Todd Herremans' release after 10 solid years of service with the Eagles is yet another example of the often unpleasant business of football in the salary cap era.
Herremans was a 32-year-old offensive linemen with a $5.2 million salary cap number who had missed a third of the Eagles' games the last three years due to injury. You don't have to be an analytics expert to come to the conclusion that his predicted 2015 playing value didn't match up with his cap number.
Will there soon be more Eagles cap casualties? Perhaps. At the very least, a few likely will agree to have their current deals restructured for the purpose of lowering their cap numbers and creating cap space so the team can add free agents and sign up-and-coming players like defensive end Fletcher Cox and linebacker Mychal Kendricks to second contracts. Here are 10 players – and contracts – to watch:
Trent Cole: At 32, Cole still is a productive pass rusher who is very good at setting the edge against the run But he has an $11.6 million cap number. If last year's first-round pick, Marcus Smith, had shown anything as a rookie, Cole probably would be certain to follow Herremans out the door. But he didn't. Unless the Eagles sign a big-name edge-rusher in free agency, they likely will try to restructure Cole's deal and bring him back for at least one more year. Cole is expected to be more receptive to a restructuring than Herremans was.
Cary Williams: The Eagles almost certainly will try to sign a veteran cornerback in free agency to replace Bradley Fletcher. They also probably will select one fairly early in the draft, but the chances of a rookie corner making an immediate impact typically aren't very good. So, what to do about Williams? He has an $8.2 million cap number, but he isn't an $8.2 million cornerback. The Eagles could save $6.5 million by releasing him. But who will replace him? How confident are the Eagles in Nolan Carroll as a potential starter? Williams is entering the final year of his deal, which doesn't leave a lot of room for a restructuring.
LeSean McCoy: McCoy's 2015 cap number is $11.9 million, which is the second highest among NFL running backs to Adrian Peterson ($15.4M). Throw in Darren Sproles' $4.5 million cap number and you've got $16.4 million of the Eagles' 2015 salary cap (which is expected to be right around $140 million) invested in the running back position. And that will increase even more once the Eagles tender restrict free agent Chris Polk. McCoy is only 26 and is one of the two or three best backs in the league. But he already has nearly 1,800 career touches. If his cap number was, say, just $5-6 million, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation. But it isn't. Chip Kelly has said he wants McCoy back, but at $11.9 million? Not likely.
DeMeco Ryans: Ryans is the Eagles' defensive leader. But he is 30 going on 31 and trying to come back off his second ruptured Achilles in five years and he has a $6.9 million cap number. He is entering the final year of his contract. Given the uncertainty over the level of contribution he'll be able to make next season, it's hard to believe the Eagles would be willing to pay him the $6.8 million he is scheduled to make this season. A solution might be a two-year extension that would lower his cap number this year and allow the Eagles to see if he can make a full recovery. This is going to be a hard call for the Eagles.
Evan Mathis: Mathis is 33, which is a year older than Herremans. But he has just 78 career starts, isn't as beat up as Herremans, and still is playing at a fairly high level. Mathis isn't happy with his contract, but it's hard to believe the Eagles are anxious to open the 2015 season with two new starters alongside center Jason Kelce.
Brent Celek: Celek is 30, has a $4.8 million cap number and no 2015 "dead'' money. Chip Kelly almost certainly is going to want to get Zach Ertz on the field more this season. But until Ertz improves as a blocker, Kelly can ill-afford to kick Celek to the curb.
Darren Sproles: The 31-year-old Sproles has a $4.5 million cap number in 2015. That's high for a guy who played just 343 offensive snaps. But Sproles also led the league in punt returns and, as Kelly has frequently pointed out, was the only Eagles receiver to regularly draw double-teams last season. Not going anywhere.
Jason Peters: Even though he earned his seventh Pro Bowl invitation, Peters did not have a dominating year. He's 33 and has a $9 million cap number. But he still is one of the league's best left tackles, and besides, releasing him would only save $1 million. Next year, when his dead money drops from $8 million to $3 million, is another story.
Riley Cooper: Cooper has a $4.8 million cap number, but releasing him would actually increase the Eagles' cap number by $1.4 million because the team would take a $6.2 million cap hit. So, much to the chagrin of many Eagles fans, Cooper is not going anywhere in 2015.
Connor Barwin: Barwin has a $7 million cap number, but he's young (28) and productive (14 ½ sacks), and even at $7 million, a bargain.
A breakdown of the 10 contracts along with a prediction on a scale of 1 to 10 of those players being released or asked to restructure their contracts:
Trent Cole 10.0 11.6 3.2 +8.4 32 10
Cary Williams 6.5 8.2 1.7 +6.5 30 10
LeSean McCoy 9.7 11.9 4.4 +7.5 26 8
DeMeco Ryans 6.8 6.9 0 +6.9 30 6
Evan Mathis 5.5 6.5 2.0 +4.5 33 4
Brent Celek 4.7 4.8 0 +4.8 30 4
Darren Sproles 3.5 4.5 1.0 +3.5 31 3
Jason Peters 7.3 9.0 8.0 +1.0 33 1
Riley Cooper 4.0 4.8 6.2 -1.4 27 1
Connor Barwin 6.4 7.0 1.8 +5.2 28 0