During the live Super Bowl coverage early Saturday afternoon, NFL insider Ian Rapoport shared his belief that the Eagles were going to exercise their half of the 2019 mutual option in QB Nick Foles’ contract:
From Super Bowl Live: The #Eagles are expected to pick up the $20M option for QB Nick Foles, sources say. Not a surprise, but an important piece. What happens next will be intriguing. pic.twitter.com/FOpLeAhQu1— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 2, 2019
Rapoport continues to say the expectation from Nick Foles’ camp is to deny the mutual option. In order to do so, Foles must inform the Eagles he is going to deny his half of the mutual option as well as pay back the $2M figure that was his 2018 signing bonus.
When Foles must choose on his option is unclear. Per the Andrew Brandt story on Foles’ contract in Sports Illustrated, it’s five days from the day it’s picked up. Per Joel Corry on CBS Sports, it seems that Foles has up until February 20th to make the call.
What Could Happen
If Foles denies the mutual option, as is expected, there are a few possibilities that exist. He could just hit free agency, plain and simple — with Philadelphia grabbing a cool $2M for their troubles.
Per Nick Korte of Over The Cap. the best compensatory pick guy I know, Foles denying his mutual option would still leave Philadelphia eligible for a compensatory pick in the 2020 NFL Draft because of the loss in free agency. If Foles signs the contract we expect him to (decently big) he will qualify for the highest comp pick possible: a third-rounder.
Here's my current guess at to what would allow Foles to become a compensatory free agent:— Nick Korte (@nickkorte) February 2, 2019
--Decline option: yes
--Exercise option but Foles voids: yes
--Transition tag: no
--Franchise tag: no (but Eagles would get other compensation via trade or offer sheet)
This is the most likely look, in my opinion. Even though Philadelphia has been kind with Foles’ contract in the past, like when they gave him a $1M bonus he barely missed out on earlier this year, they shouldn’t be expected to shirk the $2M return they get from Foles denying the option — and, having Foles on the option gives them the ability to explore the trade market.
That’s the next eventuality: they have a trade partner for Foles. Some have thrown around the tag-and-trade idea — including Rapoport in his segment — but that’s far less likely than trading Foles on the option. For Philadelphia to pull off a trade with Nick Foles as the centerpiece, they’ve probably already lined up a buyer or two interested in paying Foles the $20.6M for the 2019 season, which is the value of his option. They would also be expecting compensation beyond that of the third-round compensatory pick, which is beyond reasonable. And finally, it’s likely a place Foles wants to go play — they wouldn’t ship him off somewhere he didn’t want to go, considering the relationships and reputation he’s built in Philadelphia.
Possible trade partners include teams like Cincinnati and Miami, both of whom are adding new coaches, are stuck in QB purgatory, and could be looking at long-term rebuilds. Both could use a bridge QB who could potentially prove to be a reliable starter; and both are only installing their new head coaches on Monday, as Zac Taylor (Rams —> Cincinnati) and Brian Flores (New England —> Miami) have been otherwise occupied these past few weeks. Taylor and the Rams particularly interest, given Zac Taylor is the brother of Eagles’ QB coach Press Taylor, who has worked with Nick Foles the last two seasons.
Now, even if Philadelphia has a trade partner in line, Foles has to accept the option to play at the $20.6M figure with the new team. Philadelphia, of course, can’t trade him until he’s under contract. If Foles elects to deny the option, Philadelphia would have to franchise tag him in order to trade him.
This is unlikely because we expect Philadelphia won’t be trading Nick Foles anywhere he doesn’t want to go — so it’s not as if he would be resisting the trade to begin with. This is an assumption, of course. Things could get dicey if Philadelphia has, say, a first round pick on the table for Foles. They’d be dropping a whole two rounds (third-round comp pick) to respect Foles’ wishes as to where he wants to play.
But if Foles does try to force a tag-and-trade, Philadelphia will now be looking to trade him at a figure that is likely closer to $25M over one year, as opposed to $20.6. For Foles, paying the $2M bonus back to deny the option, to get paid under the franchise tag, is a net gain of $2-3M.
It’s not to say that $2M is small potatoes, but it doesn’t seem likely Foles would stick it out to grab that extra $2M, especially if he would like a starting job somewhere: taking the tag could make the trade market weaker, and he’d be stuck in Philadelphia as a backup. Philadelphia might even elect not to tag Foles, because that $25M becomes fully guaranteed once Nick signs — so they’re really painting themselves into a corner and losing a lot of leverage in trade negotiations.
A transition tag makes absolutely zero sense, and the Eagles will not consider exercising it.
What Happens Next
The next move to watch for is Nick Foles’ reaction to the option, which we should expect within the next five days/maybe by 2/20 — I’m not entirely sure. Philadelphia does not have to worry about the $20.6M counting against their cap until the league year begins (March 13th), and the option would become fully guaranteed on March 15th. So they have about a month to trade Foles away, should he accept the option.
If he denies the option, expect Philadelphia to let him walk in free agency. The tag-and-trade is far too risky a proposition, unless there is a decided deal in place before they sign Foles to the tag. Foles will become a free agent on March 14th, likely looking for a deal with more multi-year stability and guaranteed money than the 1 year, $20.6M option he could have played under. Philadelphia will recoup a 2020 draft selection (likely in the end of the third round).