Eagles have tough picks on 15 free agents, including Jason Kelce

PHILADELPHIA — The first thing to know about the Eagles’ hugely successful season so far is that teams change every season.

That could be especially true for the 2023 Eagles, who could end up having as many as 15 key free agents.

Those decisions could involve some of the most beloved Eagles of all time in center Jason Kelce, defensive end Brandon Graham and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. They are also the three most-started Eagles, dating back to 2010 for Graham, 2011 for Kelce and 2012 for Cox.

But there are other tough decisions in every position. For one, the Eagles have $15 million in cap space for 2023. That number is expected to increase once the salary cap is set for next season. But that’s not enough to re-sign everyone, especially if the Eagles grant quarterback Jalen Hurts an extension after this season.

This could significantly increase his $1.9 million salary cap in the final year of his rookie contract, nearly negating the overall cap increase.

So here’s a look at the decision the Eagles will have to make in key positions with their pending free agents.

defensive line

Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham

The Eagles already released Cox once, last March, before re-signing him at a reduced rate a few days later. Cox turns 32 next month and Graham is 34.

Both are still playing well, but they are also playing less. So it would be hard to justify a combined salary cap of at least $20 million for both of them.

At defensive tackle, the Eagles would be more inclined to choose Hargrave over Cox. Hargrave is younger and has 5 sacks in the last two games. But Hargrave won’t come cheap either. He signed a three-year contract worth $39 million in 2020, and he won’t want a pay cut.

Keep in mind that the Eagles drafted Jordan Davis in the first round last spring, so Davis could slip into the role vacated by the player the Eagles aren’t bringing back.

It’s possible the Eagles let Cox and Hargrave go and spend big on someone like Washington’s Daron Payne, who is five years younger than Hargrave. That’s because the other defensive tackles returning to Davis, Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu are all on their rookie contracts.

As for Graham, the Eagles don’t have an heir apparent to replace him, but they do have the Saints’ first-round pick. According to Tankathon.com, this pick is currently No. 6 overall. If he stays in the top 10, the Eagles can get a defensive end who can step in and play – and for a lot less money.

Philadelphia Eagles guard Isaac Seumalo (56) in action against Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Carlos Davis (73) during an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Philadelphia.  The Eagles beat the Steelers 35-13.  (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

offensive line

Jason Kelce, Andre Dillard and Isaac Seumalo

It is likely that Seumalo, at right guard, is the only one of the three to return. There’s no way the Eagles are skimping on the offensive line, so it’s easy to see Seumalo getting a new contract worth over $10 million per season. After all, everyone from Kelce to Lane Johnson to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland raved about Seumalo’s skill and intelligence.

As for Kelce, it’s his choice whether to return or not. He turned 35 last Saturday and he is still at the top of his game. But chances are Kelce will feel comfortable giving the center position to Cam Jurgens, who Kelce gave his stamp of approval in the draft.

The Eagles would no doubt like to keep Dillard as Mailata’s replacement at left tackle. But some teams will give the 2019 first-round pick a chance to start next season and pay him accordingly. The Eagles won’t. So they can either sign a free agent replacement or ask Jack Driscoll, who replaced Mailata earlier in the season, to serve as a tackle.

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (2) celebrates his interception with safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (23) during the NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Philadelphia.

defensive back

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Marcus Epps and James Bradberry

It will likely take upwards of $10 million per year to re-sign Bradberry and Gardner-Johnson, and likely in the $5 million per year range for Epps. Gardner-Johnson is 25 and leads the NFL in interceptions. It would therefore be more risky than Bradberry, who is 29 years old.

The Eagles may also have to pay Epps as third safety K’Von Wallace doesn’t seem ready to be a reliable starter.

If Bradberry doesn’t return, the Eagles could use one of their first-round picks on a starting-caliber cornerback. If it’s Gardner-Johnson who doesn’t return, then safety will be a draft priority.

Miles Sanders of the Philadelphia Eagles walks off the field after defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars in an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022 in Philadelphia.  (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Come back

Miles Sanders and Boston Scott

This is not a proposal between Sanders and Scott. Rather, it’s a question of whether the Eagles want to go against their organizational philosophy and pay for a running back like Sanders, who is on course to go over 1,000 yards for the first time in four seasons.

If Sanders leaves, Scott won’t become the main guard, and neither will Kenny Gainwell, the Eagles’ 2021 fifth-round pick. The Eagles certainly won’t pay to keep Scott no matter what happens with Sanders.

Even if the Eagles pay to keep Sanders, it’s entirely possible they’ll try to add depth to the draft with someone who could eventually take over from him a year or two later.

Philadelphia Eagles linebackers TJ Edwards (57) and Kyzir White (43) tackle Houston Texans wide receiver Chris Moore (15) during the third quarter of an NFL football game in Houston on Thursday November 3, 2022.

Linebacker

Kyzir White and TJ Edwards

This one looks pretty easy. The Eagles drafted Nakobe Dean in the third round last spring, and he can barely step onto the court this season. This will not be the case next year. White signed a one-year contract worth $5 million last spring. Although he’s playing well, the Eagles won’t go into a bidding war to bring him back, especially for a significant raise.

They won’t have to pay as much for Edwards, who they developed as an undrafted free agent in 2019. Edwards is having as good, if not better, a season than White. So he will stay.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew (10) looks for a pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Cleveland on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/David Richard)

The rest

Gardner Minshew and Zach Pascal

The Eagles would like Minshew to return as a substitute, but he’s more likely to want to go somewhere where he gets the chance to start, and earn either reserve money or starting money. The Eagles won’t spend too much to keep him.

The only other QB on the list is Ian Book, who has thrown 20 career passes. The Eagles will not enter next season with Book as a substitute. You can book that.

As for Pascal, he could end up returning for one more season as a low-cost slots receiver. If not, the Eagles hope to find someone like Pascal.

Contact Martin Frank at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

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