It’s understandable that most of the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason is focused now on Carson Wentz getting traded.
Wentz will likely be dealt at some point in the near future, whether it’s to the Colts or the Bears or some other team.
Wentz’s next destination should begin a run of decisions on several high-priced veterans. That’s because the Eagles will have to trim as much as $70 million off their salary cap by the start of the new league year on March 17, and that includes a $34 million cap hit for Wentz even if he is traded (it would be $59 million if he’s released, so that won’t happen).
The Eagles can accomplish this by releasing some players, although they would still be stuck with “dead money” in many cases, or the cost of signing bonuses spread out over the life of a contract (the players already got the money up front) on top of the base salary.
That explains why the cap charge doesn’t mean the amount saved when a player is released or traded.
The Eagles can also restructure some players’ contracts, such as Brandon Graham, who has a $17.9 million cap charge this season in the final year of his contract, or Fletcher Cox, whose cap charge is $23.9 million this season and $23.8 million in 2022.
That, too, could save millions off the cap in 2021.
It should be noted that a restructuring does not mean a player will take a pay cut because teams will typically spread the remaining money over an additional season or two.
That would add money to the salary cap in future years for players who might be declining by then. Graham, for example, is coming off one of his best seasons with 8 sacks last season. But he’ll turn 33 in April and might not be playing at the same level in future seasons.
And pushing that money down the road is what got the Eagles into this situation in the first place. They were trying to keep their Super Bowl winning team of 2017 together as long as possible, and it backfired, badly in some cases.
Also, if the Eagles want to pursue free agents once the new league year begins, they would have to trim even more off the cap to have money to spend. So, forget about a marquee free agent like Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin, a Delaware native, possibly playing for his hometown team.
And the Eagles would also have their own free agents to consider, most notably safety Jalen Mills, linebacker Alex Singleton and wide receiver Greg Ward.
Here, then, are some veteran players who likely won’t be returning (all salary figures are from the website overthecap.com):
Zach Ertz, tight end
It became evident as the season ended that Ertz knows he won’t be back, as he tearfully answered a question about what playing in front of the Eagles fans has meant to him since he arrived as a second-round pick in 2013.
Ertz, who’s eligible for free agency after 2021, counts $12.5 million against the cap if he’s still on the team. SI.com reported Sunday that the Eagles discussed trading Ertz with both the Seahawks and the Colts.
It’s unlikely the Eagles could get much in return for Ertz, unless, as the SI.com story speculated, they package him with someone like left tackle Andre Dillard, the Eagles’ first-round pick in 2019 who’s still on his rookie contract.
That is possible, but it’s more likely that the Eagles would release Ertz, allowing him to choose and sign a long-term deal with a new team. It would be similar to what the Eagles did last year with Malcolm Jenkins, and what the Houston Texans did last week in releasing star defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
Cap savings: $4.7 million.
Malik Jackson, defensive tackle
The Eagles already took steps to release Jackson and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery by designating them as “post June 1” releases. That means they can announce their release before free agency in March while splitting the dead money charges over two seasons.
As for Jackson, it makes sense considering that he is one of three defensive tackles counting at least $12 million against the cap (Cox and Javon Hargrave are the others). For Jackson, the post-June 1 designation changes his cap number from $12.6 million to $5.6 million, saving $7 million off the cap this year, but then adding that figure in dead money in 2022.
Cap savings: $7 million.
Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver
Jeffery’s cap charge goes from $11 million to $7.8 million for 2021.
Jeffery, of course, saw his production and health diminish significantly since the end of the 2018 season. He had just 6 receptions for 115 yards in seven games last season. The Eagles would have released him last offseason, but that would have meant a $26 million dead money charge.
Now, his cap hit is much more manageable.
Cap savings: $3.2 million.
DeSean Jackson, wide receiver
It’s hard to justify bringing back Jackson at $10.7 million cap hit when he played in just 8 games out of 33 over the last two seasons, and recently turned 34.
True, Jackson provided the speed element that the Eagles desperately needed. But what good was it if he was rarely able to use it? Over two seasons, Jackson had just 24 receptions for 395 yards.
And, with the No. 6 pick in the draft, the Eagles could go after a wide receiver in either LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase or Alabama’s DeVonta Smith.
Cap savings: $4.9 million.
Marquise Goodwin, wide receiver
You probably forgot about Goodwin since he opted out of last season.
But Goodwin provides the Eagles much-needed cap relief by releasing him and thus saving $4.3 million. There is no guaranteed money in his deal for 2021, so this is an easy call.
Cap savings: $4.3 million.
Jason Kelce, center
This decision will likely be entirely up to Kelce, given his continued high level of play last season, when he was selected to the Pro Bowl, and his revered status on the team.
Kelce has contemplated retirement over the last few seasons before deciding to return. It’s likely that he’ll think about it again this offseason. This time, there might be more reasons to go through with it.
For one, the Eagles are clearly on a youth movement with a new head coach. Secondly, Kelce is 33 and has played through several injuries the past few seasons.
If Kelce retires, the Eagles could restructure his contract to the league minimum (as long as the retirement isn’t official until after June 1) while making up the difference in 2022. That would save about $4.3 million this season.
The Saints are doing this with quarterback Drew Brees for example, before making his retirement official after June 1. If Kelce returns for an 11th season, the Eagles would likely try to restructure anyway, as he has an $8.4 million cap hit in 2021.
As for center, the Eagles could try left guard Isaac Seumalo, right guard Nate Herbig or Luke Juriga, an undrafted free agent last season who got in for some snaps.
Cap savings: About $4.3 million.
That would leave at least $40 million more to trim, which can be accomplished through restructuring some contracts and releasing other players with lower salaries.
Many of those changes could be coming soon.
Follow Martin Frank on Twitter @Mfranknfl.