Analyzing list of Eagles’ pending free agents in 2022

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Analyzing list of Eagles’ pending free agents in 2022 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles’ season ended on Sunday afternoon in Tampa, so now it’ time to look ahead toward the offseason.

Thanks to four contract extensions for the remaining members of the 2018 class (Dallas Goedert, Josh Sweat, Avonte Maddox, Jordan Mailata) the Eagles’ list of free agents isn’t as notable this year. They did a good job taking care of those guys before they hit the market — a Joe Banner/Howie Roseman special.

But the Eagles still have 9 pending unrestricted free agents, 4 restricted free agents, 1 exclusive rights free agent and one legend who technically isn’t a free agent but whose future is a question.

Let’s get to the list:

Unrestricted free agents

These players will become become free agents on March 16, when the new league year begins. The legal tampering period begins at noon on March 14; that’s when contract negotiations can begin with other clubs. Until then, the Eagles have exclusive negotiating rights with these players.

Rodney McLeod

McLeod, 31, has been with the Eagles since the 2016 season when he signed as a free agent from the St. Louis Rams. In his six years with the Eagles, he helped the team win a Super Bowl, made several playoff appearances and came back from two separate ACL tears. After Malcolm Jenkins left a couple years ago, McLeod became a very important leader for the defense and the team in general. In 2021, he got off to a slow start coming back from an ACL rehab, but really began to play better down the stretch. His interceptions against the Giants and Washington late in the season were huge and he showed he can still play in this league. But at 31, it’s very fair to wonder if he’ll be returning. And McLeod understands the reality of the NFL; he talked about it just after the Eagles’ playoff loss in Tampa. This is a tough one because of how much McLeod has meant to the franchise but Roseman has warned before about sentimentality.

McLeod just finished off a two-year contract but the Eagles restructured it in 2021 to spread out his cap hit by adding dummy years. Something they have done a ton of over the last year. He’ll leave $2.14 million in dead money in 2022.

READ: Jalen Hurts answers question about his Eagles future

Derek Barnett

The No. 14 overall pick in the 2017 draft stayed with the Eagles in 2021 on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal that paid him $10 million for this season. The Eagles eventually restructured that to save some cap space, leaving them with around $7.25 million in dead space in 2022.

Should the Eagles have ever picked up Barnett’s option? Well, he was overpaid at $10 million for one season and he has never lived up to his draft status. Barnett in 2021 played in 16 games and finished with 46 tackles with 2 sacks and 11 QB hits. That was a career-low in sacks for the former first-round pick. And the boneheaded mistakes didn’t stop either. Barnett has earned his reputation in the NFL as an undisciplined player who takes cheap shots and that part of his game has been very frustrating. Overall, Barnett is an average starting defensive end in the NFL. He’s not as bad as some fans make him out to be but he’s definitely been disappointing for a first-round pick. The Eagles already signed Sweat to an extension, so it’s probably time to let Barnett walk.

Anthony Harris

The Eagles brought in Harris on a one-year deal in 2021 and reunited him with Jonathan Gannon and McLeod on the Eagles’ defense. The safety spent the first six years of his career with the Vikings before coming to Philly. In 2021, he played in 14 games and had 72 tackles, 1 interception and 3 PBUs. Harris missed a couple games in the middle of the season with hand injuries. He also turned 30 in October, so the Eagles could make a big shift this offseason to get younger in their secondary by letting McLeod, Harris and Steven Nelson walk.

Harris signed a one-year, $4 million deal but his cap hit in 2021 was limited because of voidable years. (Sensing a trend?) Harris will count as $2.408 million in dead space in 2022.

Steven Nelson

The Eagles signed the veteran cornerback just before training camp to solidify the secondary. This ended up being a very good one-year deal for the Eagles. Not only did it give them a legitimate CB2 opposite Darius Slay but it allowed the Eagles to move Maddox to his more natural spot as a nickel cornerback. So this move helped Maddox get paid too. Nelson started 16 games, sitting in Week 17, but played well. He had just 1 interception but was pretty solid all year. But, again, if the Eagles want to get younger, they let him walk and try to find a replacement. Although, if Nelson struggles to find the kind of money he wants elsewhere, perhaps the Eagles would be willing to bring him back. He’s 28.

Nelson’s one-year deal was worth $2.5 million and even though he missed a bonus by sitting in the last week of the season, the Eagles did right by him and paid him the $375,000 anyway. Good on them. Because of voidable years, Nelson will leave just over $1.5 million in dead space in 2022.

Ryan Kerrigan

Kerrigan was awful all season. He looked completely cooked, registering just three tackles despite playing over 30% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. But then the 33-year-old had 1.5 sacks in the playoff game. Sure, he was going against Tristan Wirfs on one-leg and a backup but Kerrigan still made some plays. Still, that’s not going to be enough for the Eagles to bring him back. It’s time to let Kerrigan walk. When he does, it’ll leave $1.14 million in dead space in 2022.

