The trade deadline has come and gone, and now the next order of business for the Eagles will be addressing potential contract extensions. With more than a dozen players set to hit free agency after this season, a few may be playing their way into a long-term deal with the team.
The Eagles got working early with their contract extensions this season, adding one-year to cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc’s deal back in September, which will keep him with the team through the 2020 season. However, LeBlanc was far from the only player set to hit the open market come next March.
As of right now, the Eagles are set to see players of the likes of Nate Sudfeld, Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, Nelson Agholor, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jason Peters, Tim Jernigan, Nigel Bradham, Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Rodney McLeod and Andrew Sendejo all test the waters of free agency. Currently, the Eagles are projected to have just under $40 million in cap space, per Spotrac.
However, with the front office able to solely focus on the players currently on the roster, rather than trades, a few of those guys may be in consideration for an extension. Here are a few.
RB Jordan Howard
The Eagles acquired running back Jordan Howard from the Chicago Bears this offseason for a condition sixth-round pick, and at the time, it seemed like the move for the Eagles was a buy-low rental to pair him with eventual rookie running back Miles Sanders. Now, eight games into the season, Howard has been among the team’s most productive players, and it’d be wide of the Eagles to consider signing him to an extension.
On the season, Howard has 100 carries for 443 yards and five touchdowns. Howard’s 4.4 yards per carry is one pace to be the best he’s posted since his rookie season in 2016 when he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Howard’s also shown some ability in the passing game as well, catching 9 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.
In the early parts of the season, Doug Pederson and the coaching staff seemed reluctant to committing to Howard as their true starting running back. Over the first three games of the season, Howard was averaging just 9 rushes per game. However, over the last five games, that number for Howard has jumped to 15 rusher per game. The coaching staff has noticed the talent that they have in Howard, and the entire team is reaping the rewards now.
Last Sunday against the Bills, Howard was given a season-high 23 carries, which he took for 96 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles went on to win that game, scoring 31 points despite less than ideal weather for the offense, and the end result was in large part due to Howard shouldering the load. Howard was also on the field for 75% of the snaps against the Bills, making him the teams first running back in 47 games to be on the field for that amount in a game.
The Eagles love Howard, and it would be surprising if there wasn’t already mutual interest in getting an extension done. One thing does have to be noted, though: Howard’s play could actually price himself out of what the Eagles would be willing to pay.
The Eagles scoffed at the idea of giving Le’Veon Bell more than $10 million per season, and were even reluctant to sign Tevin Coleman to a deal worth more than $5 million per season. Now, after the team used a second-round pick on Miles Sanders, the earliest they’ve taken a running back in the draft since LeSean McCoy in 2009, they may be even more stingy about dishing out serious money to a running back.
This notion is purely speculative, but given the history of Howie Roseman and the front office, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. For a running back like Howard, though, and considering the impression he’s made over just eight games, it may be worth it to finally break the bank some on a running back.
S Rodney McLeod
Rodney McLeod is one of the more interesting situations for the Eagles. McLeod was previously under contract through the 2020 season, but following his season-ending torn ACL and MCL last season, the deal was reconstructed to void the final year of his contract, making him a free agent after this year.
Considering the injury McLeod suffered, it’s fairly remarkable how well he’s played this season. McLeod has 45 tackles, which is on pace to be a career-high, and he hasn’t missed a beat in his coverage skills.
As of right now, the Eagles only have one safety under contract following this season, which isn’t ideal considering that position is among the teams most depended upon. Outside of Malcolm Jenkins, who’s age is already something that has to be considered, the Eagles don’t seem to have the future figured out much at safety.
There is the 2020 NFL Draft that could be used to figure out the safety position, with star-studded prospects such as LSU’s Grant Delpit, but players like that may go well before the Eagles even pick. For a team that’s hoping to compete, it may not be the best idea to throw a rookie to the wolves as a starter, either.
This situation is complicated a bit since the Eagles already cut a year off McLeod’s deal, but he certainly has earned, at the minimum, getting that year back. McLeod has shown that he’s recovered well following the injury, and he can be trusted as the team’s free safety.
Plus, McLeod likely won’t demand too much money should he become a free agent, which makes the decision of a potential contract extension easier for the Eagles.
LB Kamu Grugier-Hill
Heading into the season, Kamu Grugier-Hill was set to be one of the team’s breakout stars. Then, a complete tear of his MCL derailed some of those hopes at the start of the season.
Grugier-Hill eventually returned in week 4, and now, he looks like he’s fully healthy. While the stats don’t jump off the page, Grugier-Hill serves a key role in a linebacker core that is rather weak outside of him.
Grugier-Hill does have 10 tackles on the season, which if he hadn’t missed the first few games of the season, would be on a pass to fall just short of his career-high 45 tackles last season. There were rave reviews about Grugier-Hill’s play in training camp, and there’s no reason to believe that the same player isn’t there following the injury.
The linebacker situation is fairly similar to the safety position.
Nigel Bradham is the only trustworthy player at the position under contract after this season, but even his future with the team could be a bit in flux. Bradham’s contract does go through 2022, but there is a team option after this season, and if the Eagles were to decline it, they would save over $4.4 million. Bradham is on pace to miss his third game this season due to injury, and he hasn’t even been able to get back on the field for practice yet. From a financial standpoint, it may make sense for the Eagles to decline Bradham’s option and either try re-signing him for cheaper after the season or simply let him walk.
Given this scenario, it’d be smart of the Eagles to get ahead of the storm and lockdown Grugier-Hill for the long-term. At 25 years old, his best years are still ahead of him, and a deal likely won’t be too pricey for the Eagles’ liking.
CB Jalen Mills
This may come off as a bit of a surprise, but a deal similar to what Cre’Von LeBlanc got could be in line for Jalen Mills.
As of right now, the Eagles currently have Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, and LeBlanc under contract at cornerback following this season. While there is some potential in that group, we’ve already seen some of the downfalls of relying on such an inexperienced group.
Ronald Darby and Mills are currently the teams starting cornerbacks, and it was clear against Buffalo how much better the secondary plays with both there and at full health. Darby too is a free agent, but it’s unlikely he gets a contract extension, leaving Mills to be the lone standing candidate at the position.
Mills’ health is an obvious concern — with him missing a full year of play due to a foot injury — but it looks like that’s past him after his first two games back. In those two games, Mills has 11 tackles, one interception, and one pass deflection.
Mills’ impact is also felt not only on the field but off it as well. If the sky were falling and the world seemed like it was coming to an end, Mills would still stand tall with the confidence that everything will be fine. That’s the mentality Mills brings to the team, and it’s a swagger that the players have clearly benefited from after a rollercoaster start to the season.
This may take some more time to come to fruition, and maybe it doesn’t even happen at all, but if Mills is able to continue proving that he’s truly back from the injury, it’d be smart for the Eagles to try keeping around one of their most underrated players.