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The 5 O’Clock Club: with free agency frenzy starting this week, let’s look at the salary caps & roster opportunities for NFC East teams

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

With free agency set to explode on Wednesday afternoon, it seems like a good time to look at what is possible for the NFC East division teams.

Eagles

OverTheCap estimates that the Eagles are $9.87m OVER the cap.

In the immediate term, they need to shed about $10m in cap space, meaning that Philly has almost no flexibility in their roster-building.

They’ll need to dump another couple of million ahead of the draft, then clear a bit more space ahead of the start of the season in September to allow themselves to have flexibility to sign players during the season as injury replacements.

All of this means that the Eagles need to get rid of some players just to meet the cap, and are likely to have to sit on the sidelines during free agency. The Eagles will be forced to cut players. The only real avenues they have to improve will be via trades, and, of course, the draft.

The Eagles have made two trades already this off-season.

The most recent was a good trade that sent Torrey Smith and his $5m cap hit to the Panthers for a $670,000 cornerback, netting the team more than $4m in cap space.

In an earlier move, the Eagles brought in Michael Bennett from the Seahawks, who, themselves, are in the midst of a salary dump. Expectations seem to be that the Eagles will trade or release Vinny Curry, absorbing a $6m dead cap hit to save $5m, which will go toward paying the freight for Michael Bennett’s $5.6m cap hit. Not only does this move put the Eagles further behind in salary cap, but they will be getting older, as Curry is 29 and Bennett is nearing the end of his career at age 33. Among 4-3 defensive ends making over $5m per year, only Cameron Wake is older.

Getting rid of Vinny Curry — if that happens — will only get the Eagles partway to the salary cap, however. The most likely move to get them the rest of the way seems to be trading or cutting Jason Peters and his contract, absorbing another $6.3m dead cap to save $4.3. If the team does this, then Vaitai will be locked in at LT, and the Eagles will probably need to spend a draft pick on a new backup tackle to maintain the roster depth.

A number of people have pointed to a Nick Foles trade as an opportunity for the Eagles to lighten their cap burden, but Foles has a dead cap hit of $5.4m, while trading him will save the Eagles a mere $2.2m. Is that enough to rely on Nate Sudfeld to carry the team if Carson Wentz can’t go?

It’s hard to see where the Eagles can find the money to retain any of their free agent veterans, which include Nigel Bradham, Trey Burton, Darren Sproles, LeGarrette Blount, Kenjon Barner and 5 backup defensive players.

The Eagles depth is likely to be severely tested in 2018, as they are set to lose 13 pending free agents along with the cap-driven cuts (such as Curry & Peters), and will need to rely on draft picks and undrafted free agents to take the place of the 15 or so players they are about to lose, as well as needing to replace veterans as injuries occur in camp and during the regular season.

Because of their horrible salary cap situation, the Eagles will find it harder than most super bowl winners to maintain a competitive roster in the following season; 2018 is likely to be a rough year for Philly.

To quote from a recent EaglesWire article:

Although it is worth it, winning the Super Bowl comes at a steep cost. Given the roster turnover that typically happens in the NFL as well as the complications of the salary cap, it’s difficult for any team to retain players, let alone one that won it all. The Eagles will have to let some players go or redo deals as they work to get under the salary cap.

Unless Howie Roseman pulls some more magic out of his hat (which he did each of the past two years), this is an Eagles roster which will be taking a step backwards in 2018. Of course, they each have a ring, and the organization has that nice shiny trophy — things that 31 other teams would happily take as consolation for the types of difficult cap-driven personnel decisions the Eagles face this year.

Cowboys

OverTheCap estimates that the Cowboys are $3.1m under the cap, which will be just a bit more than they will need to sign their draft picks.

The Cowboys, first of all, are carrying $14.8m in dead money this season, most of it for Tony Romo, who last took a meaningful snap for the Cowboys sometime in... what was it? 2015?

Having slapped the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys have two guys at the top of their salary tree who will count for more than $17m: Lawrence and Tyron Smith.

Dez Bryant sits at #3 on the salary cap hit list for the Cowboys at $16.5m. His 69 catches, 838 yards and 6 TDs are coming at a premium price for the Cowboys, and Dez doesn’t sound like he wants to give back any money. The best news for NFC East teams not based in Texas is that he is under contract through the end of 2019. The Cowboys could cut him (and probably should) but they will add another $8m in dead cap hits to the butcher’s bill that attests to Jerry Jones’ total inability to manage the salary cap.

The most obvious place for the Cowboys to look for cap relief is their aging TE Jason Witten, who would have no dead cap hit, and offers potential cap savings of $6.9m. Trading Witten away for a mid-round pick would probably be a good move, but one that Jerry Jones likely doesn’t have the stomach for.

There are a handful of players who could provide a million or two in cap savings to the Cowboys, but outside of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, there aren’t really many opportunities to create space.

The good news for the Cowboys is that they really only have two impact players that they are likely to lose in free agency — LG Jonathan Cooper and LB Anthony Hitchens. The only way I can see the team keeping either of them is to take action with Bryant or Witten.

