Signing Nick Foles was one of the most under-the-radar free agent acquisitions in the National Football League prior to the 2017 season. Foles signed with the Philadelphia Eagles to be the backup to second year franchise quarterback Carson Wentz. However, Wentz suffered a season ending injury in week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams. Foles took over, and the backup quarterback led the Eagles to Super Bowl LII, where he and the Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33. Foles was named MVP of the game, making him an instant legend in Philadelphia.Embed from Getty Images
How did we get here?
Foles’ contract was restructured after the Super Bowl. The restructured contract provided him with more pay for 2018, but it also provided the Eagles with a $20,000,000 team option for 2019. However, there was a unique clause included within the contract which allowed Foles to terminate the agreement in exchange for making a payment of $2,000,000 to the Eagles, if the option was exercised.
Foles returned to his backup role once Wentz returned to the field early in the 2018 season. But, he once again took over as the starting quarterback late in the season following another injury to Wentz. Foles led the Eagles to the playoffs, but the “Foles Magic” ended when the Eagles lost to the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, after having defeated the Chicago Bears during Wild Card Weekend.
After the season, the Eagles picked up the $20,000,000 option for 2019. Foles almost immediately terminated the agreement by paying the Eagles $2,000,000.
Franchise tag consideration
Since Foles bought his way out of the 2019 contract, the Eagles had to determine whether to apply the franchise tag, or allow Foles to become an unrestricted free agent. Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman announced at the NFL Scouting Combine that the franchise tag would not be used on Foles, essentially ending the suspense, and Foles’ current stint in Philadelphia.
Placing the franchise tag on Foles was always going to be a risky proposition for the following reasons:
- The franchise tag value for the quarterback position for 2019 is expected to be approximately $25,000,000. To have a backup quarterback taking up this much cap space (and paying the same amount) would not be a very wise way to manage the cap.
- If the Eagles had tagged Foles with the purpose of trading him, but the trade market did not develop, the Eagles essentially would have had to keep Foles on the roster as a backup quarterback at a guaranteed salary of approximately $25,000,000, one of the highest quarterback values in the NFL.
- Releasing Foles after not finding a trading partner would not help from a cash or cap perspective as the entire franchise tender is guaranteed once accepted by the player, and there is no salary offset provision that would be applicable if Foles would then sign with another team after he was released. He would basically be able to double dip and receive $25,000,000 from the Eagles as well as his entire compensation from another team.
- If Foles signs with another team as a free agent, the Eagles would likely receive a compensatory draft pick in 2020, which could be as high as a pick after the third round of the draft. For a trade to make sense for the Eagles, the Eagles would at least need to receive a third round pick. The Eagles likely had a good idea of the trade market for Foles and the risk of having a backup quarterback being paid franchise tag money did not outweigh the benefit.
While there has been public debate about Foles deserving the right to be a free agent due to leading the Eagles to their first Championship, this needs to be discounted somewhat. Players are cut and traded all the time when it’s not in the best interests of the football club, even in the existence of a great relationship between the player and the team. So while the public narrative may be that Foles deserved the right to lead a team and determine where he plays, in total, the facts likely led the Eagles to decide that the risk of being stuck with a $25,000,000 backup quarterback just didn’t make sense.
Foles will become an unrestricted free agent free to sign with any team at the start of the 2019 free agency period on March 13th.
For the Eagles, Wentz will return to his role as franchise starting quarterback. The Eagles will need to determine whether Nate Sudfeld is ready to assume the backup quarterback role. Considering the Eagles’ Super Bowl aspirations and Wentz’s injury history, I suspect that the Eagles will acquire an experienced quarterback to challenge Sudfeld during training camp.
For more information about the franchise tag, required tenders and other CBA matters, please see our CBA Summary.