Salary Cap and Roster Cuts

UPDATE:  I mentioned that GCobb had made a ridiculous assertion about Evan Mathis.  Turns out it was actually Denny Basens, who writes at GCobb.com, so adjust my previous point accordingly.

Focus has shifted to the roster and the salary cap, with everyone putting out a stay/go list and predicting who is going to stay.  Here is my take on it.  Sorry in advance for the lack of data.

First, everyone needs to understand that this is NOT a team that is one offseason away from seriously contending for a Super Bowl.  If everything goes right, the Eagles could certainly make the playoffs, but right now that’s the high-end of where the team can expect to be.

Understanding that, the team needs to be very careful with its salary cap space.  Right now, it’s more important to find the right pieces at GOOD VALUES then it is to pay up in free agency looking for impact players to help immediately turn the team around.

Free agency is essentially an auction, with all 32 teams valuing each player (obviously not all teams go after every player).  However, by definition, signing a FA means you are overpaying, in that you are valuing the player more highly than the rest of the market (winner’s curse).  It’s a dangerous game to play, as Eagles fans will know from recent “dream team” experience.  I believe the Eagles’ focus will (should) be on finding depth in free agency, with specific attention paid to “character” guys who will help Chip Kelly install his own atmosphere (Dennis Dixon seems like a prime example if he signs).

So don’t be disappointed if there are no huge player signings.  Conversely, if there is a big signing, remember it doesn’t always work out the way it seems (Nnamdi anyone?).  I’ll be much more excited with 4 or 5 low-profile “solid” signings than with 1 “big-time” addition.

In the meantime, who stays/goes?

I’ve had a lot of fun reading some articles that suggest nearly the entire defense will be released.  While few of them deserve to start, the fact is you still need to field a team, making it very difficult to cut EVERYONE.

Here is GCobb‘s.  Which is notable because he makes a ridiculous claim that Evan Mathis should go.  He believes that any player that doesn’t “dominate” should be replaced.  Ignoring the fact that Mathis was among the best guards in football this year (for those that actually watch the game), it’s outrageous to believe that any team subject to a salary cap could actually “dominate” at every position, especially at a relatively low-impact one like OG.  Needless to say, I won’t be taking anything GCobb Denny Basens at GCobb.com says seriously ever again, and I encourage all readers to do the same.

Before I go player-by-player, let me say something important when it comes to player evaluation.  As I just mentioned, you can’t expect EVERY player to be great.  The fact is, on a lot of good teams there are bad starters.  However, the overall talent allows the coaches to hide the weaknesses of these players.  The Eagles were so bad this season that there was no cover for anybody.  For example, on a good team, you might be able to sneak Akeem Jordan in there as a starter and compensate with a great MLB and strong D-Line.  So some of the players everyone is sick of may in fact be able to make contributions as role players once the rest of the roster gets upgraded.

Finally, here is my opinion on a selection of potential roster changes:

– Bell (already gone, but he was obvious)

– Nnamdi, an easy cut.  Rather than dissect what went wrong, I’d rather all Eagles writers/fans just agree never to speak of this signing again.

– Vick, yet another easy one.  For those still thinking he might be on the team, please remember that HE IS NOT A GOOD QUARTERBACK and now he’s old with an extensive history of injuries.  Not happening.

– Jenkins.  Ideally Jenkins would be plugged in as a 3-4 end in the new system, and I’d be happy if that happened, but all current accounts say he has an attitude problem and will complicate the coaching transition.  Normally I discount such things, but with a new coaching regime, it’s perhaps the only chance to complete a wholesale atmospheric change of the team.  If Jenkins isn’t a good soldier, he’s gone without a second thought.

– Peters stays, provided his rehab is on schedule.  This is becoming a popular suggestion for a potential cut, since his cap hit is around $11 million.  However, with the above cuts, the Eagles will have plenty of cap space.  Also, a healthy Peters (even if he comes back at 80% of what he was) is a BIG help to the offense.  While he clearly isn’t a long-term solution, it gives the Eagles an OT bridge until they can get a younger starter in there.  For example, keeping Peters would allow the team to draft Lotulelei and worry about OT either later in the draft (where I’ve shown they can find a starter) or next year.

– Demeco stays.  He is overpaid ($6.7 mil hit I think), but he is definitely a “character” guy and another veteran the Eagles can count on for one more year while they fill other roster holes.

– Trent Cole.  This is definitely the highest potential for “surprise cut”.  His contract makes that difficult, but judged purely on his play, Cole’s not going to win many fans among the new coaches.  Can he transition to a rush-linebacker?  Maybe, but I think Graham is better suited to that role.  Cole might end up staying, but probably gets shifted to a situational player rather than an every-down lineman (a near-lock if the team goes 100% to the 3-4).

– Invisible Man, Akeem Jordan, Casey Matthews.  Pick two of them to get rid of, doesn’t really matter which ones, though Jordan occasionally contributed on special teams in the past.  Only reason you keep one is so you don’t have so many holes to fill.  Matthews may get the nod because of his Oregon ties.

– DRC.  Anyone suggesting DRC should go is out of their mind.  He is inconsistent and will command a big salary, but the Eagles need to keep him (franchise tag if necessary).  It’s hard enough to replace one starting corner (and both safeties), but replacing the entire defensive backfield is a recipe for disaster.  Also, DRC is one of only a few guys in the league that can actually check some of the big superstar receivers in the league.  If I’m going against a Megatron or Brandon Marshall-type, I want DRC on my team.

– Colt Anderson.  This is a surprisingly tough decision, but I say he stays on one condition: He never steps foot on the field as a defensive player.  As a special-teamer and a locker-room guy, I love Colt.  However, he’s shown he clearly doesn’t have the ability to play on defense.  Some teams keep a roster spot for a “special teams ace”.  If Kelly decides to, then Colt stays.  Otherwise, goodbye Colt.

– Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman.  Love to see both of them go, but this will be a case of what’s available.  Most likely scenario is the Eagles sign a safety and draft one, then let everyone battle it out and pick the least-terrible option.  It’s just not easy to go out and find a starting-quality safety now that the NFL is so pass-happy.  I will say that I’d be OK with Allen as a back-up for a year, while I think Kurt Coleman’s weaknesses have been so clearly exposed that he shouldn’t be on the field.

One final point – I cannot overemphasize how important the #4 pick in the draft is, and not just because it needs to be an All-Pro.  Shifting to the 3-4 seems like a foregone conclusion, but the Eagles do NOT have anyone on the roster that can play NT.  That means if the team does not draft Lotulelei, it needs to either sign a FA (only real fit is Kemoeatu of the Ravens, and he’s 34 years old) or hope one of the other NT prospects falls to the 2nd round, which is unlikely.  If the team cannot find a NT, I have no idea what it will do, but odds are it won’t be pretty.