The Eagles In A Flat-Cap World

One of the most interesting scenes at the owners meetings in Phoenix last week came courtesy of Patriots owner Robert Kraft. He stopped to meet with a group of reporters outside of the Biltmore Hotel and, having just lost Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos, stepped out of character and went into great detail to explain why the Pats were unable to strike a deal with the popular wideout. In his efforts to paint New England in a better light, he allowed us a peek at the new NFL business model.

“Let me tell you what has happened in the NFL this year: The top 25 players  have received 700 million dollars. How many Pro Bowls  cumulatively do you think those players have gone to? Six,” said Kraft. “That tells you the trend has gone to signing young, up-and coming players.

“There were 52 starters — and a starter is someone that plays more than eight games — who had been cut this year. Forty-one of them are over 30 years old. I don’t think this has ever happened the same way in the league.”

As a member of the labor committee that helped negotiate the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Kraft is fully aware that the flat cap is behind this development. When the salary cap stays at around the same number from year to year but players’ contracts go up, teams have to be even more disciplined in their allocation of resources. As a result older players, whose projected production might not be in line with their salary demands, are hitting the streets with greater frequency. From Welker to James Harrison to Brian Urlacher to Ed Reed, a good deal of notable names either have a new address or no address at all. Quality, veteran teams like the Ravens and Steelers eventually bang their heads against the financial ceiling.

“Now, you can’t win for long, which is why nobody will ever go to four straight Super Bowls again,” said Bill Polian. “The system is designed to take good teams and rob them of players. That’s the way it is.”

It is a good problem to have if you are the Ravens and have to figure out how to redevelop your core after winning a Super Bowl and identifying a franchise quarterback. For teams like the Eagles, the process is about building and identifying that core.

“You have to set your priorities on your team because you’re going to want to keep your front-line players, and as the cap is flat the contracts are naturally going to rise year to year, and the pay scale is going to rise,” said general manager Howie Roseman. “You have to figure out where your priorities are, where your deal-breakers are, where you can live with maybe a younger player, maybe a more inexpensive player. Those are the decisions you have to make when you live in a flat-cap world.”

The Eagles identified LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Todd Herremans and Trent Cole as pieces they wanted to build around, signing each to contract extensions last offseason. The idea is to hold onto quality, homegrown talent to help establish a proper culture. You rely on the draft to find other key pieces at bargain prices. In a flat-cap market,  drafting well is more important than ever.

Free-agency dollars are spent on young players with upside like Connor Barwin (26), Patrick Chung (25) and Kenny Phillips (26) that are acquired at fair or below-market prices. Hopefully they fit in the locker room and are productive. If not, you cut your losses.

“Now you’ve got a flat cap and not a large, strong free agent class so you have to be more value-oriented,” said Jeffrey Lurie.

“It’s no different than the stock market. You’re not going to have a permanent philosophy for 10 years, you are going to adapt to the economic situation — what the opportunities are, the risk-reward – and try to maximize your situation.”

Invest in your core, supplement that core with quality, inexpensive pieces, have some financial flexibility for a rainy day (like when you discover a franchise quarterback, say) and hope that the group matures into a title contender. The Eagles have a young roster (average age of 26.2) and plenty of cap room at their disposal (around $23 million). Now comes the maturity process.

Lurie hopes that when he faces a situation a few years from now like Kraft did with Welker, that he will do so from a similar position of strength — one that can only come from being a champion.

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  • Brent E. Sulecki

    about time they get rid of old man McBriar…he stinks..lets go with a 2 time all pro Donnie Jones welcome to the Nest. special teams and toughness of this team looking pretty great. now get them on the field and show it.

  • Tom W

    Great article. Howie is doing a very nice job IMO and another draft like last year will help this team alot. We are 2-3 yrs away and I hope the city and these so-called fans have patience.

    • Roasty

      Eagles fans patient? Fat chance. I whole heatedly agree that this team is going in the right direction and another good draft or two and this team will be prime for a run. I can only hope that bird fans realize you can’t take a 4-12 team on the down slide and make them a contender in a coaches first year. We all need to give Kelly the benefit of time before we start calling for his head.

      • Adam

        We weren’t your stereotypical 4-12 team. We didn’t lack talent, we just imploded at the worst possible times. The talent was all there, we just need to shake it up a bit. I’m not saying I expect perfection and a complete 180 this year. But there’s no reason to think we can’t contend in a very weak and wide open NFC East next year. And I’m sure Chip and Howie feel the same.

