Many thanks to Brad Spielberger of PFF and Over the Cap for walking me through the weeds of contract restructures. You can — and should — follow Brad on Twitter and get all of your contract info from Over the Cap.
On a day in which the Eagles game didn’t matter and Wentz wasn’t even dressed for action, the Birds and their dreadful quarterback situation still found a way to dominate headlines. ESPN’s Chris Mortenson reported today that Wentz’s relationship with Doug Pederson and the Eagles is “fractured,” shortly after it was rumored that Pederson was secured as the coach of the Eagles for 2021 and was committed to fixing Wentz next season.
The note from Mort that Wentz would “help the Eagles to facilitate a trade” is the important one here. ESPN’s Adam Schefter previously reported that Wentz wanted out of Philadelphia if he was kept in the backup role to rookie QB Jalen Hurts, but in that report, didn’t mention Wentz playing ball with the Eagles on a trade deal.
As takes on the structure of Wentz’s contract, and subsequent restructures, have been recklessly lobbed across the Internet, it’s worth slowing down and asking: what can Wentz do for the Eagles to help in a trade deal?
What is the contract right now?
For a refresher on Wentz’s contract and how a trade impacts it, here are his numbers from Over The Cap:
Much of Wentz’s contract was built of guaranteed money. That wasn’t mismanagement from Howie Roseman; such is the case with all major franchise quarterback extensions. A large part of that guaranteed salary was paid out in Wentz’s $16.4M signing bonus from when he inked the extension in 2019, and in a 2020 option bonus worth $30M. That money is already in Wentz’s pocket, but it is prorated across five seasons of cap space, to help the Eagles mitigate the cost of the major extension. That’s $3.273M against the cap in ever year from 2019 - 2023 for the signing bonus; $6M every year for the option bonus, as seen above.
Not all guaranteed money is bonus money. Wentz’s 2021 base salary of $15.4M is fully guaranteed, and while it isn’t in his pocket yet, it will be paid out in game checks across the 2021 season — either by the Eagles, or by a different team, should they trade for his contract.
Wentz’s 2021 $10M roster bonus is also fully guaranteed. Wentz gets that money in his pocket on the third day of the 2021 league year, which is currently set for March 19th, 2021. Again, that money will come from the Eagles if they’re rostering him, or another team, if they trade for Wentz’s deal.
So if another team trades for the Wentz deal, they will be on the hook for Wentz’s 2021 base salary ($15.4M) and potentially the $10M roster bonus, should the trade be executed before March 19th, when the bonus is due. Even though that money is “guaranteed,” it hasn’t been paid yet — unlike the signing and option bonus money, which was guaranteed money that has already been paid.
As such, a Wentz trade with his deal untouched would look like this for the Eagles:
The Eagles would take on $33.8M in dead cap hit in 2021 if they trade the Wentz deal before his roster bonus activates on March 19th, the third day of the 2021 league year. A $33.8M dead cap hit would be the largest dead cap hit in NFL history by a country mile. That $33.8M is just a hair shy of the $34.7M 2021 cap hit they’d take for just keeping Wentz on the roster altogether, though it would open more space for the Eagles on their 2022 books.
Wentz’s new deal with his new team would look like this:
Note that the acquiring team is guaranteed to pay Wentz’s 2021 base salary, his 2022 base salary (which largely guarantees on the 3rd day of the league year), and his 2021 roster bonus (which guarantees on the 3rd day of the league new year).
This is functionally a 4-year, $98.4M deal ($24.6M APY) with $47.4M guaranteed across the first two years. That deal is around the 12th-15th biggest deal for quarterbacks in the league this season.
Will a trade happen with the contract as currently constructed?
You should never say never in the NFL, as wilder things have happened. But this trade doesn’t look great for either side.
It is better for the acquiring team. Any team who makes a legitimate effort to acquire Wentz will do so assuming he can be a starting-caliber player in 2021, and if they get that player, will have him on a great deal.
But that neat and tidy future is an unlikely one. If Wentz immediately succeeds at a new landing spot, he won’t play under that handsome deal for long, and Wentz will have negotiating power. It would be malpractice for Wentz’s agent Ryan Tollner to leave Wentz on a deal with no guaranteed money beyond 2022 with his injury history considered. If Wentz is a tumultuous starter, as he has been in Philadelphia recently, he’ll likely be cut for cap relief after 2022. If Wentz struggles, he’ll definitely be cut for cap relief after 2022.
More importantly, assuming or even believing Wentz can be a starting-caliber player in 2021 is a far cry from knowing it. Given Wentz’s performance over the 2020 season, he will be a tough sell to any owner at a $25M price tag — no matter who the coaching staff is and what their experience has been with Wentz in the past. He represents a significant risk at this figure, and accordingly, a general manager won’t be inclined to send heavy draft capital to take on that risk.
For the Eagles, this is even worse. You never want to pay the same amount of money to have a player off your roster as you would to have him on the roster — and you especially don’t want that payment to be the single-biggest dead cap hit in NFL history. A big return in draft capital would ease that hit, but you have no leverage to negotiate to that level — Wentz clearly wants out, and the suitor pool figures to be thin, as other QB options on the free agent market invite less risk at cheaper price tags.
There’s also the small matter that the Eagles seemingly don’t want to trade Wentz — Pederson has long vocalized his commitment to building an offense around Wentz, and owner Jeffrey Lurie seems oriented on bringing him back to lead that Wentz-centric effort.
There are many roadblocks between the Eagles, Wentz, and a new team. That’s why Wentz’s willingness to work with the Eagles is so important — by taking down some of the roadblocks, he can make a trade more feasible.
Can Wentz’s contract become lighter for the acquiring team?
