It’s been an interesting offseason for the Eagles so far. The receiving corps has seen a makeover and there’s been a changing of the guard along the defensive line. But one thing has emerged as a constant between all new additions..the contract. As we all know, the Eagles aren’t exactly in a position of luxury when it comes to cap space..and with so many holes to fill, it’s restricted their ability to attack free agency aggressively. But it doesn’t mean that their approach is any less effective.
It all started with the wideouts. The Eagles were well aware that they couldn’t afford the long-term money that former Bears wide receiver, Alshon Jeffery, coveted..but what they could do was give him a chance to play his way to a much bigger deal. If his performance was to underwhelm, the Eagles don’t have multiple seasons of cap-hit stings staring at them in the face..and if he has a career year, the team are in a much better spot to bring him back.
Torrey Smith on the other hand found himself signing a deal of similar context, but with less leverage. A 3-year deal worth $15M may sound like a lot for the former Niners and Ravens wideout, but the final two years are team-options..meaning the Eagles could potentially part ways after year one, without any cap ramifications. Smith isn’t the only one in this Boat either..
DE Chris Long’s 2-year deal is actually a little more complicated than that. The former Pats and Rams DE actually signed a 5-year deal with the Birds’, according to Patriots Beat Writer, Ben Volin. But the final three years will become void if Long is still on the roster by the start of the 2019 league year. What does this mean? An incentive based, short-term deal in which Long receives the money he believes he earns..and will be rewarded for play as opposed to potential. Should Long thrive, the Eagles have the ability to work on an extension..and if he doesn’t, there’s no consequence to cutting him.
Chris Long signed a 5-year, $12.75m deal with Eagles, but it's really 2 years, $4.5m plus $1.5m incentives. Final 3 years automatically void
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) March 31, 2017
In fact, every player to sign with the Eagles so far this offseason is on some kind of prove it deal. Chance Warmack and Patrick Robinson are hoping to secure their long-term future in Philadelphia, but to do so, they have to first shine in the short-term in positions where competition will be vicious. Even Ron Brooks, who was already on the roster, reportedly took a pay cut earlier today..lowering his salary to $1M this season. His final year of the three-year contract signed last offseason, is now also a team-option.
With the exception of Jeffery, it’s arguable that no player who has signed with the team so far, is guaranteed to be a starter in week 1. Competition will be ripe and from a resurgent Nelson Agholor, to Isaac Seumalo and Vinny Curry there are plenty of players who will want to make sure they don’t sink down the depth chart because of the new signings. So, what happens if the players fail to meet expectations?
Well, at a basic level, the Eagles are back to square one..but we’re also not accounting for the biggest factor in all of this, the NFL Draft. The Eagles want to become a young team that’s loaded with potential. A team that’s built around Carson Wentz..and a team that at the end of Pederson’s five-year window, will be competing on the grandest stage of them all. As we’ve learned in recent years, patching the holes with free agents simply doesn’t work.
The Eagles have to build through the Draft..and they’re well aware of it. From Lurie’s statement at the NFL Annual Meetings, echoing the sentiment of just how important the Sam Bradford trade was, to the emphasis on who is setting the Draft board and the prospects who the team have met with so far, the goal is to build for the future.
It’s easy to forget, but of all players drafted by the Eagles last season, only one is currently on another team. That man is sixth round pick, Blake Countess. An incredibly strong UDFA class that saw many of the “Training Camp bodies” go on to have an impact in the regular season only cemented the direction that the team are heading in. The strong class was needed for a multitude of reasons..and they largely fell on the shoulders of Joe Douglas, who will set the Draft Board once again this year.
Even in a worst-case scenario, where after one year, maybe two or three of the players on prove-it deals simply aren’t working out, the Eagles, by then, will have the pieces in place to get younger at the position and fully patch the hole. If the veterans do perform..then depth is in abundance and once again, the need is ticked.
Patrick Robinson for a hypothetical instance, may not be the lock-down corner that the Eagles need, but if they end up taking corners in the middle rounds of the draft and “redshirt” them so to speak, it gives them a year to develop in the tenacious Jim Schwartz Defense, before evaluating their potential inclusion one year later..on a rookie deal that would be far cheaper than extending a veteran seeking a pay-day.
The signings that the Eagles have made so far, may not be glamorous. They may not have the shock-factor of a DeMarco Murray or a Byron Maxwell. They may not have the schematic experience of a Leodis McKelvin. But what they do have, is a chip on their shoulder and a belief that they can earn a long-term deal. The Eagles are keen to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself..and that’s probably for the best.
The Eagles aren’t paying for potential. Deals loaded with incentives for Veterans who believe they deserve a big payday are only going to end positively for both parties..and each player bought in thus far has the ability to be a major contributor through the 2017 season. Should there be a scenario where the Eagles need to move on from certain players after one year, they will have more than likely have a 2017 draft class with talent perhaps even more loaded than the last. If the veterans stay, the Eagles can continue to add top talent at other holes through next year’s draft..safe in the knowledge that the roster is one step closer to being complete.
It may not be glamorous, it may not be transparent..but the Eagles are setting themselves up to become one of the youngest, most explosive teams in the NFL. Balancing veteran presence, with financial leverage..and more importantly, a focus on the draft and developing talent.
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports