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January 29, 2019

Analyzing the report that the Eagles will 'let Nick Foles walk free and clear'

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012819NickFoles Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports

BDN.

Nick Foles almost certainly won't be with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019. Foles' contract situation is complex, as there are numerous ways his departure can occur, many of which are non-traditional. 

According to Cecil Lammey of 104.3 The Fan in Denver, "it sounds like (the) #Eagles will let Nick Foles walk free and clear," as "the Eagles don't have enough (salary cap) space for (a) tag and trade scenario."

While the most likely scenario is that Foles will walk in free agency, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that this report is coming from the Eagles. That doesn't mean it is without merit, and that there aren't conclusions to glean from it. We'll get to that later. It just isn't coming from within the NovaCare Complex. Howie Roseman will try to maximize the Eagles' return on Foles, even if it is difficult, and unlikely. 

Before we go any further, if you have Ritalin or Adderall, now would be the time to pop one of those bad boys, because we're about to go deep down the nerd hole, and it's going to get prettttayyyy, prettttayyyy, pretttaaaaayyyy boring up in here over the next 1,216 words. Done? Cool, OK, continuing on...

As we noted in our "Stay or go" series, Foles' is (sort of) set to become a free agent this offseason, but his contract is unique. The short explanation of it is that the Eagles can pick up a $20 million option on Foles for the 2019 season, which Foles can either accept, or pay back a $2 million signing bonus that would trigger his free agency. The Eagles also have the unrealistic option of franchise tagging Foles, which they could use to keep him under their control, in an attempt to trade him.

There are two pieces that do a good job of breaking down all the different ways it can go with Foles this offseason. The first is by Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic, who came up with eight possible Foles scenarios, with commentary from former GM Joe Banner. The eight that Sheil came up with were as follows:

  1. Eagles decline Foles’ option for 2019
  2. Eagles pick up Foles’ option for 2019, but Foles pays back the $2M and becomes a free agent
  3. Eagles pick up Foles’ option, he doesn’t void it with the $2M payback, and they trade him
  4. Eagles pick up Foles’ option, he doesn’t void it with the $2M payback and they cut him before it becomes guaranteed
  5. Eagles pick up Foles’ option, he doesn’t void it with the $2M payback and he remains on the roster in 2019
  6. Eagles use the franchise tag on Foles, and he either remains on the roster for 2019 or they trade him
  7. Eagles renegotiate Foles’ deal and keep him on the roster with Wentz in 2019
  8. Eagles renegotiate Foles’ deal and trade Wentz for a ‘Godfather’ offer

The other piece is by Joel Corry of CBS Sports. He gets into more of the nerdy nuts and bolts of the options above, and came to the following conclusion, with which I agree:

Prediction

The Eagles pick up Foles' option years. Foles pays the $2 million to get his freedom. The Eagles let Foles hit the open market because of the potential pitfalls of a franchise tag. Foles finds a team willing to pay him at least in the Case Keenum neighborhood.

In the most likely scenario in which Foles buys his way to free agency, he would count toward the compensatory pick formula. Assuming the Eagles don't sign pricey free agents of their own, thus offsetting the loss of Foles, they would be in line for a 2020 third-round comp pick for losing him.

Now, that we've gotten Foles' offseason scenarios out of the way, let's get back to Lammey's tweet, which mentions that the Eagles don't have enough space for a tag-and-trade scenario. At the present time, that's true. In fact, they don't have enough cap space to trade Foles in any way whatsoever, with their money allocation constructed as is.

Back in December, the NFL announced that the 2019 salary cap would be somewhere in the range of $187 million to $191.1 million. Using the $190 million projection that OverTheCap.com utilizes, the Eagles would be $15,450,726 over the cap if the new league year started today, and... 

  1. Foles were on the books at the $20,600,000 cap number he would cost if the Eagles were to exercise his 2019 option...
  2. ...and he didn't buy his way out of it.

That fact makes a trade more difficult than it already is. Why? Well, Foles cannot be traded until the new league year begins. Unfortunately, that works against the Eagles. One of the NFL's asinine rules is that players who are traded the moment the calendar flips to the new league year still have to first fit under the their original team's salary cap before they can be dealt. In other words, the Eagles would have to find alternate ways not involving Foles to shave off the aforementioned $15,450,726 they are projected to be over the cap. That would require some heavy restructuring or termination of players' contracts, with the most likely candidates being Timmy Jernigan, Rodney McLeod, and Jason Peters.

In the event the Eagles slap the franchise tag on Foles, they would have to clear even more money. Foles' number on the cap would jump from $20,600,000 to something closer to $25,000,000, which would mean the Eagles would have to clear around $20 million in cap space through cuts and restructures to get under the cap, as opposed to the projected $15,450,726 noted above.

The franchise tag also comes with another major risk, as Foles could also just quickly sign the franchise tender, which would immediately be fully guaranteed, and the Eagles would be stuck with him for around $25 million in 2019. 

The bottom line: The Eagles would be crazy to use the franchise tag. This is not news.

It's also not the most likely way the Eagles can deal Foles, in the unlikely event that they do. The way a deal could possibly get done is if the Eagles picked up Foles' option, and he did not buy his way to free agency by paying back a $2 million signing bonus. There would have to be a perfect storm of cooperation from three different sides for that to happen:

  1. The team acquiring Foles (let's just call them the Jaguars from here on out so I don't have to keep typing "the team acquiring Foles" over and over) would have to value Foles enough that they want to secure his rights without the rest of the league having a chance to bid on him, and they're willing to give up a decent asset to do so.
  2. The Eagles would have to be willing to do a whole lot of cutting and/or restructuring of players to make room for Foles on the 2019 cap when the new league year begins. For this effort, they would need the Jaguars to cough up at least a Day 2 pick (or some value equivalent of that) to make it worth their while over the third round comp pick they're otherwise likely to receive in 2020.
  3. Foles would have to want to go to the Jaguars, and be willing to sign a long-term deal with them. More realistically, he would have to have a long-term deal already in place with the Jaguars before he'd ever pass on buying his way to free agency once the Eagles exercised his 2019 option. He would save $2 million this way, as he would not be buying his free agency.

Possible? Yes. Highly unlikely? Also yes.

Lammey's source is probably some other team (let's just say for fun, oh, I don't know, the Broncos), guessing on what the Eagles are likely to do. It's a solid enough guess, if so. They are right that the Eagles are extremely unlikely to use the franchise tag, which is semi-valuable information in terms of gauging what other teams around the league are thinking.

But again, the Eagles' most likely path to a trade isn't that. We'll find out soon enough if the Eagles let Foles walk "free and clear." It's certainly possible. The deadline to pick up his option, per the Joel Corry piece linked to above, is February 10. 

And as always, I need a life.


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