INDIANAPOLIS – The Eagles arrived at the NFL Scouting Combine in an unfamiliar position. And no, I'm not referring to this whole crazy Super Bowl-champion thing.
With the start of the league year and the free-agent signing period just two weeks away, the Eagles are one of three teams in the league that currently is over the projected 2018 salary cap.
According to the NFL Players Association website, they have $187,918,815 in player contracts for 2018. The 2018 cap is projected to be in the neighborhood of $178 million.
Punter Donnie Jones' retirement earlier this week will slice $1.5 million off the Eagles' cap number. But that still leaves them with about $8.4 million in contracts that they need to shed by March 14. And that's just to get to zero.
Ordinarily, the Eagles are flush with salary-cap space heading into free agency. Not this year.
They have 13 unrestricted free agents, and there's a very real possibility they could end up re-signing none of them.
Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, whose shrewd executive-of-the-year moves laid the groundwork for the team's Super Bowl victory over the Patriots, was already talking Wednesday about all of the compensatory draft picks the Eagles are going to get next year for the free agents they aren't going to re-sign this year.
"With the number of free agents'' they could potentially lose, "I think it would be impossible for us not to have a bunch of compensatory picks'' in 2019, Roseman said. "All of that is part of our plan going forward."
That plan is to accumulate as many draft picks as possible the next few years so that they'll be able to counter-balance the monster contracts they're already paying many of their top veterans and the Godzilla deal they're going to be giving Carson Wentz in either 2019 or 2020.
"Our task is to study the successful teams that are paying [high-end] quarterbacks and look at the resource allocation,'' Roseman said. "The flip side of that is, from a draft-pick perspective, because of the original trade [to move up to draft Wentz] and some of the other moves we've made, we haven't had a lot of draft picks.
"So, going forward, we have to make sure we have the resources in place where we have more draft picks; more guys who are making rookie-level salaries to balance the higher salaries.
"It's a good problem. But we have a lot of guys on our roster who are making real money. We want to keep those guys. The best way to do that is to try to balance that with some young salaries."
The Eagles have just six picks in the April 26-28 draft, including only one in the first three rounds. Roseman joked Wednesday that vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas has written "golf outing'' over the second day of the draft.
It already had been assumed that the Eagles probably were going to let most of their prospective free agents walk. Bringing Darren Sproles back would be a heartwarming story. But he's going to be 35 in June and is coming off an ACL tear. LeGarrette Blount gave them a productive year, but he's 31.
Cornerback Patrick Robinson had a terrific year. But with Sidney Jones expected to move into the starting lineup next season, Robinson is the odd man out. The Eagles would like to keep tight end Trey Burton, but he played just 21 percent of the offensive snaps last year and almost certainly can get more money on the open market than the Eagles are willing to give him to be a backup tight end and core special-teamer.
The one free agent the Eagles would seem to need back, particularly given the fact that Jordan Hicks is coming off a ruptured Achilles, is linebacker Nigel Bradham, who is coming off a two-year, $7 million contract.
Bradham had the best season of his career last year. He took over the defensive play-calling chores when Hicks went down. He was Jim Schwartz's defensive enforcer and spearheaded the league's No. 1-ranked run defense.
But Roseman made it clear Wednesday that, while they'd like to have Bradham back, "we're not going to empty the vault for any of our players right now," he said. "We just don't have that flexibility."
No, they don't. The Eagles have nine players with 2018 cap numbers of $8 million or more. Topping the list: defensive tackle Fletcher Cox at $17.9 million, right tackle Lane Johnson at $12.5 million, right guard Brandon Brooks at $11.1 million, defensive end Vinny Curry at $11.0 million and left tackle Jason Peters at $10.7 million.
Several veterans are expected to be asked to restructure their deals, including Curry, who isn't an $11 million-a-year edge rusher, and Peters.
The Eagles want the 36-year-old Peters back, but they would like to reduce his cap number by a few million. The problem there is, that means pushing money out into the future when he almost certainly won't be with the team. And that creates cap problems down the road.
"I don't want to get into anyone specifically,'' Roseman said. "But when we talk about Jason Peters, we're not just talking about any guy. We're talking about a Hall of Fame, transcendent talent who continues to play at a tremendously high level.''
Roseman seemed fairly optimistic Wednesday that the Eagles will be able to navigate their way through these rough salary-cap waters. Most of the free agents they signed last year, like Robinson and Blount and defensive end Chris Long, were inexpensive additions whose valuable contributions to the Super Bowl cause far exceeded their cap number. Maybe they can find some more of those this year.
What they're not going to do, Roseman insisted, is hold a veteran fire sale.
"We're not on short-sale right now,'' he said. "We're very comfortable with our roster and our flexibility to make moves we have to make. That doesn't mean we're in as good a [cap] situation as a lot of these teams in the league. I mean, there are teams with a ton of cap room.
"But we are not going to make decisions, we were not going to get rid of good players, because of our cap situation. That responsibility starts with me and making sure that we're able to keep guys and sign good players, and not just do things because of our cap situation.''