By Joe Giglio
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – When NFL free agency arrives, the Philadelphia Eagles should be one of the most aggressive teams in the league.
With $24.1 million in projected cap room, a cap-friendly quarterback and the blueprint for offseason success laid out by the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, a conservative March by Howie Roseman would rob the Eagles of a golden opportunity to make a true run at a championship in 2014.
Yes, we’re all well aware that the Eagles have been burned in free agency before. The summer of 2011 wasn’t just a disaster, it was the breaking point of Andy Reid’s highly-successful tenure and seemed destined to set the franchise back years.
The “Dream Team” didn’t materialize, but the mistakes of yesterday should have little impact on the moves of tomorrow. If Chip Kelly and Roseman—a duo the city of Philadelphia has come to trust without reservation—deem this free-agent class to be worthy of major resources, the failures of Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin are irrelevant.
Instead of focusing on the past, look to the present and future. Running away from the mistakes of yesterday won’t bring this franchise any closer to a Super Bowl.
As the Eagles prepare to defend an NFC East crown, a unique opportunity has been granted to a young, ascending team: Nick Foles.
No, not just the outrageous production, Pro Bowl appearance or status as a lightning rod for sport talk radio. When the 2014 begins, Foles’ salary cap number will sit at $750,880. In other words, nearly five million less than Robert Griffin III ($5.75M), $11 million less than the re-shuffled figure of Tony Romo ($11.7M) and almost $20 full million less than the outrageous cap number the Giants will allot to Eli Manning ($20.4M).
Thanks to the nuances of the current CBA and Foles’ status as a third-round pick, the Eagles have a legitimate starting quarterback making less than $1 million. As the rest of the NFC East contemplates how to fill roster holes around their respective signal callers, the Eagles have an abundance of cap room to put an excellent core around Foles.
The blueprint for an aggressive, franchise-changing March was displayed one year ago by two teams that went on to dominate the league: Seattle and Denver.
Clearly, the Seahawks’ most recent offseason plan worked.
After posting an 11-5 record with first-year starter Russell Wilson and giving the Atlanta Falcons a scare in the postseason, Seattle was one of the most aggressive teams on the free-agent and trade market. Buoyed by Russell Wilson’s 2013 cap number of $526,217, the Seahawks spent the spring acquiring Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.
Wilson, like Foles, was drafted in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Seattle, much like Philadelphia now, took a leap with their young quarterback and entered the offseason with an excellent core and brilliant coach.
With players like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Russell Okung, it would have been easy to stand pat, build from within and alleviate the risk of upsetting homegrown contributors.
Clearly, when listening to Howie Roseman speak, that strategy is relevant at the Novacare complex.
“Because of where we think the core of our team is and coming up for contracts, unless it was really the right fit for the position, the age, the player, the history of the player, the scheme fit, you want to be careful,” Roseman recently said.
Similarly, the Denver Broncos had an excellent core in the aftermath of the 2012 season. Led by Peyton Manning’s resurgence, the Broncos won 13 games and secured home field throughout the AFC postseason.
By summer, John Elway added Wes Welker, Louis Vasquez, Shaun Phillips, Terrance Knighton and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Coupled with Manning’s all-time great season, Denver was an unstoppable force until running into Seattle in the Super Bowl.
To be fair, there’s reason to be weary of Jairus Byrd’s price tag, T.J. Ward’s suspect range or B.J. Raji’s inconsistency. Free agency is a risk, even for the most forward-thinking executives around the league.
Yet, there’s no excuse for the Eagles to remain conservative over the next week. The core of this team is good enough to win the NFC East again without help, but it’s a fool’s errand to place them in the hierarchy of the conference without reinforcements from both free agency and the draft.
One year ago, the Seahawks and Broncos—both closer to a Super Bowl than the current edition of the Eagles—were among the most aggressive teams on the open market. With immense cap room, a cheap quarterback and Kelly pulling the strings on gameday, the Eagles have a chance to be special.
Focusing on the past won’t allow them to reach those heights.
Joe Giglio is a host on WIP and WFAN, and covers MLB as a Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Find him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports. Catch Joe’s next show on WIP on 3/8 at 10 p.m.