Carson Wentz is gone and the rebuild is on.
Now it is time for the Eagles to dig their way out of the $43 million salary cap hole they are in and start building for the future.
Doing so won’t be pretty or easy for Howie Roseman. He played a (big) role in getting the Eagles in this mess. The good news is that there is a way out of it, and they started that process by releasing DeSean Jackson last Friday.
The Eagles are currently projected to have $73.3 million in salary cap space for the 2022 offseason. That is a huge piece of information to keep in mine when judging what they should do now. They will likely use some of that cap space now to get under the cap in 2021.
To do that, they will likely do what they have been doing — extend older players, lowering their cap hits now to save cap space, but recommitting themselves to those older players at larger cap hits down the road.
That is the path they will probably take.
It isn’t the one I would.
My strategy instead would be to trade high-priced veterans, getting assets in return a little too early before getting them too late. The Eagles could compete in 2021 for the NFC East title because the division will be terrible, but realistically they will not be Super Bowl contenders next season. That makes this the perfect year to blow it up and prepare for a real run in 2022.
Think of this season like 2016 — new coach, new quarterback, new era of Eagles football. Treating 2021 like 2016 will set the Eagles up to have a better chance of making 2022 their next 2017.
The Eagles have already decided to use their two post-June 1st designations on Alshon Jeffery and Malik Jackson, which takes away other options they would have had with players on the roster. Both players will be released and keeping them is not an option.
To be clear — this is what I think they should do. Not what I think the Eagles will do, although to be honest, I do think we are going to see plenty of big-name players moved this offseason to acquire draft capital to both help with the rebuild and save money.
So using OverTheCap.com, let’s start at the $43 million the Eagles are currently over the cap — and count our way down from there.
** Note: The $43 million is based on a salary cap of $181 million in 2021. That could still change before the start of the new league year **
Trade Darius Slay
Reasoning: Trading Slay stings, especially one-year after trading a third-round pick for him and giving him a new deal. If the Eagles are going to let Roseman clean up his Wentz mistake, however, they should let him move on from Slay as well despite just trading for him. Slay is a much better player than Wentz, and although he probably won’t fetch the third-round pick back that the Eagles traded for him, getting the extra cap space and a draft pick back (maybe a 4th or 5th) would be a smart move for the rebuild.
Cap space saved in 2021: $5.2 million
Cap space in 2021: $37.8 million over
Trade/Cut Zach Ertz
Like Cox and Graham, Ertz is an all-time Eagles’ great. Unlike Cox and Graham, Ertz is almost certainly on his way out of Philadelphia. The cap-savings gained by trading Ertz are the same as they are if they cut him. Ertz, like Cox and Graham, deserves the chance to go to a team that can win right now. The Eagles should trade him to a team that wants him, or cut him so he can pick his new team. Either way, the Eagles will be moving on from the future Hall-of-Fame tight end.
Cap space saved in 2021: $4 million
Cap space in 2021: $33.8 million over
Cut Marquise Goodwin
Reasoning: This is a pretty easy one. Goodwin could be back on a much-lower cap hit, with no guaranteed money, if he wants to get a tryout with the team in camp. Giving him anything guaranteed, however, would be a mistake — and cutting him would be the best move for the Eagles.
Cap space saved in 2021: $3.5 million
Cap space in 2021: $30.3 million over
Cut Derek Barnett
Reasoning: Barnett is not worth $10 million in salary cap space, and he won’t get it from the Eagles, who will either cut him or re-sign him to a long-term deal. Bringing Barnett back is worth a shot, but I wouldn’t give him big money, and I’d make him test the market to find a good deal elsewhere and perhaps match it instead of signing him right now. Either way, I’d cut him and open up the salary cap space.
Cap space saved in 2021: $9.27 million
Cap space in 2021: $21.03 million over
Restructure Javon Hargrave
Reasoning: The player not the roster that makes the most sense to restructure is Hargrave. Hargrave is 28-years old, and is one of the few established players on the roster that is also young enough to re-commit to. Cutting his salary by $10 million this season and converting that money into a bonus, and spreading it out over the remainder of the contract, should open up $8 million for the Eagles.
