Eagles Observations: How will Howie Roseman cope with league-high dead money?

Roob’s Observations: How much dead money is piling up for the Eagles? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

A two-decade Pro Bowl drought, a record that two Eagles quarterbacks share and how long it took Howard Mudd to learn he was drafted.
The NFL offseason kicks into gear Monday with legal tampering – which, let’s be honest, is actually Day 1 of free agency – and the draft is just six weeks away.

Here’s this week’s edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Offseason Observations.

1. One tool Howie Roseman loves to use to keep the Eagles safely under the salary cap is dummy years in a contract. Dummy years allow the Eagles to spread out signing bonuses over a longer period than the contract is really for, lowering a player’s cap hit for each year but extending the cap hits to years where the player might not even still be here. Dummy years automatically void when a player reaches the end of his contract, but the remaining pro-rated portions of the bonuses remain. So you have dead money from the original contract but you don’t have the player. The theory is that since the salary cap increases $20 to $30 milion per year, dead money doesn’t take up as great a percentage of cap space as it would in the earlier years of the contract. But on top of everything else, the Eagles in 2023 do have a ton of projected dead money – $54,727,983 at the moment according to Spotrac. That’s by far the most in the league, more than $10 million more than the Panthers. Trading, releasing or restructuring players can also create dead money. In 2023, the Eagles’ biggest projected dead money hits come from Fletcher Cox ($15.36 million), Javon Hargrave ($11.96 million), Brandon Brooks ($9.80 million) and Isaac Seumalo ($7.53 million) but also from players as obscure as John Hightower ($5,000), Jarrid Williams ($6,667) and William Dunkle ($6,667). Now, because of other tricks, namely carrying over cap space, the Eagles do also have the fifth-highest 2023 adjusted cap figure at $235,072,830. That’s more than $10 million above the NFL average. If anyone can build a roster around $55 million in dead money along with a massive quarterback extension, it’s Howie Roseman. But the cap limitations he’s facing this offseason are very real. The Eagles are in for a tricky next few weeks.

2. You never know how these things are going to go, but next year’s schedule sure looks like a minefield. Of the Eagles’ 17 opponents, only five had a losing record in 2022 (Cards, Rams, Patriots, Jets, Buccaneers) and six of them won 12 games or more (Chiefs, 49ers, Bills, Vikings, Cowboys twice). Other than the Eagles, six teams won at least 12 games last year and the Eagles play all of them other than the Bengals. In terms of composite 2022 won-lost record, the Eagles’ 2023 schedule is toughest in the NFL. Their 17 opponents were a combined 161-123-4 this past season, a .566 winning percentage. Since the NFC East was so good last year (combined 43-23-2) the Giants, Cowboys and Commanders also have very tough 2023 schedules. The Eagles and Cowboys are tied for third-toughest and the Giants are eighth.

3. The Eagles have drafted 33 defensive backs in the last 20 years and none has made a Pro Bowl as an Eagle. The only one who’s made a Pro Bowl at all is Jordan Poyer with the Bills this past season – 10 years after the Eagles picked him in the seventh round. The only other teams that haven’t drafted a defensive back who’s made a Pro Bowl for that team in the last 20 years are the Bengals (their last one was Tremaine Mack in 1997) and the Texans (they’ve never drafted one). The Eagles’ last three Pro Bowl d-backs – Asante Samuel, Malcolm Jenkins and Darius Slay – were trades or free agents. Before that, Quintin Mikell was undrafted. You have to go back to the 2002 draft with Lito Sheppard and Michael Lewis to find a d-back the Eagles drafted who made a Pro Bowl as an Eagle (Sheldon Brown should have but didn’t). In the 1980s and 1990s they drafted five of them – Roynell Young, Wes Hopkins, Eric Allen, Bobby Taylor and Brian Dawkins.

4. This just blows my mind: Since Jeff Stoutland became offensive line coach in 2013, the Eagles have had five first-time Pro Bowl offensive linemen (Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Landon Dickerson). In the previous 43 years they had four (Jermane Mayberry, Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, Shawn Andrews).

5. You’ve got to love Brandon Graham taking $6 million to play for the Eagles in 2023. Nothing like having a career year and then taking a pay cut. Coming off an 11-sack season, there’s no question he could have gotten more money somewhere else. Graham ranked sixth among all edge rushers in sacks last year but as of now he’s the 50th-highest-paid edge rusher on the books for 2023, according to Spotrac. And yeah he’s 35 but edge rushers can play at a high level well into their 30s, especially when they’re used in moderation like B.G. was last year and will be again in 2023. Nineteen players have had double-digit sacks at 35 or older, and the way Graham takes care of himself there’s no question in my mind that in a rotation with Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat and possibly Derek Barnett, he can continue being a very effective player. Pro Football Focus graded B.G. as the 5th-best edge rusher in the entire league last year at 89.8 (behind Myles Garrett, Micah Parsons, Nick Bosa and Maxx Crosby), and he was the highest-rated player on the team, just ahead of Jason Kelce (89.5). This isn’t just a sentimental feel-good signing. B.G. can still play.

6. Only two quarterbacks in NFL history have completed at least two-thirds of their passes in a single postseason before their 25th birthday (minimum 30 attempts). They are Nick Foles in 2013 (69.7 percent) and Jalen Hurts in 2022 (66.7 percent).

7. How much has the NFL draft changed? When the 49ers drafted legendary former Eagles offensive line coach Howard Mudd out of Hillsdale College in the 9th round in 1964, Mudd didn’t find out for several days. Turns out the 49ers mailed a letter to the athletic director at Hillsdale College informing him he had been drafted, and the A.D. called Mudd down to his office and handed him the letter. Mudd went on to play seven years in the NFL and was named to the 1960s Team of the Decade.

8. Darius Slay will be an Eagle this year.

9. The only defensive coaches remaining from last year’s staff are defensive line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Tracy Rocker, assistant defensive backs coach D.K. McDonald and defensive assistant Tyler Scudder.

10. The Eagles haven’t intercepted a pass in any of their four Super Bowls.