Agent's Take: If Eagles use the franchise tag on Nick Foles, here are the possible risks and rewards
The Eagles would use the tag only in hopes of trading Foles but there's a lot that could go wrong
The Eagles notified quarterback Nick Foles on Tuesday the option for his 2019 through 2021 contract years containing a $20 million base salary for next season was being exercised. The Super Bowl LII MVP didn't waste any time in giving Philadelphia the required written notice and $2 million payment to extinguish the option.
Foles buying his way out of his contract puts the ball back in Philadelphia's court. The Eagles could still place a franchise tag on Foles during the 15-day designation period, which begins Feb. 19 and ends at 4 p.m. ET on March 5. The NFL's preliminary projections of a 2019 salary cap between $187 million and $191.1 million put the non-exclusive quarterback franchise number between $24.706 million and $25.248 million.
The Eagles would be trying to the use the tools at their disposal under the NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement in designating Foles as a franchise player, since there wasn't any hesitation from the front office and coaching staff in declaring 2016 second overall pick Carson Wentz, who has durability concerns, as the franchise's quarterback of the future. Although Eagles executive vice-president of football operations Howie Roseman stated last month that he would like to keep Foles, putting a franchise tag on him would be used just to trade him. Instead of waiting until next year to receive a third-round compensatory selection at best for Foles leaving in free agency, the Eagles would presumably be looking for comparable or better draft capital that could be used this year. Trying to keep Foles from joining the Redskins or Giants, NFC East rivals, could be another motivation.
There is a school of thought that franchising Foles strictly for trade purposes violates the CBA. Language requiring a good-faith intention to negotiate with a tendered player or keep him for the upcoming season at his tender exists in the CBA. A team insisting that a player agree to a contract for that particular season under the required tendered amount is specifically mentioned as violation. The good-faith intention may be superseded by other language within the same provision addressing the permissibility of trades.
The Patriots were allowed to trade Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel (now Titans head coach) to the Chiefs for a 2009 second round pick (34th overall) while the quarterback was designated a franchise player in 2009. It was obvious New England wasn't going to pay Cassel $14.651 million to be Tom Brady's backup once he recovered from the torn ACL that sidelined him for practically all of the 2008 season. The type of language in question was a part of the labor agreement in existence when Cassel's designation was made.
The logistics of a trade are convoluted. Foles' tag number of approximately $25 million would count against Philadelphia's salary cap as soon as he was designated as a franchise player. Unsigned franchise, transition and restricted free agent tenders are included under offseason cap accounting rules where only the top 51 cap numbers matter.
Between now and March 5, when the franchise designation period ends, the Eagles will have discussions with other teams to the gauge interest in trading for Foles. A trade couldn't formally take place until the 2019 league year begins on March 13 at 4 p.m. ET although an agreement in principle on dealing Foles could be reached beforehand.
Foles voiding his contract and repaying the $2 million, which becomes a salary-cap credit, gives the Eagles right around $4 million of cap space to operate with. With Philadelphia's current contractual obligations, a Foles franchise tag would put the Eagles roughly $20 million over the projected salary cap. Several contracts would need to be restructured and/or players released just to be able to carry Foles' cap number for as long as he remained with the Eagles even if he was dealt as soon as the 2019 league year started.
A team must have enough salary cap room to absorb a player's current salary in order to make a trade for him. Once the player is acquired, the new team can renegotiate or restructure his contract to decrease his cap number. This requirement may not necessarily be applicable to players who sign tenders in connection with a trade and receive a long term deal simultaneously or on the same day. It doesn't appear to have applied when Chiefs edge rusher Jared Allen was dealt to the Vikings as a franchise player in 2008.
Listen to Pete Prisco and Will Brinson share their thoughts about the upcoming free-agent class on the Pick Six Podcast:
Foles shouldn't have any qualms at taking an "it's just business" approach in his dealings with the Eagles. During my numerous years as an agent, I found that the general public was much more supportive of a team doing what was in its best interest over a player operating in the same manner. My experience was teams, more often than not, would take it personally when a player utilized the "it's just business" approach, as if there was an expectation of a double standard.
Foles would have some control over a trade. He couldn't be moved until he signed his tender. Foles would effectively have a de facto no-trade clause or veto power since his cooperation would be necessary in order to be dealt to another team.
I faced the unsigned tender trade situation during my agent days. One of the players I helped represent was cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock. The Patriots informed us during the 1998 NFL draft after selecting Tebucky Jones, a safety who would be moved to cornerback, in the first round that a trade with the Ravens had been worked out for Hitchcock. Since Hitchcock didn't want to be dealt to a team that drafted a cornerback in the first round, we advised him to refuse to sign his restricted free agent tender. His refusal killed the trade. Hitchcock subsequently signed his tender for a trade to the Vikings, who hadn't used a high draft choice on a cornerback. The prospect of a team giving up potentially significant draft choice compensation or players should be unappealing to Foles because his new club would be weakened.
Foles quickly signing his tender, which would be in the $25 million range, instead could create a different set of headaches for the Eagles. He and/or his agent could discourage potential trade partners by telling teams there isn't any circumstance that he will sign long-term if acquired because he is going to test free agency in 2020.
Foles' tender would become fully guaranteed when signed. To make matters worse, the Eagles would still be on the hook for the entire amount if Foles was released regardless of how big of a deal he signed with another team. Franchise and transition tenders, once fully guaranteed, don't contain an offset.
Either approach could hinder Foles' trade market. Finding a team willing to take Foles for approximately $25 million next season without assurances that he would sign a long-term contract to prevent him from being an expensive short-term rental could prove to be a difficult task. Cutting in Philadelphia's favor is the relatively weak free-agent quarterback class in which Foles would clearly be the best one available if on the open market. Foles could be franchised again in 2020 for right around $30 million, a CBA mandated 20 percent raise over his 2019 franchise tag.
The Eagles would run the risk of paying Foles an exorbitant amount to backup Wentz again. Finding a way to carry Foles at his franchise number would create an awkward financial situation. Foles would be making over six times as much as to back him up. Wentz's 2019 salary is a little under $4.1 million.
The Eagles playing the franchise tag game with Foles to get a draft choice(s) sooner than the compensatory pick in 2020 for him leaving through free agency while also having a say in where he plays next may work better in theory than in practice. Foles could still sabotage the trade process by being uncooperative. It's seems like risky proposition where too many things can potentially go wrong.
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