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Eagles Mailbag: Compensatory confusion and cap considerations [UPDATE]

Questions answered

NFC Divisional Playoffs - New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

On Friday we asked you for your mailbag questions. Today, we answer them.

Obviously the big question of the weekend is what is going on with Darius Slay, as it was reported that Slay was told he had permission to seek a trade. It is not hard to see both sides of this.

From the Eagles perspective Slay is 32, his play declined as the season progressed, and his cap hit for 2023 is scheduled to be $26.1M due to his salary jumping from $1.1M to $17M. The Eagles would very much like to reduce that number but not add any addition money.

For Slay, he is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl honors and is a team captain, so he has little incentive to redo his contract unless the Eagles give him more guaranteed money.

The Eagles could simply cut Slay, who has no guaranteed salary, and save cap space: $3.7M immediately, or wait until June and save $17.5M for 2023 while taking a $13.8M cap hit in 2024. Trading Slay would result in the same cap hit structure.

This would leave them with both starting outside corner spots empty, but that is obviously a risk they are willing to take or we wouldn’t be at this point.

What has almost certainly happened is the Eagles approached Slay/Drew Rosenhaus about restructuring his contract with little to no additional money. Slay/Rosenhaus understandably declined and feel they can get a better offer, so the Eagles have basically told them “if you can find one, let us know and we’ll trade you there.” It’s similar to what the Ravens and Lamar Jackson are doing, except that NFL owners clearly have a pact–which is illegal–to not sign players to offer sheets, so Jackson won’t be finding any suitors. Slay might not find any suitors either, but for contract demand reasons, not due to an owner omerta.

Be prepared for Slay not finding a suitor and getting cut. And if the Eagles are able to make a trade, don’t expect much in return.

StoneColdKiller58: Can you finally answer once and for all how void years affect the comp pick formula? I have seen conflicting information, which of course isn’t helped by the fact that the NFL for some insipid reason refuses to make the comp pick formula public.

No problem. I’ll try to keep this as simple as I can. And I think I know why there is conflicting information that confuses people.

The NFL awards compensatory draft picks to teams that lost more in free agency than they gained. It is important to remember that they reward them the next season, so whatever comp picks a team gains from 2023 free agency will be awarded in 2024.

But not every player counts in the comp pick formula, to prevent teams from gaming the system players who were cut do not count. The full formula was a secret, in the 2011 CBA the section on comp picks literally said:

The rules and procedures regarding Compensatory Draft Selections previously agreed upon by the NFL and the NFLPA shall remain in effect, subsequent to any future changes as to which the parties may agree.

Oh that clears that right up, thank you team of lawyers who make more in one hour than most people make in a week, your contributions will not be forgotten.

Fortunately some very smart people with too much time on their hands figured out a really close approximation to the formula and were able to give fairly accurate predictions, but the lack of certainty naturally led to some confusion.

Then things changed with the 2020 CBA. First, the NFL actually put in writing the comp pick formula. No more guessing!

They also apparently (I say apparently because by not making the formula available in the past all we have to go off of are reporting and assumptions) made changes to said formula, which is I think where the confusion over void years comes in. Prior to 2020, void years counted. But starting in 2020, they do not. From the CBA, emphasis mine:

No [Unrestricted Free Agent] shall qualify as a [Compensatory Free Agent] unless and until the maximum possible term of the player’s contract has expired, and all other requirements have been satisfied. The Maximum Possible Term of any Player Contract shall be determined as of the date of such contract’s execution and shall include all years of the contract (including, without limitation, option years and voidable years).

UPDATE: It appears I missed something. My apologies.

The CBA states that void years don’t count. Then they say they do.

a UFA shall qualify as a CFA if the Maximum Possible Term of the player’s contract failed to expire solely as the result of a provision stating that a specified contract year or years shall void automatically upon a specified day or date or upon the achievement of a roster condition with no additional contingencies (“Automatic Voidable Year”)

Well that’s not confusing at all.

