The Eagles were involved in the lone trade on deadline day, shipping defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga and their sixth round selection to the New England Patriots for their 5th round selection. Though there is no net gain of draft picks, the Eagles gain value here as their pick could now be 20-30 spots higher depending on where both teams finish and how many comp picks are at the end of the 5th round.
While it doesn’t seem like much there is value in that move, let’s look further. Whether it is just to take a player 20+ spots higher, or use that pick as part of a trade up, the Eagles are in a better spot than they were two days ago. In addition it looks like the Eagles will save a little over $500K on Sopoaga for the rest of the year, not bad since they were likely to cut him after the season anyways. Yes the Eagles have a sunk cost of about $3 million this year, but instead of worrying about that and eating the full $3.75 million, they save a little money and bump up a draft pick.
While the trade deadline is past the Eagles would be wise to continue to look ahead. Too often we see new regimes attempt to “buy” a rebuild, which only ends up costing the team in the long run. The Eagles were wise to let the Sopoaga contract go as soon as they could rather then try to wait it out. Philadelphia should remember this is a marathon and not a sprint in rebuilding this club back to the top of the NFC East. The Eagles should use the rest of this season to really figure out what they have heading into 2014 and where they need to best direct their resources.
Now this doesn’t mean the Eagles should concede this year, or “tank”. They are in the NFC East which is in a tailspin and definitely aren’t out of the playoff hunt. What it means is the Eagles need to really evaluate their players between practice and games to see where they are at. This includes benching guys or platooning players who are struggling to see if the back-up could be a long term option. It also means trying out different formations and play calls to see if part of the problem is the game plan.
The Eagles didn’t have a wholesale roster turnover in year one, which was somewhat understandable given some of the situations. But for year two there is no longer a reason to hold back. If a player doesn’t fit the long term plan of the Eagles, Philly has to trade them or release them to clear them off the books. Hanging on to guys, due to either sentimental reasons or because you don’t want to admit making a mistake will only set you back. Now sometimes contract dead money can make this house cleaning prohibitive, but it doesn’t mean it’s still not a good long term idea.
The Colts in 2012 and the Raiders this year, cleaned the books on contracts and in both cases they severely hindered their ability to construct a roster. The Colts had nearly $45 million in dead money last season and another $19 million being paid to Dwight Freeney (he ended up will less tackles than millions). Instead of trying to restructure players and push that money into future year, the Colts just bit the bullet and were thrifty in free agency. What it ended up allowing was them to have one of the highest amount of cap space this past season, which allowed them to sign a number of key free agents. The Raiders had been in cap hell the past couple of years, and they would continue the cycle by restructuring a few contracts and push that money forward. This season though, they cleaned the books and have $55 million in cap penalties. It might have cost them a chance at being competitive this year, but next season they are set to have $65-70 million in cap space, easily the highest in the league.
Now the Eagles look to be in a solid financial picture next year so they won’t need to do a full house cleaning, or build a team with a bare bones approach. But they should take a hard look at the future of this franchise and rally around the players that are a part of it, and start getting rid of the players who are not. It might lessen their chances to contend in 2014, though in the NFC East it wouldn’t take them out of it, but it will set them up long term. The Eagles have a number of contracts that they can get out of for little or no dead money and should consider making a number of moves to secure their future. This might not be the most popular approach, but it is the best thing for the franchise long term and what matters most.