The final injury report of the season was an interesting one.
Jason Peters was there, and Jordan Hicks was there, and together their presence pointed to a series of pivotal questions that could confront the Eagles as early as Sunday evening.
Peters, questionable with a quad injury, is among a group of name-brand offensive players whose salary and recent production give reason to wonder whether they will be back in Philadelphia next season. Hicks, questionable with a calf strain, is one of two defensive cornerstones who will be eligible for free agency whenever this season ends.
Together, this group of players represents a series of critical decisions that Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson, and Jeffrey Lurie will need to confront as they look to rebound from an underwhelming 2018 campaign. In doing so, they will need to find a way to detach themselves from the sorts of emotional loyalties that can wreak havoc on one’s ability to formulate an ends-based determination of what is best for the team.
In short, in order to maximize their odds of returning to the Super Bowl, the Eagles could need to divorce themselves from several of those players who played a critical role in delivering them there last February.
Nowhere is this dynamic more acute than at left tackle.
Three years ago, plenty of eyebrows were raised when Pederson insisted on a couple of occasions that Peters had several quality seasons remaining in his career.
The future Hall of Famer was coming off a season in which he often looked like a shell of the player he had been throughout his first decade as a pro. Turns out, the majority was wrong yet again, and while Peters finished last season on injured reserve, the 23 consecutive games he started before tearing up his knee played a pivotal role in the development of both Carson Wentz and Pederson’s offense as a whole.
That Peters was back on the field in time for the beginning of this season should not have surprised anybody. It should not surprise anybody that he has started each of its 15 games to date. And, given all of that, it should not surprise anybody if he ends up having one more season’s worth of tread on his tires.
Yet he will be 37 years old in 2019, and, at the moment his contract carries a cap number of $10.67 million. That is a reasonable price to pay for 16 games of solid production at his position. But is it a price that accurately reflects the odds that Peters ends up giving them that production?
There have been only six games this season in which he has not missed a snap. There have been four in which he has missed at least 30 percent of them. The Eagles could save $8 million by releasing him. That’s a significant factor for a team with several glaring holes and a limited amount of cap space to address them.
These are the sorts of value propositions that the Eagles will have to nail in order to right a ship that has spent most of the year taking on water.
The salary cap is a fungible thing. Last offseason, the Eagles restructured the deals of Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, and Chris Maragos, which helped facilitate the signings of Haloti Ngata and Nigel Bradham. In September, they reworked Malcolm Jenkins' contract to create an additional $6.15 million in cap space.
Looking ahead to next year, there should be approximately zero chance that Nelson Agholor plays under his current contract. The Eagles exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie contract last spring, but the accompanying $9.39 million cap number includes zero dead money, meaning the club can release him and use the full amount of that money elsewhere. Or, they can renegotiate a multi-year deal with a 2018 cap number that is more in line with his on-field value.
The Eagles can save another $3 million by parting ways with offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski, but offsetting that is a likely raise for backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld, who could earn more than $3 million if the club decides to offer him a second-round tender. They could save another $7 million by parting ways with Tim Jernigan, but, in the process, they would open up yet another hole that needs to be filled.
All of this provides some additional context for the looming decisions on Hicks and Brandon Graham. Both have been central cogs in the defense since the start of their careers. But Hicks has missed at least four games in three of his four seasons. And Graham could be in line for a huge offer from some other team with more cash to play with under the cap.