Eagles were ranked 31st in salary cap survey, why that's not a problem (unless it is)

There was a recent PFF article about the three-year salary cap outlook for each NFL team, and the Eagles didn't do well in the analysis.

NFL Salary Cap: Three-year analysis for all 32 NFL teams | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

Here's what the writer opined about the financial health of the Eagles.

"No one wheels and deals quite like Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, and his negotiating prowess was on full display all offseason long. Philadelphia turned three first-round picks into freakishly athletic nose tackle Jordan Davis, phenom wide receiver A.J. Brown, a 2023 first-round pick and a 2024 second-round pick.

Two moves from last offseason — tight end Dallas Goedert and left tackle Jordan Mailata‘s early extensions — aged masterfully. It’s proactive decisions like those that enable teams like Philadelphia to spend so much cash and prorate a staggering amount of money without completely folding.

We mentioned earlier that the Dolphins smartly held on to their extra first-round pick in 2023 in case they feel the need to make a change at quarterback. While all the reviews out of camp on quarterback Jalen Hurts are glowing so far, Philadelphia also smartly left this door open. While the Eagles have kicked the can down the road even more than the Saints — no easy feat — extra draft capital is arguably the best way to combat its negative effects."

This raises the question, how good or bad is the team's salary cap situation? The problem is, there's no way to know the answer to that question, at least right now. The good news is that there will be an answer very soon.

So today I wanted to examine the team's salary cap situation in depth, and try to explain why it isn't a problem, and why it could be.

To start, let's look at the PFF survey, which took into account players on rookie contracts, effective cap space over the next three years, prorated money, the value of its top 51 contracts and value of pending free agents.

The Eagles did well in only one category, which was the value of top 51 contracts. In every other category they were below average.

So does this mean the team is in bad shape? I don't think so. To me, the biggest problem of this survey is that it fails to take into account the quality of the contracts teams have issued, and simply used raw numbers. So, for example, the Commanders, Colts, Lions, Vikings and Broncos all rate the same in the survey for spending on the qb position. But the reality is that Wentz, Ryan, Goff, Cousins and Wilson are drastically different players. Yet, in this survey, they are all considered to be the same.

If you look at the Commanders, they ranked second in the survey, meaning they are allegedly in great position in terms of the salary cap. But does that reflect the realty of their situation?

Let's start with the qb position. They have Wentz under contract for the next three seasons at pretty reasonable cap hits of around $27 million. This is actually a great contract if he can regain his form from early in his career, when he averaged over 7 yards per attempt. But last year he averaged less than 7 yards per attempt, which is basically what Taylor Heinicke averaged. So if Wentz doesn't regain his form from earlier in his career, the Commanders are basically throwing away $24 million. That doesn't reflect negatively on them in the survey, but to me it is the same as a dead cap charge.

Washington also juggled its offensive line, which ended 2021 as the sixth-best unit according to pff. Going into this year the line is projected to be 15th, and it almost certainly downgraded at both guard spots. Yes, it made them better from a salary cap standpoint, but if the point is to win football games, making your oline worse seems like a risky strategy toward accomplishing that goal.

So enough about Washington, what about the Eagles?

Here's how I look at their situation.

While the survey included contracts for the top 51 players, I am really only focused on starters. Through 2024, the Eagles have seven clear starters under contract on offense - Johnson, Mailata, Dickerson, Brown, Smith, Watkins and Goedert. They also have Cam Jurgens and a qb (if it is Hurts, he will be in the first year of his extension, which will make him cheap, or it will be a rookie if Hurts loses his job.) That's nine spots, with only a right guard and a running back not in the mix, and those positions have possible starters already on the roster in Gainwell and Driscoll.

On defense, the situation is murkier. I only see three players on the current roster that will be starters in three years - Sweat, Reddick and Maddox. Davis, Williams and Dean will hopefully be starters. Darius Slay might be. But after that, we really don't have anyone that I feel confident will be in the opening day lineup a few years from now, or even next season.

They do have a lot of lottery tickets on the defensive side of the ball. If one of the young corners (McPhearson, Gowan, Vincent) can turn into a starter, that makes the team's salary cap situation much better. If one of the young dline players (either Johnson, Jackson, Tuipulotu) can turn into a key contributor, it will also help. (I include on ball linebackers in the dline group.) And they do have extra draft capital. So the defense could be fine, but realistically there will need to be free agent dollars spent on that side of the ball.

Which is fine. The team will have some flexibility. But there's no way they will be able to fill every spot, so some of the younger players will have to turn into plus starters down the road.

In terms of the salary cap, the team had a decision to make this season. It could have gone without Hassan Reddick, James Bradberry, Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett, Jason Kelce and AJ Brown. Without those signings, its salary cap situation would have been one of the best in the league over the next three years, even with a large amount of dead cap this year.

But they don't give out awards for great salary cap situations. And the one thing I think the team has done well over the last few years is give the team a chance. While other GMs have taken conservative approaches, we have swing for the fences. Just look at our division. The Commanders (Scherff), Cowboys (Cooper) and Giants (Bradberry) have all jettisoned really good players for salary cap reasons. We could have done the same with Cox and Kelce, but our GM/owner sent a clear message that they believe in the team, which I think is important in pro football.

Now, if you look at our signings, all of them except Reddick and Brown are short-term fixes. So, again, the team needs to find younger players to fill a lot of holes that will appear after this season. But every team has that same problem.

So where do we stand in terms of the salary cap?

In a perfect world, Jalen Hurts improves enough to solve the qb issue, and the team drafts really good players to fill in the holes on defense. Then the salary cap never becomes an issue. The cost of Hurts' extension doesn't kick in until 2025, and the team will have plenty of time to adjust for it.

In a not-so-perfect world, the team has to use significant draft capital on a qb, and then we have to hope that player is good. But from a salary cap standpoint, they will be fine since the qb will be cost controlled for five years. So they can continue to kick the can down the road.

But there is a worst-case scenario, and that would be if the team struggles this season, hovering around .500 like it did last season. This is so-called cap hell. The one thing you don't want to be in the NFL is average. The moves made by the Eagles were done because they felt the team is competitive right now. If they are wrong, and we don't see any improvement from last season, then the cap will become an issue. Much like the Commanders making the trade for Wentz, the moves made by the Eagles were made with the idea that the team will get better. If we don't improve, the future has already been mortgaged. Washington can get away from Wentz's contract without penalty after this season. The moves we have made will be with us for years.

So that's where we are with the salary cap. And you will know how good or bad the situation is very early in the season. If the team looks like a Super Bowl contender, we are fine. If the team looks like it is a qb away from being a contender, we are probably fine.

But if we look like we did last season - outclassed by the best teams in the league - then we have problems.