In our mailbag this week there were multiple questions about the Eagles many free agents to be, which warrants a larger discussion. (Click here for Part 1.)
Kweiss67: We’ve hoisted the Lombardi! How many of our free agents can we/should we, bring back for another run in 2023?
We should start with who is going to be a free agent. There are a lot of them.
The following players are in the final year of their contracts with no strings attached:
Andre Dillard, Marcus Epps, CJ Gardner-Johnson, Linval Joseph, Gardner Minshew, Zach Pascal, Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Ndamukong Suh.
Unless the Eagles either reach a contract extension with them before free agency starts on March 15, or they franchise or transition tag the player, they will walk in free agency with no repercussions on the 2023 salary cap. These players do count towards the compensatory draft pick formula.
Then there are the players whose contracts will void at some point after the season:
James Bradberry, TJ Edwards, Javon Hargrave, Jason Kelce (not until June 3rd), Robert Quinn, Isaac Seumalo, and Kyzir White.
I could go into a lengthy bit about how this all works, but we can save that for a slow day in February or something. The Explain Like I’m 5 version is that when they signed their contract they agreed to be cut at some point after the season ends. Usually it is 2 or 3 days after the Super Bowl, but it varies from contract to contract. As noted above, Jason Kelce’s is in June. Just like a player who is cut, their remaining signing bonus cap charges will get accelerated into 2023 (in Kelce’s case, 2024). This has quickly become a standard way to do contracts for teams without a lot of salary cap space, in part because the salary cap went down in 2020 and messed up a lot of teams plans.
If the team and the player can not reach an agreement before the contract voids, the player becomes a free agent just as he would as if he was cut, free to sign with anyone right away, they would not have to wait until March 15 like the first batch of players. These players do not count towards the compensatory draft pick formula because their contracts did not naturally expire.
And finally there are players who are on the books for 2023 but the way the contract is structured they will either renegotiate the contract or be released. They are Fletcher Cox, who according to OverTheCap has a “dummy year” for 2023, but no details on the mechanism; and Brandon Graham, whose contract for 2023 guarantees on March 16th with “massive salaries” as OTC puts it. These were designed with the post-June 1st designation in mind, which splits up how the money is accelerated on to the cap.
We also have to go over how much they have to spend.
As it stands now, the Eagles are 18th in total cap space for 2023 with $14.5 million available. The amount will change after the Eagles do cuts, re-signings, and restructures, but every team has those at their disposal, so there are no significant hidden advantages to be gained. In fact, the Eagles are in a below average position here, they really only have two contracts to tap into to make space with. Darius Slay is due $17M in salary and Lane Johnson $14M for 2023, other than Jake Elliot no one else on the roster will make more than $1.5M in salary in 2023. Expect restructured contracts for Slay and Johnson that frees over $20M in cap space for 2023. Other than that, what you see is pretty much what you get.
This means the Eagles’ starting point is relatively poor: they’re already behind most of the league before everyone starts on their funny money moves, and they have limited funny money moves to make.
Not only do the Eagles have all these free agents, but they also have future free agents they would be wise to extend now rather than later. At least this is easier, Jalen Hurts is the only 2024 free agent to be that warrants a contract extension.
Woodbridge Eagles: If you had to place our upcoming free agents into the following 4 arbitrary buckets, who do you place where, and why?
-Right below our must re-signs
-Hurts that we won’t re-sign
-Won’t hurt when we don’t re-sign
I like the four tiers but I’d do some modification to what I’d call them. I assume that Jason Kelce retires. Also, Tyree Jackson will be an exclusive rights free agent, but I’m not going to worry about him here. Sorry Tyree. Let’s take them from lowest to highest priority.
Won’t hurt to lose
Andre Dillard - They would have traded him in the preseason if the offer was right. Let him walk, hope someone gives him a contract that qualifies for the comp pick formula, and take a real swing tackle somewhere in the draft.
Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh - They’ve done a nice job considering they were signed in November. But they were available in November for a reason. If the Eagles make a deep run in the playoffs, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them is re-signed.
Gardner Minshew - Minshew Mania 2022 was a flop, which hurt the team in the short term on the field and potentially long term off it, the idea of getting a better comp pick than what they gave up to get him (a 6th) doesn’t seem so hot now. I’d let him walk and target a backup with more experience.
Robert Quinn - A year ago he would have gotten a very nice pay day, this March, who knows. If he wants a ring chasing veteran cut rate deal, fine, but I doubt he’s back. It’s not like he’s had a great time here.
Boston Scott - His playing time has decreased in each season under Sirianni and his touches dropped nearly in half this year.
Kyzir White - It seems like every year there is a veteran addition who looks good in camp and then the real games begin and they’re invisible. This year’s edition was White.
Can go either way
Fletcher Cox - Cox started the season and finished the season strong, and his 7 sacks was the third best of his career. I think they’ll work out an extension, but I fear we just watched his swan song season. DTs of his age do not go gracefully. I think he gets re-signed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens in June or July.
Zach Pascal - No issues with re-signing him but a 28 year old backup who doesn’t bring good value on special teams is an extremely low priority.
Will hurt to lose
James Bradberry - For 2023 it will sting if he’s not back, but paying significant money for a player about to be on the backside of his career and who is coming off a career year should be someone else’s problem. It’s the harsh nature of the business.
Javon Hargrave - My expectation is that he walks. His salary jumped from less than $1M in 2021 to $12.8M in 2022, that they didn’t work out an extension is telling. His contract voids on February 13, so we’ll know pretty quickly. I would have tried to work out a deal with him last year, but that ship sailed.
Miles Sanders - I’m not sure what to think about Sanders. He’s coming off a career year but in 2021 he didn’t score a TD. I’d prefer the starting RB to be a threat in the passing game, and the Eagles would too, so it would not surprise me if they let him walk. But there’s also no guarantee that they can upgrade the position this offseason if they move on from him.
TJ Edwards - A no brainer.
Marcus Epps - Throughout Howie Roseman’s tenure the team has struggled with safeties, now they finally have a pair of them who can play.
CJ Gardner-Johnson - You don’t trade for a guy in the preseason on the last year of his deal who was available because of a contract dispute with the intention of letting him walk.
Brandon Graham - If Graham wants to come back, he’s coming back. He had an outstanding season and his leadership is a bonus.
Isaac Seumalo - You don’t let good offensive linemen walk.
Draftjunky: When do you think Howie is going to start resigning a few of these guys?
I was surprised that they didn’t sign anyone to an extension during the season. Last year they signed Jordan Mailata and Josh Sweat to extensions in September and then Dallas Goedert and Avonte Maddox in November. I figured they would keep locking down young players they developed again this year, with extensions for TJ Edwards, Marcus Epps, and possibly Miles Sanders.
There’s some unintentional upside to having to wait though, Most of those free agents are on defense. If Jonathan Gannon gets hired as a head coach (do it Houston, you know you want to) then you haven’t tied anyone down that his replacement may not value as much.
It’s kind of funny, but not in a humorous way, that the Eagles constructed the roster so that if this season went sideways they could get out of it fairly easily. Instead the roster they constructed is a tier 1 Super Bowl contender, which is a roster you mostly want to retain. That adds a sense of urgency. The window to win a Super Bowl is right now.