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April 03, 2021

NFC East 2021 free agency grades: Philadelphia Eagles edition

Eagles NFL
112920JeffreyLurieHowieRoseman Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and GM Howie Roseman.

Ever since the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl, they have drafted poorly, they have missed in free agency, and they have made some truly awful decisions on contract extensions for players already on their roster.

We saw the result of all of that on the field in 2020, when the team went 4-11-1 in what has to be considered one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Subsequently, the Eagles' 2021 free agency period was destined to become a tear-down, or perhaps better stated, time to pay the bill, as the team was like eleventy billion dollars over the salary cap.

As expected, the Eagles restructured the contracts of a slew of aging players, kicking the can down the road into future years, while also jettisoning a bunch of big-name players, including the unhappy, unaccountable franchise quarterback.

040321EaglesUnderTheCap

What's left is a roster that isn't realistically going to compete for a Super Bowl for quite a while. Let's look at what they did in free agency.

Players they retained

RB Boston Scott, LB Alex Singleton, and WR Greg Ward: We'll just lump these three guys together, as they all signed their exclusive right free agent tenders. 

What's an exclusive rights free agent, Jimmy? The short-short version is that they are players with two or fewer accrued seasons whose contracts have expired. If their current team tenders them, they cannot negotiate contracts with other teams, and their current team can retain their rights while paying them a small amount of money on a one-year contract. Assuming Singleton, Scott, and Ward earn accrued seasons in 2021, they'll be restricted free agents in 2022.

It was a no-brainer to bring all three players back at next to nothing.


Other NFC East free agency grades


DT Hassan Ridgeway: The Eagles initially acquired Ridgeway from the Colts for a seventh-round pick during the 2019 NFL Draft. Ridgeway previously played under defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon for one year in Indy in 2018. Ridgeway has been a decent rotational defensive tackle when he has played, but he has missed 29 games the last three years, including 18 with the Eagles over the last two.

In 14 games with the Eagles, Ridgeway has 19 tackles (6 for loss), 3 sacks, and 5 QB hits. Ridgeway will only count for $950K on the cap, which is fine on the surface, however, the risk in signing him is that if he makes the roster and the team is relying on him to produce in a rotational role, they will have to replace him with a guy off the street if he gets hurt again mid-season.

Players they gained

S Anthony Harris: After Harris had a standout season in 2019, when he had a share of the NFL's lead in INTs, the Vikings franchise tagged him during the 2020 offseason, and he made $11,441,000. Had the Vikings tagged him again, it would have been 120 percent of that total, or $13,729,200. They made the obvious decision not to do so. After a less impressive 2020 season, Harris clearly did not find a strong market for his services during free agency this offseason, as the Eagles were able to land him at a reasonable cost of $5 million on a one-year deal.

Harris had a strong season as a tackler in 2020, as he was third on the team with 104 of them. However, he seemed to struggle in coverage, as he allowed a passer rating of 118.1 on balls thrown his way, according to pro-football-reference.com. In 2018, he allowed a passer rating of 58.1, and an outstanding passer rating of 44.2 in 2019. A highlight reel from Harris' impressive 2019 season:

The Eagles have inside intel on Harris, as new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was the Vikings' assistant defensive backs coach from 2014 to 2017. He overlapped with Harris from 2015 to 2017.

The Eagles had a severe need at safety heading into this offseason, with Jalen Mills heading to New England on a four-year deal, and Rodney McLeod unlikely to be ready for the start of the 2021 season. Harris will obviously be an immediate starter.

One downside is that he will turn 30 in October, which is not ideal for a team in rebuild mode. Still, he's a good player at a bargain price.

• QB Joe Flacco: The Eagles signed Flacco to a deal worth $3.5 million guaranteed, with up to $7.5 million in incentives, which, just, ew. Yes, the Eagles needed a backup with Jalen Hurts currently serving as the only quarterback on the roster, but paying him anything more than the league minimum (or something close it) was absolutely baffling.

In 2020, the New York Jets paid Flacco a mere $1,562,500 on a one-year deal, and he proceeded to go 0-4 as a starter, with a QB rating of 80.6. The notion that he will now be getting a 224 percent increase in pay from the Eagles a year later, all of which is guaranteed, plus incentives that could drive the price up to $7.5 million, is simply laughable for a team that has already essentially admitted that they they will not be serious contenders in 2021.

