Eagles still smart with salary cap

PHILADELPHIA -- Long before he was at the center of stunning events in Cleveland, Joe Banner was by all accounts the best salary-cap manager in the NFL. Banner’s innovative ideas helped the Philadelphia Eagles remain a contending team throughout most of the 2000s.

The cap has changed. Banner left for the Cleveland Browns job two years ago. General manager Howie Roseman took over primary responsibility for cap management. For all the change, the Eagles are still among the teams that best manage their salary cap.

Quick aside: If you’re thinking you’d prefer a Super Bowl to cap space, you’ll get no argument here. But cap space allows teams the flexibility to be aggressive in free agency, to hang on to their own veteran players and generally make personnel decisions for football reasons first, money reasons second.

It’s how a team can avoid what happened Wednesday in New Orleans, where the Saints released four defensive stars from their 2009 Super Bowl season.

My colleague Kevin Seifert published a chart showing the cap status of all 32 teams. The Eagles are one of five teams that rolled over more than $10 million in 2013 salary-cap space into 2014. While their 2014 commitments of roughly $123.4 million bring them close to the projected cap ($126-128 million), that $17 million gives them a spending limit of nearly $144 million.

That means the Eagles don’t have to release any players from their 10-6, division-title-winning team just to get into compliance with the cap. And it means they have more space to add talent than their rivals in the NFC East.

Washington and the New York Giants are two of the three NFL teams that carried over zero cap space from 2013. The Dallas Cowboys carried over $1.28 million, but have a cap-busting $152 million in 2014 commitments that must be severely reduced by March 11, when the new cap goes into effect.

It must be restated that the Eagles have an edge on many teams because of their quarterback situation. With Michael Vick’s contract expiring, the Eagles will have just $1.4 million tied up in cap space for quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. Teams typically commit 10 to 16 percent of their cap space to their starting quarterback (Vick’s $12.2 million cap figure was nearly 11 percent of the 2013 cap).

That won’t last forever. Sooner or later, the Eagles will have to commit that kind of money to Foles or another starting quarterback. For now, they have the freedom to build the best possible team around the quarterback while setting themselves up with contracts that don’t hamstring them later.

Having cap space isn’t as important as wisely using cap space. But the Eagles remain one of the teams that consistently give themselves space to work with.