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Decoding the Eagles' Salary Cap

The new league year is almost upon us, and a lot of questions remain concerning what the Eagles will do. But one thing is perfectly clear: 2012 is a pivotal offseason for this franchise, and will most likely be the most important of Andy Reid's career. After his highly-talented, underachieving roster laid an egg in 2011, Reid was given one last benefit of the doubt by Lurie. If he isn't losing sleep over the impending offseason, he's not doing his job right.

As fans, we have the luxury of speculating without actually having to make any tough decisions whatsoever. This article is about the exercising of that luxury. Following the jump is the current state of the Eagles' 2012 Salary Cap and a prediction of what could happen in free agency, the draft, and beyond.

As far as the salary cap goes, the Eagles have roughly $28 million ($28,396,628 is the official estimate) in free cap space based off of projected 2012 cap numbers, assuming they let all of their pending free agents walk. Obviously, that isn't going to happen. Current free agents will be re-signed, and some guys under contract will be cut or traded. Before we get into messy details, let's look at the pending free agents:

2012 Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents (by Position)
Vince Young, Quarterback
Ronnie Brown, Running Back
Owen Schmitt, Fullback
DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver
Steve Smith, Wide Receiver
King Dunlap, Offensive Tackle
Evan Mathis, Offensive Guard
Jaqua Parker, Defensive End
Victor Abiamiri, Defensive End
Trevor Laws, Defensive Tackle
Derek Landri, Defensive Tackle
Antonio Dixon (restricted), Defensive Tackle

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A pretty sizable pool. Let's take a look at who won't be returning:

Vince Young, Quarterback
You don't have to be a genius to realize the Vince Young Project was a complete failure. Had he won just another of his starts, the Eagles would have beaten out now-Super Bowl Champion New York for the NFC East Title. Plus, Trent Edwards was already signed to a deal, so it's pretty clear what the front office thought of Young's contributions.

Ronnie Brown, Running Back
The fact that he was a non-factor all season - with the exception of his sickening option-pass-fumble against San Francisco - speaks for itself.

Owen Schmitt, Fullback
When Leonard Weaver went down in early 2010, Schmitt was brought in to serve as his replacement. He did fine in relief, but as Vick took over the offense it became clear that there was no role for a traditional fullback. He is a decent player and should be able to find work elsewhere.

Steve Smith, Wide Receiver
Like Brown, another free agent bust. Yes, he miraculously recovered from his surgery... to do absolutely nothing. He'll probably be picked up by a team that is extremely thin at receiver, such as St. Louis or Jacksonville.

Victor Abiamiri, Defensive End
The Eagles are very deep at this position, but that's how Jim Washburn likes it in his Wide-9 System. Even so, Victor hasn't really produced much. While he was injured last season, the Eagles like to cut ties with injury-prone players, with exceptions for their star athletes. From a front-office standpoint, he's not worth the investment.

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With the unwanted free agents ousted, it's time to take a look at the big names who get cut or traded:

Winston Justice, Offensive Tackle
Todd Herremans pretty much secured his place in Winston's old position last season. This isn't really a knock on Justice, who had a decent stint as the Eagles' starting right tackle. However, he wasn't really spectacular enough to make himself trade worthy, and the Eagles should be able to draft a serviceable backup or pick one up off waivers for a fraction of Justice's current price tag. Like Schmitt, the tackle will find work with another team.
Salary Cap Saved: +$3.3 million
Dead Money: -$1.9 million
Net Space Created: $1.4 million
New Estimated Cap Space: $29.4 million

Jamaal Jackson, Center
A great center under Castillo's tenure, but just too big to fit into Howard Mudd's athletically-geared scheme. He's also older, which is bad news if you're an Eagle (see: Quintin Mikell, John Runyan). Still, he's got enough gas in the tank to at least compete for a starting gig somewhere else. The team owes him that much after he was such a good sport about the situation with Jason Kelce last season.
Salary Cap Saved: +$1.9 million
Dead Money: -$0
Net Space Created: $1.9 million
New Estimated Cap Space: $31.3 million

Asante Samuel, Cornerback
Personally, I had a hard time making this prediction. While Samuel's tackling leaves much to be desired, his overall ability to create turnovers more than makes up for that deficiency. He had a down year in 2011 mostly because he had to learn a new scheme on the fly, and the fact that nobody in the secondary could tackle makes him vulnerable in the already-crowded position. He'll be traded to Tampa Bay, who badly needs a corner to complement Aqib Talib. The Buccaneers like to build through the draft, but they took that philosophy to the extreme last season and had to give their kicker (of all players) extra cash to meet the salary cap minimum. After the executives cleaned house following their disastrous season, they might be more willing to trade for a big-time player. They'll still keep that draft-first mentality, so the Eagles will have to give up the slew of draft picks they manage to accumulate every year to get the coveted fifth overall pick. If Andy Reid cares about his job, he'll make sure that the Eagles get Luke Kuechly.
TRADED w/ 2012 Fifteenth Overall Pick, 2012 2nd Round Pick (from Arizona), 2013 Provisional Pick to TAMPA BAY for 2012 Fifth Overall Pick
Salary Cap Saved: +$9.5 million
Dead Money: -$2.0 million
Net Space Created: $7.5 million
New Estimated Cap Space: $38.8 million

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That about wraps up the big-time layoffs. Free agency starts next week, and the Eagles should be quick to re-sign whomever they intend to. For the sake of the example, the assumption will be made that if they rework any existing contracts, that will get done before the draft. That way, a definite number will be available to see what they can spend on their draft picks. Here are the 2013 retainees, so to speak:

DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver
DEAL: 6 years, $60 million, $28 million guaranteed
With the combine over, it's pretty obvious the Eagles will probably franchise Jackson. With their current cap space of about $40 million, it's not hard to imagine that they'd let him play under it for 2013. But for the purposes here, he's tagged and then an actual contract is worked out. The reports with numbers say that there's about a $2 million gap between the two sides (Jackson wants $10M, the Eagles want to give him $8M), but those are old, so it's anyone's guess where they stand now. I don't think it's unreasonable to give him a contract in the same line as Vick's - one that will void into a new one should he meet on-field incentives. If he plays like the elite receiver he says he his, he'll make bank; if not, the Eagles can save some cash or trade him next offseason.
Base Salary (2012): $8 million
Salary Cap Used: -$8 million
New Estimated Cap Space: $30.8 million

King Dunlap, Offensive Tackle
DEAL: 4 years, $14 million, $8 million gauranteed
Cutting Winston Justice leaves the Eagles pretty thin at tackle. While they should be able to draft or pick up Herreman's backup, Dunlap performed adequately in relief of Jason Peters while he was injured last season. Having a backup who is one year in to Howard Mudd's scheme makes for a good security blanket, and they can sign Dunlap for less than Justice since his role is as a backup. As far as free agency goes, Dunlap hasn't provided enough good tape to garner interest elsewhere, so he remains an Eagle.
Base Salary (2012): $2.5 million
Salary Cap Used: -$2.5 million
New Estimated Cap Space: $28.3 million

Evan Mathis, Offensive Guard
DEAL: 5 years, $25 million, $12 million guaranteed
Mathis is getting older, having reached age 30, so five years might be generous. But it cannot be ignored that he was extremely prolific in Mudd's system and it would be a mistake to let him walk. He earned a healthy paycheck but may not be in Philadelphia for the extent of his contract.
Base Salary (2012): $4 million
Salary Cap Used: -$4 million
New Estimated Cap Space: $24.3 million

Jaqua Parker, Defensive End
DEAL: 2 years, $10 million, $6 million guaranteed
Parker is older, but his production is adequate. He's a great relief for when Cole and Babin get gassed, although his jump at the end of the Bills game last season was forgettable. The Eagles will want to hang onto him while they get their hands dirty with the Brandon Graham Project (who was having a good rookie season before his injury) over the next few years. If that doesn't pan out, they can nab another defensive end in the draft by the time Parker's contract is up.
Base Salary (2012): $3 million
Salary Cap Used: -$3 million
New Estimated Cap Space: $21.3 million

Trevor Laws, Defensive Tackle
DEAL: 4 years, $6 million, $4 million gauranteed
Another player who's shown flashes of potential over the years. He's made a good enough of an impression to be kept, but if a serious contender emerges in training camp he could be cut. They'll want Laws there to push the competition, so he should be signed at a reasonable price.
Base Salary (2012): $1.5 million
Salary Cap Used: -$1.5 million
New Estimated Cap Space: $19.8 million

Antonio Dixon (Restricted Free Agent), Defensive Tackle
DEAL: 1 year, $1.9 million
Before his season-ending injury last season, Dixon was beginning to establish himself as a solid run-stuffer. He could end up being invaluable to Washburn's Wide-9 scheme, but first he has to prove himself capable coming off the injury. He'll sign his restricted free agent tender for 2012, and if he produces he should be signed long-term next year. If not, they'll let him walk.
Base Salary (2012): $1.9 million
Salary Cap Used: -$1.9 million
New Estimated Cap Space: $17.9 million

Derek Landri, Defensive Tackle
DEAL: 5 years, $30 million, $18 million guaranteed
Luck favors the prepared, and Landri could not have been more prepared to be signed last year by the Eagles than by being unemployed. It ended up being a great find as Landri found a great niche in Washburn's system. At 28, he's got some years left in him. Unless his production drops unexpectedly, he should be an Eagle for a long time.
Base Salary (2012): $4 million
Salary Cap Used: -$4 million
New Estimated Cap Space: $13.9 million

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So that takes care of the current roster. While LeSean McCoy has definitely earned more money, the cash they spent locking up their current free agents leaves the front office with a light wallet. Given the new rookie salary rules put in place by last year's CBA, the Eagles' first round pick should probably see somewhere around a 4-year contract worth in the neighborhood of $12M-$20M. That'll probably leave them with fewer than $10M to work with, which may come in handy during training camp. For LeSean, the running back hasn't thrown any temper tantrums about wanting more money, so the Eagles may take advantage of his complacency and overall good attitude towards the team and keep him on the last year of his rookie contract. This could end up being a win for McCoy, who could earn a lot more money in the end if he shows he can consistently produce and prove that last year wasn't a fluke.

Well, there you have it. An opinion on what the Eagles will do with their current salary cap space. It is worth noting that this is my first stab at playing General Manager, so I'm adding a poll in addition to welcoming your comments. For my numbers, I used the multitude of free-agent contracts the Eagles signed last year as a reference point of sorts. Also, I'm predicting they won't make any free-agent splashes in order to focus on making their current roster come together and play as a unit. My only request is that all remarks at my expense be intelligent; if I wanted an all-caps insult of how stupid I was I would go to NFL.com. However, please note that all current cap numbers are accurate.

*Author's Note* All salary cap information was obtained from www.eaglescap.com

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