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Big Contract Nick: Breaking Down the Foles-Eagles Situation

The former Super Bowl MVP declined his $20 million option for 2019. The Eagles reportedly hope to franchise-tag and trade him. What comes next for the Philadelphia deity?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Nick Foles, the half-man, half-legend, and fully endowed real-life Rocky who delivered Philadelphia its first Super Bowl title last year, is likely in his final days as an Eagle. It is not often that a team separates from its former Super Bowl MVP. It is even rarer for a team to part ways with a healthy 30-year-old quarterback who has a statue outside the stadium. Yet it seems that the Eagles and their postseason savior could move on from each other any day, and the mechanisms of his departure are complicated. Here are some questions and answers about the confusing ending to a legendary story.

Why are the Eagles likely to get rid of Foles?

Money. Keeping him in 2019 would have made him one of the highest-paid players in the league. It’s fair money for a starting quarterback, but it’s a lot for someone who would be sitting on the bench.

Is there any chance the team would keep Foles and get rid of Carson Wentz?

Almost zero percent. The team has reiterated over and over again that it is committed to Wentz, and if you know anyone from Philadelphia, you know that Eagles fans are too. While PhillyVoice reported last month that some teammates had issues with Wentz, the report was denounced en masse by Eagles players and by reporters covering the team.

Wentz is staying.

Are the Eagles cutting Foles?

No. Foles and the Eagles had a mutual option in 2019 that would pay Foles a $20 million salary if both parties agreed to the deal. On Tuesday, the Eagles picked up the option. Within two hours, Foles informed the Eagles he would not, as they say, turn his key. He returned $2 million from his 2018 signing bonus to void the 2019 option, and now he is on course for free agency. (I’d like to imagine Foles personally Venmo-ing the $2 million to Eagles owner Jeff Lurie with a bunch of key emoji, but apparently it was via cashier’s check.)

Wait, why would the Eagles opt in and Foles opt out? Wouldn’t it be the other way around?

You’d think, right? Who turns down a $20 million salary?!

Big Dick Nick does, that’s who. Foles is betting he can earn even more money in free agency as the starter for another team.

So is Foles going to be a free agent?

Apparently not! ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Super Bowl Sunday that the Eagles are planning to use the franchise tag on Foles, which would be valued at roughly $25 million, and try to trade him for a draft pick.

What exactly is the franchise tag again?

It’s a tool teams use to keep star players from leaving in free agency. Each team can use the tag on one player per offseason. The tag gives the player a hefty raise for a single year, and is a trade-off of short-term financial gain but no long-term security for the player. (The player has no say in whether they get franchise tagged or for how much.) Usually, teams use the tag to try to buy time to work out a longer-term contract, but the Eagles are attempting to use it to get a draft pick out of Foles’s departure. Technically, teams aren’t supposed to use the franchise tag on a player for the exclusive purpose of trading them, but it would be surprising if the league stepped in. A player hasn’t been traded on the franchise tag since the Patriots dealt Matt Cassel to the Chiefs in 2009.

Why do the Eagles need to use the franchise tag on Foles to trade him? Wouldn’t the Eagles get a compensatory draft pick if Foles left?

Maybe. The league gives teams a compensatory pick when a notable player leaves the team in free agency. It’s like buying your friend a beer after they get dumped, but if teams got drunk on draft picks. The Eagles would be in line for a compensatory pick if Foles left in free agency, but the pick wouldn’t convey until the 2020 draft. At best, that pick would be a 2020 third-rounder, and there’s a chance it could be even lower. By using the franchise tag, the Eagles would not get a compensatory pick, but executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman is apparently optimistic he can get a better pick (perhaps one in the 2019 draft) by dealing Foles now.

This sounds pretty nerdy?

Extremely nerdy. The “difference between a 2019 midround draft pick and a 2020 midround draft pick” kind of nerdy.

So where is Foles going to go?

This is the $25 million question. Two destinations that made sense for Foles in free agency were Washington and the Giants. It’s unlikely the Eagles would trade him within the division, so both of those teams are likely out. That leaves only a handful of teams that need a starter. Ranking them from most quarterback-needy to least:

  • The Jaguars (if they want to bench Blake Bortles)
  • The Dolphins (if they want to move on from Ryan Tannehill)
  • The Panthers (if Cam Newton’s 2019 season is in jeopardy)
  • The Raiders (if they want to move on from Derek Carr but don’t like the QBs in this year’s draft)
  • The Broncos (if they want to move on from Case Keenum)

Beyond those five, it’s hard to see any other teams the Eagles want to do business with shelling out a midround pick to pay Foles starting-quarterback money, and even some of the above teams are a stretch.

There is downside here. It’s already questionable what the trade market for Foles will be, but Foles could make it even harder. Once the Eagles use the franchise tag on Foles, they’ll try to trade him away and the new team will presumably try to negotiate a long-term deal with Foles. But if Foles immediately signs the franchise tag before the Eagles make a deal, Foles would guarantee himself the $25 million in 2019 and make it much harder for the Eagles to trade him. As CBS’ Joel Corry, a former NFL agent, pointed out, there’s a small but not impossible chance that the Eagles use the franchise tag on Foles, he signs it, and then the Eagles fail to find a trade partner and keep him as their $25 million backup quarterback. If Foles wants to become the starter somewhere else in 2019, signing the franchise tender wouldn’t be his best option. But if Foles wants to get paid and stay as the resident deity in the City of Brotherly Love, all he has to do is sign on the dotted line.