It’s been talked about many times already, but the Eagles will have a lot of work to do with their rosters this offseason.
Among the team’s pending free agents are James Bradberry, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Isaac Seumalo, Kyzir White, TJ Edwards, Miles Sanders, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Marcus Epps, Brandon Graham, Linval Joseph, Andre Dillard, Boston Scott, Zach Pascal and more.
Of course, also playing heavily into what the team will be able to do is the pending extension of quarterback Jalen Hurts.
With a limited amount of cap space available, the Eagles will have to make some moves to free up some money and there is no shot they can re-sign all of those players for whatever the max they could get in free agency is.
As a result, the Eagles will have to lean heavily into the fact that these players love the team and their teammates as well as the fact that this team is so good that it could pay dividends for their legacy and potentially lengthen their careers. Unfortunately, the brutal collapse in Super Bowl LVII doesn’t bode well for the ladder, but the Eagles are the NFC Champs, nonetheless.
Now, that’s easier said than done, of course – how many among us would pass up an extra couple million dollars to play for the home-town team? How often does a player choose to make less money in order to better their career? It isn’t often, but it isn’t unheard of.
It Could All Start With The Quarterback
Perhaps the most prominent example of this was Tom Brady. You can argue his career all you’d like, but the one thing he never did was destroy the Patriot’s cap space. While he was with New England, he took big money but not to the same level that other signal callers around the league took. Excluding one-year deals at the end of his career, Brady took deals worth an average of $9 million to $20.5 million per year to stick with the Patriots.
There is a reason that the Patriots could win so much – at the time Brady averaged just $9 million per year, teams like the Packers had $25 million tied up in cap space for Aaron Rodgers. It simply allowed the team to better their offense around Brady.
That $16 million difference, for example is the same cap hit that AJ Brown and Jordan Mailata will have in the 2023 season. That Reagor to AJ Brown upgrade might not otherwise be possible. The left tackle might be whatever rookie they could best prepare for the position as the Eagles would have to let Mailata walk without the proper cap space to re-sign him.
Ultimately, that’s the biggest question for the Eagles future. If Jalen Hurts wants to take the max money (as is his right, you can’t begrudge him that) and the team gives it to him, there is an understanding that the offense will not be as good once the new contract takes over. Every team that pays their franchise quarterback to a record deal like that has to eventually make the tough decision to let top talent walk.
But that decision is down the road a bit as Hurts remains under contract in 2023. Instead, it will be the free agents who have to decide whether the extra money is worth it or not. Particularly on defense, the Eagles put together an incredibly cohesive unit and the defense worked well for almost all of the current free agents to break out.
The Different Team (The Legion of Doom)
While this certainly opens up a pay day opportunity, the largest pay does not often come from a team who has that cap space because they are doing well. It may come from a team who is just not good. It may also put a player in a new defense that doesn’t necessarily work for them. It could also open the opportunity for disaster.
Think of the Legion of Boom. How many of those players had a real career outside of that defense?
One player Eagles fans may remember is Byron Maxwell. A top target in free agency, he was exposed playing without the same defensive scheme and players around him. He had signed a six-year deal, but was traded and then cut by the 2017 season, just two years later. It was essentially the end of his career.
How many other Seattle defenders that jumped ship actually experienced success and made the money that was billed in their contracts? Outside of Richard Sherman, have any of those players experienced anywhere near that same success elsewhere?
Another financial component: Have any of those players been able to make anything with endorsements or anything of the like after that move?
The 2023 Free Agents
Now, the Eagles have players leaving on the defense that are far more talented than Maxwell, so they should have a better shot at maintaining their careers. That still won’t change the fact that no other team can offer Javon Hargrave the excellent pass rush the Eagles have on the outside to take some pressure off of him.
It won’t change that James Bradberry will be looked at as the top corner instead of the second corner and won’t have that same pass rush to bail him out when he needs it. It won’t change the fact that Isaac Seumalo would be expected to play at the same level despite not having an All-Pro player to each side of him. It won’t change that Miles Sanders will not have an offensive line entirely made of All-Pro and Pro Bowl players blocking for him. The list could go on.
Ultimately, the NFL is a business and some guys will take the money. Heck, some guys probably really deserve it.
It would certainly be more difficult for, say, Marcus Epps, a player who had no Division I offers and has never signed a free agent contract, to turn down extra money than it might be for someone like Brandon Graham, who has built a home with the franchise and has eight years worth of extensions/free agent deals and money he has invested.
It’s simply a hope that the Eagles can convince some players to come back, but the players have shown it. Among those pending free agents, many have indicated a sincere interest in returning to the ball club.
Interest In A Return
Throughout the season, many of the Eagles pending free agents have expressed an interest in returning to the team again, perhaps even hinting that the money is not the main part of the equation. Of course, those on the first or last contract may look for the money, but hints have come out throughout the season indicating players hoping or thinking of a return.
Miles Sanders said, “I love Philly. Just bring me back”.
Fletcher Cox told reporters prior to the Super Bowl the Chiefs recruited him while he was a free agent, but that he was happy he chose to stick with Philly because he bleeds green.
Gardner-Johnson told the media that his time with the Eagles helped him to mature and become a better man.
Brandon Graham, the longest tenured player on the team, continually drops hints about his interest in returning and playing for a few more years.
From a perspective of a player who isn’t a free agent, Darius Slay wrote an entire column in the player’s tribune talking about how he feels like this team is the best fit for him beyond what he had previously experienced and how much he loved the other guys on the roster and would go to war with them.
There’s plenty of examples of players talking about how they would like to return and are fond of the franchise.
Signed Player Changes
The other big piece of the puzzle with the cap will likely put players like the aforementioned Darius Slay to the test.
The Eagles will need to make cap room and releases, trades, restructures, extensions and pay cuts are the way to do that.
Slay will be at the top of that list, with the team’s largest cap hit ($26.1 million – over 10% of the total cap). Will he take some additional years at less money? A lower cap hit to guarantee more? It’s going to be part of the discussion that these moves will be needed to keep a competitive defense around him.
On the offensive side, Lane Johnson, who just played through a painful injury all playoffs to support his guys, has the largest cap it, also over 10%, and will likely be asked to do something similar.
A move like restructuring can sometimes be made out to be like the player sacrificed something for the team, but really it often just guarantees more money for taking pushing some of that into the future; will there be any moves with players willingly taking a pay cut? Will there be “forced” pay cuts (like what occurred with Fletcher Cox last offseason).
Ultimately, this team will look different in 2023 as every NFL team does each season, but the Eagles have a lot of moves to make and will need to try and leverage the positioning they have with some of these players to try and maintain what they can and use the draft to build back what they could not.
Some guys, like James Bradberry, will almost certainly not be around as they’ve indicated no interest in the team over others and are willing to go where the money is no matter whether they will end the season with just one or two wins or not. That’s just the business of the NFL and fans can’t take that personally.
There will also be suitors for everyone. That’s specifically going to happen when a team loses an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator in the same offseason, with both looking to add guys who know their systems and can help to implement them more effectively.
That doesn’t meant the Eagles can’t try to communicate the other value-added ideas to this team and try to capitalize on them. Philadelphia is in a unique position to do just that coming off of a Super Bowl berth with a quarterback being recognized as a top-5 player in the league and a culture that players are putting into the headlines.