By Peter Gleason
The Eagles’ offseason spending spree is unprecedented in Philly sports history.
And it has significantly outpaced other NFL teams.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Eagles have signed players to contracts with slightly over $280 million in guarantees. The New York Giants are the closest team in contract guarantees at slightly under $141 million, which is a little less than half of the Eagles.
The Birds’ 2016 payroll is an unprecedented $220.326 million, based on NFLPA data. It is almost 17.5 percent more in spending than the second-place Jacksonville Jaguars , who are at $187.7 million.
Most notably, defensive lineman Fletcher Cox (below) became the NFL’s second-highest-paid non-quarterback (by average yearly salary) on a six-year, $102.6 million extension last week. On the surface, the Cox deal appears to be exorbitant.
In actuality, when the 8.37 percent increase in the salary cap from last year is taken into account, the overall value is in line with the $95.1 million base value (worth up to $100.35 million through salary escalators) of the six-year extension Marcell Dareus received from the Buffalo Bills days before the start of 2015 regular season.
Dareus’ deal is a significant data point because it was negotiated by Todd France, who also represents Cox. Although Cox received a non-quarterback record $63.299 million in guarantees, Philadelphia held the line with the more important metric of money fully guaranteed at signing. Dareus is still second among non-quarterbacks at $42.9 million, while Cox’s $36.299 million isn’t in the top five.
The Eagles have signed 10 players (four extensions, three unrestricted free agents, two re-signings before free agency, and one draft pick) in the chart listed below to contracts with at least $10 million in contract guarantees this year.
A look at the ramifications of the the spending spree:
|Name||Position||Age||Guarantees||Deal Total||Length||Final Season|
|Sam Bradford||QB||28||$26,000,000||$35,000,000||2 Years||2017|
|Brandon Brooks||OG||27||$21,000,000||$40,000,000||5 Years||2020|
|Fletcher Cox||DT||25||$63,299,000||$102,600,000||6 Yr Extension||2022|
|Vinny Curry||DE||28||$23,000,000||$46,250,000||5 Years||2020|
|Chase Daniel||QB||29||$12,000,000||$21,000,000||3 Years||2018|
|Zach Ertz||TE||25||$21,000,000||$42,500,000||5 Yr Extension||2021|
|Malcolm Jenkins||S||28||$21,000,000||$35,000,000||4 Yr Extension||2020|
|Lane Johnson||OT||26||$35,500,000||$56,250,000||5 Yr Extension||2021|
|Rodney McLeod||S||26||$17,000,000||$35,000,000||5 Years||2020|
|Carson Wentz||QB||23||$26,676,338||$26,678,338||4 Years||2019|
The Eagles were once considered a team to emulate in salary cap management first under Joe Banner’s direction and then with Howie Roseman’s guidance. Emphasis was placed on building through the draft, signing key young players to cap-friendly contract extensions before they could hit the open market and using free agency to fill holes in the roster. The approach worked. The Eagles went to five NFC championship games and one Super Bowl in an eight-year span during the 2000s.
The Eagles got away from this practice as Chip Kelly gained more power during his three-year reign as head coach. It became more pronounced after Kelly wrestled control of football operations away from general manager Roseman in January 2015.
Talented playmakers such as wide receiver DeSean Jackson , running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiverJeremy Maclin were either released, traded or allowed to leave in free agency during Kelly’s tenure.
Roseman returned to the Eagles’ roster building roots once he was put back in charge after Kelly was fired with two games left in the 2015 regular season. He signed tight end Zach Ertz , safety Malcolm Jenkins and offensive tackle Lane Johnson to early offseason extensions.
Roseman found takers for Kelly’s free agent signing mistakes of 2015, cornerback Byron Maxwell and running back DeMarco Murray . The remaining five years of Maxwell’s six-year, $63 million contract with $25 million fully guaranteed, linebacker Kiko Alonso and the 13th pick in the 2016 draft were sent to the Miami Dolphins for the eighth-overall pick of the draft. Murray, who signed a five-year, $40 million contract (with $21 million in guarantees and worth a maximum of $42 million through salary escalators) was traded to the Tennessee Titans in an exchange of 2016 fourth-round picks.
Roseman parlayed the eighth pick he received from Miami into a blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Browns for the draft’s second-overall pick, which was used to take quarterback Carson Wentz . In addition to the eighth pick, Cleveland received 2016 third- and fourth-round picks, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick. Philly also got a 2017 fourth-round pick in return.
