The Philadelphia Eagles Are In Great Position Heading into the Off-Season

  • Shane Richardson
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The Eagles have a talented team to go with talented franchise quarterback, Michael Vick.

“Dream Team.”  Those words, uttered by a backup quarterback, quickly turned from bravado to punch line as the Philadelphia Eagles went from off-season contender talk to NFL laughingstock. The Eagles were not able to bring “it” all together despite landing one of biggest names in free agency in 2011, Nnamdi Asomougha, plus several smart additions in Jason Babin, Vince Young, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, and Cullen Jenkins. Prior to Week 1 of the NFL season, the Eagles were pegged as the easy winners in the free agency market. However, looking at the past decade-plus of Super Bowl winners, none of them made a significant acquisition in the previous off-season. This can work in the 2012 Eagles’ favor, since their 2011 free agency class will have had a year and a complete off-season program to work with head coach Andy Reid’s system.

The Eagles have an estimated $23.2M  under a projected $124M cap before any salary cap casualties. The Eagles should have quite a few players eligible and open for contract renegotiations. Examining the top-10 paid players on the team, there are some Eagles who will be targeted for outright releasing:

PLAYER

BASE SALARY

BONUSES

SALARY CAP HIT

Michael Vick

$12.5M

$1.4M

$13.9M

Nnamdi Asomugha

$11.0M

$300K

$11.3M

Asante Samuel

$9.4M

$1.1M

$10.5M

Jason Peters

$7.9M

$400K

$8.3M

Jason Babin

$5.0M

$200K

$5.2M

Brandon Graham

$828K

$5.7M

$6.5M

Winston Justice

$3.2M

$1.1M

$4.3M

Cullen Jenkins

$2.8M

$1.5M

$4.3M

Mike Patterson

$2.1M

$2.0M

$4.1M

Trent Cole

$2.9M

$1.1M

$4.0M

(www.spotrac.com)

Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman could get one of the top four cap hits to renegotiate their contracts. Michael Vick, entering the second year of a six-year contract that pays him a guaranteed $32.5M, has the highest base salary (along with Oakland Raiders Carson Palmer) of all NFL quarterbacks at $12.5M.  Although many teams go to their “Banks of the Franchise Quarterback,” it is not probable that Vick would be open to contract renegotiations this early. It is more probable the Eagles will target other players they want to keep in order to create more salary cap space, but outside of Asoumugha, the Eagles’ top-10 salary cap hits played fairly commensurate with their value as outlined below.

The table below details how Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded out each player in their position and then displays where that player ranks in terms of salary cap hits for their positions. For example, Nnamdi Asomugha graded out as the 90th defensive back in the league, yet he is the 3rd highest paid.

PLAYER

PFF POSITION RANK

SALARY CAP RANK

Michael Vick

12th

9th

Nnamdi Asomugha

90th

3rd

Asante Samuel

12th

4th

Jason Peters

1st

9th

Jason Babin

10th

16th

Brandon Graham

Not Ranked

26th

Winston Justice

Not Ranked

26th

Cullen Jenkins

10th

22nd

Mike Patterson

22nd

23rd

Trent Cole

1st

26th

(www.profootballfocus.com)

Left tackle Jason Peters has been an outstanding addition to the Eagles.

Examining the Eagles top ten salary cap hits, the Eagles are very fortunate to have two players in Cole and Peters, who were the top ranked players at their respective positions. Beyond that, expect Justice to either take a pay cut or be released; with a base salary of $3.2M, he is too expensive to keep around as a backup. even though he added depth to the line. Defensive end/linebacker Graham should be cut with a $2.5M roster bonus due in 2012, even though Roseman indicated in January he (Graham) would be back. While there has been speculation about the Eagles moving Samuel, he actually graded out favorably among defensive backs.  Still, it is difficult to justify having $21.8M (about 18%) of a team’s salary cap tied up in one position. Due to this, Samuel could be a target for trade along with the primary candidates for clearing salary cap room.

The Eagles top free agency position should be addressing the linebacking corps, the Achilles heel of a unit that some people are surprised to find finished 8th in total defense. Stephen Tulloch should be the prime target, a 27-year old linebacker who has experience playing the “Wide-9” defense the Eagles field. In the event the Eagles move Samuel, they could be in the market for a cornerback who is more adept at tackling, an area that was decidedly bad for the three starting cornerbacks in Asomugha, Samuel, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. If they look to other targets to upgrade their defense, they could look to add another safety, like Washington Redskins’ LaRon Landry or Tennessee Titans’ Justin Babineaux. Landry is still recovering from an Achilles injury that could cause him to miss time in early 2012, but he could be had for a reduced price because of that, plus he has experience within the division.

LeSean “Shady” McCoy is one of the top running backs in the NFL.

Looking at the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles are obviously set with Vick and elite running back LeSean McCoy, who led all NFL rushers in 2011 with 17 touchdowns to go with his 1,300 rushing yards. However, there has been little talk of signing McCoy to a long-term contract: he is due only to make $565K (w/ a $908K salary cap hit) and is a restricted free agent in 2013. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles work out a new contract for the All-Pro running back.  They also could look to add depth at running back, as sophomore Dion Lewis is the only other back on the roster. Vick also adds value to the running game, although he would help himself and his team if he would learn to slide and not take so many hits.

At the receiver position, the Eagles are reportedly set to use the franchise tag on DeSean Jackson, which would be a misstep for a franchise that has typically made sound business decisions. Jackson, whose value is increased by his punt returning ability, has led the Eagles in receiving since 2008, but that can be attributed to lack of options in the Eagles receiving game. The wide receiver franchise tag is a reported $9.5M this year and that would pay Jackson more than receivers like Houston Texans’ Andre Johnson, Carolina Panthers’ Steve Smith, and Atlanta Falcons’ Roddy White.  The smarter choice is to let Jackson hit free agency and determine his market value from there. Additionally, the free agency market at the wide receiver position is so deep it behooves the Eagles not to franchise Jackson as there are plenty of targets to explore.

Many mocks have the Eagles selecting top inside linebacker, Luke Kuechly from Boston College.

Heading into the draft, the Eagles again will look to upgrade their linebacking corps, but beyond that, have the luxury on drafting the best player available.  Many mocks project Luke Kuechly out of Boston College will be there when the Eagles pick at 15, and the fit makes sense.  Likely to start for a defense that had trouble stopping ball carriers once they got beyond the defensive line, Kuechly has great instincts and is a solid tackler. The Eagles will use the draft primarily to add depth to their defense, targeting linebackers, defensive line, and possibly wide receiver/tight end in later rounds. If they do not retain Jackson, they could target a punt return specialist in the late rounds.

When all things are considered, Eagles’ fans, while disappointed by a letdown season in 2011, should feel good about their team heading into 2012. The organization has great stability with Roseman and Reid at the helm, and regardless of what some would say about the head coach, he has kept the franchise relevant for more than a decade. How many other franchises would love to just be in the playoff discussion year in, yearout? The Eagles are in great position with their roster, and the front office should not feel pressure to make decisions that would adversely affect the franchise in the long-term. With plenty of salary cap to work with and plenty of draft picks (including two picks in the second round), the Eagles are primed to win the division in 2012.

Eagles’ fans should feel good about a coach who has taken the team to the playoffs nine times since 1999, including a 2004 NFC Championship.

Follow me on Twitter: @Shaner021

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