“Yes, Carson is the quarterback going forward.” Doug Pederson assertively told reporters in his end-of-season press conference. “And in Nick’s case, listen, we would love to have everybody back throughout the roster. But as I’ve said many, many times, it’s not about one guy. It’s about the team. We’re going to do what’s best for the team.”
No matter how black-and-white that statement seems, the City of Philadelphia has been running wild with ‘Foles magic’. Could a sprinkle of that same dust send Foles to his new destination via trade in exchange for a mix of picks and potential? Will he magically return to the Eagles? Media and fans alike have become besotted with these ideas and in the last seven days, things have snowballed beyond all rationality. The truth is, when it comes to Nick Foles, the hands of Howie Roseman are completely tied. Now before you pick up the pitchforks and tell me about Matt Cassel, franchise tags and the salary cap, let me tell you why.
Let’s start at the beginning. Last offseason, the Eagles wanted to reward the Super Bowl 52 MVP for his incredible performance. This wasn’t easy. It took several restructures from key players including Brandon Brooks and Brent Celek and a heavily incentivized deal. Originally, Foles signed a two-year, $11M contract with the Eagles that featured a $3M signing bonus. The revised contract included $2M up-front and a few million in incentives, which is why Foles was being paid handsomely for those last few games following the injury to Carson Wentz.
Foles needed to play 33% of offensive regular season snaps to gain an incentivized $1M playoff bonus. But after a chest injury in week 17 forced him off the field, he played in 61 of the team’s 71 snaps that day, and 357 of 1,092 on the season. Short by just four snaps, the Eagles still paid him the bonus.
Another key incentive here was the mutual option. The Pro Bowler agreed to a term that allowed the Eagled to pay $20M for his services in 2019 if they wanted to. This would be fully guaranteed by the fifth day of the new league year, but if Foles wanted out of it, he could give back his $2M signing bonus from 2018 and walk into free agency.
This is where the fun begins. If we’re to look at what the future holds for Nick Foles, we first need to gauge the market. Sure, the upcoming free agent class of quarterbacks is hardly dazzling, but the cold hard truth is this. The rest of the NFL isn’t as in love with Nick Foles as the Eagles are. After talking to several sources around the NFL, the consensus seems to be that there’s a concern over what Nick Foles can do outside of the West-Coast system. Sure, that horrific year with the Rams isn’t solely on his shoulders, but his rebound came in Kansas City of all places, under the Head Coach who drafted him.
One source told me ‘What Nick has done in Philadelphia is magical, but if you’re looking to bridge the gap between now and the drafting of his long-term replacement, you’re not exactly playing with House Money.’
Another stated ‘Most teams don’t think he’s going to be anything special outside of Philadelphia. They want Wentz.’
There is bound to be a free agent market for Foles. Headlined by Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor and Brock Osweiler, the remaining veterans (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Cassel etc) are likely going to be far cheaper insurance policies. Foles would fit in that first group, but there are so many unknowns.
What’s important to note here is the compensatory pick scenario. If the Eagles let Foles walk and he signs a long-term deal, you’re realistically looking at a 3rd-4th round pick in next year’s Draft. While it’s no immediate compensation, it’s the mid-round assets that have been so valuable to the Eagles in recent years.
One scenario floating around is the idea that the Eagles would trade Foles. For this to happen, the Eagles would need to pick up the $20M option with Foles agreeing to the concept that he’s just going to be traded straight away. Then, you have to take a very appealing asset in one market and make it seem tasteful in another. As another source positioned this, ‘You’re basically taking Range Rover and hoping it appeals to people in a foreign market where the terrain is flat.’
The Birds would have no leverage because the world knows that Foles could just pay $2M and walk into free agency. The interested party wouldn’t have to give up any assets and could just sign Foles to the deal of their choosing. Making life even more complex for the Eagles in this instance is the fact that they’d really have to punch for high draft capital, given that the compensatory pick is assumed to be a mid-round selection as of right now. Teams know that and aren’t going to be willing to part ways with more than a third-round pick when they know the player can walk.
On that note, Foles wants to control his own destiny. Last year, he expressed an interest to start in the NFL once more and teams are more than aware of the reasons why that option was implemented. Foles has full control of his future…which is exactly what he hasn’t had in previous years.
Then comes the third scenario. What if the Eagles franchise tag Nick Foles?
Firstly, it won’t happen. The whole reason that Howie Roseman worked that ‘mutual option’ into the contract was to give both parties full flexibility. Would the Eagles really work in a mutual option knowing they could just tag Foles anyway? What would the benefit be?
In the ‘tag and trade’ instance that follows on from this, things get complex. Because the only way that the Eagles would reach that scenario is having picked up the option for Foles, who has later declined it, leading the Eagles to tag him and force a trade. This invokes a very different discussion, removes any optionality from the contract (which was the entire point of the restructure) and interested parties now know that the Eagles have virtually no leverage. If they don’t get him off of their books, a team struggling for cap space are paying a backup QB $23M. There would be no bidding war.
The first example people point to here is when BIll Belichick ‘tagged and traded’ Matt Cassel back in 2009. That trade was later dubbed ‘The Fleece Job’ and with good reason. Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel were traded o the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round pick, which ended up becoming Patrick Chung. But that trade was a case of lightning striking at the perfect time.
“It shouldn’t have happened.” One source told me. Another dove a little deeper, stating “They got lucky Pioli made the deal. They had very little interest.” The market didn’t open up as Belichick had hoped, despite Cassel coming off a season where he stepped in for Tom Brady, leading the Patriots to an 11-5 record.
The difference here, however, is there was no ‘mutual option’. It was a straight ‘tag and trade’, which makes sense. Jarvis Landry would be a more recent example of such a move. But for the Eagles to get to that point, they’d need to pass through three windows of teams being able to have a realistic shot at acquiring his services. If the market already isn’t what Philly hoped it would be, and the team are all but guaranteed a mid-round, compensatory pick, why risk such a hefty salary for such a marginal gain?
In terms of teams who are interested, I’m told there are currently three. Obviously, the main link is with Jacksonville since the arrival of John DeFilippo, who are expected to become major players for Foles. Outside of the Jags, New York and Oakland are two more franchises who could be keeping their ears to the floor.
However, Oakland are stacked with draft capital and it’s far more likely that they go out and secure a long-term option at quarterback such as Kyler Murray in the bottom of the first round than they are to risk extending what’s already been an abysmal start to the John Gruden campaign. They suffered for this rebuild, they can’t risk another year like the last.
The truth is, if there was an established market that was purring for Foles, then this would be a much more exciting discussion and all of those fun, clickbait headlines would be valid…but they’re not. It’s like having two friends. One is a young, attractive, successful business owner and the other is just your average Joe, a little bit older, bit scruffy. If you’re trying to set a friend up with one of those guys, you really have to up-sell if you’re going for the average Joe.
There is one quarterback that the rest of the NFL would give up a lot for and that’s Carson Wentz. The Eagles could get an a monumental sack of goodies for the future of the franchise, but they’ve outright said that the NDSU product is exactly that. They’re moving on from Foles.
At most, the Eagles would realistically be looking at a second-rounder in a potential trade scenario…although given that they’re guaranteed some mid-round capital if they just let him walk, is it really worth the agro given how much of a headache this offseason is already poised to be?
There is no spoon.