Nick Foles, "New Money" and the Franchise Tag
February has been an eventful month for former Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles. First, the Philadelphia Eagles picked up Foles’ $20 million team option, momentarily allowing them to use him as trade bait. Almost immediately after, Foles took it upon himself to pay the Eagles back $2 million to make him an unrestricted free agent, a unique clause in his contract.
Currently, Foles is eligible to sign with whichever team he chooses in mid-March as long as Philadelphia does not franchise tag him, which would come at a cost of around $25 million guaranteed in 2019. These are the facts that set the table for the “What will the Eagles do?” conversation.
Philadelphia's Perspective and Timing
Remember, Philadelphia would likely receive a 2020 third-round compensatory pick if Foles hit free agency in 2019. To even make a franchise tag of Foles work, the Eagles would have to be asking for at least a 2019 third-round pick back. Teams do not trade third-round picks (or higher) to pay players $25 million and give them the opportunity to test free agency the following year. Think of Eagles-Foles like the Kansas City-Alex Smith situation last offseason, where the extension was clearly worked out before Smith was moved to Washington. It is important to remember this: The cost to acquire Foles is going to be his extension and at least one top-100 pick in 2019, if he is traded.
Under the one-year option in Foles' contract, it put virtually no burden of a guaranteed salary on their plate. That made Foles an easy-to-trade asset. As you can imagine, the difference between $0 guaranteed as a starting point on an extension and $25 million guaranteed as a starting point on an extension is dramatically different. That alone can influence who is willing to even be in the race for Foles.
The Eagles have until March 5th, less than a month away, before the franchise tag deadline. That date marks the point where they will have needed to have decided if Foles is worth assuming the risk of potentially paying $25 million to their backup quarterback versus the reward of a draft pick(s) for continued trade talks. Philadelphia's wiggle room this offseason is notably small as they are one of two squads that are already above the cap in 2019, even without counting the potential Foles contract. For them, this amplifies the risk of holding a contract like Foles' into the new league year with the hope of finding a suitor down the line.
March 13th is the start of the new league year, which is when Philadelphia will have to be under the salary cap. To carry Foles’ salary from his franchise tag forward, they would have to clear out cap space to continue to shop him from that point forward. Because of these deadlines, it is extremely likely that the Eagles will assess the market for Foles before March 5th and only tag him if they find a trade partner.
This explains why Foles leveraging the Eagles to franchise tag him changes the dynamics of when the trade market for him will heat up, but the influence of a franchise tag goes beyond just that.
Nick Foles' Perspective and "New Money"
When Optimum Scouting broke down Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell’s holdout from a functional perspective, one factor that came into play with the unique situation of players on tags is the idea of “new money.” From a player's perspective, any offer has to be compared to what is already on the table. If Foles was offered a contract with $30 million guaranteed, with $25 million already in hand from the tag, that would only be worth $5 million in “new” guaranteed money...peanuts for starting NFL quarterback. That is where the major disconnect develops between teams who are offering extensions and players who are on tags.
So that begs this question: Just how much “new money” would have to have to be on the table for Foles to sign an extension? At a minimum, one would have to assume that it would need to match Mike Glennon’s first-year cash flow from when he signed with the Chicago Bears: $16 million. $25 million in the pocket (tag) and $16 million in new money makes for a cool $41 million guaranteed.
That is a ton of cash for any football player. It almost makes no sense that a quarterback like Foles could have that much leverage, but when the alternative on the table is “he will play on the tag and bet that he can match Mike Glennon in free agency” it contextualizes the quarterback market.
The Market for a Tagged Foles
Now...who wants Foles bad enough that they would actually give him $41 million guaranteed? From Foles’ perspective, his options (if tagged) are to either sign an extension with significant "new" guaranteed money or play out the tag. With that being said, no team is going to part with a top-100 pick to pay Foles $25 million for one year. 31 NFL teams will take that option off of the table for him. The Eagles will not put themselves in a position for Foles to play out in the tag in Philadelphia, either. They will take that option off of the table for him.
That really gives us two realistic scenarios for how Foles' future will shake out:
The Eagles find a trade partner between now and March 5th who is willing to part ways with at least a third-round pick and roughly $41 million guaranteed for Foles to be their quarterback.
The Eagles allow Foles to hit free agency because the “new money” cost to extend Foles is too high to trade for if he would have signed a franchise tag tender.
To put $41 million into perspective, that is equal to Cam Newton’s guarantees on his extension and nearly $10 million more than Russell Wilson’s guarantees on his extension. It seems hard to imagine that a team would be willing to tie that much money up to Foles, whose dead cap number would essentially guarantee that he would be an uncontested starter until 2022.
Had the Eagles not given Foles the option to buy his way into free agency, they would have had no guarantees associated to his team option one-year deal and would have been able to move him with ease. Now, a team trading for a tagged Foles would almost be forced to make him a top-15 player in the league, in terms of guarantees, just to extend him beyond 2019. The Foles trade market...it has almost certainly shrunk since he officially bought his way out of his contract.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter has already stated that sources expect Foles to be tagged, so it is not impossible that there is at least one team willing to make that trade. One does have to wonder at this point if there are multiple teams interested, though. Is it just one team bidding against themselves? If there is no trade market for Foles beyond that one team willing to offer him $41 million guaranteed, they would be better served to force the Eagles, who have no intention of extending the quarterback, to let Foles hit free agency. If Foles hits free agency, he will not have the "new money" leverage that tagged players possess, allowing teams to offer him less money guaranteed since all guaranteed money would be "new money."
In this instance, it actually takes three to tango. If there is not a Team A forcing a Team B to worry about Foles being traded before he hits the open market, the Eagles have no leverage for a trade.
In the end, this will be a litmus test for where the quarterback market stands. If Foles is worth a third-round pick (or more) and $41 million guaranteed, three seasons removed from his last year as a starter, then every non-massive-liability veteran quarterback is going to make $50 million guaranteed in the near future. For a league that badly needs a middle-class quarterback market, it would be a nail in the coffin to the idea of one developing anytime soon.