Free Agency officially began today and Howie and company wasted no time in working toward a repeat. After starting the offseason with the worst cap situation in the league the team somehow finds itself with an even more impressive roster (on paper) than last years.
Here are my thoughts on the major moves the team made and how they effect our offseason moving forward:
A week or so after the Eagles won the Super Bowl, I wrote a “checklist” for the offseason. The #1 priority on that list – not just from me, but most fans & analysts – was re-signing Nigel Bradham. While the prospects of that happening seemed to vary throughout the end of February and early march, the Eagles settled that this morning when they inked him to a 5-year $40 million deal. One of, if not the most important piece of last season’s defense will be here for the foreseeable future.
What does this mean for the Birds plans at linebacker? Unlike most people, I won’t say Kendricks is gone just yet, but it looks more likely. I also won’t rule out a potential Hicks trade at the right price. $8 million annually is signal-caller type money; we know the defense can more than survive without Hicks, so I’m not sure why people are so quick to assume he sticks around – especially considering his injury history.
Additionally, while linebacker is still a need we can probably rule it out for a potential first round pick. The short term need isn’t there anymore and it’s not necessarily a glaring long-term issue either.
At the end of the day this was the most important decision Howie will make all offseason, so I’m glad he didn’t waste any time taking care of it.
Haloti Ngata in, Beau Allen out
The Birds allowed Allen to walk in free agency as expected – he recently inked a deal with Tampa Bay. Allen was the teams third defensive tackle and a key run stopper in the Jim Schwartz system.
Howie didn’t waste any time replacing that spot with 12-year veteran and 5-time pro bowler Haloti Ngata. Is Ngata an upgrade from Beau? Absolutely.
Allen was exceptional last season but Ngata was probably just as good if not better for the Lions. Not only that, but Ngata has the pedigree to step in and start in case of injury – something we weren’t necessarily comfortable doing with Beau. He’s an aging player looking for a chance to compete, and in Philly he’ll be able to do that without sacrificing too many snaps (Allen played 41% of defensive snaps).
Michael Bennett was an upgrade over Vinny Curry, and now Haloti Ngata is an upgrade over Beau Allen — that’s why they call Howie a genius.
Patrick Robinson won’t return after signing a 4-year deal with New Orleans
It looks the Birds nickel corner won’t be back after all. Much like Bradham, the prospects of him returning varied all offseason; initially he was assumed to be the odd man out until reports surfaced indicating the Eagles desire to bring him back on a long term deal. Those reports appear to be baseless as just this morning Howie used what was presumed to be Robinson’s money to re-sign Bradham, and P-Rob signed with the Saints.
I viewed Robinson as a player of equal value to this defense as Bradham; especially when you take into account Hicks returning at LB, and no clear heir at nickel corner it’s a wonder to me why they wouldn’t want to re-sign one of the leagues top nickels. On top of that, the Eagle secondary has been a gaping hole for almost a decade, and Robinson played a bigger role in turning that around this season than Darby — contrary to popular belief.
Make no mistake about it, if we go into next season without adding a capable or proven nickel corner it will be a concern. The only real shot to replace him is kicking Darby inside and leaving Jones and Mills to cover the outside. I think Darby has the talent, and the only reason they didn’t experiment with this last season was because a) they traded for him during the preseason, making it too late; and b) because with Jones on the shelf we had a bigger need outside at the time. I’m not sold on this option, but it’s the only potential in-house fix.
Other than that, with linebacker and defensive line sured up it opens up the possibility of taking a corner in the draft — maybe even at 32.
Lane Johnson restructured his contract
Yesterday the team announced that they were able to restructure the $63 million extension Johnson signed in 2016. The move saves the team $7.5 million for the 2018 season and appears to be what enabled them to re-sign Nigel Bradham. I figured someone would restructure their contract to free up cap space and Johnson makes sense — it’s always good to see a player willing to do this after a Super Bowl, and I’m sure he won’t be the last.
What else might Howie do in order to save additional cap room?
It’s been rumored that the team is asking Curry to restructure his deal in order to free up space and I think that’s a strong likelihood. The alternative is cutting him and the team is more than prepared for that after the Michael Bennett trade — who just restructured his deal to save money on the backend, as opposed to 2018.
As anticipated, they traded Torrey Smith and cut Brent Celek, but I don’t think it stops there. Along with Curry – Kendricks, Hicks, Darby, and Foles are all possibilities. I discussed the two linebackers earlier, and just last week I wrote about why a possible Ronald Darby trade makes sense.
The team needed to be under the cap by 4p.m. today and they were able to do that. But the work doesn’t stop there; with so many depth needs that still exist on this team — tight end, linebacker, safety, nickel corner, wide receiver, and offensive line — Howie needs to continue clearing space.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t see the offseason playing out this way. What this front office has been able to do thus far is nothing short of impressive and I expect that to continue. Not only is Howie putting his team in a position to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, but he’s putting himself in a position to repeat as Executive of the Year.