Obviously, the Eagles saw something they liked from Flacco that caused them to pay him significantly more than it would have cost to sign a veteran on a near-minimum deal for a guy like Mike Glennon, or Matt Barkley, or simply re-signing Nate Sudfeld for next to nothing, or (fill in any other still-available quarterback here). After reviewing Flacco's four starts in 2020, I do not see whatever the Eagles saw.

Flacco has had a good career in the NFL, as he has compiled a career record of 98-77, mostly with a strong Ravens team. When his career concludes, he won't quite make it to Canton, but he's a lock for the Ring of Honor in Baltimore.

If the Eagles were poised to be a contending team in 2021 and they really liked Flacco at this stage of his career for some reason, then you could maybe squint and find some merit in paying him this kind of money. But in a rebuilding season, and barely any room at all under the salary cap, this is a pretty indefensible and illogical signing.

• S Andrew Adams: Adams was originally an undrafted free agent of the Giants out of UConn, who eventually landed with the Bucs and went along for the ride on their Super Bowl run. He also spent a training camp with the Detroit Lions in 2019. 

Over his five year career, Adams has played in 73 games, with 32 starts. He has 166 tackles, 6 INTs, and 19 pass breakups. While Harris will clearly start, Adams is likely just a depth player who will have to earn a roster spot in training camp.

Players they lost

QB Carson Wentz: In case you missed it, the Eagles traded Wentz to the Colts earlier this offseason. I know, crazy, right? In return, the Eagles received a third-round pick in 2021, and a second-round pick in 2022 that can become a first-round pick if Wentz either plays 75 percent of the Colts' offensive snaps in 2021, or if he plays 70 percent of the snaps and the Colts make the playoffs.

By trading Wentz, the Eagles are taking on an unprecedented dead money hit of $33,820,611 on their 2021 salary cap, which is actually a savings of $852,925. Still, that is now the biggest dead money hit in NFL history by a country mile. Wentz's dead money hit will take up 18.5 percent of the Eagles' 2021 salary cap. The benefit, however, would be that the Eagles are ripping off the proverbial Band-Aid, as Wentz would not count on the cap at all in 2022 or beyond.

WR Alshon Jeffery: Jeffery was a good addition in 2017 when a strong market didn't materialize for him in free agency, and the Eagles were able to sign him to a reasonable one-year deal worth under $10 million. After a productive start to the 2017 season, Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year extension worth $52 million, and he helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl. 

And then it all went downhill. He infamously anonymously badmouthed the starting quarterback in consecutive years in 2018 and 2019, and he was not the same player on the field, particularly in 2019. Just before the start of the 2019 season, the Eagles made the egregious error of guaranteeing Jeffery’s 2020 salary in exchange for a small pay cut. It's hard to fathom what the Eagles were thinking, as the benefit was not remotely close to the potential downside. 

As it turned out:

  1. Jeffery had a bad year as a player on the field in 2019.
  2. He anonymously bashed the quarterback for a second time.
  3. He suffered a Lisfranc injury, had surgery, and did not return until Week 10 of the 2020 season, occupying a roster spot for the entire season along the way.
  4. Upon his return, he took snaps away from better, younger players.

The ripple effects of that awful decision will linger into the 2022 season. Jeffery will be released with a June 1 designation. He will count for $5,590,735 in dead money against the 2021 cap, and $5,435,706 in 2022. 

WR DeSean Jackson: Jackson is one of the best deep threats of all time, and his initial tenure with the Eagles yielded a lot of exciting moments, before he was unceremoniously released by the team in 2014.

His second stint with the team was forgettable. Over the last two years, Jackson had 23 catches for 395 yards and 3 TDs in just eight games, two of which he played 10 or fewer snaps. For that production, the Eagles paid him $17,675,000, or $768,478 per reception. 

Jackson made a lot of sense for the Eagles in 2019, when the team originally traded for him, in that he would be serving as the field-stretching threat that the offense so desperately needed. In 2020, the Eagles had all kinds of opportunities to add talent at the wide receiver position, but instead spent on a defensive tackle in free agency, and somehow decided to roll the dice on Jackson staying healthy, with little other backup plan than to select a few receivers in the draft and trade for an equally injury-prone Marquise Goodwin. That plan failed miserably.

