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Matt’s Musings: Happy New (League) Year!

I mull over some thoughts on the Eagles’ outlook going forward, the Nick Foles situation, potential roster turnover, and more

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NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

In an attempt to differentiate my “random thoughts” posts from “Crunching The Numbers,” I am going to start referring to these as “Matt’s Musings,” until I either decide that title is stupid or I think of something I like better. In any case, here are some thoughts on the Eagles I’ve had tooling around in my head since the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory that I’d like to share with you all. Without further ado...

How I Feel About the Draft and Free Agency: “Welp”

There are a lot of things that I am a nerd about, but the NFL draft isn’t one of them. Sure, I’ll read mock drafts and I’ll watch at least the first round on television, but I couldn’t tell you the first thing about scouting players. The extra fact that the Eagles own the last pick in the first round (by virtue of being SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS) doesn’t help, since that just means so many things can happen before they pick it’s impossible to really know who will be available. The most I can say is I hope they go BPA, and it would be awesome if the BPA was an offensive tackle or linebacker. I wouldn’t mind if the BPA was a “luxury pick” player such as running back or tight end, but if they go defensive line I’d be a little miffed, especially after the Michael Bennett trade.

Speaking of the Bennett trade, this is clearly a sign that Howie has a lot going on under the hood right now. Bennett, while productive, is an aging player who carries a $5 million cap hit (give or take) on a roster that desperately needs to trim costs. He’s also a polarizing personality that may cause distractions. I’m all for players voicing their opinions if they choose to do so - I bought a Malcolm Jenkins jersey earlier this year partially because of that - but in Bennett’s case I felt his depiction of the Las Vegas incident was dramatized at best and disingenuous at worst. I will certainly root for him on the field while also hoping that his off-field behavior is positive and without much fanfare.

Overall, my biggest anxiety with the Bennett trade is that it’s an indicator that contract negotiations with Brandon Graham have soured. With Bennett’s arrival, someone has to be the odd man out, and that “someone” is either Graham or Curry. I love Curry’s story, but Graham is simply a better player than him and the one who should stay. He could be the next to go after Torrey Smith, who was recently traded for Panthers cornerback Daryl Worley.

Trading Smith was an easy call since he was going to be cut anyway, but the fact they traded for a corner is interesting. The defensive backs room is now very full, but I’m not convinced someone is on their way out. I think it’s a given now that Robinson isn’t coming back, and the Eagles have no obvious answer to replace him, so acquiring more talent to try out there in OTAs and training camp is a solid plan. Additionally, I love Mills’ intensity, tackling, and love for the team as much as anyone, but he’s not much more than an average No. 2 corner and having some competition to push him is probably for the best.

An Alternative Answer to the Nick Foles Question

Ever since he left Minneapolis for Disney World, what the Eagles should (and will) do with Nick Foles has become an endless debate among Eagles fans. Here are the three most common positions I see on the internet:

  • The Eagles are obligated to honor what Nick Foles wants to do, whether that’s stay here in Philly or be traded to a team where he can start and make more money
  • The Eagles should force a steep price for Foles and then trade him to get him off the books and acquire draft capital
  • The Eagles should only trade Foles if they are blown away by an incredible offer

The third one seems to be more or less the consensus of what will actually happen, especially since there isn’t any guarantee Wentz will be ready for Week 1. No matter how you feel about him, do you really want to see the Eagles trot Nate Sudfeld out there for the ultra-hyped opening game on Thursday night against a team like the Vikings or Falcons? If Wentz suffers a setback in his recovery can he take the team as far as Foles would playing a first place schedule? Color me skeptical.

Foles, for his part, has been mostly quiet about his desires, with the exception of some boilerplate statements about doing “what’s best” for his young family. To me, that means he wants to get more money, which makes sense since he is realistically never going to reach the pinnacle of Super Bowl MVP again in his career. Let’s say Howie doesn’t get some ridiculous trade offer that makes him comfortable moving the best backup quarterback in the league. Instead of being frustrated about losing him to free agency in a year, why not sign Foles to an extension?

Extending Foles’ contract offers several benefits to both the team and him. For the team, they can lower his cap hit this season, preferably by the $5 million they would get by trading him. It also means they will still have the opportunity to move him in the future if they become comfortable with Sudfeld as the full-time backup. No, his stock will not be as high in a season or two as it is now, but if they’re not going to pull the trigger this offseason on a trade getting a fourth- or fifth-round pick is desirable over simply letting him jump ship to the highest bidder in 2019. For Foles, they can structure his contract such that he would eventually get more guaranteed money over a few seasons than he’ll get this year. His salary for 2018 ($7.2 million) is not a high bar to clear in terms of guaranteed money, and he’ll get the comfort of long-term security and higher earnings if that “starter money” contract with another team never materializes. To me, this seems like a no-brainer for both sides if the Eagles can’t find a trade partner at the right price before the 2018 deadline next season.