Cap savings: $7.5 million
Cap space in 2021: $13.53 million over
Restructure Lane Johnson
Restructuring Johnson’s deal isn’t ideal, but if I am going to re-commit to older players, I’d rather do it along the offensive line. Johnson has a $9.5 million base salary in 2021. I would take $8 million of that and convert it to a bonus — spreading it out over the remainder of the deal. That should drop Johnson’s hit by around $7 million.
Cap Savings: Around $6.4 million
Cap space in 2021: $7.13 million over
Restructure Brandon Brooks
The same logic for Johnson applies to Brooks — Brooks has a $10.4 million base salary in 2021. I would take $8 million of that and convert it to a bonus. That would drop Brooks’ by just under $7 million, which would bring the Eagles to right under the salary cap.
Cap Savings: $6 million
Cap space in 2021: About $1.2 million over
The Eagles would need to shave $1.2 million from another contract, but these 7 moves would basically get the Eagles under the cap — and then they can explore some trades after June 1st to open up even more space.
Post June 1st:
On June 1st the Eagles will open up $4 million in salary cap space when they can officially take Alshon Jeffery and Malik Jackson off the books. That would bring them to around $5 million under the cap (obviously they will likely make some free agency signings somehow, but lets just keep it moving with these numbers).
After that, they can explore the two big-money savings I would explore — trading Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham.
Trade Fletcher Cox
To be clear — Cox is still a great player. He is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. This isn’t a move being made because Cox can’t play — it is a move being made to try to capitalize on Cox’s value now and save a huge chunk of salary in both 2021 and 2022. Teams will have interest in trading for Cox, who has a base salary of $15 million next season, but could re-do his deal with his new team. Either way, Cox is likely worth at least a third-round pick, if not more. The rebuild won’t be easy or fun. Trading Cox is going to hurt, but it would be a smart move by the team to now instead of waiting until next offseason.
Trading Cox after June 1st would open up $16 million in salary cap space in 2021.
Trade Brandon Graham
The same logic in trading Cox applies to Graham. Graham is one of the all-time great Eagles and was part of one of the biggest plays in franchise history. Roseman hates trading away the players he likes personally and Graham certainly falls under that category. Like Cox, however, Graham could likely fetch a decent return in a trade. Trading Graham after June 1st would open up $13 million in salary cap space in 2021.
Of the two, I would keep Graham before Cox — I think you get more back for Cox in a trade.
If the Eagles were to trade both players after June 1st it would open up a combined $29 million in salary cap space for 2021. It would cost them money in 2022, but it would overall be a net-positive in cap savings and land them draft picks in return. The Eagles would then be able to sign any free agents they wanted at that point, or simply roll it all that extra money over in 2022 — which is what I would suggest they do.
Another option for the Eagles if they wanted to keep Graham and Cox would be to re-structure their deals like I did with Hargrave, Johnson and Broos above. Doing so could open up easily an extra $10 million, which would give them around $11 million in salary cap space -- enough to sign at least one-or-two high-level free agents if they wanted.
Another shoe that could drop soon is Kelce potential retiring. If he does, that will open up even more cap space for the Eagles. If he doesn’t, they should keep him on the roster welcome him back for 2021. Unlike the defensive line and the secondary, I wouldn’t just sell off talent on the offensive line — protecting whoever the quarterback is in 2021 is more important than collecting some late-round picks. Same goes for Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks.
If the Eagles follow this path they would lose Cox, Graham, Ertz, Goodwin and Slay by the time they open training camp. All of them are at least 30-years old. They can all still play, but they all have value around the league (besides Goodwin) and can go to another team ready to win now while the Eagles rebuild.
They will have re-committed to Johnson and Brooks, but not at huge money, and again, it it better to invest in the offensive line if you have to do it anywhere.
The Eagles could easily have around $90 million in salary cap space for 2022 (or more after rolled over money) if they follow this path, plus have (likely) two-first round picks in 2022 and some extra picks in the later rounds as well, to rebuild with.
By following the path, the Eagles should be able to build a young roster in 2022 that not only can compete in a weak NFC East this season, but for years to come as well.
You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at email@example.com!