Shady's an invaluable Eagle - for now

Chillaxin: Eagles running back LeSean McCoy relaxes as he waits to talk with reporters at the NovaCare Complex.              MICHAEL BRYANT /      
Chillaxin: Eagles running back LeSean McCoy relaxes as he waits to talk with reporters at the NovaCare Complex.              MICHAEL BRYANT /       (Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 04, 2014

It doesn't take much for LeSean McCoy to notice the value and importance of the running back position withering around the NFL, and it takes even less for him to rage against it.

The sport is built around the quarterback and the passing game and the best ways to stop a quarterback and his passing game. No team has selected a running back in the first round of either of the last two NFL drafts. A tailback might sign a boffo extension, then find himself released before the contract ends, thanks to advancing age and declining production, because the perception these days is that, relatively speaking, even an excellent running back is easily replaced.

McCoy sees all these trends and scoffs at them. He led the league last season with his 1,607 rushing yards, his 314 rushing attempts, and his 366 touches (carries, receptions, kick and punt returns), and in so many respects, he seems the perfect fit for Chip Kelly's offense: elusive, versatile, good hands, good blocker, all the requisite attributes to survive as a thoroughly modern NFL back.

Still, as the Eagles plowed through another day of organized team activities Monday, McCoy had only to look around Monday and remember who wasn't there anymore to remind himself of how tenuous his place as an indispensable part of their offense might be. After all, how many really, truly believed the Eagles would release DeSean Jackson until they did? But Jackson was due more than $12 million this season, and for all the headaches he had caused and might yet cause, the Eagles thought it worth cutting him and saving themselves a reported $6.75 million in salary-cap space.

About to begin the second year of a five-year, $45 million contract, McCoy is secure this season, of course, not only because of his value to the Eagles but because it would cost them more against the cap to cut him ($13.75 million) than it is to keep him ($9.7 million), according to the salary database Spotrac. But in 2015, he's due to cost them $11.95 million against the cap if he remains on the roster - and just $4.4 million if they let him go. They'd open more cap room by releasing McCoy next year than they did by releasing Jackson this year.

Don't those projections, then, give McCoy pause about his future here?

"Not really," he said. "I know it's a business. I feel like if I do my job as far as being a productive player and just being positive, being everything that I am, I'm not nervous at all. We'll work on that when the time comes. As long as I'm productive, staying healthy and doing the right things, I should be fine. I think in this offense I'm the best fit around the league and anywhere."

It's natural for him to feel so comfortable. McCoy turns 26 in July, and considering what he means to the Eagles' offense - especially in light of Kelly's willingness to run the ball more often than the average NFL coach - it would seem an easy call to hold on to him for the duration of his contract. But simple things can get complex over an NFL season. What if McCoy suffers a serious injury? What if Jeremy Maclin plays well enough to command a long-term deal? And what about Nick Foles?

Under the NFL's collective-bargaining agreement, a team can't tear up a player's rookie agreement and sign him to a longer, more lucrative one until after his third season. Foles doesn't get that chance until next year. So if he duplicates last season's accomplishments or even exceeds them, the Eagles will have to pay him a handsome sum to keep him, and keep him happy. The Chicago Bears set the going market standard for quarterback contracts in January when they signed Jay Cutler for seven years and $126.7 million.

"It's $18 million a year just to get in the game," former NFL agent Joel Corry said, referring to the possible starting point for Foles' negotiations. "That Cutler deal is going to be problematic because there isn't a quarterback middle class. You either get paid a lot or you don't."

Given the constraints of the cap, the more money a team pays to its franchise quarterback, the less financial maneuverability it has for the rest of its roster. The issue for the Eagles, with respect to Foles and McCoy, is that they would have two players potentially taking up so much cap space, causing the team's power people to make some difficult, unpopular decisions. It might sound silly to speculate about such matters now, but if the Eagles are committed to sustaining their success so far under Kelly, it's possible that someday, the NFL's perception of the running back position will become LeSean McCoy's reality.



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