IN ADDITION to signing Alshon Jeffery last week, Howie Roseman might have signed his own walking papers. That's a pretty remarkable thing to consider, but look at the roster he has assembled, and then think about the conclusion one could draw if the offense turns in a repeat of 2016.
Last week, the Eagles decided to spend roughly $17 million in salary-cap space on one-year contracts for two wide receivers and a guard. The previous offseason, after owner Jeffrey Lurie reinstalled Roseman as his chief decision maker, the club spent No. 1 money on a guard (Brandon Brooks) and a tight end (Zach Ertz), in addition to new contracts for veterans Brent Celek and Darren Sproles. In 2017, the Eagles will rank among the top seven in the NFL in salary-cap spending at every offensive position except quarterback, per figures tracked by OverTheCap.com. Currently, only the Cowboys have more cap dollars allocated toward offense for 2017.
The reality is, if the Eagles do not see significant improvement out of an offense that ranked 16th in points per game and 28th in yards per play, they will not only have wasted a year, but they will have done so at the expense of future seasons. Remember, NFL teams can carry any unused salary-cap space into the next season. It's part of the reason teams have so much cash to spend this free-agent signing period. It's why the Browns could afford to take on Brock Osweiler's salary in exchange for a draft pick. The Eagles didn't just decide that Jeffery was the best they could get out of $9.5 million this offseason, they decided it was better than anything they might have been able to spend it on in future offseasons, too.
This was supposed to be Year 2 of a process that had only just begun, another one-small-step-for-man type of thing. The Eagles entered it with several glaring long-term holes that might have required them to tread water on both sides of the ball for one more season: a No. 1 cornerback, a No. 1 wide receiver, a tackle, an edge rusher. Find a couple of answers this offseason, a couple of answers next one, and by 2018 you could justifiably expect to see some significant progress.
Instead, they spent $9.5 million of cap space for one season of WR1 production, held onto three of their veteran offensive lineman, re-signed a fourth, and then added a fifth on a one-year deal. If the Eagles had earmarked some of that money for the defensive side of the ball, or saved it with the intent of rolling it over into next season's cap, would Lurie or the fan base or the media have any reason to expect more than a modest improvement out of Wentz individually or Doug Pederson's offense as a whole?
What if they'd spent it on the first year of a long-term deal with a cornerback? Say, the $5.5 million the Jaguars will pay for A.J. Bouye, or the $8.5 million the Patriots will pay for Stephon Gilmore? What if they'd settled for incremental upgrades at both positions, spending $6 million on Terrelle Pryor, and $4.25 million on Captain Munnerlyn? Would any of us - Lurie, most of all - have entered 2017 expecting see their offseason investments pay immediate dividends?
Now, the immediate is all there is. Nobody should fool themselves into thinking that signing Jeffery to a one-year deal now will end up saving the Eagles money in the long run. Anybody who thinks that the wide receiver based his decision on anything but the maximization of his future earning potential is naive to the point that I might actually envy them. If the Patriots or Colts had been willing to give him more money, I don't imagine that his respect for Wentz would have been strong enough to turn down a chance to spend a contract year catching balls from Tom Brady or Andrew Luck. Fact is, the Internet's vast apparatus of NFL experts/hypemen assigned a player one valuation based on his box score, and 32 NFL general managers assigned him another valuation based on all of the stuff that actually matters, and the two valuations happened to be a wee bit off. The great thing about markets is that, every now and then, we get to see how full of crap people are.
Plain and simple, Jeffery signed with the Eagles because that's what the market bore, and if he signs with the Eagles again next year, it will be for the same rationale, whether it's a $14 million-plus franchise tender or a multiyear deal.
No matter how well Jeffery plays, the Eagles will not have helped themselves beyond this season, because however well he plays is however well they'll have to pay him beyond this year. If he catches 150 passes for 2,500 yards, he'll want to be paid like someone who catches 150 passes and 2,500 yards, and the Eagles will have to decide if they want to pay him like that or let him walk. The only potential for value is in 2017. If he is a complete bust, they'll have wasted $9.5 million of cap space they could have used next season, or at another position.
Question is, if he's somewhere in between, is it enough to make the Eagles a contender? If not, then they've essentially wagered $9.5 million of cap space that Jeffery will end up having the kind of difference-making year that can lead to a Super Bowl run. Otherwise, the only question is whether the Eagles will be overpaying him in 2017 or in 2018 and beyond.
The only other potential argument is that Wentz's career trajectory would have been irrevocably altered if he had to spend his second year in the NFL throwing to a receiver less capable than Jeffery. But that still brings us back to where we started.
Given the resources the Eagles have devoted to Wentz's supporting cast in 2017, the blame for any lack of progress would fall squarely on one of two men: the one calling the plays, or the one building the supporting cast. Or, perhaps, it would fall on both. You know, a collaboration.