Deep dive into Eagles salary cap, potential impact of COVID

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If I told you a year ago that the world would be overtaken by a global pandemic and it was going to cause the Eagles to make massive roster cuts, you would have looked at me like I told you I would rather have Paxton Lynch instead of Carson Wentz. 

So if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that looking far ahead — and getting worried about it now — is a somewhat pointless exercise. We are all guessing. 

Still, with the projected start date of the NFL’s regular season less than two months away, it seems like a lock that there will be no fans in most stands this season. Even if a portion of fans are able to attend games in certain cities, at this point there is almost no way the league is going to avoid taking a massive revenue loss. 

The question is how much will the league loose, how will they handle those losses, how it will impact the salary cap and — most importantly for the people of the tri-state area — how much it is going to impact the Eagles. 

Let’s take a deep dive into all the important aspects of the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Eagles salary cap. 

The 2021 Salary Cap

The NFL’s salary cap is tied to the league’s revenue. That is why, as the NFL grows, it goes up each year. The benefit of that for the player’s is clear — the more successful the league is, the more money is committed to paying players. The 2020 NFL salary cap is $198.2 million. That is a $10 million increase from 2018, and in 2018, the cap went up $11 million from 2017. Overall, the cap has gone up around $10 million eight straight seasons. 

So when projecting ahead, teams could reasonably expect the cap to be around $208 million in 2020. With how successful the league has been doing, it likely would have gone up even more, with some projecting it might take a close to $20 million leap. 

Now, with the league almost certainly taking a massive revenue hit, that chances of it increasing are gone -- and instead it will be dropping. 

NFL and NFLPA’s potential solutions

How the league handles the lost revenue, and how it impacts the salary cap, is reportedly close to being settled. 

According to recent reports, the NFL and NFLPA are discussing a plan where the minimum cap in 2021 would be $175 million. It could come in higher, but that would be the floor. The caps in 2022-2024 would also be impacted, but it isn't clear yet what those numbers would be. 

A salary cap of $175 million, if that is what it comes in at, would be a $23 million drop from 2020, and around a $33 million drop from what the cap might have been otherwise. 

The Eagles

Now let’s look at how this could impact the Eagles. 

According to OvertheCap.com, who seem to be using a projected salary cap of around $215 million in 2021, the Eagles were already $54 million over the salary cap. That puts them as one of only two teams over the cap for next season, and easily in the worst spot of all 32 teams. So even if the pandemic didn’t happen, and there were no unexpected revenue losses, the Eagles had some serious work to do. 

The Eagles already have $267 million in salaries committed for the 2021 season. If the Eagles roll over $21 million, which is explained below, their salary cap could be $195 million -- $175 million plus the roll over. In that case they would need to cut around $71 million.  

So at this point, barring some kind of massive miracle, the Eagles are going to be hit hard by the revenue loss and they are going to have some big-time work to do next offseason. 

Is all hope lost?

The good news is the Eagles have two of the best salary cap minds in the league in Howie Roseman and Jake Rosenberg working their books. If you want to criticize them for pushing a lot of the big salary cap hits into one season (2021), that is fair. But clearly, they were not planning on the COVID-19 pandemic hitting, nor should they have been expected to plan on that. 

Regardless, whatever plan they had for 2020 and beyond is now gone. 

They will need to alter that plan and Eagles fans should be confident they will find a way. 

One thing is very important to remember — the NFL’s salary cap is a system filled with loopholes. So much so that some around the league view it more as a made-up number than something they actually make decisions by. The Eagles have been some of the trendsetters in the league in finding ways to work around it — fake years at the end of deals, low cap hits the first year, etc. 

Yes, they are in a tough spot. But the Eagles are already working on potential plans to get through this. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them start to make moves — trades, cuts, restructures — now in order to begin the climb out of the hole they will be in next offseason. 

Regardless of what happens, it would be very surprising if by the time the 2021 Week 1 kickoff is here, the Eagles aren’t fielding a team viewed as one of the better teams in the league. 

Roll Over Money

In the NFL, unused salary cap space from one year to the next rolls over.

The Eagles currently have around $21 million in salary cap space for the 2020 season after signing Jason Peters to a one-year deal. That number could change, especially after signing all their rookies, but expecting it to come in at around $19 million by the end of the 2020 season is a safe bet. 

The Eagles, obviously, need as much money as they can to roll over. So if the Eagles end the year with $19 million in salary cap space, and the cap comes in at around $175 million, they would need to go from slicing around $92 million in salaries to around $73 million because of the rolled over money. 

The need for rolled over money is something to keep in mind when debating if the Eagles should sign or trade for a player right now. 

How will they get under?

The Eagles have two mains paths to shedding salary — cutting players and renegotiating deals. 

The Eagles have some (presumably) fairly obvious cuts that will open up space. 

It is unlikely that the trio of Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Marquise Goodwin are back in 2021. If they are, it certainly won’t be on their current deals, and of the three Jackson has the best chance of being back. Cutting all three next offseason opens up around $19 million in cap space. In fact, cutting Goodwin saves the team $4 million right now — something to keep in mind for training camp. 

The issue is the Eagles don’t have a ton of other obvious cuts to save money. You can take a look for yourself at OvertheCap.com. It is hard to find players that will save a significant amount of cash while also not being a massive blow to the team. Only eight players on the 2021 roster currently save more than $1 million by being released. Three of those players are trio of wide receivers we already mentioned. The rest are Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, Brandon Brooks, Dallas Goedert and Derek Barnett. 

Of of those last five players, the most likely to be outright cut is Barnett. If the revenue loss is as bad as it could be, cutting him to open up $10 million in salary cap space could be a move the team reluctantly makes, especially if he doesn’t improve this season. 

The rest of the money is likely going to come from restructures. Cox has a projected cap hit of $22 million in 2021. Brandon Graham has a projected cap hit of $17.9 million. It would be surprising if either of those players played the 2021 season at those numbers. Ertz, who is already in line for a new deal, has a cap hit of $12.4 million in 2021. That could, and likely will be, lowered as well through a new deal.

The issue with basing your plans off of these moves, however, is that a lot needs to go right. The Eagles need to see some serious development from their young receivers to feel good cutting all three of their veterans at the position. Players like Cox, Graham, Ertz and Wentz have to want to re-do their deals, and if they do, the Eagles position of needing to restructure likely won’t help them in negotiations. Those players won't be taking paycuts -- they will want more money, just spread out over more years. The ages of some of those players — like Cox and Graham — should also be taken into consideration. Extending older players is a risk (See Jeffery, Alshon).

Still, it looks like outside of just completely gutting their team, the Eagles will need to be taking a large portion of salary from 2021 and restructuring it 2022. 

2022
The good news is that the Eagles are currently projected to be $51 million under the cap in 2022. That number will also go up, as players like Cox and Brooks either won’t be here in 2022 or will be on new deals. They are also in extremely good shape in 2023, with $117 million in projected cap space.

If the Eagles want to take salary for players they value, and move it into 2022 and beyond, they have the room and ability to do it -- even if the salary cap that season isn't as high as once expected either. 

Overall

Yes, this is projecting ahead. The Eagles should be trusted to make this work. They have (almost) always fielded a competitive team with Howie Roseman as general manger and Jeffrey Lurie as the owner. 

Still, there is no almost getting around it — the COVID-19 pandemic is going to have an impact on this team and their roster moving forward. 

You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!