team has him under contract next year for a reasonable salary. If Bortles tanks, the team could wind up eating a modest amount of cash to escape from this year's tricky contractual corner.
In reality, the 2019 second-round pick and 2018 fourth-round pick the Chiefs acquired don't comprise that bad of a haul. Rapoport reported on NFL Network's "NFL Total Access" that the Chiefs decided to move on from Peters two months ago, and it's telling that two former Chiefs front-office members (Browns GM John Dorsey and Colts GM Chris Ballard) both weren't interested in Peters. How Peters' behind-the-scenes behavior and potential future contract requirements factored into the deal is unknown, but Rapoport reports that only the 49ers and Rams showed real interest.
I like the bold move for the Rams with Peters under contract for two more cost-effective seasons, but there was risk taken on both sides. It's not like the Chiefs got fleeced. The Bills acquired a second-round pick in the trade that sent Sammy Watkins to the Rams, another risky move that was hailed at the time as a coup for Los Angeles. One year later, Watkins could be leaving the team.
3. Vontae Davis was a risk worth taking: The Bills got a jump on the free-agent market by signing Davis to a one-year contract that will pay him $5 million, Rapoport reported Monday. It's a fair price for a player in the top 35 of our original Top 101 Free Agents rankings. Davis can still make a difference when healthy, and he's joining a cornerback-friendly scheme that should bring out the best in him. Bills coach Sean McDermott helped rookie Tre'Davious White excel last season, and E.J. Gaines played well enough to price himself out of Buffalo. In Davis, the Bills got a high-ceiling starter who should help the team's secondary get even better. I'm a big fan of building strength on strength, and this Bills defense is building an identity in the back end.