After a poor season for the Philadelphia Eagles, they enter the 2021 NFL offseason with several concerns regarding their cap space. As of January 19th, the Eagles are $53 million over the projected salary cap in 2021. What options do the Eagles have as they look to get under the projected $175 million salary cap before the new league year begins on March 17th?
The Philadelphia Eagles’ 2021 salary cap commitments at $245 million
With all eyes turning towards the new league year, the Eagles’ salary cap is already in sharp focus. With 66 players under contract for next season, the Eagles’ top-51 salary number currently sits around $245 million. The projected salary cap for the 2021 NFL season is a minimum of $180 million. The Eagles can also bring over the $22.8 million in cap space from the 2020 season. Therefore, the Eagles projected salary cap for the 2021 season is $202.8 million.
The Eagles need to save around $40 million before the start of the league year
With the Eagles a little over $40 million above their projected salary cap, they will need to take action before the new league year. Teams cannot enter the new league year over the salary cap. Therefore, the Eagles have around two months to make some tough decisions.
The Eagles’ front office has already started making moves
Straight after their 2020 season ended, the Eagles took action to address their 2021 salary cap situation. The Eagles restructured the contract of Alshon Jeffery and Malik Jackson immediately following their Week 17 matchup. Initially, this seemed confusing as the Eagles were expected to cut both players prior to March. However, the move was extremely shrewd to help the Eagles save cap space.
The Eagles utilized the post-June 1 rule with these moves
The NFL allows each team to designate two players as post-June 1 cuts. Those players are immediately free to sign for another team, but they remain on their old team’s books until June 2. At that point, the players’ dead money charge changes.
If a player is not designated as a post-June 1 cut, then all of his remaining prorated signing bonus accelerates onto the cap the season he is cut. However, a post-June 1 cut means only the current season’s charges remain on the cap, with the remaining prorated bonus pushing into the following year’s cap.
For example, if a player is set to count $5 million in prorated bonus in 2021 and $5 million in 2022, then cutting him pre-June 1 would leave $10 million in dead money. In contrast, if a player is designated as a post-June 1 cut, $5 million in dead money counts in 2021, and $5 million counts in 2022. That rule is what the Eagles are looking to take advantage of by making these moves.
Philadelphia saved themselves over $10 million in cap space with these moves
Prior to the restructure, Jeffery was set to count $18.5 million against the cap in 2021. Meanwhile, Jackson was set to count $13.6 million. If the Eagles had designated them as post-June 1 cuts, those numbers would remain on their cap number until June 2. If the Eagles had cut them without the post-June 1 designation, they would cost the Eagles $10.5 million and $12.6 million, respectively. In that scenario, the Eagles would save just $8 million against the cap in 2021.
By restructuring the deals, the Eagles have significantly increased that saving. They reduced both players’ salaries to $2 million, reducing their cap hit to $7.8 million for Jeffery and $5.6 million for Jackson. Therefore, the Eagles will carry just $13.4 million for these two players on their cap in 2021. That is a saving of $18.7 million compared to their original number — it is also a saving of $10.7 million compared to getting cut in a normal fashion in March.
By making these moves, the Eagles will still carry $9 million in dead money for Jackson in 2022 and $5.43 million for Jeffery. However, the cap is expected to be higher in 2022, and the Eagles have fewer concerns around cap space next year.
As part of the restructure, both players have mechanisms in place to ensure they are cut. If Jeffery or Jackson is on the roster following the start of the league year, both will be guaranteed $27 million. Therefore, both players can start planning towards free agency and a fresh start away from Philadelphia.
Update: The Eagles have already started releasing players
On February 19th, DeSean Jackson announced he would be released by the Eagles. Jackson was set to count $10.7 million against the cap in 2021. Releasing him leaves $5.8 million in dead money with a saving of $4.9 million.
What does the Carson Wentz trade mean for the Eagles salary cap heading into the 2021 NFL league year?
Overall, trading Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts means little to the Eagles in terms of salary cap space for 2021. The trade will not become official until the new year league begins on March 17th. Therefore, Wentz remains on their books at his $34.7 million cap hit until then.
Even when he is traded, Wentz leaves behind $33.8 million in dead money with the Eagles. That is a reduction of less than $1 million on his cap hit had the Eagles kept him through the 2021 NFL season. However, in the future, the Eagles would have no further salary cap hits for Wentz.
The Eagles can clear further cap space with a combination of cuts, extensions, and restructures
While the Eagles have made some clever moves, they still have more work to do. Even with those restructures, the Eagles need to clear at least $50 million in cap space.
The Eagles could restructure a number of contracts
Another name on the Eagles’ list of potential restructures is Fletcher Cox. The defensive tackle would only save the Eagles $2.8 million in salary cap space if they cut him in 2021. However, a restructure could save as much as $11 million.
It is the same story with pass rusher Brandon Graham. Cutting Graham would save just $716,000. Meanwhile, a restructure could save as much as $8.9 million.
Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, and Javon Hargrave are three players who would cost the Eagles an extra $36 million in dead money if they were cut. However, restructuring their deals could save as much as $22 million.
Those six moves alone would save the Eagles a reasonable amount of the salary cap. If they restructure to the full extent, they could clear $60 million just with those five players.
Derek Barnett could be a candidate for an extension in 2021
There are a few key players who could receive extensions this offseason: Dallas Goedert, Avonte Maddox, and Josh Sweat are all candidates. However, with a combined cap hit in 2021 of around $4 million, extensions this offseason will make a limited difference.
In contrast, extending Derek Barnett could be a serious option. Barnett is set to cost $10 million in 2021 on his fifth-year option. An extension for the former first-round pick could save the Eagles as much as $7.25 million in cap space in 2021. However, the Eagles could also save all $10 million if Barnett were not part of their long-term plan.
Which players could the Eagles cut in 2021?
With Alshon Jeffery and Malik Jackson already known as cut candidates, the remaining high-impact options are limited. The clearest options reside in the pass-catching area of the team.
The 2020 season was also tough on Zach Ertz. Ertz entered the season as a potential candidate to get an extension but ended it as a cut candidate. He caught just 50 percent of his targets while playing just 10 games. With Goedert on the roster, the Eagles could save $4.7 million if they decided to move on from Ertz.
The Eagles could also restructure Ertz’s deal and save $4.8 million while still having him on the roster. Given the savings are the same either way, a restructure might be the smarter option. However, it would push the cost of Ertz into future seasons while risking having a disgruntled player because he didn’t get an extension in the offseason.
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