The Philadelphia Eagles traded for Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett today….but they really didn’t have the money to make the move. While the Seahawks do have to eat the dead cap left from Bennett’s prorated signing bonus, the Eagles are on the hook for his $1.7 million base salary and his $5 million roster bonus in 2018. According to Spotrac’s league-wide salary cap tracker, that means that the Eagles are one of two teams in the NFL over the salary cap…at nearly $16 million over the cap.
The other team over the cap, the Miami Dolphins, are rumored to trade wide receiver Jarvis Landry, which will save them over $16 million in cap space. Assuming that move happens, the Eagles are in the clear lead for “The Team Who Will Need To Make A Bunch Of Moves Before Free Agency Starts.” Between now and free agency, Philadelphia will likely lead the NFL in headlines.
While executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman is known for creative contract structures, it’s much more difficult to execute creative restructures, releases and trades (at least from a salary cap perspective) than extensions. Receiver Alshon Jeffery signed a four-year, $52 million extension this season that features just a $4.1 million cap hit in 2018, when the Eagles are tight on cap, but increases to $14.6 million in 2019, when the Eagles are more flexible. Defensive end Vinny Curry signed a five-year, $47.3 million contract that functions as a two-year, $18 million contract with three team options on the back end. Now in Year 3 of the deal, the Eagles can get out his contract with less than 40% of the contract paid, including the signing bonus.
So, Roseman is an intelligent guy who is going to have to make moves, but exactly what kind of moves is he going to have to make in this coming week? To get the Eagles to even $0 in cap space, he’s going to have to utilize the NFL’s June 1st cut designation, which allows teams to spread a dead cap hit over two seasons instead of one.
If the team finds a trade partner for Super Bowl-winning quarterback Nick Foles, they will save $2.3 million in cap space. If the team designates offensive tackle Jason Peters as a June 1st release, they’ll free up $7.5 million in cap space. If the team designates defensive end Vinny Curry as a June 1st release, they’ll free up $8 million in cap space.
It’s worth noting that the Eagles only have one pick in the first three rounds of the draft: the 32nd overall pick. When you include the cap hit of the 32nd overall pick (New Orleans’ Ryan Ramczyk had a $1.6 million cap hit last season), getting Foles, Peters and Curry off the books essentially gets Philadelphia to $0 in cap space for the 2018 season. It will take scrubbing their books of three of their top-10 cap hits to get to that number.
The team also has talented players, like linebacker Nigel Bradham, cornerback Patrick Robinson and tight end Trey Burton, who are slated to leave the team in free agency and are not counting against their 2018 cap. That means to sign them, there will almost certainly need to be an equal move to clear the cap. With just one pick in the top 125 selections in the draft, the Eagles currently have little margin of error.
It’s within reason to think that the team could make a surprise move to free up cap space while adding cheaper draft picks. For example, trading defensive end Brandon Graham, who is on the last year of his contract and plays the same position as Bennett and 2017 first-round pick Derek Barnett, could save the team $7 million in 2018, enough to potentially re-sign a Bradham, Robinson or Burton. Is trading one year of Graham in a three-man pass-rushing rotation worth a top-100 pick and re-signing Robinson? These are the type of questions that Roseman is going to have to ask if he wants to add even one more non-rookie to the current roster this offseason.
It’s also worth noting that June 1st-ing Peters and Curry will add around $6.3 million in dead cap to the Eagles’ 2019 cap. As it stands today, the Eagles have $-12.8 million in cap space in 2019. Only one other team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, has less than $32.3 million in cap space slated for 2019.
The Eagles are in the most unique cap situation in the NFL by far. Seeing how Roseman navigates these waters over the next two years could lay out the blueprint for how teams stagger cap hits and move assets around in the future.