The guy who threw the “Philly Special” fourth-down touchdown pass in the Super Bowl is leaving, as expected. But the guy who caught it seems to be staying, and that might have been Tuesday’s biggest Eagles news.
The NFL Network reported that Eagles pending free agent tight end Trey Burton has agreed to a four-year, $32 million contract with the Chicago Bears, during the league’s 48-hour “legal tampering” period, which ends Wednesday, the official start of NFL free agency.
Other Eagles departures include their longest-tenured player, tight end Brent Celek, who was released Tuesday, saving $4 million under the 2018 salary cap, and pending free agent defensive tackle Beau Allen, whose already likely exit from the D-line rotation was made inevitable by the team’s reported signing of five-time Pro Bowl DT Haloti Ngata. Allen penned a farewell message to Eagles fans on Instagram.
Not reported to be headed anywhere else just yet is Eagles starting linebacker Nigel Bradham, but the reported $9 million a year Kansas City gave to Dallas free agent linebacker Anthony Hitchens would seem to underscore the likelihood that Bradham will exceed the Eagles’ price range.
Meanwhile, the NFL free-agent quarterback carousel took quite a spin Tuesday, and when it stopped, Case Keenum was in Denver, Sam Bradford was in Arizona, Kirk Cousins was a Minnesota Viking, and Teddy Bridgewater seemed headed for the New York Jets. This would leave only the Buffalo Bills as a possible trade partner for the Eagles, if the Birds were inclined to move Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, the backup quarterback who caught that razzle-dazzle TD pass from Burton near the end of the second quarter of Super Bowl LII.
When Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson spoke at the NFL Scouting combine a few weeks back, it seemed they were willing to listen to offers for Foles, who is only under contract for one more season, but with Carson Wentz still early in his recovery from ACL and LCL surgery, the team wasn’t really shopping its Wentz insurance policy. The Eagles have set a high price for the QB who dominated the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl, something at least as good as the first- and fourth-round picks they got from Minnesota for Bradford in 2016.
You don’t have much leverage when the market shrinks to one team. Maybe the bidding for Foles will heat up again later in the year, maybe a contending team will find itself desperate, as Minnesota did when Bridgewater went down at the end of the preseason two years ago, but for now, it sure seems Foles isn’t going anywhere.
Going into the week, Arizona seemed like the most obvious trade fit, given that the Cardinals have hopes of contending, and need a QB to serve as a bridge to a QB they hope to draft this year and develop. Foles starred at the University of Arizona before the Eagles drafted him in 2012’s third round.
But once again, a team chose Bradford ahead of Foles, as happened in 2015, when Chip Kelly traded Foles to the Rams and Bradford became the Eagles’ starter. Bradford is getting a reported $20 million on a one-year contract from the Cardinals. That might be an important detail: Most observers have said all along that if a team was going to trade for Foles, it wouldn’t give up anything of value without knowing it could sign him to a longer-term deal.
Foles should have been a more attractive option than Bradford this time, all things being equal, but all things weren’t equal – Bradford was a free agent, requiring no compensation to the Vikings, and apparently, the Cards weren’t looking for someone they would sign to a long-term deal, at least not right now.
If Foles really is staying, that turns down the pressure on Wentz’s recovery. He has vowed to be ready for the start of the season, but that time frame is far from certain. A medical source has said that while Wentz might be able to play when the season starts, he might not be able to do all the dodging and scrambling that makes him so effective until about a year after his surgery, which took place in December.
Fans will still hunger for any updates to Wentz’s condition, but with Foles, spring work and the start of training camp will seem much more normal, and less of a crisis, than if we were going to be watching Nate Sudfeld command the huddle.
Fans will miss Burton and Allen, two subs who played significant roles in winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl.
Burton made it clear he preferred to stay, but the assumption has always been that he would leave in free agency, given that the Eagles have cap issues and are paying Zach Ertz $42.5 million over five years to be their starting tight end. They signaled a big shakeup at that position Tuesday when they released the longest-tenured Eagle, Brent Celek, clearing $4 million in salary cap space.
Burton, 26, came to the Eagles in 2014 as an undrafted free agent from Florida, a player who had bounced around several positions for the Gators (arriving as a QB). It wasn’t clear where he would fit in the NFL, but he established himself as a key special teams performer and a strong pass-catcher, in limited action.
When Ertz missed the Dec. 10 game at the Rams last season, Burton caught a season-high five passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the season with 23 catches for 248 yards and five TDs, playing just 27 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps.
Burton was a strong locker room presence and is a close friend of Wentz. A year ago, it might have been fair to say wideout Jordan Matthews and Burton were the pass-catchers closest to the franchise QB. Now both are gone, Matthews traded to Buffalo in August. He is a pending free agent.
Allen, also 26, arrived in the seventh round of the 2014 draft, as a nose tackle for the 3-4 defense the Eagles played under Kelly. When the Birds went to a 4-3 in 2016, Allen adjusted well, and negotiations were under way for a long-term deal when he tore a pectoral tendon working out last April. The team traded for Tim Jernigan, and though Allen recovered in time for the start of the 2017 season, and played a career-high 41 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps, there was no more talk of a contract here.
On Instagram, Allen sent Eagles teammates and fans what amounted to a farewell note, concluding that “Philadelphia will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will always share a special bond with my brothers that brought the Lombardi to Philly. Excited to see what the future has for me!”