First, departures were painful.
Four starters were benched from the defense in lineman Javon Hargrave, both linebackers in TJ Edwards and Kazir White, and safety Marcus Epps.
It appeared that cornerback Darius Slay was going to be the fifth when it was reported, and was confirmed by him in a tweet that he was going to be released as a salary cap victim. But the two sides reportedly kept talking and a settlement appeared to be in place late on Wednesday.
Slay also confirmed this, with a tweet that said, “Back like I never left!!! Play it back”.
The Eagles could also lose safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson after re-signing Fletcher Cox, one of the all-time Eagles greats, through his 11 seasons on Wednesday night.
On offense, they lost running back Miles Sanders and his 1,269 yards to the Carolina Panthers, with right guard Isaac Seumalo likely to eventually follow.
It would be easy to attribute the departure to the pending contract extension Jalen Hurts received, which would average $50 million per season in average annual value. This represents roughly one-quarter of the Eagles’ salary cap.
But it’s misguided as Eagles general manager Howie Roseman pulled a Houdini act and found a way to keep several core players like Cox, Slay, fellow cornerback James Bradberry, center Jason Kelce and defensive end Brandon Graham.
Rosman did all this within the limits of the salary cap, knowing that a deal with Hearts could be done.
Big Moves:The Eagles re-signed released Fletcher Cox as a replacement for Darius Slay. Will CJ Gardner-Johnson stay?
Free Agent Tracker:Miles Sanders going to Carolina; Shakeup in DB leads to slay, what about CJGJ?
But even if Hearts gets its extension in the near future, it won’t go into effect until 2024. The benefit of signing Hearts for the Eagles is now two-fold. For one, they can set aside a signing bonus over the life of the contract (Hearts will certainly get all of it upon signing), beginning this season when Hearts counts $4.8 million against the cap.
So adding $10-$15 million to it still makes Hearts a salary-cap deal this year.
Second, if the Eagles wait until after this season to extend with Hurts, their price will only rise – as will the salary cap – as other youngsters, Joe Burrows and top quarterbacks like Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson sign new contracts. Let’s sign on.
There is a price to having a franchise quarterback on the roster.
And the Eagles are hardly the only team to go through this situation. The team they lost to in the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs, had to trade away wide receiver Tyreek Hill after signing Patrick Mahomes to a 10-year, $450 million extension last summer.
Mahomes hit $36 million on the Chiefs’ salary cap last season. He won the Super Bowl anyway.
Mahomes’ salary cap hit this season is likely to be in the $40 million range, even if the Chiefs restructure some of his signing bonus on Wednesday. Already this month, the Chiefs released both of their starting tackles, Orlando Brown and Andrew Wylie, and lost wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and safety Juan Thornhill in free agency.
They signed youngster Taylor from the Jaguars to replace one of the late tackles.
Chances are the Chiefs will still be a Super Bowl contender this season.
And that’s the lesson for the Eagles on two fronts.
On the one hand, the Eagles drafted Hargrave’s successors in Jordan Davis, Seumlo in Cam Jurgens, and Edwards in Nakobe Dean.
If those rookies are as good as advertised, they’ll benefit from sitting behind those starters in 2022 and ready to step up without a significant decline.
The Eagles will have to find a replacement for White, whether that’s going with Shaun Bradley or Davion Taylor, or signing a low-cost veteran free agent – just like White was last season.
And safety wise, the Eagles appear to be trying hard to sign Gardner-Johnson.
If Gardner-Johnson remains, he could replace Eps, who was the starter for the first time last season, with either Reed Blankenship or K’Veon Wallace. If he leaves, the Eagles could have cap room to find a free agent replacement.
As Rosman often says, it’s been a long off-season. Bradberry, for example, did not become available until last May when the Giants released him.
Because it was so late in the process, Bradberry signed a one-year Probation deal below market. He proved it with an All Pro season.
Certainly, it will be difficult to replace Hargrave, who had a career-high 11 sacks. But Hargrave signed with the 49ers at an average annual price of $21 million per season, and he’s 30 years old. The Eagles weren’t going to that match. So they will have to either draft or use a late free agent to help fill that void.
This brings us to another point.
If the Eagles learned one thing from their loss to the Chiefs in the Super Bowl, it’s that they don’t need a Super Bowl defense to win the Super Bowl.
All they need is a defense that can make a crucial stop. The Eagles spent big in 2022 to get that defense going, with Cox and Hargrave counting on $27 million each, and Slay and Bradberry counting on $27 million on the cap as well.
Sure, that got the Eagles the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFL, with a franchise-record 70 sacks, just 2 short of the NFL record.
But they could not prevent Mahomes from rushing for 26 yards and going down late in the fourth quarter due to a sprained ankle. And they couldn’t keep either Skye Moore or Kadarius Toney from getting wide open for short touchdown receptions with the game on the line.
All of this is to say that games are won by offense, and for the Eagles, that is led by Hurts.
The Eagles are still unbeaten because they have Hurts, who threw for 3,701 yards and ran for 760, and was responsible for 35 total touchdowns. That doesn’t change with the oft-injured Rashaad Penny running back in Sanders’ place.
Penny averaged 5.7 yards per carry in his career. Think how much he will average with the Hearts as a running threat, not to mention a star-studded offensive line with the addition of right tackle Lane Johnson with Kelce for his 13th season.
Sure, signing Penny is somewhat of a gamble since he hasn’t played more than 10 games in a season since his rookie year of 2017. Sanders is getting a four-year deal worth $25 million.
Top receivers AJ Brown, Devonta Smith and Dallas Goedert are signed through at least 2025, assuming the Eagles pick up Smith’s fifth-year option next season, a virtual certainty.
Roseman knew that departure was a possibility. But he also identified the players he wanted to keep. It could also be Gardner-Johnson.
The injury and offense are more than enough to offset the other losses.
Contact Martin Frank at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article was originally published on the Delaware News Journal: Why The Jalen Hurts Contract Won’t Keep The Eagles From Keeping Most Of Their Top Players