Here we are mid-February and just now starting dialogue on the offseason. Normally at this point in the year we’d be knee-deep in these discussions but the whole Super Bowl thing put that on hold. And if that’s the new norm I’m okay with it.
Super Bowl champions haven’t repeated in over a decade, and while Howie deserves a lot of credit for pushing the right buttons in 2017 he’ll need to be equally as savvy this offseason. A few key players need to be re-signed or extended, and with very little room to do so ($8 million over the cap) Howie has his work cut out for him if he wants to make a repeat realistic.
The following moves should be prioritized this offseason:
Re-sign Nigel Bradham
This one’s obvious and is by far the top priority for Howie. If he doesn’t get it done it’ll create a glaring need for this team; Bradham was one of the top linebackers in the league and arguably the MVP for Schwartz defense. It won’t be cheap, but he’ll be worth whatever it cost to keep him around. There are a lot of players the defense could lose and not skip a beat from last season’s unit – Bradham isn’t one of them.
Keep Big D*** Nick
While the aftermath of the Super Bowl was filled with talk of Foles trade value it’s imperative that the Birds keep him around, and for multiple reasons.
There’s a chance that we need Nick to start the first few weeks of the season. With Wentz’ rehab schedule running up against the start of the season it’s unclear whether or not he’ll be ready to go. Having Foles around not only affords Wentz more time to heal, but it also assures that we can compete in the interim – something that no other backup on the market can bring us.
Additionally, when we drafted Wentz a lot of people looked for Bradford to be traded immediately. His value at the time couldn’t have been more than a third round pick and he ended up yielding a first rounder a few months later. So while Foles value may be high now, we can’t predict how the landscape changes by week 1. If Wentz is healthy – god willing – and another team loses their starter, we could find ourselves in a similar situation and move Foles for a first round pick.
While I get the need to cash in on Foles’ value, it doesn’t supersede the priority that is Carson Wentz’s health. The relevancy of this franchise hinges on his knee healing properly — not cashing out on Foles’ MVP performance.
Restructure Peters, or release him altogether
It really pains me to write this but saving money on Peters is the most obvious of the “difficult moves” Howie might have to make to save money. Although he’s still serviceable at 36 years old it’s hard to ignore that Vaitai was able to replace him without making too much noise. I think Peters would aid the run game more but I don’t think it’s enough to justify his $10+ million hit on the cap.
While cutting him wouldn’t save 100% of that money the Birds need whatever they can get. It’s not a popular opinion and won’t be a popular move if it’s made, but if Howie can’t find other ways to clear cap space then it’s hard to ignore that this makes a lot of sense.
Re-sign Patrick Robinson
If resigning Bradham is a consensus priority amongst Birds fans then Pat Robinson is more controversial. But in my opinion Howie needs to do whatever he can to carve out cap room to re-sign the nickel corner. I’ve written a lot about Robinsons value to this defense in the past:
“Conventional wisdom would have you wondering why a nickel-corner is more valuable (or as valuable) as an outside-corner. But today’s NFL sees a lot of offenses leaving three receivers on the field at a time and putting increasingly dynamic pass-catchers in the slot, which has blurred the value gap between slot and boundary corners in recent years. (It should be noted the Birds use a nickel package as their base defense) … Beyond dispelling the notion that nickel corners are just backups, Robinson has actually been the Eagles best cover man all season. Pro Football Focus gives him the sixth highest grade out of every corner in the NFL, and the passer rating of opposing quarterbacks when targeting him is just 65.2 – good for the third best in the league. While Robinson’s addition may not be a mainstream pick, he’s low key been one of the most valuable additions to this Eagle team.”
We may assume we can just replace him in the nickel with one of our younger pieces but that logic is wishful thinking. (Don’t kid yourself, Mills or Douglas can’t fill this role like Robinson). For a team that has spent nearly a decade grappling with a porous secondary we shouldn’t be taking Robinson’s emergence for granted.
Free up cap space (a lot of it)
While it’s been well publicized that we have an unusually high number of starters under control, the downside to that security is not having any cap flexibility. To make any of the moves detailed above Howie needs to clear a lot of room and his options for freeing that space are limited.
There are a few obvious moves he can make. For starters, Torrey Smith has a number at $5 million that we can fully save by cutting him. Brent Celek has flirted with retirement, so either that or releasing him would save the team about $4 million.
Outside of the obvious moves, Howie will need to make some other key decisions in order to free up additional room. While I already mentioned Peters — mainly because he can be replaced without creating a hole — some people point to restructuring Vinny Curry’s $11 million cap number or trading Mychal Kendricks as additional cash saving moves.
Regardless, Howie will need to make at least one, if not two unpopular decisions if he wants to free up the requisite cap space to resign our key starters and give Brandon Graham the contract extension he’s earned.
Howie is regarded as a cap-wizard. He held that reputation long before Chip Kelly tried to bury him away in the NovaCare complex. If there’s someone who can find a way to deliver on these priorities without getting into cap trouble it’s him.