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Why Nick Foles or Matt Barkley would make cents for Eagles

From salary-cap standpoint, it would help Eagles in long run if Nick Foles or Matt Barkley beats out Michael Vick as starting QB.

If the Eagles do have a rooting interest in the quarterback battle, it's probably with Nick Foles or Matt Barkley. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)
If the Eagles do have a rooting interest in the quarterback battle, it's probably with Nick Foles or Matt Barkley. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)Read more

IF YOU STRAPPED Chip Kelly to a chair, pumped a heaping helping of truth serum into him and asked him whom he would like to see win the Eagles' starting quarterback battle this summer, many think he would say Michael Vick because Vick is faster than Nick Foles and Matt Barkley the way a Ferrari is faster than a tractor, and would be able to run the unabridged version of Kelly's offense, including the read option.

While it's entirely possible that assumption is correct, Kelly repeatedly has insisted that it isn't, that the last quarterback standing this summer won't necessarily be the fastest one.

For what it's worth, I believe him. And I'll go you one better. If Kelly and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman do have a rooting interest in the quarterback battle, I think it's with Foles or Barkley rather than Vick.

Why? A couple of reasons. The first is fairly obvious: age. Vick will turn 33 in 3 weeks. Foles is 24. Barkley is 22.

There's no long-term upside for the new coach of a team coming off a 4-12 season to turn over the quarterback controls to a guy whose biological clock is ticking, even if he can still beat LeSean McCoy in a footrace.

A more important reason why I think the Eagles are rooting for Foles or Barkley, though, has to do with money. And, no, this is not an Eagles-are-cheap column.

Vick is scheduled to make $7.1 million this season, $3.5 million of which is guaranteed. That's not much by NFL quarterback standards. But he will be a free agent after the 2013 season. If he won the starting job and played well, his market value - and salary-cap number - would increase substantially.

The Eagles certainly could let him walk at that point, but Foles and/or Barkley would have wasted a year on the bench rather than gaining valuable playing experience.

The appeal to the Eagles of Foles or Barkley winning the starting job this season is the same as it was last year for the Seahawks with Russell Wilson and the 49ers with Colin Kaepernick.

Wilson, a 2012 third-round pick who tied Peyton Manning's rookie record for touchdown passes, will earn only $526,000 this season and $662,000 in '14. Kaepernick, a 2011 second-round pick who led the Niners to the Super Bowl, made $607,922 last year.

Both quite obviously deserve hefty raises. But as part of the rookie wage system the NFL Players Association agreed to in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, players can't renegotiate until they complete their third NFL season. That means the Niners can't do anything for Kaepernick until after this season. Wilson is stuck with his deal through at least 2014.

Typically, quarterbacks take up the biggest chunk of a team's salary cap.

Joe Flacco was the biggest reason the Ravens won the Super Bowl last season. He also is the biggest reason they won't win it again this season. Flacco's prolific 11-touchdown, zero-interception postseason elevated the Audubon, N.J., product to elite-quarterback status and earned him a 6-year, $120.6 million contract. To clear the salary-cap space needed to re-sign Flacco, though, the Ravens had to throw several veteran players overboard and sit on their hands during the free-agency period.

The Seahawks and 49ers, meanwhile, had plenty of cap flexibility this offseason and will head into 2013 as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

"They had that money to play with because of Wilson and Kaepernick," said Andrew Brandt, a former NFL executive who teaches sports business at Wharton and directs the Moorad Center for Sports Law at Villanova Law School. "If you find a guy like Russell Wilson, it puts you in such great shape with the rest of your roster."

Which brings us back to Foles and Barkley. Foles, who started six games last season as a rookie, has a $635,800 cap number in 2013. It increases to only $750,800 next year. Even if he threw a gazillion touchdown passes and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl this season, he can't get a raise until after the 2014 season.

Barkley, a fourth-round pick in the April draft, has a $531,000 cap value this year, $621,500 next year and $711,500 in 2015. He must play under his rookie deal through '15.

Why is this important? Because for at least 1 more year, the league's salary cap is expected to remain relatively flat, while a number of Eagles player contracts will increase substantially after this season.

McCoy's cap number will jump from $4.9 million to $9.7 million. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson's will increase from $9 million to $12.5 million.

Guard Evan Mathis' cap number will jump from $4 million to $6 million, defensive end Trent Cole's from $5.3 million to $6.6 million, cornerback Cary Williams' from $2.4 million to $6.4 million and linebacker Connor Barwin's from $1.3 million to $4.9 million.

In addition, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who has a $4.5 million cap number this year, will be a free agent after the season. Tackle Jason Peters has a $10 million 2014 cap number, and linebacker DeMeco Ryans' is $6.8 million.

The Eagles currently have about $20 million in cap room. Under new NFL rules, they'll be able to transfer all or most of it to next year if they don't use it up this year. That will be a big help.

So will not having a big-ticket quarterback if Foles or Barkley wins the job.

Despite the early success of Wilson and Kaepernick, the harsh reality is that few franchise quarterbacks are found outside of the first round. Maybe Foles or Barkley will be an exception. Maybe not.

"There are no perfect players," Roseman said. "People are punching holes in all of these players before the draft. If you see a quarterback who has the things that translate to your system and hit on one, you have an opportunity to build your team with a young quarterback like San Francisco and Seattle did. And then you can use your [salary-cap] resources in other areas."

We'll find out soon enough whether Foles or Barkley is able to provide the Eagles with that luxury.

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