A detailed look at the Eagles' terrible 2021 salary cap situation

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The Eagles have had one of the best salary cap situations in the NFL for years with Howie Roseman and cap guru Jake Rosenberg running the show.

Like the team’s performance on the field this season, however, that has taken a dramatic change for the worse.

Heading into what is a crucial offseason for the franchise, with all kinds of big-time decisions to be made, the Eagles are expected to have one of the worst — if not the worst — salary cap situations in the entire league. The New Orleans Saints might have less cap space, but the Eagles’ roster is older and not as good, making their situation uniquely terrible.

Considering their track record, there is an argument to be made that Roseman and Rosenberg deserve the benefit of the doubt. They have never been in this situation, and the pandemic made it worse. They know the intricate details better than anyone. Perhaps they have a plan that will shock everyone and clean a bad situation up quickly.

But with how bad things look, it is fair to wonder if even they can find a way to work their way out of it?

Let’s take a look at the monumental task the Eagles face in trying to fix this roster.

A crucial first step in figuring out how bad things could be for the Eagles is knowing what the salary cap will be.

Normally the cap goes up each year, and some expected it to be around $208 million for 2021 after being around $198 million in 2020. With the unexpected massive revenue loss around the league this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the NFL and NFLPA had to negotiate a new salary cap. The exact number isn’t set yet, but the floor has been, with the two sides agreeing it wouldn’t be below $175 million. While it is good to know the floor, that is still a dramatic drop from the $208 million teams around the league expected it to come in at when planning years ahead.

There is some reason for optimism, however. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio recently reported that there is some belief the cap could come in at $195 million in 2021 due to new TV money and the expectation of filled stadiums. That is $20 million more than expected, and close to what the cap is this year.

That would obviously be huge for all teams — but especially the Eagles.

The Eagles currently have $264.3 million in salaries committed for the 2021 season, according to OvertheCap.com. Using a cap of $175 million, that would put them at around $89 million in salaries over the cap.

The good news is that the team does have $23.4 million in salary cap space currently, which will roll over. The extra $23.4 million will give them at a cap of $198.4 million ($175 million plus the $23.4). That will leave them around $65.9 million over the cap.

If the cap comes in at $195 million, the Eagles would have a salary cap of $218.4 million, and be $45.9 million over the cap — a massive difference when trying to get back in the green.

Most years, even when the Eagles’ salary cap situation looks bad, it normally isn’t. There are obvious cuts to be made or obvious players to restructure.

This year, however, as a result of bad drafting and bad deals by Roseman, the answers aren’t as clear — in fact, there aren’t many good solutions at all.

There are five players, due to either age or the structure of their current contract, that the team will likely not have on the roster under their current deal in 2021.

Here are the cap numbers if they move on from those players:

Wide Receiver Alshon Jeffery: Saves $7.9 million, leaves $10.5 million in dead cap  
Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson: Saves $5.1 million, leaves $5.8 million in dead cap 
Wide Receiver Marquise Goodwin: Saves $4.8 million, leaves $0 in dead cap 
Defensive End Derek Barnett: Saves $10 million, leaves $0 in dead cap 
Tight End Zach Ertz: Saves $4.7 million, leaves $7.6 million in dead cap *Cap hits for a trade*

Total Saved: $32.5 million
Total in Dead Cap: $23.9 million

Of the two, Ertz and Barnett are most likely to be back on new deals — Barnet especially. So money could be spent there. It would be surprising, however, if either player was back on their current salary cap number for the 2021 season.

This is where the difference in the cap becomes especially big. If the cap comes in at $175 million, after moving off of all those contracts, and the Eagles will still have around $32.9 million in cap to cut to get under the cap. If it comes in at $195 million, the Eagles will have only around $13.4 million more to cut.

The roughly $20 million difference is huge considering the next-best way to shed salary is to restructure and extend contracts. If it is only $13.4 million, it could be done in one-or-two deals. If it is $32.9 million, the Eagles have some major problems.

