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NFL salary cap expert explains why the Eagles’ 2021 situation isn’t as dire as it might appear

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Don’t panic just yet.

NFL: Preseason-Baltimore Ravens at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

A glance at the Philadelphia Eagles’ salary cap situation in 2021 might cause you to worry. Just look at this super alarming graphic via Over The Cap!

*GASP*

‘$50.7 million OVER the cap? The Eagles are totally screwed!’

Not quite.

NFL salary cap expert Jason Fitzgerald recently talked about the Eagles’ 2021 outlook at length on the OTC Podcast. You can and should listen to the entire thing starting around the 48:42 mark but here’s a sampling for now:

So, we have them about $50 million over our projected cap, and who knows what that will actually be [due to COVID-19 impact]. First thing I’ll throw in there is the [Marquise] Goodwin deal. I have, again, absolutely no idea as to what his numbers are. So, I have him counting at seven [million]. So, let’s just cut him, because he’s not going to count at seven and he’s probably just a one-year flier. So, effectively, you would probably look at this team and say they’re about 44 million over where they would be.

Okay, so now you start to slice and dice the roster. So, who are we getting rid of here? Just to go though some of these, you’ve got Alshon Jeffery, cut him. Now we’re at 36 [million]. […] DeSean Jackson, probably gonna go, that saves us another five [million]. You’re probably going to extend or doing something with [Derek] Barnett, but, whatever. […] You’ll probably do something with [Zach] Ertz’s deal. You’ll do something with Fletcher Cox’s deal. You can create a lot of money if you want to double down on Carson Wentz. […] Okay, so we brought him down to the minimum salary [by restructuring him], brought his cap number down to 16.3 [million]. So now we’ve brought the Eagles to $13 million over the cap.

Now, remember where we talked about all that cap space they had from this year [2020]? That number is going to carry over. Now, it’s not going to be [the current figure of] $24 million at the end of the year, but let’s say they get into the regular season and you use up some of that. You’ll probably carry over $18 million.

So, basically what we’ve done is we’ve gotten rid of DeSean Jackson, we got rid of Alshon Jeffery, we restructured Carson Wentz, and we have about $6 million in cap space. And you look at Fletcher Cox at a $22 million cap charge, you’re probably going to be able to extend him. […] Cox has two years remaining on his contract plus one void [year]. You can easily extend him if you want to. You can probably bring that number down to 10 [million], you can probably extend him through 2024, that’ll bring him to 34 [years old] that year. You can probably work out an extension there to open a good amount of cap room where you’re $16 million under the cap at that point.

TL;DR — With the combination of 1) rollover money, 2) a couple cuts (and/or trades), and 3) some contract extensions/restructures, it’s hardly going to be impossible for the Eagles to get under the cap.

To be clear, the Eagles don’t even have to precisely follow the specific path outlined by Fitzgerald. Extending Barnett’s contract, for example, could lower his $10 million cap hit in 2021. Designating Malik Jackson as a post-June 1 cut next offseason would free up $10 million with “just” $3.6 million in dead money. Trading Rodney McLeod saves $2.8 million. And so on.

The point is that the Eagles have some options, which is good.

I think if you really look at the way the roster is made up right now, even though the Eagles, on a [salary cap] site like mine, are going to read $50 [million] over, I think the real number that you’re looking at — assuming that the cap is normal, and who knows what that’ll be, that changes a lot of things. But I think that they number you’re probably looking at there is you’re probably looking at a number that’s probably closer to $20 million under the cap.

Now, I’m also assuming that they’re willing to double down on Wentz even after drafting a quarterback. I guess it’s possible that they wouldn’t. But I think that that would be a pretty logical move, to restructure that deal with Wentz because he’s probably not going anywhere. And those are the kind of players where you push money on them, it’s not a big deal, because they’re probably not going anywhere. So that’s why you can do that with those players.

So, I don’t think that their cap situation is necessarily as dire as a lot of people make it out to be. Let’s put it this way: the Eagles reading at 50 [million] are in a lot better of a situation than the Saints reading at 34 [million] over or the Falcons at three [million] over just the way their roster is constructed and the way things kind of align when you’re talking about free agents, timing on extensions, and everything else.

Now, all of this isn’t to suggest there’s absolutely zero reason to worry.

The Eagles do run some risk when it comes to extending/restructuring players. Look no further than the team unnecessarily guaranteeing Jeffery’s 2020 salary last year. They’ll have to be wiser about investing in players that are worth keeping around for the long term so they’re not stuck with more bad contracts on the books.

The 2021 salary cap situation is also a wild card to consider. If the coronavirus pandemic impacts the NFL to the point where the league loses revenue, next year’s salary cap could actually decrease. Such a scenario would be bad for the Eagles considering they might have to clear even more money than currently expected.

As it currently stands, though, the Eagles aren’t projected to be in some disaster scenario where they’re getting rid of core players just to get under the cap. No need to panic just yet.