The following Eagles had their contracts simply expire: Andre Dillard, Marcus Epps, CJ Gardner-Johnson, Linval Joseph, Brett Kern, Gardner Minshew, Zach Pascal, Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Ndamukong Suh.

The following had them voided: James Bradberry, Fletcher Cox, TJ Edwards, Javon Hargrave, Isaac Seumalo, and Kyzir White.

Then there’s Robert Quinn, who renegotiated his contract when he was traded to make him a free agent, because he originally signed a five year deal and it turned into a three year deal, it does not count.

We can track them as players start to sign here.

mofwood: Lots of talk about free agency and the defense. What about the offense? Specifically, what offensive positions do you see as the 2 - 3 most likely places where Eagles will sign a free agent?

Defense has deservedly gotten all the attention, but the offense could undergo some significant changes as well.

Both Miles Sanders and Boston Scott are free agents, as is Zach Pascal. And Quez Watkins salary escalated to $2.7M, it is hard to see the Eagles paying that for a 3rd WR who doesn’t see the ball much. So we’re looking at potentially four new skill position players. Sanders could easily walk for a contract that the Eagles aren’t willing to match; Scott will be 28 when the season starts and his playing time and production against teams that aren’t the Giants has declined each season under Sirianni; Pascal is 28 and played a by far career low 29% of snaps, this is his last chance to get a role where he could actually see the field; and if the Eagles want Quez Watkins to take a pay cut and he won’t then their only option will probably be to release him because it’s hard to see him having any trade value.

Backup QB will be another change with Garnder Minshew being a free agent. Though ideally he never plays a meaningful snap, backup QB is the one position on offense they could address in the first week. Once the game of musical chairs is over to find a team that a QB can realistically compete for a starting job, the backup QBs will fall into place. Last season Tyrod Taylor and Teddy Bridgewater signed on the 2nd day of free agency, Jacoby Brissett signed on the 9th day, and Andy Dalton signed on the 13th day (he probably waited a day so he didn’t have to bring 12 drummers drumming.)

I wouldn’t expect any offensive free agents other than QB2 until at least next week, and even then they’ll be rotation guys at best. Even Zach Pascal, who was guaranteed a roster spot as a coach’s favorite last year, wasn’t signed until the second week of free agency. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Eagles are pretty busy on the second and third tiers of WR and RB in free agency.

Fritz & Alice: I believe the Eagles will have 4 new starters in the defensive backfield. Wouldn’t you agree?

I want to disagree. But I can’t.

Pier 3 Iggle: Do we draft DBs or find them in free agency like last year.

Both. The Eagles have painted themselves into a corner with a lot of roster moves for this year, none more than the secondary. The only DBs who saw meaningful playing time last year who are under contract for 2023 are Avonte Maddox and Reed Blankenship.

They can’t go into the season with a secondary heavy on rookies and untested young players, especially with the track record on DBs that this front office has. But they also can’t go into the season with a significantly veteran secondary either, because then they’ll just be back to square one again. They have to find a balance.

Fortunately this draft has some really good cornerbacks in early rounds, so they should be able to have a starting CB trio of a veteran free agent, a 1st round rookie, and Maddox. At safety I would expect them to sign a veteran, possibly a CB they will convert, to a cheap one year deal. I’d also keep an eye on Tashaun Gipson and DeAndre Houston-Carson, who played under Sean Desai in Chicago.

Kephas: Which RB at the end of his rookie contract will Howie trade a late Day 3 pick for?

Right now your options are Cam Akers, AJ Dillon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and D’Andre Swift. I’m calling the Packers every day on AJ Dillon until they trade him or clearly aren’t trading Aaron Rodgers, and D’Andre Swift would be fine too. They’ll get a 2024 6th and like it.

Kroons518: Which team (with coaching ties) signs the most Eagles free agents his off-season???