READ: 11 Eagles who need to be gone in 2022

Hassan Ridgeway

The Eagles brought Ridgeway back in 2021 for a veteran salary benefit deal, which is a minimum contract that counts even less toward the salary cap. And I guess he was worth the minimal money. No, Ridgeway didn’t play great but he had some OK moments. The 27-year-old registered 20 tackles, 2 sacks and 5 QB hits. But more importantly, for him, Ridgeway played in every game this season after playing just 19 games over his previous three seasons. He at least stayed healthy in 2021.

Genard Avery

During the 2019 season, the Eagles traded a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Browns for Avery. That pick ended up being OT James Hudson from Cincinnati; he played in 12 games with 4 starts as a rookie. Avery ended up playing in 35 games with the Eagles over the course of 2 1/2 years. In 2021, he changed positions from defensive end to the SAM linebacker in Gannon’s new scheme. This year, he played in 16 games and started 12. He had 43 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2 QB hits and 1 sack. He ended up having his best season with the Eagles in what could be his final year here.

Jordan Howard

The veteran running back resurrected his career a bit in 2021. He played in just seven games after getting promoted from the practice squad but helped the Eagles get into the playoffs with a 4.7 yards per attempt average, his highest since his rookie season with the Bears back in 2016. In the playoff game against Tampa, though, Howard didn’t carry the ball once and had just one catch for 7 yards. A stinger late in the season seemed to affect him. Howard is just 27 but has been through a lot in his NFL career and with his style of play, might not be long for the league.

Jason Croom

You probably forgot about Croom, the veteran tight end. He missed the entire 2021 season with an ACL injury suffered in the preseason.

Restricted free agents

Restricted free agents are players with three accrued seasons and an expiring contract. With these RFAs, the Eagles have a choice to either tender them or let them hit the market as unrestricted free agents. The projected tender amounts, per Spotrac, are as follows:

Right of first refusal: $2.4 million

Original round: $2.5 million

Second round: $3.9 million

First round: $5.5 million

Basically, RFAs can negotiate and sign with any team but their original team can offer them a qualifying offer that comes with those set salaries, the right of first refusal and could give that original team compensation if another team signs them. If there’s no tender, these players become unrestricted free agents.

Alex Singleton

Singleton had a weird season. He began the year as a starter, then got demoted and then ended up as a starter again. The 28-year-old former CFL All-Star plays with his hair on fire and that definitely didn’t seem to fit Gannon’s defense early in the season. When the scheme got a little more aggressive, Singleton seemed a little more at home. Overall, he played in 16 games, started 8 and had 137 tackles to lead the team for the second straight season.

Nate Herbig

The former UDFA out of Stanford has been a backup guard but the Eagles have needed him quite a bit. He eventually became the starting right guard this season after injuries to Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo and Jack Driscoll. And for going that deep in the roster, Herbig played pretty well. In his three years here, he’s played 33 games with 17 starts and has been valuable for the club.

Boston Scott

The former practice squad running back has done some nice things in his time with the Eagles but he’s had to be patient for his opportunities. In 2021, he ended up playing in 16 games with 4 starts. He had 373 yards on the ground, 83 as a receiver and rushed for 7 touchdowns, second on the team behind Jalen Hurts.

Greg Ward

Another former practice squad member, Ward’s opportunities were very limited in 2021. After catching 53 passes in 2020, Ward saw his playing time drop dramatically in the first year under Nick Sirianni. He ended up with just 7 catches for 95 yards but caught 3 touchdown passes.

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Exclusive rights free agents

ERFAs aren’t even really free agents. These players have fewer than three accrued seasons and an expiring contract. Basically, if a team offers one of these guys a minimum deal, the player pretty much has to take it.

Andre Chachere

The 25-year-old played in 16 games this season, mostly as a special teamer. He was a pretty good gunner on the punt team for a lot of the season. Chachere finished with 322 special teams snaps, second on the team behind rookie cornerback Zech McPhearson’s 325. For whatever reason, Chachere was replaced in the playoffs at the gunner spot by Josiah Scott; Chachere was inactive against the Bucs.

Not technically a free agent

Jason Kelce

OK, so Kelce isn’t technically a free agent. His contract is a little strange, but his future is still up in the air. Even though he’s 34, he was an All-Pro this year and the Eagles would presumably love to have him back for another run. But it’ll be up to Kelce to figure out if he wants to keep playing or if he wants to retire. If he does want another year, the Eagles will simply need to work out a new contract with him. In his current deal, there’s what has been referred to as a “poison pill,” which would guarantee Kelce $30 million if he’s on the roster as of June 3. It’s basically just a mechanism to make sure there’s some action before then. But Kelce was pretty open last year about making sure he’d tell the Eagles his decision early enough for them to create a plan. I’d assume it’ll be the same thing heading into this offseason.