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June 25, 2021

What they're saying: Eagles can afford free agent CB Steven Nelson, if they still want him

Eagles NFL

It might be the slowest part of the year when it comes to football news, however it was anything but this week at PhillyVoice, thanks to the arrival of Jimmy Kempski's annual "NFC East Dumpster Fire" series, which was probably easier than ever following a season in which the division winner had just seven victories. 

At the very bottom of those 2020 NFC East standings were the Philadelphia Eagles, who finished with just four wins, fired their coach, traded their quarterback and decided to start over in 2021. 

The guy they'll be going with under center is Jalen Hurts, who only started a handful of games last season after the team benched Carson Wentz and had an up-and-down stretch to end the season. Still, there was enough reason for hope that the Eagles didn't feel the need to draft a QB with the sixth-overall pick they earned for their poor showing on the field (nor did they feel the need to trade up for one). 

But, maybe they're just taking their time. With potentially three first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Eagles could simply be giving new coach Nick Sirianni and his staff a year to get their feet under them, evaluate the current roster and then the organization can collectively decide what changes need to made moving forward.

In other words, this will be a big year for Hurts, as the team will expect him to take a significant step forward, especially now that he'll have a full offseason of work (as the starter, to boot) and has been reunited with former Alabama teammate DeVonta Smith, the player the Eagles ultimately took in the first round after trading back from six to 10. 

The Eagles, at least publicly, have said they have high hopes for Hurts, but nationally the former Heisman finalist has some doubters. The latest dismissal of the Eagles' QB came from Chris Simms, who put out his list of the NFL's Top 40 QBs, a list Hurts was left off of entirely. 

That's not great, as that list includes six QBs who haven't even taken an NFL snap yet and a tight end (Taysom Hill). I was half expecting to see Tim Tebow on there. But perhaps it's not surprising that Hurts isn't on this list after Simms was admittedly down on the Eagles QB following his rookie campaign, going so far as to suggest that the team should use their first-round pick on a quarterback rather than using it to get more help for Hurts. 

Instead, the Eagles are betting on their second-year QB — well, they're at least willing to give him a shot while they wait for a chance to grab a top QB in the draft, or while they wait to see how the legal issues pan out for the No. 4 QB on that list, Deshaun Watson, before potentially packaging those future first-rounders in a monster trade. 

For now, however, it seems like the Eagles are more or less set for the season at the quarterback position after signing Nick Mullens recently to be their third-string QB. Where they're a lot less certain is on the other side of the ball, where the team should very much still be looking for a cornerback to start opposite Darius Slay. 

And there's one name that keeps popping up over and over: Steven Nelson. That's what we'll take a look at in today's edition of What They're Saying... 

The Full Nelson

Adam Caplan | The Adam Caplan Show

Over on his Twitch show, NFL Insider Adam Caplan discussed the team's interest in free agent cornerback Steven Nelson, who has been linked to the Eagles all offseason, and whether or not the team would be willing to pay what Nelson believes he's worth or if the longer this things drags on, perhaps there's a chance they can get him at a bit of a discount. Here's more from Caplan... 

“It’s about what he is willing to accept at this point. There’s leverage on the club’s standpoint because they know what his value is, and it is nowhere near what he wants. If he gets a deal around $4 million or $5 million, I think in the end, that is what he’ll get. The Eagles are looking to pay $2 million or $3 million from what I understand, so we will see what happens and see if they can reel him in or somebody else before training camp.”  [The Adam Caplan Show]

Looks good on paper

Chris Franklin |

Given the current state of the Eagles secondary, going after Nelson makes more than enough sense on paper, even if we don't yet know what Jonathan Gannon's defensive scheme is going to look like. It would allow Avonte Maddox to remain inside, where he's best, and would give the Eagles another weapon to help them matchup in a division that has some talented (and deep) receiving corps. 

Here's more from Chris Franklin of 

Besides Darius Slay, there are question marks that surround that position. Avonte Maddox is a decent cornerback but has played better inside as a nickel cornerback. Adding Nelson would allow Maddox to move back inside, where he flourished in the first two seasons of his career.

The Eagles figure to play a lot of zone coverage this season under new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. According to Pro Football Focus, Nelson dropped back into zone coverage 30 times last season and allowed 19 catches and one touchdown. Nelson also lined up to play man-to-man coverage 37% of the time.

