Eagles mailbag: Free agents most likely to leave and return originally appeared nbc sports philadelphia
With NFL free agency fast approaching, it’s a good reminder that there really isn’t an NFL off-season. We’ll get through free agency in time for the draft, then OTAs, then training camp and then week 1 will be here before you know it.
We have enough questions to split this mailbag into a few parts.
Here’s part 2:
The Eagles have a ton of free agents and Howie Rosman has already said they won’t be able to keep them all. Heck, they wouldn’t be able to keep most of them. But at least they’ll bring something back.
Most Likely To Return: At the top of the list of likely players to return, I would say Jason Kelce. The Eagles brought back Kelce through 2022 on a one-year deal worth $14 million. It’s no guarantee that Kelce will be back for this upcoming season, but he’s almost in an entirely different category because it’s not like another team will be bidding for his services. , He is in a unique position as it will either come down to playing for the Eagles or retiring. So taking away the possibility for another team makes it more likely that he’ll be back in 2023 than some of these other free agents. The Eagles aren’t going to rush Kelse’s decision but the sooner they know, the better. My guess is that Kelce will come back because of how well he played in 2022, the chance to play for a team that can still satisfy and the fact that he made it through this season without major injuries. And another $14 million payday wouldn’t be bad either. Ultimately, the decision is up to Kelsey and only he knows what he’s going to do.
If I had to pick the second best prospect, I’d go with Brandon Graham. He made some money last year but I can’t see him playing anywhere else. I’ve expected him to leave before and he hasn’t. So the Eagles should be able to find enough common ground to bring him back and hopefully let him finish his career in Philly.
Least likely to come back: I could say Robert Quinn or Brett Kern… but that feels like cheating. No one expects these people to come back. So if we’re talking about a group of more important free agents, I’d say Andre Dillard. I think there is going to be a team that is willing to pay him to be the starter or compete for that job. And without any starters to catch up in Philly, the Eagles would be unwilling to pay that kind of money for a backup. Heck, even if Kelce did decide to retire, I think the money would be headed towards Isaac Seumlo instead of Dillard’s. If you want another name I think isn’t very likely to make a comeback, it’s James Bradberry. He’s going to get paid and should be out of the Eagles’ price range.
The Eagles have not used the franchise tag since DeSean Jackson in 2012. This is not a coincidence. Roseman doesn’t like using them because there isn’t as much flexibility offered with the franchise tag. I know some thought the Eagles would use this on CJ Gardner-Johnson this year, but it never seemed to happen, especially because the Eagles are in a tight spot with the cap this season.
Had the Eagles used the franchise tag on CJGJ, it would have been a one-year investment of $14.46 million with a matching cap hit. This is not a flexible number and everyone will be counted towards this year’s limit. He just can’t. Even if the Eagles signed a player to a $15 million APY deal over three years, they would be able to spread that cap hit out and carry a larger portion of those cap fees into the future. Where the league-wide cap is expected to be consistent. Rise. Will the Eagles never use the franchise tag again? I would not say so. You never know what will happen in the future or who the Eagles wouldn’t want to lose easily. But it’s hard to imagine that Rosman will ever be happy doing it.
I’ll give you three:
1. If Miles Sanders goes into free agency as expected, another running back will need to be found at the top of the list. Can the Eagles Make Kenny Gainwell Their RB1? it’s possible. But I really like his ability to be in a committee-by-committee system, not as a bell cow. This is considered a good running back draft class; Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network said he gave a grade to 13 running backs in the top three rounds. So even if the Eagles don’t come off big in the first round, they will have some opportunities on the second day.
2. One of the stories we probably haven’t talked about enough this offseason is the potential departure of Gardner Minshew, who was a solid and cost-controlled veteran backup quarterback. That’s rare in the NFL. But Minshew is going to try to find a spot where he can compete for more playing time and it doesn’t look like that spot will be coming back to Philly. The Eagles are also up against it in terms of cap space, so this probably isn’t a year where they can just overpay for a backup veteran. Do they draft one? Try to find one in business? Find one in the bargain bin of free agency? If Ian Book isn’t ready for that role – and it’s hard to say that he is – then this is the place worth finding out.
