Nick Foles is going to be a free agent. Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman told reporters at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday that the team is not going to use the franchise tag on Foles with the intention of trading him, which was their reported strategy earlier this month.
Foles renegotiated his contract with the Eagles after winning the Super Bowl and signed a two-year deal worth as much as $29 million before the 2018 season. Earlier this month, Foles gave his $2 million signing bonus back in order to opt out of the second year of that contract, which would have paid him $20 million in 2019. That move forced Philadelphia to either use the franchise tag and attempt to trade him or allow him to walk in free agency. The team likely considered that tagging Foles with the intent of moving him would’ve technically been against the NFL’s rules, and doing so also would have forced them to make hard decisions to briefly fit him under their 2019 salary cap, including possibly releasing some key veterans. By letting him go into free agency, the Eagles can collect a compensatory draft pick, which will likely fall at the end of the third round, in 2020. If the team sensed it could have gotten a better draft pick for him in a trade, it likely would have made a deal.
Later on Wednesday, the team’s official Twitter account appeared to confirm Roseman’s statement:
The Eagles’ decision has altered the landscape of the NFL offseason. A starting-caliber quarterback (and former Super Bowl MVP) is on the free-agent market, and a team that had been interested in drafting a quarterback could find its answer in Foles in March instead of in a rookie in April. Let’s look at his potential landing spots.
Washington needs a quarterback as much as anybody after Alex Smith broke his leg last season. He is reportedly unlikely to be ready to play in 2019, and Washington already may need to start looking to replace the quarterback the team signed to a four-year extension last January. The Eagles were almost certainly not going to trade Foles within the division, which would turn the man with a statue outside Lincoln Financial Field into their sworn enemy. But now that Foles is a free agent, Washington is back in play. The team might be hesitant to give Foles a large deal with Smith’s contract still on the books and his status uncertain, but Washington has the 15th pick in the draft—the latest of any of the QB-needy teams. If the team wants to save cap space by getting a cheap rookie quarterback, it’ll likely have to part with other draft picks to move up. Paying Foles $20 million annually while holding onto its picks might be a better option than, say, taking Duke’s Daniel Jones at no. 15 overall or trading the farm to move up to no. 1.
New York Giants
On Wednesday morning, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman refused to rule out adding a veteran quarterback in free agency. Less than an hour later, Roseman announced that Foles would be a free agent. The Eagles also weren’t going to send Foles to New York, but now the Giants are back in play. It’s unlikely Foles would want to sign with the Giants if he’d have to play behind Eli Manning, but New York could save $17 million in cap space by cutting Manning, which would pay for a huge chunk of Foles’s 2019 salary. It’s unlikely, but Gettleman has insisted the team must look at all options, and they’ll do their due diligence on Foles.
The Jaguars were considered the favorites to deal for Foles (maybe by default), and they’ll likely be interested in signing him when he hits free agency. In January, Jacksonville hired former Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who was fired midseason as the Vikings offensive coordinator, to run the offense, and DeFilippo certainly knows what scheme to use to make Foles successful. The question is whether Jacksonville has the cap space to fit Foles onto the team. The Jaguars are currently projected to have the least cap space in the NFL (currently around negative-$1.38 million!), and even with the news on Wednesday that they’ll restructure defensive tackle Marcell Dareus’s deal, the team will have to stretch to create room for Foles.
If Foles is looking to maximize his salary, Jacksonville is not the place for him. But if Foles will settle for a lesser financial deal, the Jaguars are almost certainly the team best suited to win a Super Bowl with him onboard. In 2018, they nearly toppled the Patriots in the AFC title game, and the core of the team’s dominant defense remains. The team has also improved its offensive line and boasts good skill players. Foles was able to spark a debate over whether the Eagles should keep him or Carson Wentz, so he should have no problem persuading the Jaguars he’s better than Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler. It might not be fair to expect Foles to sacrifice salary again—having already done so in order to stay with the Eagles after they won the Super Bowl—but it’s hard to believe any other team would offer a better football opportunity than Jacksonville.
Adding Foles would likely require the Dolphins to move on from quarterback Ryan Tannehill (who has a sheddable contract). It’s not a bad move for the right replacement, but bringing on Foles as the first serious move of head coach Brian Flores’s tenure would be quite the commitment. Foles isn’t significantly better than Tannehill on the field (though Foles is better at staying on the field), but perhaps the team would value his leadership. The Dolphins made a few subtractions last offseason that were about improving team culture, and adding Foles could be an addition to team culture.
This is more about Jon Gruden’s lack of commitment to Derek Carr than his love for Nick Foles, but Gruden is one of the few decision-makers in the league with ironclad job security. He could easily cut bait on Carr, sign Foles, and then later cut bait on Foles without fearing for his employment. GMs often tie their job security to the franchise quarterback they choose, but Gruden’s 10-year contract should keep him safe. If Gruden and his new consigliere Mike Mayock aren’t fans of the QBs in the draft, they could use Foles as a stopgap until the team moves to Vegas in 2020 or 2021 and have Foles set the culture they’re trying to build, while using their three first-round picks to build the talent around him.