The big news for which the NFL, all its teams, and all its fans have been waiting arrived this Friday: the players and the owners have reached a deal. Among the many items in this deal related to player health, season scheduling, and opt-out opportunities, a rough plan for the future salary caps was set in place:
Part of today’s deal between the NFL and the NFLPA is there will be no impact to the 2020 salary cap – it remains at $198 million.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 24, 2020
The cap cannot go lower than $175 million next year, but can go higher if revenues come in better than expected.
This is great news, in that there is now a salary cap floor around which teams can plan in the short term. Of course, that which we don’t know about future years still puts us in a terrifying spot, and the many ramifications this will have on veteran deals, drafting strategy, and present earnings (in the event of a cancelled season, a lot of money goes into escrow for the players) are all yet unmeasured. We’re far from knowing the lay of the land.
But for what we know, we can start talking about Philadelphia’s next moves. With the cap floor set at $175M, these are the latest projections for 2021 cap space, as detailed by Jason Fitzgerald with Over The Cap. As Jason notes, these projections are likely too kind to teams, as they’ve yet to incorporate all of the rookie contracts yet unsigned (though the Eagles have signed their entire class), and are using Top-51 projections instead of final 53-man rosters that have yet to be defined.
Projected Cap Space With $175M 2021 Salary Cap
|Team||2021 Cap Space|
|Team||2021 Cap Space|
With all of the details considered, the reality remains the same: the Eagles are still screwed. While at least 10 teams will be over the 2021 cap ceiling when rosters are finalized, none is so far off of the cap than the Eagles, who figure to have around $70-$75M in money they need to shed to get under the 2021 cap.
Of course, the Eagles’ bad cap situation has been well-documented and was inevitable once it became clear that COVID-19 was going to drastically impact the future year’s salary cap. Even with a flat cap in 2021, without the anticipated ballooning of the cap ceiling, the Eagles would have needed to make significant roster restructuring to survive. With a healthy drop-off from the expected $210M cap, the situation is even more dire.
Is it survivable? Probably. It will require hard work from both the Eagles’ front office and veteran players to make it all work, but the Eagles should be able to field a competitive team in 2021 by borrowing from future year’s cap and shedding pricey veterans. This is the basic framework.
The Eagles are going to have to completely gut their wide receiver room. All of Alshon Jeffery ($13M in cap space saved, post-June 1st designation), DeSean Jackson ($5.1M in cap space saved), and Marquise Goodwin are likely to be cut. Goodwin’s contract is rather unclear, as both Spotrac and Over the Cap have him on his San Francisco deal, while Mike Kaye of NJ.com reported that he had restructured his contract to a 1-year, $1.35M deal with an extra $1M available in incentives. It’s a bit of a moot point, as whatever money OTC and Spotrac have him taking up in 2020’s cap will rollover into 2021 if his deal was really restructured; and if it wasn’t, then he’s getting cut for sure, as all of that money is not guaranteed. Essentially, Goodwin is unlikely to make the 2020 roster (extremely unlikely if he hasn’t restructured his deal), and will represent around $7M in cap space saved.
That’s $25M recovered from gutting the wide receiver room. Of course, this is a scary proposition depending on the Eagles’ youth at the position. In 2020, they will field DeSean and Alshon, joined by rookie first-rounder Jalen Reagor, 2019 second-round J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, 2020 fifth-rounder John Hightower, and 2020 sixth-rounder Quez Watkins. All other significant incumbents, like Greg Ward and Robert Davis, are currently unsigned beyond 2020. Unless someone clearly performs well enough to retain and would take the veteran minimum for 2021, they won’t be retained over a future Day 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
But once Alshon and DeSean are cut, the Eagles could be looking at starting some combination of Reagor, Hightower, Arcega-Whiteside, Watkins, and yet unidentified rookies from the 2021 class. The most veteran player would be a third-year pro who had a disappointing rookie season. It would be, barring a miracle, a bad receiver room. And it only puts Philadelphia somewhere around $45M-50M over the 2021 ceiling.
There are a few more clear moves to make at varying positions. If the Eagles hold out on spending anything else for the 2020 season — which would be a wise move, and perhaps was still a wise move before the Jason Peters acquisition — they’ll rollover about $20M in space from the 2020 cap, which knocks us down to $25M-30M over the 2021 ceiling. They should also look to cut Derek Barnett before his fifth-year option guarantees, which it does when the league year opens in 2021. This would save them $10M against the 2021 cap, but if they really like Barnett and want to retain him, they can also negotiate an extension that alleviates that 2021 cap figure. It’s almost impossible that Barnett plays for $10M in 2021 given the context, so let’s call it $6M back on the cap for 2021, assuming he gets an extension that, with base salary and prorated signing bonus, counts for $4M against the cap.
Now we’re somewhere around $19M to $24M over the cap, and we’ve essentially run out of easy moves to make. Here, the Eagles will rely on their restructuring attack, which has been the favorite move of Howie Roseman over the past few years. Current contracts such as Zach Ertz’s have already been restructured (in Ertz’s case, three times!) to lower current-year cap hits by converting base salary (unguaranteed) money into bonus (guaranteed) money, which can be prorated across multiple years of a contract. With additional, automatically voided years attached to the Eagles’ biggest contracts (Jason Kelce has void years into 2024 despite only being signed through 2021), Roseman can prorate bonuses over 5-year stretches almost at will — the only tradeoff is the future, looming dead cap hits he takes when his stars finally leave the roster.
But that is the nature of this new world of cap management that more teams than the Eagles find themselves in; the Eagles just have more practice. The Eagles have 12players with base salary in the double-digits in 2021:
Philadlephia Eagles’ Top Base Salary Figures (2021)
|Name||2021 Base Salary|
|Name||2021 Base Salary|
Of course, you can and should expect both Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson to be gone — though if either puts together a dominant and healthy 2020 season, perhaps a restructure is still on the table. Either way, the remaining star players who are clearly part of the future of the team, such as Carson Wentz and Fletcher Cox, will be approached and asked to restructure their deals to create short-term cap space and keep the team together. For both, there are on-field and off-field incentives alike to do this: by opening up money, they can ensure that the team is still able to field a competitive roster, ensuring that the stars have weapons to throw to or fellow pass-rushers to work with, not to mention rotate into the game. And by creating bonus money out of base salary, the players make more money now, while also potentially seeing their deals extended further into the future to alleviate their short-term hits.
With restructures, the Eagles will do what they’ve always done — get over the hump. Only this year, it will be a harder challenge than ever before — and in the next years, the cap will not rise as it had in the past, ensuring the Eagles still had room to add free agents or extend rookies despite their aggressive spending. As such, the main consequence of the current salary cap concessions isn’t so much about the current Eagles, but the future Eagles. The roster will remain crystalline for a few years, as the dead money the Eagles shoved into 2022 and 2023 and 2024 and 2025 to clear the 2021 limbo bar will drastically limit their ability to change their roster. To survive, they will go all-in on the big contracts they have now, clear out the middle-level deals, and pray that the rookies contribute quickly enough that the team remains competitive.
Eventually, the books will open back up, and moves will be made — in that nobody knows just how much of a hit the NFL is about to take, it’s impossible to say when. But for now, the Eagles roster you see is the Eagles roster you get. They will get under the 2021 cap, and they will stay submerged for quite some time, surviving with the breath they’ve got and hoping it’s enough to yank a championship out of these perplexing circumstances.