When it comes to restructuring contracts to save salary cap space, usually the team will convert base salary into a signing bonus, which decreases the cap hit that season but ties the team to the player on the back-end of the contract. That provides the player with a big check at the time of restructure, some security moving forward and the team with some cap relief. If it is a player the team is committed to for the future, it is a win-win for both sides.

Of course, the Eagles can’t just decide to re-do some deals and dictate the terms. The team is going to need to cooperation of the players to do so, considering the players don’t have to do it — the player and their agent will only restructure if there is a financial benefit for them. That means more money up front out of Jeffrey Lurie’s pocket and more guarantees in future years. Considering all the Eagles’ highest-paid players are older, that means extending older players and essentially creating the same problem down the line.

It is not an ideal situation, but the Eagles simply don’t have enough young players making enough money that re-doing their deal would provide any substantial relief. In fact, of the 14 players projected to have a cap hit of at least $5 million in 2021, 10 are going to be at least 30-years old by the time the 2021 season begins. There arguably isn’t a single young player on the roster that can be extended that is worth committing to.

Possible Restructure Candidates:

** Ages are as of Week 1 in 2021 **

Fletcher Cox (29): $15 million guaranteed salary in 2021
Brandon Graham (33): $13 million guaranteed salary in 2021
Lane Johnson (31): $9.65 million guaranteed salary in 2021
Darius Slay (30): $12 million guaranteed salary in 2021
Javon Hargrave (28): $12.75 million guaranteed salary in 2021
Malik Jackson (31): $9 million guaranteed salary in 2021
Brandon Brooks (32): $10.4 million guaranteed salary in 2021

Of those players, really only two — Slay and Hargrave — feel like safe bets to re-commit to. The rest are either on the older side or coming off of major injuries. Hargrave and Slay, however, just signed their contracts last offseason — so that could complicate a restructure. There is also the not-great season Hargrave is having to be taken into consideration as well. The Eagles might not hand out either deal to either player they did last offseason had they known the season was going to do the way it is. Doubling-down on both isn’t exactly ideal.

Isaac Seumalo — just 27-years old — is another obvious candidate, but with a base salary of only $3 million, there isn’t a ton of relief there to be had.

Is re-committing to Cox, whose deal they have already restructured, a good idea? Is locking up more years of Brooks, Graham or Johnson a safe move? If the Eagles didn’t have to create space, they almost certainly wouldn’t. Now, they might have to.

Then there is, of course, the massive Carson Wentz question.

Wentz is set to have a base salary of $15.4 million in 2021. If he wasn’t having the worst season the franchise could have ever imagined, it is very likely they would have re-done the deal this offseason, lowering that hit dramatically and doubling-down on their franchise guy. Now, not only will they likely be hesitant to re-do that deal, they could look into trading him — which would save them about $800K in salary cap space, but leave a $34 million hit in dead money. If the cap is at $175 million, that is almost 20% of the cap. Even if it is at $195 million, that is still 17%. With how poorly he has played, however, anything is possible. The question around Wentz and his future with the team is the first one that needs to be answered in any blueprint for this offseason.

No matter the blueprint, however, one thing is clear for 2021 — things are not great.

An increased cap of $195 million would certainly help the Eagles dramatically, but even then, they will still have to extend players they wouldn’t have otherwise to get under the cap. They will also have to do all this — cut players, trade players, extend players — just to get back to even. This isn’t even taking into account money they would ideally like to have to improve a roster that is currently 3-8-1. They also have almost no attractive trade pieces, which is going to make getting any talent back in an even-money swap really hard.

The lack of cap space is going to cause the Eagles to have to look to the draft for immediate help, something they have struggled to do with Roseman running the show.

In fact, things are so bad, the Eagles might be wise to just punt on the 2021 season and focus on 2022. Trade Wentz for an asset this offseason and get out from under his deal. Tank in 2021 and (ideally) have two-straight years with top-10 picks. See what you have in Jalen Hurts, and if it doesn’t work, head into the 2022 offseason with $81 million in cap space and a completely fresh slate.

Sure, things can change quickly. Nobody expected the 2016 Eagles to turn into the 2017 Eagles.

There is also no denying, however, things have not looked this bad for this team in a long, long time.

You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!