Good morning, Eagles fans! Hope you’re well. I know the team’s four-game losing streak has been tough to endure, but at least there’s some intrigue, right? For the fourth week in a row, the Eagles have a tough matchup against a playoff team, this time vs. the New Orleans Saints. If Jalen Hurts ends up starting at quarterback, we can enjoy the irony of his first career start coming against Taysom Hill, the player he was somewhat dubiously compared to when the Eagles drafted him in the second round of last April’s draft.
There are plenty of long-term implications to Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s decision on a starting quarterback this weekend. More on that later.
If you’re reading this early Tuesday morning, Jim Schwartz and Dave Fipp will speak with reporters shortly. Don’t forget, the long-held tradition of Tuesday night football lives on this evening, when the Cowboys play the Ravens. If Dallas somehow wins, the Eagles would be in last place in the NFC East.
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Cutting their losses?
Carson Wentz’s benching last Sunday against the Packers may have felt like the end of an era for some, but this story is far from over.
One of the main reasons the Eagles likely took such a patient approach to sitting Wentz down even though he consistently played like one of the worst starters in the league this season is because of just how much the team has invested in him. Wentz’s four-year, $128 million deal won’t even technically kick in until next season, when there is a chance he’d be the most expensive backup quarterback in league history.
With that considered, the Eagles have good reason to devote next season to fixing Wentz rather than jettisoning him, but Hurts could force the team’s hand if he’s given ample opportunity and responds by playing well.
If the Eagles decide to cut bait, here are the salary-cap implications for a variety of scenarios.
1. Cutting Wentz in the offseason
If Hurts were to play well enough to earn the job going into next training camp, cutting Wentz may seem like the cleanest way forward. Think again. Wentz is due just over $34 million next season, which is the fifth-highest projected salary in the league.
Cutting Wentz at the start of the league year would cost the team $59 million in dead money against the salary cap and would actually cost the Eagles $25 million in additional cap space, making this an inconceivably bad option.
For reference, overthecap.com is projecting next year’s salary cap to be around $176 million, which is an 11 percent decrease from this year because of revenue loss due to the global pandemic. There’s no way the Eagles, who are projected to be around $70 million over the projected cap already, can afford to flat-out cut Wentz, so we can get that out of the way now.
Also important: Wentz has a $10 million roster bonus due on the third day of the league year, which should be March 20 if the rest of this season goes off without a hitch. The Eagles would incur a $74 million dead-money charge against the cap if they cut him after that bonus.
Howie Roseman could designate the move as a pre-June 1 transaction, which would let him spread the cap charges out over two seasons, but even that is daunting. It would count for $34 million against the cap in 2021 and an additional $24 million against the cap in 2022. The biggest dead money charge against a team’s cap to date is Brandin Cooks’ $21 million against the Los Angeles Rams’ books this season. Wentz’s potential cap hit would be unprecedented and would cripple the Eagles’ roster building for several years.
Translation: It ain’t happening.
2. Trading Wentz in the offseason
So if cutting him won’t work, what about a trade? While it will still hurt the team’s bottom line significantly, this is a far more palatable option for the Eagles if they decide to move on.
If they shop Wentz before his roster bonus kicks in, he’d count for $33.8 million in dead money for next season but it would save the team the $25.4 million cap hit. It would still be difficult to maneuver the lower salary cap, but, according to Over the Cap writer Jason Fitzgerald, there’s a way to do it, although it’s a lengthy one that involves trading or cutting Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Marquis Goodwin, Derek Barnett, and Zach Ertz. It would also require restructuring deals with several players, including Fletcher Cox and Darius Slay.
“If you trade or June 1 [designation] Wentz, you don’t get any savings meaning that you will need to navigate the salary cap without getting cap relief from Wentz,” Fitzgerald wrote. “The path at that point is to cut Jeffery, Jackson, Goodwin, Barnett, and Ertz while kicking the can with restructures, at a minimum, on Cox, Slay, [Javon] Hargrave, [Lane] Johnson and [Brandon] Brooks while potentially extending [Brandon] Graham. That would give them a few dollars to play with, but the path is much easier if they can work with the Wentz contract numbers.”
Even with Wentz’s struggles this season, it’s easy to imagine he’d have a trade market if the Eagles made him available. The Colts and the Bears will both likely be looking for a young, quality starter and teams like Washington, New England, and perhaps even Cleveland could also be interested depending on the rest of the season. Nick Foles went for a fourth-round pick even with a prohibitive contract, so Wentz would presumably garner a second- or third-round pick at least.
3. Going into next season with Wentz on the roster
Given how complicated each of the first two scenarios are, there’s an obvious case to be made for keeping Wentz next season. The easiest path forward for the Eagles is still the one in which Wentz reverts back to his old self and lives up to his lengthy contract next season under different circumstances.
Again, Hurts could force the team’s hand, but there’s a good chance next year is the “fix Wentz” season. Whether Doug Pederson is back or if the team has a new coaching staff, the directive will likely be to do just that.
There’s even the possibility Wentz agrees to restructure his deal, which beckons the question: Would the team really be better with Wentz gone next season?
What you need to know about the Eagles
Doug Pederson said he’s still deciding who to start at quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Saints. Paul Domowitch has the story.
Jeff McLane argues Hurts showed enough in the fourth quarter of the Packers’ game to earn the nod for the next four games.
If Pederson decides to start Hurts for the remainder of the season, he’ll be doing the right thing not only for the team, but himself, as Mike Sielski explains.
Still trying to figure out how the Eagles dropped their fourth game in a row? Domo has the five reasons the Birds left Lambeau with an L.
Former Inquirer and Daily News sports columnist John Smallwood died on Sunday. Les Bowen shares the stories that help exemplify what made him such a special father, husband, and writer.
From the mailbag
“Thinking about the 2021 offensive line. If Kelce retires can Brooks play Center and/or can Dillard play guard?” — From Robin Webb (@rbwebb1) on Twitter.
Good question, Robin. The Eagles offensive line has featured borderline All-Pro players at multiple positions for the last few years, but that run might be coming to an end soon. We won’t know if Jason Kelce is going to retire after this season until the offseason, but he conceded in the past that he’s considered it each of the last few years. If he does retire, I don’t see Brandon Brooks sliding over. We haven’t seen Brooks all season, and there’s a chance the second Achilles tear will hinder him, but he came back from his first Achilles tear and improved enough to be the best guard in football last season.
Isaac Seumalo is far more likely to be the center-in-waiting than Brooks. He played center in college and has played center for the Eagles before (32 snaps in 2017). It’s hard to project Andre Dillard as a guard, but his struggle to play right tackle might suggest he’d have a hard time switching positions in general.
All this brings up a bigger point: The Eagles don’t have young, elite talent on their offensive front or defensive front. If they end up with a high draft pick, don’t be surprised or disappointed if they prioritize fixing that issue, because it’s been the foundation for the team’s success for a long time.