I still believe that free agency will occur in 2011, even if it happens after the draft. Will the Eagles acquire big name players like they did in 2008 (Asante Samuel) or 2009 (Jason Peters and Michael Vick) or will they opt to be one of the quieter teams? It’s hard to claim that signing fewer marquee players helps your team, but teams like Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Green Bay rarely go out and spend big money on free agents. Teams that do, such as Washington and Dallas, never seem to play up to their potential and are plagued by locker room distractions. However, I have found that little correlation exists between salary cap figures and overall team success. This can be attributed to good teams extending the players they already have to lucrative deals instead of paying more attention to free agency than the draft. Assuming a new CBA will be reached, NFL teams will once again operate under a salary cap. The cap figure will probably be in the neighborhood of $145 million. In case you are wondering about different teams’ potential cap space, I have estimated some figures for all teams, in decreasing order by approximate pay roll.
Bad shape (cap figure over $125 million): Cowboys, Jets, Colts, Packers, Steelers, Giants, Broncos
Fair shape ($110 to $125 million): Texans, Redskins, Ravens, Lions, Patriots
Good shape ($100-$110 million): Vikings, Titans, Saints, Bears, Dolphins, Falcons, Eagles, 49ers
Very good shape ($85-$100 million): Browns, Raiders, Chargers, Bills, Rams, Bengals, Chiefs
Perfect shape (under $85 million): Cardinals, Seahawks, Jaguars, Panthers, Buccaneers
As you can see, the Eagles have plenty of cap space, ranking only 19th in the league in payroll, and unlike most other teams, they have already signed their top free agent for the 2011 season when they placed the franchise tag on Michael Vick. Even better news is that the Eagles’ rivals will likely be unable to find much wiggle room if/when a new cap is instituted. The Cowboys have the highest cap figure in the league at the moment, and it will continue to climb if they want to resign Doug Free, Gerald Sensabaugh, or Kyle Kosier. Expect players like Marion Barber, Roy Williams, and Igor Olshansky to be cut. The Giants rank sixth in the league in payroll, and they will likely have to let a few of their talented free agents walk as Barry Cofield, Ahmad Bradshaw, Steve Smith, and Mathias Kiwanuka are all in line for new deals. The Redskins have the ninth highest cap figure in the league, but assuming Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth are let go, Washington should still have room for maneuvering in free agency. They will still have to worry about retaining Jammal Brown, Carlos Rogers, Santana Moss, and Philip Buchanon. Therefore, the Eagles are in a much more favorable position than their NFC East foes from a financial standpoint. Expect them to take full advantage. Joe Banner stated that the Eagles would not be shy about spending if the right player came along this offseason. In a more subtle but intriguing comment, he added that spending would not be affected by positional balance. In other words, the Eagles would not be opposed to having two highly paid players at the same position. As of right now, the Eagles have only three highly paid players, including quarterback Michael Vick, offensive tackle Jason Peters, and cornerback Asante Samuel. Since backup quarterbacks don’t cost much, Banner must have been referring to potentially adding another top cover man or pass protector. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I can’t help but be excited about the possibilities, especially considering the quality of free agents at those two positions.
I love speculating as to who the Eagles could add in free agency. Already, they have signed SAM linebacker Rashad Jeanty formerly of Cincinnati, who will provide excellent depth and special teams play and fits what the Eagles like to do perfectly. Also, defensive end Philip Hunt is now in the mix, who has proven he can be dominant on the college and CFL level despite his size. I believe the two huge positions of need for the Eagles are right tackle and right cornerback. Winston Justice is undergoing surgery in a few days, and both he and King Dunlap are best suited as reserves at this point. At corner, I love Dimitri Patterson, Joselio Hanson, and Trevard Lindley as slot corners, but none can assume a starting role in 2011. I love all the available options at cornerback that are scheduled to be free agents, but acquiring a tackle may have to wait until draft day. Obviously, Nnamdi Asomugha is the best cover man on the market, and a tandem with him and Asante could be absolutely devastating. However, the Eagles may not be able to outbid everybody for him. I’d say that while there’s a good chance that Aso lands in Eagle green, the one team that could be a very good fit for him is Jacksonville. Antonio Cromartie and Champ Bailey would both be very solid additions and remarkable consolation prizes. They would cost less than half of what it would take to ink Asomugha, and leave room to go after a tackle such as Jammal Brown. The bottom line is that the Eagles will be free to pursue pretty much any player their hearts desire without worrying about the price tag too much. On the flip side, the Giants, Cowboys, and Redskins will be pinching every penny and spending more time cutting dead weight from their roster than evaluating players that can help the team win.