Philadelphia Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman’s NFL-wide reputation as a salary-cap guru dates back to his time as former president Joe Banner’s underling. It is rooted in the organization’s philosophy of handing out contract extensions to young, ascending players early in their careers.
In the 2000s, the Eagles were notorious for ripping up rookie deals of high draft picks just two years into their careers and negotiating extensions that paid out large signing bonuses to keep base salaries low.
By wrapping up players two years ahead of free agency, the Eagles capitalized on players hoping to get paid sooner than later and flourished in a cap-controlled system by keeping those players under manageable salaries every year while free agency reset the market.
In 2011, the new CBA restricted teams when extending contracts — they couldn’t do so until after the player’s third season. In 2016, with his personnel power restored following the firing of Chip Kelly, Roseman seized on the chance to extend third-year pros Zach Ertz and right tackle Lane Johnson, two major pieces of the 2017 Super Bowl champions.
Some very prominent Eagles are due for extensions this offseason, but given the team’s tight salary-cap situation and extraordinary depth, Roseman could opt for the more patient approach.
Here’s a look at the significant ones:
Wide receiver Nelson Agholor
Nobody is calling him a bust anymore. After two abysmal seasons, the 2015 20th pick’s move to the slot portended a breakout season in which he led Eagle wide receivers in receptions (62) and placed second in yards (768) and touchdowns (8).
Agholor will probably see an increased role next season with the Eagles likely moving on from Torrey Smith. The Eagles almost surely will pick up Agholor’s fifth-year option for $9.5 million in 2019, but Roseman would probably like to hammer out a long-term deal for the USC product this offseason that would lower his cap figure down the line.
Agholor can probably expect an extension that averages about $9-10 million a year for the first three years of the deal, a fair deal if the Eagles are expecting more from him in years to come.
Running back Jay Ajayi
After coming over from the Dolphins at the trade deadline, the 215-pound Ajayi emerged into the team’s most productive and explosive running back. Sharing reps with LeGarrette Blount and rookie Corey Clement, Ajayi averaged 5.8 yards per carry and showed a tenacious, fierce running style that made him extremely difficult to corral on first contact.
Complicating extension discussions are Ajayi’s history of bad knees and the emergence of Clement, who ran and caught the ball well and could have been Super Bowl MVP with 100 yards on four catches.
If Roseman can leverage Ajayi’s health history and Clement’s rise into a team-friendly three-year deal, he should try to wrap up Ajayi this offseason. If Ajayi is trying to get paid elite halfback money north of $6-8 million annually, Roseman has the luxury of being patient and giving Clement another year to develop into the franchise’s future lead back.
Allowing Ajayi to walk after next season would also put the Eagles in position to recoup a decent compensatory pick.
Cornerback Ronald Darby
Again, Roseman has the luxury of the player’s health history and depth at the position to work out an extension that’s more team-friendly than player-friendly.
Darby, who came over from the Bills in a mid-training camp trade, missed eight games after dislocating his ankle in the season opener. The Eagles went 7-1 in those games.
He’s a good, young corner who fits the scheme, but the Eagles have Sidney Jones ready to start next season. They also have Jalen Mills, who started 16 games at corner and was a Pro Bowl alternate. Rookie third-rounder Rasul Douglas also showed promise.
Both sides should be able to work out a fair deal unless Darby wants to gamble on staying healthy and productive next season to try his hand in free agency.
Roseman gave up a third-round pick to get Darby, so he’d like to keep the former Florida State national champion from bolting.
Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks
This might be Roseman’s trickiest negotiation. When healthy, Hicks is one of the NFL’s best, young inside linebackers. The problem: He’s rarely healthy.
Hicks, a 2015 third-round pick, missed the last eight games of his rookie season from a torn pectoral muscle and the last nine games of this past season with an Achilles rupture – two brutal injuries.
The shaky health history, which goes back to his University of Texas career, almost guarantees that Roseman can get Hicks signed to a reasonable extension that’s below market value, but at this point it’s risky to commit any guaranteed money to someone who has missed 17 games in the past three years.
Roseman needs money to secure outside linebacker Nigel Bradham, a major piece of the team’s Super Bowl title. It might be more judicious to pay Bradham and wait on Hicks’ extension.
– Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.