Shattering Windows

And finally, I’ll wrap this up with some “book-closing” thoughts on the 2017 season. If there was one thing I wasn’t expecting after winning a Super Bowl, it was how dramatically that event shifts the way I would perceive the team moving forward. Prior to the magical run in 2017, every major move the Eagles made each offseason was viewed through the paradigm of windows. Draft a quarterback high? Better win a Super Bowl while he’s on his rookie contract. Find a diamond in the rough in free agency or the draft? Better win a Super Bowl before he prices himself out of the team. Have an aging star player? Better win a Super Bowl before he retires or needs to be cut because of a backloaded contract.

NFL careers are short, and every player on the roster has a window. And when you pass through that window - when you win the Super Bowl - every conversation about every player changes. Generally, players have two goals: (1) win the Super Bowl, and (2) get paid as much as possible. (Which one they prioritize more is a matter of preference.) If you’re the team where a player achieves that first goal, you suddenly lose a lot of leverage in keeping them. Take Nigel Bradham, for example. We’d all love to see him come back, but what can the Eagles offer him? They don’t have the money that he wants. They can’t say, “Well if you stay here you’ll have a good shot at a ring.” They’ve already done that. Sure, he could go for a second title, but when you’re a linebacker halfway through the prime of your career and you have your first real opportunity to cash in big, guaranteed money will speak a little louder than the opportunity to bolster the trophy case. Of course, I can’t blame a player for trying to get paid when a single injury can ruin a career. But I wasn’t anticipating just how much power the Eagles would lose at the negotiating table when trying to re-sign their own players after the confetti settles.

The (positive) flip side to this is that the Eagles suddenly become an attractive destination for players who’ve never kissed that trophy. This is how the Patriots have been getting away with murder for years by signing older rotational players that can make an impact (see: Chris Long) on team-friendly deals with the promise of a decent shot at a championship. The Eagles haven’t quite earned that leverage yet to the same degree, but they arguably are set up better for the future than any team in the NFL right now, assuming Doug Pederson stays ahead of the curve with his coaching abilities.

And then there are the awkward cases of Carson Wentz and Jason Peters. In today’s NFL, it’s preferable to win a Super Bowl with a star quarterback while he’s on an affordable rookie contract, since later contracts have devolved into a pissing contest of who can get the title of “highest-paid player in NFL history” for a few months (or even weeks). While we can definitely check that box, and everyone knows that we don’t win the big game without Carson’s play in the regular season, he wasn’t starting those playoff games during their magical run. We all want to see Carson start (and win) a Super Bowl, and I’m sure he’s hungrier than ever after watching his backup win Super Bowl MVP in Minneapolis. But he’s also up for an extension after this upcoming season. Going back-to-back with Super Bowl wins is incredibly difficult, so it’s more likely than not that a Wentz-led championship run will have to come on his second contract, making it harder on the front office to fit all of the necessary pieces under the salary cap. The homer in me wants to believe Wentz will take a discount - he seems like the kind of guy that cares about winning (and a host of other things) more than money - but his agent will be pushing him to get as much as possible so we obviously can’t count on that.

The whole “it’s Super Hard to repeat Super Bowls” thing might apply to Jason Peters even more. Every Eagles fan in the universe is ecstatic that he finally got his ring - he deserved it probably more than anyone on the team, except for maybe Brent Celek - but you can’t help feeling bummed he wasn’t in pads for it. Like Wentz, I imagine Peters wants to actually win a playoff game where he’s on the field (it’s crazy that he hasn’t yet in his long career), but it’s fair to wonder how much gas he has left in the tank at almost 36 years old coming off an ACL injury. Peters is a freak of nature that defies expectations every time we ask ourselves this, but he can’t defy Father Time forever. Here’s to hoping that the Eagles can capture a second Lombardi trophy while he’s still out there as The Bodyguard.

2017 was a great year that I will cherish for the rest of my life, and I was glad I was able to share it with the great community we have here at BGN. Now let’s look ahead to the brave new world, post-Super Bowl win, and gear up to do it all over again.

Go Birds.

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