With a heavy emphasis on putting more receivers on the field, the Eagles have to account for offenses that like to spread the field to attack defenses.  []

Plenty of room for Nelson?

Dave Zangaro | NBC Sports Philadelphia

While has the Eagles with $2.7 million in cap space, which likely wouldn't be enough to sign Nelson given his current reported demands — again, this could change if he remains unsigned as training camp approaches — the Eagles actually have a bit more in the bank, according to Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia. By Zangaro's math, the Eagles currently have $4.975 million in cap space, but will need to use some of that to sign their last remaining unsigned draft pick, Landon Dickerson, whose cap hit will be just north of $1.5 million.

More importantly, the Eagles have a ready-made way to essentially triple their cap space with one move, a move that's been discussed since before the season even ended but has yet to happen. 

During the offseason, just the top 51 contracts count toward the salary cap. That changes once the team is cut to 53 players as the season begins.  [...]

Once Dickerson is signed, he’ll be one of the top 51 contracts in the offseason, which means one contract worth $850K will no longer count toward the cap, a difference of $723,943. That means that once Dickerson signs, the Eagles will have $4,251,828 in available cap space.

If the Eagles don’t use that cap space this year, it simply rolls over to next season. But $4 million in cap space is more than enough money to sign another player (a cornerback, maybe) if they choose. And there’s also the possibility that the Eagles trade or cut Zach Ertz. Doing so would free up around another $8.5 million in cap space.  []

In other words, the Eagles could have more than enough money to sign Nelson if they really wanted to. And perhaps they've been in touch with him and are waiting to pounce until the Ertz domino falls. Maybe that's why Nelson remains unsigned this far into the offseason? Maybe it's just wishful thinking... 

Welcome to cap hell

Brad Spielberger | Pro Football Focus

Speaking of the Eagles salary cap situation, it ain't great. Sure, the Eagles could have enough to sign a still-available player at an area of need. And, sure, Ertz's contract will likely be coming off the books soon. And, yeah, Carson Wentz's dead money eventually will too. But because of Howie Roseman's obsession with kicking that contract can down the road, the next few years for the Eagles aren't great either. That's why PFF's Brad Spielberger has the Eagles' cap situation over the next three years ranked as the fourth worst in the NFL during that span.

Only the Texans, Saints, and Bears currently own a worse cap situation going forward. Here's what Spielberger had to say about the Birds... 


The Eagles are in a full-scale rebuild, but the good news is they’ve been as aggressive in their rebuild efforts as they were when they attempted to chase a second Super Bowl after 2017. Philadelphia has an extra 2022 first-round pick from the Miami Dolphins in the draft trade for wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and an extra 2022 conditional second-round pick from the Indianapolis Colts that could become a first-round pick for quarterback Carson Wentz.

Their cap is frankly a disaster, with more prorated bonus money through 2023 and more total money allocated to void years than any other club, but they’re doing all they can to get through to the other side quickly.  []

The fact that they're in a rebuild AND their cap situation is this bad is borderline malpractice. 

Fixing from within

Tommy Lawlor | Iggles Blitz

One way for teams to get out of this type of cap hell is to develop young, home-grown talent, something the Eagles have done a terrible job at in recent years. They've found a few gems here and there, to be sure, but overall it's been fairly bleak. They're hoping this year's draft class is different.

And if one of their mid-round picks is up for the task, they might not need to sign Nelson after all, which would allow them to spend that money elsewhere, or more likely roll it over into next year when they hope to be more competitive (or need that money to afford Watson's salary. 

One of the reasons I liked McPhearson so much is how aggressively he played. When he does see something, he attacks. He is a good tackler. No one will mistake him for Seth Joyner, but he is a tough, physical CB. He plays the run. Not all CBs are like that. Some think of run defense as job-optional. McPhearson is an active player. He wants to get in on tackles, whether run or pass. His style fits the HITS mentality.

The Eagles could go sign Steven Nelson as a band-aid for the CB position, but really what this team needs is to develop young CB talent. They can’t go throwing free agent money and key resources at the position every couple of years. They need to develop talent.

Gannon is a former DBs coach. This is his area of expertise. Give him some young players to work with and see what happens. No one is saying Maddox and McPhearson will turn into stars, but if one of them could become an above average starter, that would be huge.  []

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