For as great as Howie Roseman has been since returning to the role of general manager in 2016, he’s also had some missteps along the way. From poor draft classes to overpaying aging veterans, Howie has some clear weaknesses as a GM — as does every other GM in professional sports. But, you’ll rarely hear anyone attack Roseman for his cap management.
It seems like every offseason the Eagles organization has ample amounts of cap to toss around to lure big name free agents to Philly. Even after signing Carson Wentz a year ago, the team still has about $20 million in cap space remaining this offseason.
‘The Cap Wizard,’ as some have referred to him as, has done an undeniably good job as manipulating the cap to allow him to continue building his team primarily through free agency.
Unfortunately for Howie and his front office, this mode of team building will be forced to come to firm halt next offseason, mostly because of Howie’s way of negotiating contracts.
Almost every contract that Howie hands out, whether it’s an extension of a current contract or a new contract altogether, is back loaded, meaning a disproportional amount of the player’s total salary is spread out over the latter half of the contract.
So, let’s just start off by looking at the number of players set to make over $10 million in 2020. Only five guys are going to make over $10 million: Wentz, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery. That number more than doubles the following season, with 12 players set to make over $10 million according to Spotrac.
This massive jump in revenue for all these players takes the Eagles projected cap of $183 million this season to $265 in 2021, leaving the team $50 million in the hole since the NFL’s projected cap space is around $215 million.
If Howie dug himself into this hole, he’ll surely know how to dig himself out, right? Well, it’s easier said than done.
First off, this whole situation could be affected drastically by the COVID-19 pandemic. If the NFL is forced to hold games without fans or if they have to cancel some games, the revenue they’ll collect will obviously drop. The NFL’s projected cap of $215 next offseason is based off the projected revenue that teams will make, it doesn’t take into consideration what no fans or game cancellations could do to teams’ profits.
When ESPN’s Adam Schefter was asked about the potential cap implications brought on by the pandemic, he stated that the NFL’s cap could drop as much as, “$30 to $80 million.”
That’s obviously a worst case scenario, so let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that — because truthfully, the situation is already as bad as it gets for Philly.
The first thing a GM usually does when they start going over the cap is cutting some of the aging vets who are being overpaid. We saw where that line of thinking got us this offseason with Alshon Jeffery; his contract was guaranteed, leaving almost no wiggle room to cut ties with him even though he probably shouldn’t be here anymore.
In almost every instance, cutting some of the team’s older players will result in dead cap penalties that will only make matters worse. Brandon Graham, for example, is set to make $17 million next year. He’ll be 32 years old, and let’s just say he starts to show his age a bit this season. Cutting him would result in a $17 dead cap penalty, although, cutting him post June 1 will lower that penalty to just about $5 million.
This is the case for most of the highly paid players on the team next season that could be potential candidates to get cut.
The second course of action most GMs do when they’re in cap hell in re-negotiate contracts, either to move the money around to different years or to just cut the pay a bit. Howie could try and go that route, but for some of these players, like Alshon, these contracts are guaranteed to a certain extent, so Howie can’t even touch those contracts.
For the ones that aren’t guaranteed and are just back loaded contracts, do you really think any of those players will take another pay cut when they’re finally set to start making a lot of money? They took the initial pay cut in order for Howie to back load the contract so that they would eventually see all the money they signed for.
Trying to cut some of the pay to players with those contracts will only hurt the trust between the organization and its players, and that’s something that can cripple a franchise.
I’m not trying to bash Howie for these mistakes; his whole philosophy of back loading contracts to acquire as much talent as possible through free agency did net the Eagles a Super Bowl title, so I mean, it did work. I just think Howie got too carried away with it and didn’t recognize the residual effects it would have down the line.
Or maybe this was all just part of his master plan, who knows. All we can do is speculate at this point.
Nevertheless, Howie and his front office will be faced with some tough decisions next offseason, and I’m not sure if anyone has any idea of how he’s going to fix the cap dystopia he got himself into.