With free-agency set to commence Tuesday afternoon at four o’clock eastern time, the immediate future of one of the longest tenured Eagles appears to be a done deal. The same can’t be said for a former first-round pick.
Last night, Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer broke down some of the best edge-rush options that the Eagles could pursue in free-agency. In the article, he passed along some nuggets on the futures of both Trent Cole and Brandon Graham.
The Eagles have about $15 million in salary-cap space allocated to their top three outside linebackers (Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, and Brandon Graham). Cole should stay. Barwin isn’t going anywhere. And Graham could be available to trade.
McLane went on to say that it is very possible that all three do end up back in Philadelphia next season, but gives other options available in free-agency should the team decide to move on from either Cole or Graham, or they are just looking to build more depth at what wasn’t exactly their strongest position a season ago.
Cole was considered a release candidate by some, because of a $6.6 million cap hit, but a strong second half, in his first season transitioning to outside linebacker, seems to have put that out of the question. The release of Jason Avant last week (the second longest tenured Eagle), would also make it unlikely that the Eagles would follow that up by taking the locker room hit of letting Cole go as well.
Prior to next season (when Cole’s cap hit jumps to $11.625 million), something will have to give. The Eagles could look to restructure Cole’s deal this off-season, or wait out the season and re-evaluate next off-season. In either case, Cole appears to be safe for 2014.
As for Brandon Graham, if the Eagles find a trade partner who is willing to give up a third of fourth round pick, he COULD be moved. Obviously we all wish the Eagles selected Earl Thomas over Graham, but he does have 8.5 sacks over the last two seasons, and that isn’t bad for a rotation player. The team could release him if they sign another free-agent, but it’s unlikely that they get a free-agent who is making less than Graham ($1.67 million base salary, with a $3.378 million cap hit), or even find a free-agent that productive for same price.
A large portion of the fanbase would like to see Graham let go, to give more snaps to Cedric Thorton, but Graham was drafted out of position as a defensive-end and I am intrigued to see what he could do in a second season at outside linebacker. At the same time, Thorton was extremely productive in limited time last year, so I understand wanting to get him more snaps.
As McLane pointed out, the team might look for Cole’s successor in the draft, but given the holes in the secondary, my guess is that the Eagles aren’t likely to address the position in the first two rounds. Look for all four to be back in midnight green in 2014, barring a major free-agent signing.