The Eagles have spent plenty this offseason, but they’ve also found takers for a few unwanted contracts while also finding a quarterback of the future.
Twenty-one of 22 projected 2016 starters are signed for the 2017 season. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan is the only starter with an expiring contract.
The Eagles are easily the NFL leaders with $177.98 million in 2017 salary cap commitments because of their proactive approach to contracts. TheDallas Cowboys are second with $167.798 million of 2017 cap obligations. The Kansas City Chiefs , who are third with $161.72 million of cap commitments, should overtake the Cowboys if franchise player Eric Berry signs a long-term deal.
The salary cap has risen by approximately eight percent annually over the last couple of years. Continued growth at this rate will put the 2017 cap at approximately $168 million.
The Eagles currently have $7.994 million of 2016 cap room, which can be carried over to 2017. The number is likely to drop to under $5 million as the season progresses with the switch of cap accounting from the top 51 players to all players under contract in September and as injuries occur during the season.
This should put the Eagles $5 million to $7.5 million over the projected cap heading into next offseason, which could result in some significant roster changes. Unless the current projected starting quarterback finally lives up to being a former No. 1 overall pick, the cap situation will almost necessitate moving on from Sam Bradford , who has a $22.5 million 2017 cap number before his $4 million roster bonus is payable on the fifth day of the 2017 league year early next March. $17 million of cap room would be gained by trading Bradford. It’s $13 million if he is released, because $4 million of his $13 million 2017 base salary is already fully guaranteed.
If that comes to pass, Carson Wentz would become one of the NFL’s cheaper starting quarterbacks. His 2017, 2018 and 2019 cap numbers are $6,062,804, $7,275,365 and $8,487,926, respectively. There wouldn’t be a big jump in cost for Wentz until 2020, when his fifth-year option salary should be over $20 million.
Head coach Doug Pederson said left tackle Jason Peters , 34, had some good years left in him during the Senior Bowl in January. It may be only wishful thinking given his age and Lane Johnson’s contract. Johnson is grossly overpaid for a right tackle. There aren’t any other $7 million-per-year right tackles. His contract is more indicative of a high quality left tackle than a right tackle. Peters has an $11.2 million cap number in 2017. $9.2 million of cap space would be freed up by cutting him.
Running back Ryan Mathews has missed 23 games during his six-year NFL career. He has only played a full 16 games once in his career. If these trends continue, the Eagles may be inclined to pick up $4 million of cap room by parting ways with him.
Connor Barwin ‘s roster spot in 2017 could hinge on him being as productive a 4-3 defensive end as he’s been playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. The Eagles would gain $7.75 million of cap space by going in another direction next season. Barwin is under contract through the 2018 season with $7.75 million and $10.25 million salaries in the final two years.
$33.95 million of cap space would be created from releasing these four players, which would give the Eagles the option of being active in the first wave of free agency. Restructuring contracts for cap room is always an option, but Johnson’s $10 million cap number is the second highest on the team next year behind Peters.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Roseman targeted a running back with one of his first two 2017 draft picks in the second or third round regardless of what happens with Mathews. Comments he made prior to this year’s draft suggest that he doesn’t believe impact running backs can be found late in the draft or as undrafted free agents. Four-time Pro Bowler LeSean McCoy was taken by the Birds in second round with the 53rd overall pick in 2009. Darren Sproles , 33 and in a contract year, may be playing his final season in Philly, especially if undrafted free agent Byron Marshall show promise in his rookie year.
Is success around the corner?
The Eagles are betting heavily that the right players were given long-term deals this offseason. Any chance of replicating or coming close to the success of the 2000s may largely hinge on Wentz’s development.
The last time the Eagles had the second-overall pick was in 1999 when Donovan McNabb was taken. After growing pains in his rookie year, McNabb quickly became an upper-echelon quarterback.
The Eagles are already ahead of where they were in 1999 when McNabb was selected from a roster talent standpoint. The 1998 Eagles went 3-13 while the 2015 Eagles finished second in the NFC East with a 7-9 record.
If Wentz does in fact develop into a quality NFL starter, the Eagles have laid the groundwork — at a high cost, to be sure — to make some noise in the NFC in the years to come.