Wentz’s contract becomes more attractive to trade in two ways: by becoming more attractive to the acquiring team, or by becoming less prohibitive for the Eagles to offload. Both are difficult; possible only if Wentz is playing ball — and apparently he is.
Let’s look at the first method. Remember, this is Wentz’s contract with a new team if he’s traded before March 19th:
Wentz’s 2021 and 2022 salaries will both be guaranteed by March 19th, but that doesn’t mean their figures can’t be adjusted. A trade partner could look for Wentz to voluntarily take a pay cut on those figures. Of Wentz’s $47.4M guaranteed in the next two seasons, $37.3M is base salary money — almost all of that money is on the table. How much money Wentz is willing to surrender is proportionate to how badly he wants out of Philadelphia, so there’s no real way of estimating what is on the table here. There’s also the likelihood that Wentz’s camp would try to get any money lost back on the end of the deal in a roster or option bonus — as I said above, they want to get guaranteed money on his deal after the trade. That additional bonus could be prohibitive to teams just looking to take a swing at Wentz’s future, however, as it could lock them in to keeping him around for more than just two seasons.
This would be a similar mechanism to the Nick Foles restructure when he was traded from Jacksonville to Chicago. Foles gave up tons of non-guaranteed salary just to leave the Jags and head to Chicago, but kept his guaranteed numbers the same. Of course, most owners won’t look at that Foles deal and jump at the opportunity to make a similar trade.
The only way this avenue matters is if the Eagles have a trade partner offering a deal on the condition that Wentz’s contract become cheaper — and if Wentz’s contract remained the same, the trade partner would not offer enough draft capital for the Eagles to pull the trigger. The public statement from Mortenson is valuable for that reason — more teams will at least dip their toe in the water, wondering if they can get Wentz on a cheaper deal.
But other than greasing the wheels of a certain deal, this doesn’t really help the Eagles at all. They still swallow $33.8M in a dead cap hit for 2021.
Can Wentz’s release any of the Eagles’ money?
The short answer: no.
Remember, the Eagles have already paid Wentz that $33.8M from bonuses already activated earlier in Wentz’s contract. That money will count against the Eagles cap at some point or another.
But when exactly it counts against the cap is significant. For league accounting purposes, transactions (like cuts and trades) that happen after June 1st are handled differently on the cap than cuts pre-June 1st. If the Eagles traded Wentz after June 1st, all of the outstanding bonus money would not accelerate onto the 2021 cap — it would accelerate onto 2022 instead, defraying the cap hit across multiple seasons.
Of course, that pesky $10M roster bonus activates on March 19th. With Wentz on the Eagles’ roster on that day, the Eagles wouldn’t have $33.8M of bonus money in a dead cap hit — they’d have $43.8M, though it would be spread over one year, not two.
Of course, that roster bonus doesn’t have to activate on March 19th — it can activate much later in the 2021 season.
If Wentz agrees to move the roster bonus day to May 31st, for example, he gives the Eagles an additional 10, 11 weeks to trade his contract without getting hit with the roster bonus and having further incentive to hold on to his deal. While a small trade window could spur another team into action right at the start of the league year, this would be a wise move from Wentz, as it costs him no money, but gives the Eagles a larger window to negotiate a deal.
If Wentz agree to move the roster bonus day after June 1st, he can actually offer the Eagles some quasi cap relief. Now, the Eagles could trade him after June 1st but before his roster bonus activated, and accordingly spread the $33.8M dead cap hit over two seasons. While the amount of money is the same, getting to pay it over more time gives you more flexibility.
Is that juice worth the squeeze? It lessens the Eagles’ 2021 cap hit, but it makes a Wentx trade less attractive. The team acquiring Wentz doesn’t get him in the building until the middle of the summer instead of pre-draft, and they still have to pay the $10M roster bonus. That can remove suitors from the pool, especially when you consider that the first wave of free agency and the second wave of the NFL Draft could fill all the available QB openings. Who will be left to trade for Wentz then?
Can Wentz’s just give the Eagles money?
Short answer: yes
This is bananas, but it is real. Wentz can act like a suspended or retired player and just cut the Eagles a check for their troubles at the end of this league year — and that money will be awarded as a cap credit on the 2021 books. Ex-GM Mike Tannenbaum suggested Wentz could give the Eagles $20M (!!) to lessen his 2021 cap hit and make him far easier to trade for the Birds.
This would be awesome, but also seems wildly unreasonable.
For this to work, Wentz has to be willing to give up $20M — and that’s not just taking a pay cut on future years; that’s taking $20M out of his bank account, right now, as a new father, and giving it to the Eagles instead of just taking $33.8 from them next season. That’s a ludicrous decision.
Now, it’s his money — he can do with it what he likes. But this is an unprecedented leveraging of the CBA to facilitate a trade, and the league would almost undoubtedly look to close this loophole to discourage players from paying teams to trade them.
Or maybe not. Who knows? Let’s get weird.
So what can Wentz do?
Nothing significant, I’m afraid.
Wentz clearly wants to be a starter somewhere else and has his eyes set on Indianapolis. He might need to become comfortable with other landing spots, or the idea of competing for a job, to open up the suitors for Philadelphia. All it takes is a Philip Rivers return for the Indy job to close.
Other than that, the situation might call for him pushing back his roster bonus — a small move with little impact — or surrendering some base salary — a potentially huge move with earth-shaking impact. That he’s game is good news; but the coaching and personnel decisions of the next few months could either sweeten or sour him on Philadelphia, affecting his willingness to help the Eagles create a deal.
And with Wentz on board, this deal is a bear; without him, it’s even trickier. In the NFL, these things often get done — but nobody may end up happy with the hoops they have to jump through to build Wentz’s life raft out of Philadelphia.