Eagles have the cap space

Posted by ESPN's Sal Paolantonio

The new NFL salary cap numbers are out and, curiously, the Philadelphia Eagles are in the top five of those under the cap -- this after Andy Reid recently said publicly that Anquan Boldin's contract demands were too rich, and the team could not match the offer made by the Denver Broncos to 13-year veteran safety Brian Dawkins, who left Philadelphia rather unceremoniously two months ago.

Here are the numbers:

Salary cap space as of May 15, 2009

Team: Amount under the 2009 Salary Cap of $128 million

1. Bucs $36.6 million
2. Chiefs$31.1 million
3. Packers$28.5 million
4. 49ers $25.5 million
5. Eagles $23.1 million

  • The Eagles are the only big-market franchise in the top five
    under the salary cap.

  • The Eagles are the only big-market franchise with more than $20
    million under the cap.

  • Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the minimum that NFL
    teams must spend on player salaries in 2009 is $107,748,000. Right now, the Eagles are $3.2 UNDER the minimum they must pay players on their roster. That $3.2 million is roughly equivalent to what they will spend on their 2009 draft class.

  • Thus, as it currently stands in 2009, the Eagles will be spending virtually the minimum allowed by the CBA on player salaries.

This is odd since, in the last two weeks, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was named a Top 10 NFL owner by both Sports Illustrated and the National Football Post. In those rankings, the Eagles were the only team in the Top 10 franchises not to win a Super Bowl.

Perhaps the Eagles achieved that ranking because of their salary cap management prowess.

This unused money is supposed to go to the players, under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. So, what could the Eagles spend it on?

Let us count the ways:

  • A contract extension for their franchise quarterback. Donovan McNabb has two years remaining on his deal - both not guaranteed. He is the only starter with more than 10 years experience in the NFL in such a precarious financial position.

  • Boldin, who remains in Arizona after the Cardinals rejected the
    Eagles trade offer, reportedly a third-round pick and disgruntled cornerback Sheldon Brown, who wants a new deal.

  • They could have afforded 10-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, who was instead traded to the Falcons after the Eagles trade offer fell short.

  • An experienced backup running back. Brian Westbrook is coming off surgery and injuries and will be 30 in September -- and his only backup is a 20-year-old rookie.

  • Making Dawkins a member of the franchise for life. Reid recently said on a Philadelphia area radio show that he could not have matched what the Broncos gave Dawkins ($7 million guaranteed). He suggested it would have busted up his salary cap structure, and he could not sell that to his locker room. Doubtful, on both counts - unless he was talking about McNabb, who would have been sitting there with no guaranteed money while Dawkins would have gotten his.

Now that we know the salary cap reality, it's clear that Reid could have kept Dawkins in midnight green -- and very few players in the Eagles locker room would have protested. After all, the money's there, and if anybody deserved it, it was Dawkins.

Sal Paolantonio is an ESPN bureau reporter based in Philadelphia who covers the NFL extensively.