The arrival of the new league year is upon us but the weeks preceding it have been anything but smooth for the reigning Super Bowl champions. Philadelphia were deep in cap purgatory but after a lot of work and a few heartbreaking goodbyes, the team are set to begin building for the future once more.
Reality hit home for many on Tuesday. The Eagles decided to release veteran tight end, Brent Celek, in order to save $5M worth of cap space. Drafted by the team back in 2007, Celek was a mainstay in Philadelphia. Through the good times and the bad, Celek was a security blanket for his quarterback throughout his career and will be remembered as one of the best tight ends in franchise history. But all good things must come to an end and the Eagles have greatness to maintain.
The Eagles also opted to trade away Torrey Smith in order to save a further $5M off of their cap and in turn bring in a developmental cornerback in Daryl Worley.
It doesn’t help that the restricted cap help also meant that several key cogs in the Eagles Super Bowl winning team are unable to return. Of the 14 free agents who spent their final contracted year as part of the most miraculous season in history, it would be unlikely to see many return. Trey Burton spent just one day on the open market before inking a 4-year deal worth $32M, while DT Beau Allen posted an emotional goodbye message to the City of Brotherly Love, a place he’s called home since being drafted in 2014.
This offseason was never going to be easy, especially with how many large contracts were weighing the team down. But with some wizardry from Howie Roseman that helped land 3x Pro Bowler, Michael Bennett, the negative impact of those deals have been minimized. Lane Johnson restructured his contract to help the Eagles out of a sticky cap situation which now means the team are finally in the green.
The bumps in the road were inevitable. Winning a championship in the NFL is one thing, sustaining that success is something entirely different. Championship caliber players become ever more enticing, draft capital lowers and free agents seek greater paydays and long-term security. Leverage begins to dwindle for Howie Roseman and company who are doing all they can to keep the band together.
With such minimal cap room to work with and holes opening up across the team, with linebacker and tight end now being two of the most prominent, the Eagles had to make some tough decisions. But this is far from over. With the new league year commencing on Wednesday, guaranteed money for the likes of Vinny Curry and Nick Foles activate. Leaving the team with little in the way of both time and leverage to work out a solution of lifting that weight.
So where do they go from here? The Draft is a little over a month away and the Eagles have little in the way of capital to spend. Without a pick in rounds 2-3, the Eagles are left with the 32nd overall pick, two fourth rounders and a selection in each of the remaining rounds.
It’s been a rollercoaster week for the Philadelphia Eagles, who have said their goodbyes to the likes of Torrey Smith and Brent Celek and opened their doors to new talent, including a combined 8 Pro Bowl appearances from Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata. But when the green flag drops on the new year, Howie Roseman and company will again be put through their paces and face even tougher challenges.
The Eagles have plenty of talent, there’s no denying that. But by building through the draft, the team have committed to an ethos of development of younger players while prove-it contracts handed out to veterans bridge the gap until they’re ready to make the jump. Which free agents can the Eagles afford? What will the draft entail? How much trade leverage do the team have left?
All of this will be answered in the coming weeks, but one thing is certain. Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas have won half of the battle. They’ve built a championship winning roster around a franchise quarterback who still has three years left on his rookie contract. Solidifying the trenches and gracefully acquiring talent at skill positions, the future of this team really started to take shape in the most magical year of all. The challenge however, is sustaining that vision and insuring that building for long-term success does not suddenly become compromised with an intent to create a team who can win right now….because they are already more than capable of doing just that.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports