Happy New League Year! I’ve returned for a fresh article since my 2021 postmortem with a bittersweet announcement: 2022 will mark the tenth year - and eleventh season - I’ve spent covering the Eagles as a contributor for Bleeding Green Nation, and after some careful thought I’ve decided that it will be my last. The demands of life are calling me in a different direction, and so the ten-year mark seems like as good a spot as any to plant my little flag in the online sphere of Eagles fandom and bid my farewell. But as I move into a year of transition, so do the Eagles, and it therefore seemed appropriate to take a victory lap and continue my contributions to the greatest online Eagles community through an even decade.
But enough niceties. 2022 may go down as one of the more interesting offseasons in Eagles’ history, so let’s dive in! In this article:
- Gaining perspective on the Eagles’ cap situation with free agency in full swing
- Prioritizing the gaps in the roster to be filled
- High-level draft strategy
Kneecapped by the Cap?
In my last article, I suggested that the Eagles could reasonably expect to create about $30M in cap space for this season. Some readers scoffed at this notion and suggested Howie could create a lot more. I took this as a valid criticism that maybe I didn’t do enough homework (I was admittedly off in how much of a cap hit Wilson would incur had he been traded to Philly). So I went back to the Eagles’ roster at Spotrac and took another crack at their handy roster management tool. I then went and built two rosters - one where I tried to max out cap space as much as possible, and one where I took a more practical take at what Howie can do to work his magic. Before I go through both, here’s the current situation (according to Spotrac) to form a baseline:
- Adjusted Cap: $224.4M
- Active Contracts: $172.8M
- Dead Cap: $36.1M
- Cap Space (All): $15.5M
- Cap Space (Top 51): $23.1M
These figures do not include the impact from Brandon Brooks’ retirement or the cap hit incurred by signing Hasson Reddick, which at the time of this writing has not been made public. As a reminder, until the season starts in September only the top 51 contracts will count against the salary cap, in what is known as the “Top 51 Rule”.
Roster #1: Slice and Dice
For the first exercise I went and made as many moves as I could to lower a player’s cap hit in 2022, whether that was restructuring his contract or releasing him outright. I skipped over players that clearly form the team’s nucleus, such as Javon Hargrave and Avonte Maddox. This led to a lot of “hollowing out” of the team’s backups... I didn’t quite get through the whole roster as the exercise got redundant rather quickly. Worthy to note: I would not generally recommend doing this to build a roster, but I’m also not an NFL GM, so hey whatever.
- Players Restructured = 3 (Slay, Elliott, Johnson)
- Players Released = 26 (Lol)
- Rostered Players = 36 (Also lol)
- New Cap Space (All) = $51.8M*
*Spotrac did not allow me to designate Brooks as a post-June 1 release. This reduces his cap hit from a $8.7M dead cap figure to a $1.1M savings, which I factored in automatically here.
So it turns out that I was indeed wrong, and the Eagles can create a lot of cap space to take a swing at more marquee free agents. Of course, this would come at the expense of most of their depth, as they will eventually need to sign someone to fill out all of those roster spots for training camp. I don’t really think Howie is keen on this approach, especially during a period of the franchise where they are looking to retool and build their depth, not slash it a la the Los Angeles Rams in an aggressive bid to chase a title.
Roster #2: Surgical Strikes
This time around I tried to only make moves that “made sense” to increase cap space. I’m sure Howie has a few more options than what was available on Spotrac, but this should be closer to reality if the Eagles wanted to make a concerted effort to increase space.
- Players Restructured = 3 (Slay, Elliott, Johnson)
- Players Released = 5 (Brooks, JJAW, Dick Rod, Siposs, Huntley)
- Rostered Players = 57
- New Cap Space (All) = $34.0M*
*Adjustment for Brooks’ post-June 1 retirement.
This value more closely represents what’s being reported:
Here's a way to visualize how much effective cap space teams have currently, and how much they can end up with if they complete max restructures on their veteran contracts. This is a better way to evaluate how much money teams have for the offseason than just current cap space pic.twitter.com/lOtEX4sS8g— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) February 17, 2022
That same user also put this in scatter plot form, which made the rounds on Reddit:
The reality is the Eagles don’t really have too much wiggle room. Even if they open up to that $34M I mentioned above, when you factor in the ~$10M they’ll need to sign rookies, Kelce’s pay raise, and whatever Reddick’s hit for this year turns out to be, they’ll probably have enough room for 2-3 midrange signings (or 1 “splashy” signing - that was probably intended to be Marcus Williams - but then you’re sacrificing depth).
I’m not saying this is a terrible situation, it’s just reality. Between wide receiver, safety, and linebacker, they will probably have to choose what they prioritize, which is a nice segue into the next section.
Position Needs Power Rankings
The 2021 Eagles were a team with so-so depth that managed to stay healthy and was talented enough to beat really, really bad teams. That was sufficient to squeeze into a playoff spot, which is objectively more entertaining than not making the playoffs, but now is the time for Howie to show his rebuilding prowess in 2016-2017 wasn’t just a fluke (we can probably say at this point his ability to maintain a competitive roster leads a lot to be desired). And he has ample opportunity to do so. Here are how I see the Eagles’ non-QB needs, with the signing of Reddick factored in:
- Wide Receiver
- Defensive End
- Defensive Tackle
- Offensive Guard/Center
- Linebacker would be #1 due to Gannon’s scheme if the Eagles had literally any safety not named Marcus Epps that they could trot out on the field. Alex Singleton - their two-time leading tackler - is being allowed to hit the market. Could this mean Howie is ready to invest in a sideline-to-sideline linebacker that can defend the short pass in Gannon’s bend-but-don’t-break defense? I’m not optimistic, but wilder things have happened.
- All needs after the top 4 are mostly for depth, outside of punter.
- Defensive end at #5 might seem odd with the Reddick signing, but Sweat is still inconsistent and we don’t know how effective Graham will be in his return from injury at age 34. Who else is going to come off the edge?
- Guard and center go together to prepare for Kelce’s inevitable retirement. Does Seumalo move to center, leaving a hole at guard? Or Dickerson? Or do they just replace center outright?
- As for punters, Johnny Hekker is available... he might be a better passer than Hurts! (Kidding. Sort of.)
Draft Strategy and Closing Thoughts
I won’t go too much into the draft here - too much will change in free agency, and honestly I can’t add too much more to what has already been said. The plan should be straightforward: draft defense Day 1, target offensive positions that are deep on Day 2 (like interior OL and WR), and do anything imaginable to trade back out of 15 and pick up a first in 2023. I’m not sure if any of the QB prospects have enough upside to justify not running it back with Jalen Hurts, especially if you can put yourself in a position to enter the Bryce Young sweepstakes. But as I said before, I’m not a GM and the draft is a crap shoot, so who knows. Take enough flyers on mid-round QBs and maybe one of them pans out?
Regardless of what happens in the draft, we’re in for an exciting roller coaster ride this offseason with three first-round picks at Howie’s disposal. The man likes to wheel and deal, and I have a feeling we’re in for more than one move that we really didn’t see coming. So buckle up, keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times, and brace yourself for yet another go on Mr. Roseman’s Wild Ride.