Five expensive players the Eagles should absolutely retain during rebuild

NFL: SEP 27 Bengals at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles Cornerback Darius Slay (24) interacts with the Bengals bench after a play in the second half during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

A refreshed era of Eagles football is upon us and with it comes a need to go out with the old and in with the new. Howie Roseman still has to find around $40M in cap space before the Eagles can proceed properly, and that means likely saying goodbye to some big names and even bigger contracts. However, not all players should be listed as expendable. Here are five Eagles who shouldn’t be exiled under any circumstance.

CB Darius Slay (Cap hit: $15M)

A $15M cap hit is a big one, I get that. But if you move on from Darius Slay, the chances of drafting one of the elite playmakers with the sixth overall should hypothetically vanish. I would be all for taking Patrick Surtain, but only if Slay is still around.

What we learned last year was what we really already know. If you have one cornerback who can shadow an opposing teams’ top wideout, and another who is undersized and struggles, the quarterback just isn’t going to look in the direction of his former favorite target and instead abuse the other side of the field.

Darius Slay may not have had many ‘big plays’ to his name last year, but he pocketed the majority of opposing #1 wideouts aside from the late stretch that included D.K Metcalf and Davante Adams.

Nothing would scream ‘Eagles’ more than fixing the offense and blowing up the secondary just one season after a significant investment that actually paid off.

What the Eagles really need to do is groom a CB2 who can one day grow into the shows of the 3-time Pro Bowler, as opposed to drafting yet another nickel cornerback and watching history repeat itself.

Brandon Graham (Cap hit: $17M)

There was a report out recently that moving on from Graham would save the Eagles $13M in cap space. This is false. If the Eagles cut/release Graham before 6/1, he only saves them $700k in cap space. A post 6/1 trade would indeed save them $13M, but by that point, everyone who needs a starting defensive end would’ve had free agency and the Draft to fill that hole.

Moving on from Brandon Graham, someone whose character and leadership would be absolutely vital in kickstarting the new era of Eagles football, makes little sense. He had a quiet end to the season and age isn’t on his side, but has Derek Barnett shown enough to be gifted the starting reins? Josh Sweat may be a more logical replacement, but durability concerns will always be present and it only adds another question mark alongside Derek Barnett’s role.

Graham had an explosive start to 2020 and while replicating that may be a tall order, the floor is at least clear. There is simply too much uncertainty on the depth chart to even think about moving on yet.

Jason Kelce (Cap hit: $8.4M)

This should be a no-brainer. If Jason Kelce opts to hang up his cleats and retire then that’s a different story, but that should be the only circumstance in which Kelce is no longer the teams’ starting center.

There is currently no viable backup on the depth chart that would instill confidence going into week one.

In a new offense with a new quarterback, the Eagles need some kind of continuity. Kelce remains one of the most athletic centers in the NFL and his freakish skill set remains an absolute dream when it comes to running inside-zone plays where he’s asked to push to the second level. We know Nick Sirianni likes to run the ball and having Kelce on-hand to ignite the ground game and keep the pressure off of the quarterback could be absolutely vital in 2021.

Lane Johnson (Cap hit: 17M)

Coming off of ankle surgery following years of nagging pain that hampered is play, it’s fair to question the hefty price that the Eagles will be paying for Lane Johnson next year. However, it’s unfair to question whether or not he should be on the roster.

There is no Halapoulivaati Vaitai anymore. No swing tackle to save the day as a backup. If Andre Dillard’s experience at RT against Seattle in 2019 had been anything other than a total train wreck then maybe this would be an option, but it wasn’t…so it’s not.

The Eagles have big question to answer at left tackle and they do not need to force one on the other end of the bookshelf by parting ways with a player who when healthy, is among the top tackles in the league.

Just like Kelce, Johnson will be absolutely vital in keeping his new QB upright. The Eagles surrendered a whopping 65 sacks last year and a chunk of them came as a result of not having Johnson around.

Brandon Brooks (Cap hit: $14.5M)

Brooks is in a similar position to Johnson, only he’s had an Achilles tear in back-to-back seasons. Again, it’s fair to question whether or not Brooks will be able to return to his elite form, but his miraculous recovery last year left fans absolutely bewildered.

We learned not to doubt Brooks his heart, or his determination that year and even if he isn’t able to return immediately or his form is a little less stable than before, he’s been such an important piece of the offensive line that moving on from him with so few viable options behind him again makes no sense.

The former Texan could well be in-line for a restructure, but a departure from the City of Brotherly Love seems unlikely for a player who allowed just one sack on 647 snaps in 2019.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

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