There’s a part of the NFL that bothers Nick Foles. He dislikes the business side of the league, something that has affected Foles ever since he was traded by the Eagles in 2015 and had a new team for four consecutive seasons.
Foles, who will turn 30 on Sunday, has never experienced that side of the NFL as he will during the next two months, when the Eagles quarterback will be one of the biggest stories of the NFL’s offseason.
Foles appreciated his time in Philadelphia, and that won’t change no matter where Foles plays. But put aside the sentimentality, and there are expensive decisions to be made by both sides.
The Eagles have until Feb. 11 to exercise a team option in Foles’ contract that will pay him $20 million in 2019. If they exercise the option, the salary becomes guaranteed on March 18, according to Sports Illustrated. If they don’t exercise the option, Foles will become a free agent on March 13.
However, if the Eagles exercise the option, Foles will have five days to void it by paying the team back $2 million, essentially buying free agency. This is appealing to Foles, who would then be in position to pick his own team.
“I think having the option to be a free agent is extremely important,” Foles said. “I’m technically not under contract right now. That’s something we’ll discuss in the future. It’s a unique situation.”
If Foles signs elsewhere, the Eagles could be eligible to recoup a compensatory draft pick in 2020, potentially as high as the third round. That’s a great benefit to the team considering the relative value of that pick.
Foles would not say definitively what he would do if the Eagles pick up his option because he did not want to speculate on a hypothetical question.
“We’ll pursue it when it happens. We’ll see what happens,” Foles said. “Talking to the team, I have a great relationship with this team, and that’s genuine, so we’ll continue to communicate, we’ll continue to talk about everything, and we’ll make the best decision for both sides and we’ll figure it out.”
There’s always the possibility that the Eagles will exercise the option and then try to work with Foles to find a trade partner. The only reason to do this would be if the Eagles could gain a draft pick or player more appealing than the expected value of the compensatory pick. Another team would conceivably make this trade if it wanted Foles locked into a 2019 salary of $20 million or didn’t want to enter a bidding war.
Of course, the only reason for Foles to accept this and not just buy back his free agency would be if he found that situation more attractive than testing the open market.
The Eagles potentially could use the franchise tag on Foles and try to trade him. But if the $20 million wasn’t expensive enough, then the more-expensive tag would burden the Eagles’ salary-cap space. It could inhibit the team from spending elsewhere unless the Eagles could immediately work out a trade.
Foles and the Eagles have a good relationship, so the conversations will likely be amicable. Plus, both sides have prepared for these possibilities.
“It always has to be what’s best for our football team and the Philadelphia Eagles,” top executive Howie Roseman said. “We have to make decisions based on that. There is also a respect factor for guys that have done a lot for us and been part of it. We try to factor that in as well, but the bottom line is we have to do what’s best for our football team to help us win games going forward.”
It’s unlikely that there will be a scenario in which Foles is under contract with the Eagles for $20 million. The Eagles would be allocating a sizable portion of their salary-cap space for a player who, best-case scenario for the team, would not reach the field.
That money could be spent re-signing pending free agents such as Jordan Hicks or Brandon Graham, retaining expensive veterans such as Michael Bennett or Tim Jernigan, or seeking to upgrade with a player on the market. Or it even can be carried over into 2020 for a potential Carson Wentz contract extension.
Plus, Foles wants be a starter and lead a team. That opportunity isn’t available with the Eagles. It doesn’t sound as if he’d be interested in returning in a backup role unless the market is not as robust as expected.
If Foles becomes a free agent, it will be the third time in his career he has hit the open market. He could not secure a starting job the last two times: He signed with Kansas City to be a backup in 2016 and came to the Eagles in 2017, accepting his role as Carson Wentz’s No. 2.
Of course, Foles wasn’t the Super Bowl MVP those times — and he has followed up the Super Bowl with impressive performances this season, too. So he has never brought this type of resumé to the job fair.
The body of work in Foles’ career isn’t consistent enough to persuade teams that he would thrive in a different system with a different coaching staff and personnel around him, although there’s enough evidence for teams to be willing to find out.
Foles said his NFL experience has taught him the value of the people with whom he works and the culture he joins.
“So much is put on the quarterback, but great teams are great teams,” Foles said. “If you expect the quarterback to go in there and be everything, you’re probably not going to be successful.”
Foles hopes his personal success can convince teams of this belief.
In September, when Wentz returned to the lineup, Foles had accepted that his two starts to begin the season would be the last the NFL saw of him before the offseason. He faded into the background — until Wentz’s injury brought him back to the forefront. All he did was win his next four starts before last Sunday’s playoff loss, including road wins over two of the NFL’s best teams and two game-winning drives.
Yet when Foles was asked what he had shown to the league during those final five weeks, he didn’t mention the 1,429 yards or the nine touchdown passes or even the four wins.
"I think the big thing, what I always want to show, you can’t figure out a player by stats,” Foles said. “The thing I’ve wanted to show is it’s not about the quarterback. It really isn’t. It’s about how a team can come together at the end of the game. A quarterback is a piece of a puzzle, but it’s how important that atmosphere is. … I’ve been able to show the league it takes a team.”
So he’d like the league to see the way he rallied the team, how he interacted with his teammates, how the team responded to adverse situations with Foles at the lead. He wants teams to view him not as the panacea — just as a big part of the puzzle.
There’s another question teams might want answered: How much longer does Foles want to play? He has been prepared to retire before, he maintains interests away from football, and he’s the same person who said just days before the Super Bowl, “If I would have made the other decision, my life wouldn’t have been a loss."
Foles said it’s something he discusses often with his wife, Tori. They pray about it. Foles said he never had a set number of years for how long he wanted to play or an age he wanted to reach. If his heart is in it and he believes he’s playing for the right reasons, he’ll continue playing. If not, he’ll retire. But he said he would not sign a contract and then abandon the team midway through.
“Whatever we decide, whatever contract we sign, we will always honor that contract years-wise, and then we go from there,” Foles said. “But right now, I’m really loving playing this game. Being a part of a locker room like this has energized me. I’ve grown this last year as a player more this last year than I ever have. I’m really starting to understand how I want to play this game.”
That has been apparent in Philadelphia during the last two years. The next two months will answer where it will happen next season.
Foles has not hidden his disdain for the business side of the NFL, but it’s here. His love for Philadelphia will not go away, but this is not a time for sentimentality — for either side.
“No matter what happens, it’s been a joy being here every single day, being in this locker room, wearing this jersey, being a part of this city,” Foles said. “We’ll see what happens.”