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Eagles likely to bring WR Nelson Agholor back, but not with a $9.4 million salary-cap number

The Eagles seem to want the former first-round pick back, if he's willing to sign an extension that lowers his cap number.

Nelson Agholor (13) evading a tackle by Bears safety Deon Bush (26) during the teams' playoff game in January.
Nelson Agholor (13) evading a tackle by Bears safety Deon Bush (26) during the teams' playoff game in January.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

INDIANAPOLIS — With 15 unrestricted free-agents-to-be and a number of other players carrying 2019 salary-cap numbers that far exceed their recent production, Howie Roseman and the Eagles have quite a few difficult decisions to make in the next couple of weeks.

“It’s a hard time of the year,’’ the team’s executive vice president of football operations conceded Wednesday. “We have a lot of free agents.

“We have a lot of guys who have had tremendous success and who we’ve had tremendous success with. Guys who are high-character guys and good people. It’s going to be a challenging couple of weeks for us to make those decisions.’’

One of those difficult decisions will be what to do with wide receiver Nelson Agholor.

The Eagles exercised the fifth-year option on Agholor’s rookie deal last April, preventing him from becoming a free agent next month. But that extra year comes with a $9.4 million cap number. Agholor’s 2018 cap number was just $3.0 million.

It’s highly unlikely that Agholor, who had a career-high 64 receptions last season but saw most of his other pass-catching numbers drop well below those from his 2017 breakout season, will play for the Eagles this season with a $9.4 million cap number.

They either will release him and use free agency or the draft or the trade market to find another slot receiver, or, more likely, they will try to sign him to an extension that includes a significantly lower cap number in ’19 and ‘20.

The Eagles like Agholor, who was the team’s first-round pick in 2015, when Roseman was in broom-closet exile and Chip Kelly still was calling the personnel shots.

He’s one of the hardest workers on the team and a perpetually positive guy. After struggling mightily in his first two NFL seasons, he played an integral role in their Super Bowl run two years ago, catching a career-high eight touchdown passes and leading the team in third-down and red-zone receptions.

Agholor is better suited for the slot than outside. But given his ho-hum 2018 numbers, and the emergence last year of rookie tight end Dallas Goedert and the Eagles’ increasing use of 12 personnel with Goedert and Zach Ertz — they used 11 personnel just 53.7 percent of the time last season, the lowest percentage in Pederson’s three years as head coach — there’s virtually no chance they’re going to keep Agholor around with a $9.4 million cap number. But assuming he’s willing to sign an extension, he’ll likely be back.

» FROM THE ARCHIVES: Inside? Outside? Eagles receiver Nelson Agholor is confident he can thrive wherever he lines up

“Nelson, oh man,’’ Pederson said Wednesday. “Love that guy. He’s the first one in and the last one out. He’s a hard worker. Spends time [putting in extra work] before and after practice. I can’t say enough good things about him and what he’s brought to the table and what he will continue to bring.’’

Pederson acknowledged for the first time this week something that was pretty obvious to everyone last season: The team’s late-October trade for wide receiver Golden Tate had a negative effect on Agholor.

“You look at the amount of [pass-catching] guys we had, and then we added Golden midseason. I’m not going to stand up here and say it didn’t affect Nelson,’’ Pederson said. “I think it did.

“Somebody asked earlier about getting everybody the ball. In this league, it’s a challenge. And yet, Nelson didn’t complain. He came to work every single day. He put in the time. He put in the work. He was a huge part of what we did. I love working with him.’’

When the Eagles traded for Tate, Agholor found himself playing more outside, where he’s not nearly as effective. In eight games without Tate when he was lining up mainly in the slot, Agholor was targeted 61 times and had 41 catches.

In the eight games after the trade, Agholor was targeted just 36 times and had 23 receptions. But Agholor also averaged 15.8 yards per catch and had three touchdowns in the eight games after the Tate trade, compared to 9.1 and one TD in the eight games before it, when he was used mainly on screens and short routes.

In the Eagles’ two playoff games, Agholor was targeted just nine times and had four catches for 38 yards and no touchdowns. Tate was targeted 13 times and had seven catches for 54 yards and one touchdown — that game-winning, 2-yard score in their 16-15 wild-card win over the Bears.

Except for that touchdown catch against the Bears, though, Tate also struggled after being traded to the Eagles.

He caught 90-plus passes in each of the previous four seasons with Detroit and was one of the league’s top third-down receivers. But he couldn’t really seem to find a place for himself in the Eagles offense, catching just 30 passes for 278 yards in eight regular-season games after the trade. Only 10 of his 30 receptions came on third down.

Tate is one of the Eagles’ 15 unrestricted free agents. There appears to be very little chance they will attempt to re-sign the 30-year-old wideout.

» READ MORE: Revisiting the Golden Tate trade

Pederson downplayed suggestions this week that the Eagles need to add a vertical threat to open up the offense.

“I think there’s many ways to open up your offense, not just having a vertical speed guy,’’ he said. “Every team can just drop back and throw it deep.

“We won a championship [in the 2017 season] and didn’t really have a lot of speed. Who was our speed guy on offense? Torrey [Smith]? Nelson? We had Mike Wallace last year, but he got hurt.

“Does the speed element help? Yeah, it helps. But there are ways of being creative [without it]. There are ways of utilizing the play-action pass. There are ways of creating a gadget-type play, whether it be a flea-flicker or things of that nature.

“But yeah, ultimately, we’d like to have a guy who can stretch the field. You’ve seen that out of Nelson the last couple of seasons. But anytime you can add talent, add depth, add speed to any position, you can help your team.’’

The Eagles had just 22 pass plays of 25 yards or more during their Super Bowl season. That was the seventh fewest in the league and 10 fewer than they had last year, when they averaged nearly six fewer points per game than in ’17.