By releasing Jackson, the Eagles incurred $5,802,000 in dead money charges on their 2021 cap. He has since signed with the Rams.

DT Malik Jackson: Jackson was a decent starter in 2020, but his tenure in Philly will go down as a pretty big disappointment overall, as he had 2.5 sacks in two seasons after signing a three-year deal worth $30 million during the 2019 offseason.

Like Jeffery above, Jackson was released with a June 1 designation. He'll count for $3,611,000 against the cap in 2021, and $9,033,000 in 2022.

Jackson has since signed with the Browns.

S Jalen Mills: In five years with the Eagles, Mills played in 63 games, starting 49. Objectively, he was a great pick in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He was a starting cornerback for the Super Bowl winning team in 2017, and played well throughout that playoff run.

As a free agent in 2020, Mills re-signed with the Eagles on a one-year deal worth $4 million, so it's somewhat surprising that he was able to score the kind of deal he got with the Patriots after an unimpressive 2020 campaign. It's worth noting that the Patriots highly value versatility all over their defense, which makes Mills a nice fit for them.

Mills is a legitimate NFL starter, however, in his first five years in the NFL he was often tasked with responsibilities beyond his capabilities. For much of his first four years in the league, he was the Eagles' No. 1 corner. In 2020, he was replacing a do-everything playmaking safety in Malcolm Jenkins. Neither role was ideal for a player of Mills' skill set, but to his credit, he always craved any and every difficult challenge, and attacked them with the mindset that he was the second coming of Ronnie Lott. The bet here is that Mills will become a more appreciated Eagles as time passes.

DE Vinny Curry: Curry signed with the Jets. He'll be part of their DE rotation. I figured at his age that he'd end up with a contender. Apparently not.

LB Nate Gerry: Gerry had one of the worst seasons an Eagles starting linebacker has ever had, and he's also recovering from a serious injury. He signed with the 49ers.

LB Duke Riley: Riley doesn't have any plus skills as a linebacker, whether that be in coverage, against the run, or as a blitzer. He was also probably a little overhyped as a special teams player.

• S Rudy Ford: Ford was a special teamer and backup safety who actually started at corner during the Eagles' Week 17 game against the Football Team in 2020. Ford showed some glimpses that he is good on the kick/punt coverage units, when healthy, after a season in 2019 in which he was a penalty machine.

P Cameron Johnston: Johnston did not have a good season in 2020, and his restricted free agent tender amount would have been $2,240,000 this season, which the Eagles were correct not to pay. He signed with the Texans. The Eagles do have another punter on the roster. That would be Arryn Siposs.

The tale of the tape

At some point, the Eagles are highly likely to either trade or release Zach Ertz, and they're also likely to add some Band-Aid corner on a one-year deal. Otherwise, a snapshot of the gains and losses: 

Players staying Players added Players lost 
RB Boston Scott S Anthony Harris QB Carson Wentz (trade) 
LB Alex Singleton QB Joe Flacco WR Alshon Jeffery 
WR Greg Ward S Anthony Adams WR DeSean Jackson 
DT Hassan Ridgeway  DT Malik Jackson 
  S Jalen Mills 
  DE Vinny Curry 
  LB Nate Gerry 
  LB Duke Riley 
  S Rudy Ford 
  P Cameron Johnston 

Analysis/Grade

OverTheCap.com has the Eagles at $39,860,001 in dead money, which leads the NFL. Once they add in Malik Jackson, they'll be up to $43,471,001. That would be 23.8 percent of their cap, spent on players who are now playing for other teams. In pie chart form:

040321EaglesSalaryCap

Oh, and you can go ahead and tack on another $7,769,500 in dead money whenever they trade or release Ertz. At this point, they're maybe just waiting until after June 1 to move on from Ertz, which will allow the team to push some of that pain into 2022. 

Speaking of which, the Eagles also lead the NFL in dead money already counting against the 2022 cap, by the way, at $14,468,706 (Alshon Jeffery at $5,435,706, and Malik Jackson at $9,033,000). That number will rise quite a bit, as the Eagles continue to move on from additional aging vets.

All told, the Eagles signed a couple of safeties, they added a veteran backup QB on a strange deal, and they'll probably still add a Band-Aid corner, and/or maybe a linebacker. Whatever. This free agency period wasn't about that. It was more about facing the music after a three straight years of front office mismanagement. F

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