        • Richard Colton

          Hey Adam. I’m going to respectfully disagree with you. The problem was a lack of talent. 4 of 5 starting O-linemen and 4 of 4 starting DBs were terrible last year. Add a new coaching staff with a new offensive/defensive philosophy and I’m willing to concede that we’re in a rebuilding, not retooling, year.

          • Adam

            And that’s fine. I’m just saying that the Steelers, Lions, 1 of Redskins and 1 Cowboys games were very winnable with the talent we had on the roster. All of a sudden were in the running for the NFC East. We’re getting back our oline and I doubt it’s possible for our secondary to get any worse. The NFC East isn’t getting any better with aging rosters in Dallas and NY and who knows what RG3 is going to be like. So what I’m saying is I don’t expect a lot but I really don’t think it’s that crazy to think a .500 season is out the realm of possibility, and it won’t take much more than that to win NFC East.

          • laeagle

            When 4 out of your 5 projected starting lineman are terrible, that’s one thing. When 4 out of your 5 lineman go down with injury and their backups don’t do great, that’s another.

          • Richard Colton

            Well I hope you and Adam are right laeagle. We haven’t seen any of these projected starters back from injury yet. At least lets wait for the 1st mini-camp before we pass judgement. Are you willing to bet the future of this franchise on Peters being 80% as effective in 2014 and 2015 as 2011? My fear is finally making a superbowl run with a 33 y/o left tackle protecting our QB.

          • laeagle

            I won’t go as far as to say that there aren’t concerns at OL. It’s the notion that we were some talent starved team last year that I object to. We had plenty of talent but didn’t know how to use it, or the guys were talented but had no drive. The hope is that they’re fixing that, but of course there are no guarantees. I think I would have major problems if they acted like last year’s injuries are all going to be just fine this year. That’s way too risky. If, by the time the season starts, they haven’t addressed the line in the draft or free agency (remember, there are at least another couple of waves of FA coming, with the secondary market, post June 1 cuts, etc.), THEN we can talk about whether or not they’re betting the future.

            But back to the talent question, that was a talented (and proven!) line going into last year, and 4 out of the 5 starters left at various points because of injury. That’s not the same as a team like, say, Dallas, that actually is woefully lacking in talent on the OL. Bring some new talent in with the draft, add a journeyman backup, and we SHOULD be OK, but of course there are no guarantees. Bottom line, this team’s record was not a lack of talent, only a lack of heart and a lack of buy-in with the coach. Not to say that they’re a playoff team yet, but let’s not put them in the conversation for the first pick in next year’s draft, either.

          • Richard Colton

            Good stuff. I just don’t see the talent Adam was referencing.
            We had: terrible DBs, average LBs, the O-line has age/depth/injury concerns, only one starting D lineman is returning from last year, no clear cut #1 QB.

            I think there’s a temptation to overvalue our players
            because they’re our players.

            I’m not a pessimist, just trying to be pragmatic. Years of
            poor drafting and FA decisions have caught up with the roster. This is a two
            year overhaul, not a one year fix.

          • JofreyRice

            Yeah, agree with you fully here. Injuries happen in the NFL, and to not be able to adapt and have your backups step in without total calamity is a failure of your personnel department. They had plenty of time to get a replacement plan for Jason Peters and came up with Demetress Bell, possibly the worst tackle in the league last year. The only guy I see where the “talented but lazy/unfocused” trope applies is DRC. The rest of them are just not good at football, regardless of name recognition or former star power. Figures the first round bust stays healthy as a horse throughout all this.

            For these reasons, I’m not jumping for joy about the moves that have been made until we see the effect on the field. Howie had assembled one of the worst rosters in the league, that’s now being torn to the ground and rebuilt to Chip Kelly’s preference. Overall, I think the win-loss record should give everyone pause when they consider Roseman’s tenure. For all their warts and frustrating tendencies–which were manifold–Roseman hasn’t even scratched the surface of what Banner and Reid were able to do in Philadelphia.

            As far as the OP, wasn’t 14 years with Andy Reid enough of a patience-building exercise? If you stuck around year in and year out through the multiple groin kicks those teams delivered, regardless of whatever critiques you have of Roseman and company now, you’re a “REAL FAN” in my book.