The second bit of good news for the Cowboys is that they are about to get some payback for their horrible cap management in the form of 4 compensatory draft picks. Last off-season, when the Cowboys had no cap space to sign free agents (including their own) they had to watch 6 key defensive players and one running back leave the team — which largely accounted for their falloff from the 13 win season they enjoyed in 2016 (something we will probably see played out again this season with the Eagles).

The Cowboys, with ten total picks, can either re-load their roster (much as the Redskins did last year) or use draft capital to move up and grab a key player in the first or second round.

When it comes to free agency, however, with no cap space available, unless Jerry Jones wants to make some hard decisions about current players, the Cowboys will almost certainly be sitting on the sidelines with the Eagles — at least until 2019.

Giants

OverTheCap estimates that the Giants are $14m under the cap.

The bad news for the Giants is that they have 6 starters from the 2016 squad who are upcoming free agents, including 3 of their 5 starting offensive linemen.

They have 18 pending free agents overall, and — while they will be picking high in the draft — they have only 5 picks.

With an aging Eli Manning and 8 or 9 key free agent losses on the horizon, the Giants will find it difficult to get as much mileage out of their available $14m as they have needs. Realistically, they can probably sign no more than two impact free agents in 2018 to try to help an already-ailing roster.

The most obvious cap savings would come from Brandon Marshall, who will likely be cut from the team this off-season, giving the Giants another $5.1m to work with. Beyond that, Dave Gettleman would probably need to make some effective trades for one or more of his high priced defensive assets: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie [update: DRC was cut by the Giants, who had told him to take a pay cut or else], Janoris Jenkins, Jason Pierre-Paul or Olivier Vernon. It would probably be possible to make the type of trade that the Eagles just pulled off (Torrey Smith for Daryl Worley) to send a high-dollar veteran to another team in return for a good player still on a rookie contract.

The Giants have huge holes to fill on the OL and at running back, and limited resources to use. If New York uses their 2nd overall pick to take a QB this year, that would leave them only 4 draft picks and around $15m in free agency (after cutting Marshall) to replace six starters.

I suspect that Gettleman might be open to a trade back from that #2 draft position to give another team who wants first bite of the apple at QB the chance to take the Giants’ spot in return for a handful of draft picks that the Giants need to help them replenish their roster.

I think Gettleman is going to have a very busy offseason in this, his first year in New York.

Redskins

Having resolved their starting quarterback situation for the time being, the Redskins are estimated to have $31.9m in cap space available, according to OverTheCap. This is, by far, the largest available cap space for any team in the NFC East.

Part of the reason the Redskins have as much cap space as they do, though, is that they are potentially losing a number of key players — more than any of their NFC East division rivals. In fact, OverTheCap has 7 prospective Redskin free agents counted among their top-100, meaning that there is a huge potential talent drain to be replaced this off-season.

With the loss of Terrelle Pryor, Brian Quick, Ryan Grant, Spencer Long, Shawn Lauvao, Zach Brown, Bashaud Breeland, Kendall Fuller, Trent Murphy and Junior Galette on the horizon, the Redskins need to fill 10 big holes, either by re-signing some of those players, promoting backups from last year’s squad, drafting replacements, or signing free agents from other teams.

When you add in the need to upgrade at the DL & RB positions, the Redskins have, arguably, 12 spots that need to be addressed this off-season.

Let’s assume for a moment that Chase Roullier replaces Long at center, and Fabian Moreau replaces Bashaud Breeland. That leaves ten spots still to be handled. The draft can probably take care of two positions, but the Redskins could be looking at as many as 8 positions to be filled.

Murphy and Galette could be seen as redundant, taking the need down to 7, and although the team is losing up to 3 receivers, they really only need one high quality starting receiver from the draft or free agency, so the Redskin target list is probably about 5 players long in free agency.

After extending Alex Smith for 4 years, paying for draft picks and setting aside a contingency for in-season injuries, the Redskins can probably spend about $20m in free agency, which is probably tight-but-doable in terms of signing five free agents in March.

The opportunities for the Redskins to improve their salary cap position from where it is now are pretty limited.

  • TJ Clemmings $1.9m
  • Ziggy Hood $1.5m
  • Su’a Cravens $1m

would all save some money, but at these relatively low salary cap hits, it seems sensible to bring them to training camp and let them compete.

Terrell McClain, whom a lot of people have suggested cutting, would save just $937,000, and carries a dead cap hit of $3.75m, so — again — he’s probably worth bringing to camp.

The best cap-driven trade opportunities probably exist with Josh Norman, Ryan Kerrigan and Jordan Reed, though I think the coaches and front office would be reluctant to part with any of them.

Poll

Which NFC East front office do you think will have the most successful free agency period between now and the draft?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Eagles
    (97 votes)
  • 1%
    Cowboys
    (7 votes)
  • 11%
    Giants
    (51 votes)
  • 65%
    Redskins
    (294 votes)
449 votes total Vote Now