How did a team that already spends a fair amount on players come out of an uncapped year and into a fairly tightly capped year (the $123 million 2011 cap is roughly the same as the last capped year, in 2009), and then make a tremendous splash by landing top-of-the-market talent across various positions?
Signing Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Vince Young and acquiring Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kevin Kolb and a second-round pick, all in the matter of a few days? Come on. Guess team president Joe Banner and coach Andy Reid weren't kidding when they warned they would be aggressive after the lockout. It doesn't seem all that feasible, but it was, and the wheeling and dealing might not be over just yet. Speaking with people familiar with the Eagles' 2011 preparation reveals a well-crafted plan, resulting in low cap numbers for star players and ample wiggle room to manipulate the roster.
First, it took years of astute cap management in the past, keeping contracts smartly structured. It took a fair amount of patience, as well, waiting for the corner market and defensive tackle market to flatten out for instance and come in softer than many imagined. And then you couple that with the fact that the Eagles are perennially in the hunt, have a stable front office, a winning coach and star players like Michael Vick who others want to play with ... well, it all leads to a recipe for free agent/trade success.
Asomugha's signing took longer than many expected and the Eagles -- seeing he still had not selected a team as of Friday -- waded in late, knowing the Pro Bowl corner had strong interest in joining their organization. Jenkins was not getting near the $7 million per year some projected -- due largely to age and injury concerns -- and when division rivals Dallas bailed out, and with New Orleans not meeting Jenkins' price, the Eagles swooped in late Saturday. The Eagles also knew Babin well from his time there before, and viewed him as a much cheaper pass-rushing alternative to Charles Johnson (Babin got about $6 million guaranteed and Johnson received $32 million from the Carolina Panthers).
So, let's take a look at the cap figures for the "dream team" arrivals (according to league sources), and compare it to their 2010 figures (yes, 2010 was uncapped, but by comparison this is what those players would have earned):
» Asomugha: $10M in 2011, $16M in 2010
» Jenkins: $4M in 2011, $4.65M in 2010
» Young: $4M in 2011, $14.2M in 2010
» Babin: $5.3M in 2011, $1M in 2010 (was on a one-year deal)
» Rodgers-Cromartie: $2.1M in 2011 (has two years left on a rookie deal and will get a new deal)
(Important note: The Eagles can get out of all the free-agent contracts they brought in after 2011 with virtually no cap charges, except for the Asomugha deal.)
Not too shabby, eh? All of those numbers are manageable for a team that clearly is thinking Super Bowl right now. And consider this, Asante Samuel is now expendable, and he carries a cap figure of $9.35 million in 2011, then $9.5 million in 2012 and $11.5 million in 2013; league sources said there is definite interest in Samuel on the trade market and the Eagles could save $8.3 million in cap space this season by moving him (as his $1 million proration for 2011 counts now and then he'd be $2 million in dead cap space in 2012). And, Vick is on a $16 million franchise tag; internally the Eagles don't know if they will get him signed to an extension anytime soon, according to sources, but have the cap managed well enough that they can carry him at $16 million if need be and not be handicapped by it.
Couple that with the fact that the crux of the roster is signed for at least two to three more years, and you can understand why Reid was almost gushing about last week's accomplishments. Star receiver DeSean Jackson wants a new deal and is holding out; the new transition rules out of the lockout make it awfully difficult and expensive for players to hold out for long, and these sides don't seem close to an imminent resolution. So that bears watching.
But the future looks bright. The Eagles already have 11 picks stockpiled for 2012, including two second-round picks, two fours and two fives. And there could be more coming via a Samuel trade. And if this past week has taught us anything, it's that those draft picks are now cheaper than ever -- via the new rookie wage system -- and the Eagles will always be looking for proactive ways to maneuver them.