As we turn to a new year in the NFL and beyond, there is a sense of déjà vu about a certain quarterback that wasn’t playing two weeks ago becoming—for the second straight year—the most important player in the NFL in January and February. And 10 months ago, this player was outdueling a fellow named Tom Brady in a game called the Super Bowl.
The Philadelphia Eagles, left for dead two weeks ago, have a fighter’s chance to get to the playoffs and become that “team no one wants to play” if they get there. And this is with a backup quarterback who is re-creating the magic of a year ago, a magic that could end this week or last through February once more.
Simply, Nick Foles is one of the best stories in sports.
Nick Foles is a revelation and an inspiration. Living outside of Philadelphia, I have watched him closely. There is something about him that brings out the best in his team, and his teammates respond to him. He is the ultimate flat-liner (that is a good thing), never in a moment that’s too big for him. Indeed, there is a preternatural calm about him. And in all his media appearances, he not only shows admirable humility but also offers life lessons about failure and perseverance. It is exceedingly hard not to like Nick Foles.
This all sounds wonderful until we realize that Foles was not, is not and will not be the Eagles organization’s preferred quarterback. The Eagles invested massive draft capital into Carson Wentz, who represents what every team wants: a proven young, ascending quarterback with great arm strength, movement, leadership skills, off-the-charts character and work ethic. Wentz’s name, however, now carries an asterisk at the end of the list of so many positives, representing an injury concern. While a serious knee injury last year appears sufficiently healed, there is currently a more-concerning—and somewhat mysterious—back injury, paving the way for Foles to, as coach Doug Pederson said, “bail out” the Eagles once again.
Now, with “Foles Bailout, the Sequel” in full swing, the question has to be asked if there will ever be a Part III. As described below, my answer to that is, well, no. We are in the last days of Nick Foles as an Eagle. The business of football, and the Eagles rightful commitment to Wentz, require a separation from the magical Foles.
THE CONTRACTS TELL THE FUTURE
As with all things in the business of football, any forecasting starts—and usually ends—with analysis of their contracts. The easier of the two contracts to examine is the one with certainty for at least two years, that of Wentz.
Wentz: long term play
Wentz is finishing the third year of a four-year rookie contract. The Eagles can soon extend the deal for another year, with only the commitment of an injury guarantee to Wentz in 2020. At a $6.7 million average through the first four years of the deal, Wentz has represented incredible value, even with injuries. And were injuries not a concern, the contractually active Eagles would certainly be negotiating a top-of-market contract extension with Wentz this offseason, with $50-60 million guaranteed. With the injuries, however, I expect the team to wait. The Eagles can use the luxury of having at least two more years of contract control to see if Wentz’s back situation resolves (or not) before negotiating an extension.
Of course, as I always say, everything is negotiable, and the proactive Eagles could certainly try to leverage the uncertainty of Wentz’s health to negotiate an incentive-based contract full of escalators and de-escalators based on Wentz’s availability and performance. And while there may be value in that kind of contract for the Eagles, I would not expect Wentz’s representatives to accept that structure (I certainly wouldn’t if I were them). And if they would, that would signify they have real concern over Wentz’s future.
Thus, as for the Eagles’ decision-making on Wentz, with no contractual urgency in play, the best decision is no decision. If only the decision were that simple for Foles…
Foles’s mutual option
Foles was amply rewarded in 2018 for his “bail out” last year. The Eagles gave him $9 million guaranteed—a $2 million signing bonus, a $3 million roster bonus, and a $4 million salary—with significant per-game playing time bonuses (and those amounts doubled in the playoffs, as well as many performance incentives). Foles will end up north of $10 million for 2018, as he should. Staying with the Eagles in 2019, however, is highly problematic.
The reigning Super Bowl MVP is on the books for a striking $20 million salary in 2019. Whether he receives that salary—at least whether he receives it from the Eagles—is a serious question. Here is the definitive summary of the mutual option, for both the Eagles and Foles, in the current contract.
1. The Eagles must decide if they are going to exercise the option to keep Foles (and his $20 million salary) 30 days prior the 2019 league year, meaning in the week following the Super Bowl.
2. If the Eagles do not exercise the option, Foles becomes a free agent.
3. If and when the Eagles exercise the option, Foles must make a decision in the five days after that.
4. If Foles decides to void the option and cancel the contract, he must concurrently pay back the Eagles $2 million, the amount of his 2018 signing bonus, and he will then become a free agent.
5. If Foles decides not to void the option and remain with the Eagles, the $20 million salary becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2019 league year (March 18).
To summarize, the Eagles have the first decision point: whether to keep Foles at a $20 million salary. But even if they do, Foles can invalidate that decision by paying back $2 million and becoming a free agent. Alternatively, Foles can accept the option and his contract would become fully guaranteed if he is not released prior to March 18.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
My strong sense is that the Eagles will not exercise the option, letting Foles go into the marketplace. I know: The Eagles are creative and proactive and, in theory, could exercise the option to keep Foles and then trade him and his $20 million salary in the first five days of the league year before it becomes guaranteed, or even sometime later in the offseason when it is guaranteed. But I just don’t see the Eagles, even with Wentz’s injury status, carrying a backup quarterback on their roster and salary cap at a $20 million number.
Of course, everything’s negotiable, and the two sides could agree to rework the contract once again. However, this is about more than money. Foles, like all players, wants to play. And absent further injury to Wentz, he won’t play for the Eagles except as the “bail out” guy. And he may be the best “bail out” guy in history, but he is not the future for the Eagles.
Enjoy the next week or, perhaps, the next six weeks of Nick Foles, a wonderful role model of humility and grit. As enjoyable as it has been and still is, it can’t continue. He can’t stay with the Eagles; he’s too good to spend another year serving in this role. As sad as it is for the Eagles, their fans and Foles, he has to go.
• Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.