3. You probably expected me to say the third wide receiver spot, but I’m still top of mind on Cuz Watkins. I know they had a disappointing season in 2022 and capped it off with a terrible fall in the Super Bowl. He got fewer chances last season, but he didn’t do enough with the opportunities he got. But he still has a speed of 4.35 and has shown potential to be a deep threat in the NFL. Not every receiver who puts in fast time in the pre-draft process can translate that on the field and we’ve seen Watkins do that in the NFL. So the other spot the Eagles could use an upgrade is at tight end. It’s not a knock on Jack Stoll or Grant Calcaterra, but if the Eagles find another tight end who can make a big impact, it will give some teeth to their 12 personnel package.
Looks like there’s a lot of potential and the Eagles aren’t trying to hide it. At the combine, Roseman was also asked about his experience building a roster around a starting quarterback with a second-round contract.
“You want me to get emotional about what it was like before our quarterbacks got paid?” Roseman said. “I think that’s the nature of the business. I think the better thing is when you have a quarterback that’s so good that you want to pay him and he has a chance to be a great player. Show him that.” What kind of player is he going to be.
“If you don’t have a quarterback, you’re looking for one, and you can’t win in this league without a great quarterback who plays at a high level. We saw how Jalen played in the Super Bowl on the biggest stage, and It’s exciting for our team, for our fans, for all of us.
So yeah, not the guy who’s thinking this deal won’t happen. He’s a man who knows he’s going to pay for Hurts and who knows it won’t be cheap. This is going to be a huge deal.
Now, there may be some incentive to beat out the other two quarterbacks for contract extensions. The other two big ones coming this off-season are Joe Burrows and Justin Herbert. This shouldn’t be the driving force and the Eagles should simply rush the deal, but completing the Hearts contract before those two won’t hurt.
Whatever the Eagles deal with Hearts will be backloaded. That’s how they do every contract and it makes sense. You push cap hits into the future as the NFL prints money and the league-wide cap goes up year after year. is understandable.
But it’s not like the Eagles woke up the day after the season and thought, “Oh, damn it, we have to pay Jalen.” He has thought about it. And having a QB on a mega deal would fundamentally change the construction of a roster. So much cap space was used on veterans and much of that will now shift to Hurts, which means there will be an emphasis on the draft. It really starts with the class of 2022. The likes of Jordan Davis, Cam Jurgens and Nakobe Dean should make cost-controlled starts in at least 2023, 2024 and 2025. Then the Eagles will also try to add to this draft and the future in it. That’s how you build a roster with high-value QBs.
I like Josh Jobe but it is difficult to say what kind of role he will play next. I was impressed with him in the summer of 2022 when he earned a roster spot over other young and talented cornerbacks. That position was a stalemate but he came away with a roster spot and even performed better than some corners who were paid more guaranteed money as undrafted rookies. He did not get much playing time on defense as a rookie, but he became a special teams contributor. For now, this is his role. We’ll see if the next defensive backs coach is able to continue his development.
The Vikings released Eric Kendricks earlier this week in a cap-saving move. The 31-year-old played in all 17 games for the Vikings in 2022 and recorded 137 tackles to lead the team. He’s not at his peak anymore but was still solid last season. The Eagles’ two starting linebackers from last season – TJ Edwards and Kazir White – are both set to become free agents. They have Nakobe Dean waiting for one of those starting spots. But the second place may be empty.
One thing Kendricks has going for him is that he was released by the Vikings, which means he will not count towards the compensatory pick formula. Because the Eagles are expected to lose so many free agents, they figure they are going to end up with a maximum of four comp picks next year from this offseason. They don’t want to sign an outside free agent that would void one of those picks. If given the choice, they would probably lean towards players who were cut for that reason (if possible). Not sure if Kendricks is the guy, but keep it in mind when free agency starts.
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