It is becoming clear that the Eagles of 2023 will look vastly different from the team that went to the Super Bowl last month.
The Eagles will have close to 20 free agents when the new league year begins March 15 at 4 p.m., about one-third of the 53-man roster, and not nearly enough money to sign them all.
And that also potentially includes a new mega-contract for quarterback Jalen Hurts, who is expected to become one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL based on average annual value.
That will make for some difficult decisions for some of the longest-tenured Eagles such as defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. It also could lead to some tough decisions for key players such as defensive backs James Bradberry and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Some of these moves are beginning in the days before the legal tampering period begins Monday.
Here, then, is a look at all of the moves, rumors and repercussions as the 2023 season officially begins.
Brandon Graham deciding to stay
Graham could have easily become a highly sought free agent, even as he nears his 35th birthday next month. After all, the Eagles’ longest-tenured player as a first-round pick in 2010, is coming off a career-high 11 sacks despite playing only 43% of the snaps.
Yet Graham told ESPN on Friday that he will sign a one-year deal to return for up to $6 million. The Eagles later confirmed Graham’s return.
Graham could have gotten at least a two-year deal, most likely for more money, had he decided to test free agency.
The Cleveland Browns, with former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in the same role in Cleveland, were reportedly interested. And it’s possible that the Arizona Cardinals, with another former Eagles defensive coordinator at the helm in Jonathan Gannon, could have been interested as well.
But Graham told ESPN that he directed his agent to get a deal done with the Eagles before free agency even began “so I wouldn’t have to go through that part. I’m just so happy everything came to fruition.”
Graham then added: “It wasn’t even about no money. It was more about wanting to be an Eagle as long as I could still play at a high level. And of course, I still have a sour taste in my mouth on how things ended (in the Super Bowl loss to the Chiefs).”
Graham is fourth in Eagles history with 70 sacks, six behind Clyde Simmons.
Graham will once again be part of a defensive end rotation with Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat, along with Derek Barnett, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
Darius Slay moving on?
ESPN reported Friday that the Eagles gave Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay and agent Drew Rosenhaus permission to seek a trade.
It makes sense from a financial standpoint. Slay is 32 years old, entering the final year of his contract, and he counts $26 million against the salary cap for 2023.
The Eagles could restructure Slay’s contract. But that would add additional guaranteed years, and it’s likely that the Eagles aren’t willing to do that at his age. Slay is coming off his fifth Pro Bowl season, so he no doubt feels like he can still play at an elite level beyond this season.
Slay, who had three interceptions last season, posted on the Montgomery&Co podcast recently that he would welcome an extension with the Eagles.
“I want an extension with the Eagles. I love the Eagles,” Slay said on the podcast. “I love that money so, of course, I’m going to be talking about it this offseason. That’s everyone; that’s what we all do when we’ve got one year left on our deal.”
The ESPN report indicated that the Eagles are hopeful of working out a solution to keep Slay.
But other than a significant pay cut, that seems hard to imagine. By trading Slay, the Eagles could save $16.8 million on the cap if they designate the trade after June 1 (they would take a $12 million salary cap hit in 2024, however).
The Eagles traded for Slay in 2020, giving the Detroit Lions a third-round and fifth-round pick. It’s hard to imagine the Eagles getting that much in return now.
This could indicate that the Eagles might rather pay pending free agent James Bradberry, who’s two years younger and was named to the AP All Pro team.
Drafting a cornerback will be paramount, especially if both Slay and Bradberry leave. If both Slay and Bradberry leave, the Eagles can also sign a prominent free agent at cornerback, too.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.