How Eagles can give Jalen Hurts a huge contract and still keep key players

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The Eagles are 11-1 and on the short list of teams with a realistic chance of winning the Super Bowl. That might even be at the top of the list.

That means pretty much all of the focus inside the NovaCare Complex should be on the right now. Winning it all this year. Chances like this don’t come often and they need to do everything they can to try to capitalize on it with a Super Bowl.

That seems to the case with the acquisitions of Robert Quinn, Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh. Those players, acquired to help the team win right now, ate into the Eagles’ salary cap space. They were win-now moves that also impacted the future.

The future is something that has been on fans minds even with this historic season happening. With a contract coming for Jalen Hurts, and as many as 15 key free agents looking for new deals this offseason, the perception is that this is the Eagles best chance at winning — and it will be impossible to bring all the players back.

Is that true? Or can the Eagles keep the core of this team together for next season while also paying Hurts?

Let’s take a look at the health of the overall franchise by looking at their salary cap situation for this year, next year and some of the key free agents they need to sign.

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** Note: Numbers from OverTheCap and Spotrac are used in this story **

2022 Salary Cap Space: $5.3 million in salary cap space
The Eagles salary cap situation is tighter than usual, but it is money well spent. The have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL and still have the 12th-most salary cap space. Thats a good trade off.

Usually, the Eagles like to roll over around $10 million from one season to the next, and were set to do so before they acquired the trio of veteran defensive linemen. Those linemen took up about $5 million in cap space this year, cutting their available space in half.

Their cap space being cut in half matters as they will need every penny of cap space they can for the 2023 offseason — where they have an unprecedented amount of key players set to hit free agency.

2023 Salary Cap Space: $15.2 million in salary cap space (18th)
The amount of key players the Eagles currently have set to become free agents this offseason is unprecedented during the Howie Roseman era. There have been offseason with plenty of talented players hitting free agency, but never this many, and never at such key positions.

Two of their starting offensive linemen. Both of their starting defensive tackles. Both of their starting linebackers. Three of their four starters in the secondary. Their starting running back — and franchise icons Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham.

Overall the Eagles have 15 key players set to become free agents. This isn’t including players who will want new deals (like their MVP caliber quarterback, for example). These are players that will be allowed to sign with any team they want if the Eagles don’t sign them before the new league year.

Here is a list of the key free agents, with their age and snap percentage:

15 Key Free Agents: 
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (24)
Miles Sanders (25
Kyzir White (26)
T.J. Edwards (26)
Marcus Epps (26)
Gardner Minshew (26)
Boston Scott (27)
Zach Pascal (27)
Andre Dillard (27)
Isaac Seumalo (28)
Javon Hargrave (29)
James Bradberry (29)
Fletcher Cox (31)
Jason Kelce (34)
Brandon Graham (34)

With $15.2 million currently in cap space, and around $5 million currently set to roll over, the Eagles will have around $20 million initial to work with. They can also add to that total by restructuring the contracts of Lane Johnson ($14.1 million base salary in 2023) and Darius Slay  ($17 million) to open up even more space. Restructuring both of those, by extending the deal while lowering the base salaries and handing out a new signing bonus, could get the team to around $43 million.

The $20 million (or potentially $43 million) total can go a long way. Howie Roseman will hand out contracts with plenty of dummy years and large signing bonuses, giving players tiny 2023 cap hits to help fit them all under.

A.J. Brown, for example, got a four-year, $100 million deal with $57 million guaranteed this past offseason. His cap hit this season is just over $5 million. James Bradberry has a 1-year, $10 million deal that has a cap hit of just over $2 million this year. That is $7 million in cap hits for two players who got top-of-the-market deals. Brown as a No. 1 WR, Bradberry as a No. 2 CB late in free agency.

So if there is any general manager who can fit 15 key players under the cap with new deals this offseason, it is Roseman.

Even the best salary-cap gymnastics, however, likely won’t be enough to bring everyone back. It also might not be wise to do so. After the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017 they brought back a ton of veterans from that team in an attempt to win it again. That ended up being a mistake and played a roll in the team eventually winning just four games in 2020. So perhaps the Eagles will want some new players at key positions anyway.

Still, some tough decisions are going to have to be made. Roseman is likely more prepared to make them than he was after 2017. Those tough decisions will likely start with players like Seumalo and Hargrave. Graham will likely only be back on a much cheaper contract. Kelce seems like he might really be ready to move on after this season. Cox could also be gone if he decides he wants one last substantial payday.

Instead Roseman is likely going to prioritize the younger players — Gardner-Johnson, Edwards, White and Epps will be first in line to get new deals.

Bradberry and Sanders will be tough ones. Like Gardner-Johnson, Edwards, White and Epps, they are going to want big deals, and have played at a high level this season. The question is if the Eagles will put big money into their No. 2 cornerback and into a running back. Both players will likely want to return but might find more money elsewhere and move on.

This also doesn’t even factor in a new deal for Jalen Hurts. Hurts is 24-years old, an MVP candidate and could be a Super Bowl winning quarterback by the time this season is over. He is going to want a new deal and won’t be playing in 2023 without one. That deal is going to be very big and very complicated.

The contracts to consider when debating what Hurts might get:

Kyler Murray (24): $46m average on 5 years and $103m guaranteed, $189 basically guaranteed

Josh Allen (25): $43m average on 6 years, $100m guaranteed and $141m basically guaranteed

Deshaun Watson (26): $46m average on 5 years, $230m fully guaranteed

(Guaranteed money is fully guaranteed, basically guaranteed money is money the player can reasonably expect to get)

The average cap hits of those three contracts in the first year after the extension was signed is $13.8 million. It is the second year after the deal is signed where those hits explode to an average of $48 million.

Those teams have also been able to pay other star players. The Bills, for example, have given Stefon Diggs a contract worth $96 million. They gave Tre'Davious White a deal worth $69 million. Von Miller got $51 million guaranteed.

Of course, Hurts deal could top all of them. The price only goes up in the NFL. Hurts could go to the negotiating table with a better resume than all of them. Still, in general, those three deals are somewhat of a blueprint to look at.

Can the Eagles manage to pay Hurts a top-of-the-market deal and keep most of the core players set to hit free agency?

Restructure Slay and Johnson. Hand out deals with dummy years to free agents, stretching out the cap hits with large signing bonuses, low cap hits in Year 1 and bigger hits down the line. Extend Hurts with a lower cap hit in 2023 and a much larger one in 2024. Then, when eventually needed, go back to another round of restructuring on key players.

So while it won’t be easy or cheap, Eagles fans who are having trouble enjoying this success because of the feeling it can’t be duplicated next year, fear not — the chances this team keeps all the key players they want is much higher than people think.

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

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images