A) Jags - Doug Pederson

B) Panthers - Frank Reich

C) Cardinals - Jonathan Gannon

D) Colts - Shane Steichen

E) Eagles

F) The Field

Cardinals. When a new coach is hired they usually bring a handful of former players with them, so that gives Jonathan Gannon and Shane Steichen a leg up on Doug Pederson and Frank Reich. Gannon and the Cardinals have another advantage in this mini-competition, they have the most cap space and the worst defense of any of these teams, so they have both money and opportunity.

EHyungNim: Okay, so outside of Jeff Lurie finding an extra $70 million in cap room at the end of the rainbow and retaining all pending UFAs, what do you see as an ideal path forward balancing past production, leadership, and holding the window open?

I’d bring back Brandon Graham, which they have. So that’s one down.

I’d offer Fletcher Cox a minimum deal and if he gets an offer for significantly more than that, wish him well. He had a nice swan song season, but seven of his 10 highest snap counts by percentage came in the first half of the season. All good things must eventually come to an end.

There is a sneaky bonus to having to replace Jonathan Gannon at the same time so many starters on defense are free agents, and doing it with a coach with no ties to the Eagles or Sirianni. We’ll see how much say Sean Desai gets in who they sign in free agency, but other than Robert Quinn Desai has no prior experience with anyone on the defense, he can dispassionately tell the team it’s time to move on.

I’d have already signed TJ Edwards and Marcus Epps to extensions during the season. I’m still shocked they didn’t. They’re not game changers but last year Josh Sweat, Jordan Mailata, Dallas Goedert and Avonte Maddox all signed extensions, Edwards and Epps would have continued that philosophy of retaining players they developed. Instead they are about to go into free agency with a starting lineup that can be comfortably written down on the margins of the fortune from a fortune cookie. Nine new starters on defense is not out of the realm of possibility for 2023.

roberticus01: Of the positions of need, which do you think will be filled by the draft and shouldn’t be addressed in F/A? We’ve got almost no money and we need to re-sign/replace:

at least 1 starting DT plus rotation

at least 1 EDGE

at least 1 starting LB plus rotation

at least 1 SAF plus rotation (2 if you don’t consider Reed Blankenship to be a starter)

at least 1 CB (2 if Darius Slay gets traded)

at least 1 RB unless you think Kenny Gainwell can be RB1

up to 1 RG depending on how things shake out with Jason Kelce/Cam Jurgens

With only six draft picks at the moment, and two of those 7th rounders, they’re going to have to search the free agency bargain bin for some of these. Here’s what I would do, keeping in mind that they don’t have much money in free agency either:

DT: Considering they drafted DTs in 2021 and 2022 with a 3rd and 1st round pick, I’d turn to free agency and sign a starter on a multi-year deal and a rotation piece on a one year deal (which if he wants it, could be re-signing Suh).

EDGE: With Reddick, Sweat, and Graham in place I’d sign a veteran to a one year deal to be the #4 (which could wind up being Robert Quinn considering he had his 18.5 sack season under Desai; also keep an eye on Bruce Irvin, who was in Chicago and Seattle with Desai).

LB: Sign two on cheap one year deals in free agency and let them and Nakobe Dean sort it out, if there’s good value in the draft add one.

S: Sign a starter and aim to draft one in the middle rounds.

CB: Sign a starter, draft another in the 1st round, and don’t hesitate to draft another one in the middle rounds if the value is there.

RB: Sign a veteran on a one year deal to split time with Kenneth Gainwell; and let UDFAs, Trey Sermon, and a veteran reclamation project (Marlon Mack?) battle it out in camp for the third spot.

RG: It’s Cam Jurgens job until Jason Kelce actually retires, and as they seemingly always do bring in a couple UDFAs. I wouldn’t sweat this position.

Not the most exciting offseason, I admit, but a free agency period that feels underwhelming is very much in the cards.

urbnasty: Where is the rumor mill?

It got demolished. “Luxury” apartments were built on the grounds where it once stood. Local elections matter!

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