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Why the Eagles won’t buy a high ticket item in the offseason

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Not the wet blanket you asked for, but the wet blanket you need...

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I recently came across a quote while reading Thucydides “The History of the Peloponnesian War” that struck a nerve. While I don’t make it a habit to equate the Spartan and Athenian struggle to the offseason, this one seemed fitting for the Philadelphia Eagles and Howie Roseman’s approach. Not because he’s reactionary in his nature, but quite the opposite.

“Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness…”

This is how a mob reacts and shows you just how detached from normality the war made the Greeks. By comparison, Howie Roseman tends to take a forward-thinking approach to his wheeling and dealing, but there’s still a foundation of pragmatism.

He’s rarely found overreaching or taken by a moment in time. Consider, for example, the following:

  • Swapped 74th overall selection for 99th overall selection and Timmy Jernigan. 25 years old, $3M cap hit.
  • Ronald Darby was acquired for a third-round pick and Jordan Matthews, who they would sign again later. 24 years old, 3M cap hit.
  • Jay Ajayi cost a fourth-round pick. 24 years old, 326K cap hit.
  • Michael Bennett and a seventh-round selection were acquired for a fifth-round pick and wide receiver Marcus Johnson. 32 years old, 5.7M cap hit.
  • Golden Tate cost what became a late third round selection. 30 years old, 3.7M cap hit.

You can look further back for other deals, but none were of a blockbuster nature. The 2012 and 2014 deals to bring in Houston Texans’ linebacker DeMeco Ryans and New Orleans Saints’ running back Darren Sproles combined for a $6.6M cap hit in the first year of those contracts.

There are other trades of higher impact, like dealing Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb, but those involve shipping out players and picks for picks and/or players on rookie contracts (see Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie). Unless we’re talking about the uber-aggressive move to select Carson Wentz, there’s no history of blockbuster trades that cost the Eagles significant cap or draft capital.

Recently the free agents Roseman has chosen to bring in represent low cost, proven commodities. Players like Mike Wallace, Haloti Ngata, Stefen Wisniewski, and Torrey Smith. The Alshon Jeffery deal was a splash, but a calculated one. He was brought in on a one-year prove it deal worth $9.5M before being extended mid-season. Jernigan was similarly extended in November of 2018, well into the season.

Even when the Eagles doled out bigger contracts, they weren’t what they appeared to be. For instance, “Brandon Brooks signed a 5 year, $40 million contract with Philadelphia” looks like a hefty burden upfront. Over the first three years that contract has only amounted to approximately $14.6M combined, less than a $5M average. So even when taking a swing in free agency, the initial hit was light. Roseman kicks the can down the road and then bends that can later in the contract.

He’s done the same with Rodney McLeod, who signed a “5 year, $35 million contract.” Over the first three years of that contract the cap hit has amounted to roughly $14.2M combined. Again, less than $5M per year. Both the Brooks and McLeod contracts have been modified at one point or another to reduce their impact.

This is a far cry from the Roseman that was tasked with constructing the “win-now” Dream Team. It’s easy to see he has learned his lesson. The big contracts doled out have been pre-emptive strikes to retain home-grown talent with a keen eye towards future market value of the position.

The evidence above leads me to believe that the impact signing or trade many have been clamoring for isn’t in the cards. That means Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and even restricted free agents like Robby Anderson or potential tag targets like DeMarcus Lawrence are long shots to come to Philadelphia. It’s not sexy, but it’s the result of a sensible philosophy regarding talent acquisition.

I’m saying all of this in the face of a recent report by Tony Pauline that the Eagles may aggressively seek to sign an edge rusher in free agency. Perhaps that’s true. If it is, I’m curious to how that contract will be constructed on the front end and how or when it eventually gets restructured.

As author Donald Kagan writes, this time regarding the Corinthian decision to back Epidamnian democrats despite it causing conflict with Corcyra, which set off a chain of events leading to the Peloponnesian War:

“The real motives were often psychological and irrational rather than economic and practical...”

So while the masses will love the appeal of a bombshell signing or trade, I’ll be over here quietly pounding the table. I’ll be pounding the table for players begging to start, like Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker LJ Fort. I’ll be pounding the table for role players like Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Spencer Ware that can do a little bit of everything.

Above all else, I’ll be pounding the table for an economic and practical approach that seeks out low-cost, reliable, plug-and-play contributors. I think Roseman will be doing the same.