With exactly one month until 2019 NFL free agency officially begins on March 13, the Eagles currently rank dead last in salary cap space. Over The Cap has Philadelphia at negative $16,004,935, which means the Birds will need to make some moves just to get out of the red.
Of course, there’s no need to panic. The Eagles have always been able to manage their money just fine with Howie Roseman in charge. That should be no different this year as the Eagles can make a number of moves to save cap space.
Here’s a look at some of the Eagles’ cost-cutting options. Keep in mind Philadelphia is free to release any player at this point but trades can’t be officially finalized until the new league year begins in March. In other words, the Eagles must be under the cap when the new league year starts without trades helping them get to that point.
Option voided: $18.8 million saved ($2.8 million dead money)
The Eagles picked up Foles’ option for 2019 but he quickly voided the deal by paying back $2 million. Not having Foles on the books instantly frees up a huge chunk of cap space. With that said, it’s been reported that the Eagles could use the franchise tag on Foles in order to trade him. Trading Foles on the tag would require the Eagles to allocate $25+ million in cap space to him so they can trade him after the new league year starts in March. They’d save that $25+ million once the trade is official. As I’ve previously said, I wouldn’t rule out a Foles trade entirely ... but Foles walking in free agency has always been the most likely outcome.
Before I get started on this section, please note that I’m not saying “there’s no chance these players will be back with the Eagles at all in 2019.” I’m just saying there’s little chance they’ll be back on their current contracts.
Cut or traded: $11 million saved
Jernigan and the Eagles reportedly agreed on a reworked contract following his back injury last offseason. Jernigan is set to make $11 million in 2019 but none of that money is guaranteed. There’s just no way Jernigan, who only played 45 snaps last season, is seeing that much money this year. Jernigan will only be back with the Eagles if he’s willing to take a significant pay cut. It could benefit both sides to agree to a one-year, prove it deal. The Eagles would get at least one more year of Jernigan (potentially at a discount) and Jernigan would get to test the market in 2020. Jernigan shouldn’t want to enter free agency this offseason because his value is very low.
Cut or traded: $9.387 million saved ($0 dead money)
The Eagles exercised Agholor’s fifth-year option last year, which means he’s currently set to make nearly $9.4 million this season. None of that money is currently guaranteed, however, so the Eagles could move on from him if they wish. After having a breakout season in 2017, Agholor was a bit less impactful in 2018. He wasn’t good enough where paying him nearly $9.4 million is acceptable value. If the Eagles are going to retain Agholor, they’re going to need to find a way to lower his cap number with a contract extension. And that extension must account for how abysmal Agholor was for the first two seasons of his career. In other words, the new deal needs to offer reasonable value and not represent a blatant overpay. I don’t think the Eagles would flat out cut Agholor, especially because they can’t get a compensatory pick for him if they do that. If the two sides can’t agree on an extension, maybe the Eagles temporarily keep his $9.4 million number and then try to trade him. It’ll be pretty interesting to see how this situation plays out. I’d guess a contract extension is coming for Nelly.
DON’T RULE IT OUT
Cut or traded or retired: $10.5 million saved ($2.7 million dead money)
Financially speaking, the Eagles can move on from Peters pretty easily this offseason. They can save a good deal of cap space with not too much dead money left over. Some would think it might be a no-brainer to not bring Peters back, but I’m not so sure that’s what the Eagles will do. Peters clearly has a unique relationship with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie; he referred to the billionaire as his “best friend.” Peters is a leader in the locker room and, based on things I’ve heard over the years, he has a lot of power in the organization. With that in mind, I’d be pretty surprised if the Eagles just cut their future Hall of Fame left tackle. If anything, they’d have to somehow convince him to retire. My guess is the 37-year-old Peters, who started all 16 games in 2018, is back for at least one more season. And that’s not the worst thing because, in this view, the Eagles going into the 2019 season with Halapoulivaati Vaitai as one of their two best offensive tackles is malpractice.
Cut or traded or retired: $6.5 million saved ($0 dead money)
The Eagles aren’t cutting or trading Kelce; he’s arguably the best center in the NFL. But there has been talk that Kelce, who turns 32 in November, could retire this offseason. The Eagles might try to convince Kelce not to retire by reworking his contract. As it currently stands, there isn’t any guaranteed money left in Kelce’s deal. If the worst case scenario happens and Kelce calls it a career, the Eagles’ consolation prize will be saving $6.5 million in cap space.
Cut or traded or retired: $5.3 million saved ($300,000 dead money)
Long, who turns 34 in March, flirted with the idea of retirement last offseason before the Eagles reworked his deal. Long seemingly still has interest in playing football but he’s made it sound like the situation has to be right for him. And by that, it sounds like Long wants to know he’ll have a role with significant playing time. Long was still an effective player in 2018; he ranked 35th out of 109 edge rushers in PFF’s pressure rate. The Eagles should bring him back considering they could be losing Brandon Graham in free agency.
Cut or traded: $3 million saved ($708,334 dead money)
The uncertainty regarding Kelce’s situation should give the Eagles pause when it comes to moving on from Wis. If Kelce retires, Wis is likely starting at either center or left guard in 2019. If Kelce doesn’t retire, however, the Eagles could look to ship out Wis in order to save some cap space and gain some draft capital. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Wis request a trade considering he feels like he wasn’t benched for performance reasons and he’s entering a contract year. Wis is a nice backup interior offensive lineman to have around, so it’ll be quite fine if he sticks around. Just don’t be shocked if he’s dealt.
PROBABLY WON’T HAPPEN
Cut or traded or retired: $7.2 million saved ($0 dead money)
The Eagles aren’t cutting Bennett, who was arguably the team’s best defensive end in 2018. I only put the 33-year-old pass rusher on this list since he has a significant cap number and there’s no remaining guaranteed money on his contract. If the Eagles wanted to trade Bennett in order to try to re-sign Brandon Graham, they could. Not saying it’s likely, just saying it’s an option available to the team.
OTHER WAYS TO SAVE MONEY
The Eagles will likely ask other players to restructure and/or take pay cuts. We’ve already seen that happen with Rodney McLeod this offseason.
Signing players to extensions can also lower their 2019 cap number, as we mentioned in Agholor’s case.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Eagles have some tough decisions to make this offseason. It’s not like they have a bunch of overpaid scrubs on the books that they can easily get rid of. Cutting costs will potentially come at the expense of losing some key players and/or leaders in the locker room.
The good news is the Eagles have options. Roseman will ultimately find a way to free up enough cap space to make some moves in the offseason, as he always does.