This is one in a series of stories from Inquirer and Daily News Eagles beat reporters previewing the Eagles’ offseason. Free agency begins on March 14, and the draft is April 26-28.
Schedule of previews:
Tuesday, Feb. 20: Quarterbacks/specialists
Wednesday, Feb. 21: Offensive line
Thursday, Feb. 22: Running backs
Friday, Feb. 23: Wide receivers/tight ends
Monday, Feb. 26: Defensive line
Tuesday, Feb. 27: Linebackers
Wednesday, Feb. 28: Cornerbacks
Thursday, March 1: Safeties
Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld.
In terms of the quarterback position, the Eagles enter the 2018 offseason in about as good a shape as they’ve ever been. Yes, Wentz is only less than three months removed from tearing ligaments in his left knee, and is in danger of not being ready for the season opener. But the Eagles still have one of the best young talents in the NFL — if not the best. They have a franchise quarterback entering only his third season. They have an off-the-field gem who will do everything that is required — and then some — to get back on the field. And that’s just Wentz. The Eagles also happen to have the reigning Super Bowl MVP in Foles. There is going to be mass speculation over the next several weeks as to what they should do with their 29-year-old backup. And I’ll examine the arguments for and against trading Foles. But with one year left on his deal ($7.6 million) and with Wentz ($7,275,365) still playing under his rookie contract, the Eagles currently have the best 1-2 quarterback punch in the league and for only $14 million against the salary cap.
The 24-year-old Sudfeld ($630,000) has one year left, as well. He was signed to the practice squad just before the season and promoted to the 53-man roster on Nov. 1 when the Colts tried to sign him. If Indianapolis had been successful in luring Sudfeld away, he could be now playing for new Colts coach and former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich. But he stayed and played some valuable season-ending snaps against the Cowboys. Sudfeld completed 19 of 23 passes for 134 yards and ran once for 22 yards. He was little jittery and reluctant to throw downfield, but he displayed considerable arm strength and some mobility. The Eagles’ openness to trading Foles could partially hinge on their comfortableness with Sudfeld as the possible No. 2 behind Wentz.
Howie Roseman is sure to get offers for Foles once the two-day tampering period (wink-wink) begins on March 5. It is likely those conversations will begin in earnest during the combine next week. Some of the trade compensation being tossed about in the media has been hyperbolic. Bill Polian was a Hall of Fame general manager. He knows more football than I could even imagine. But if Roseman were to turn down two first round draft picks and two second round picks — as Polian recently suggested — that would be a fireable offense. Foles obviously had a one of the great postseason runs in history. I don’t even think Wentz could have played at that level. But I sincerely doubt any team is willing to part with that much in trade compensation. I think the bar is likely a first-round pick — and I’m not even sure teams will offer than much.
But I think Roseman would have to seriously consider a first-round offer because:
1. That’s a lot for a quarterback who is still slated to be the Eagles’ backup
2. The Eagles need draft picks. They have only six this year. They won’t pick until 32d in the first round — a fine thing, of course, because they won the Super Bowl. But it’s essentially a second rounder and they don’t have another selection until the fourth round. There is an obvious argument in acquiring a long-term potential starter vs. having Foles in case Wentz isn’t ready for the opener or in case he gets injured again.
3. Foles has only a year left on his deal and he’s under no obligation to sign an extension. Even if he isn’t traded, it’s safe to assume that he won’t be here beyond 2018. He’ll either venture into free agency in the hopes of becoming a starter again, or he’ll cost too much as a backup with the Eagles likely to extend Wentz with a mega-contract. If the Eagles deal Foles now they’ll at least get something in return.
4. The Eagles need the money. If Roseman were to deal Foles, he’d save $5.2 of his $7.6 million against the cap. The Eagles are currently projected to be $10 million over the cap and they could use as much relief as they can spare.
But there are just as many valid arguments for keeping Foles even if Roseman were to receive first-round compensation, and especially if it were less:
1. Foles is very good. If there’s a case to be made in having two starting-caliber quarterbacks on your roster, the Eagles’ championship-winning season dropped the mic.
2. Wentz’s timetable for return is unknown. Nine months from his Dec. 13 surgery would put him right about ready for Week 2. The Eagles are expected to open the season on Sept. 6. Why rush him back when you have Foles, a proven winner, in the bullpen?
3. And what if Wentz were to regress or to suffer another injury? I don’t think the first part will happen. He showed great promise as a rookie and exponentially improved upon that with an MVP-caliber second season. And he still seemingly has yet to hit his ceiling. But the knee will likely force Wentz to alter his style, at least at first. What kind of effect will that have on his play? Many of his best moments from 2017 came from athletic feats of fury. Some believe the physical restrictions will only aid Wentz and restrain him from taking risks. He said last month that he has no plans to rein in his daring ways. The Eagles can’t go into 2018 thinking the worst in terms of Wentz both in his performance and health, but having Foles in the barn is good insurance.
Roseman holds all the cards. The Eagles have done a remarkable job of getting value in return for quarterbacks over the last 15 years or so — A.J. Feeley, Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb. I can’t imagine Roseman parting with Foles for anything less than a second rounder, but I could also see him hanging onto his backup, because, well, it makes as much sense.
Free agent options
The Eagles won’t be in the market for top free agents like Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees, and likely won’t be in on second-tier guys like Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, and Teddy Bridgewater even if they were to deal Foles. Veterans like Jay Cutler or Josh McCown could be backup options to explore if the Eagles are go down that path. A.J. McCarron, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage, Brock Osweiler, Blaine Gabbert and Geno Smith are slated to hit the market next month — for good reason. Could the Eagles be convinced to bring back Chase Daniel? (Cringes.)
The Eagles won’t be in on top prospects like Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph, or Lamar Jackson, who should go in the first two rounds. But Luke Falk of Washington State and Chase Litton of Marshall are a couple of late round/undrafted options that could be appealing.
Jake Elliott, Donnie Jones, Rick Lovato.
Signed off the Bengals practice squad, Elliott is under contract for another season. He is likely to be retained. He was especially clutch on field goals from 40-yards and beyond and in late-game scenarios. But his struggles with 30-yard-something kicks date back to his college days. Jones turns 38 in July. His 2017 numbers (45.3 punting average, 40.6 net, 21 inside the 20) were consistent with 2016 (45.8, 40.7, 21). The Eagles had Cameron Johnston in camp as a second punter last year, and they signed him to a futures contract last month. Jones, who is signed through 2019, is slated to cost $1,875,000 against the cap in 2018. Johnston will make less than a third of that. Could releasing Jones be another cost-saving casualty? Jon Dorenbos suffered that fate last summer when Lovato beat him out for the long snapper job. (Dorenbos would have greater worries when he was diagnosed with a career-ending aortic aneurysm not long after the Eagles tried to trade him to the Saints.) Lovato had a virtual mistake-free first season. He should return.
A season-opening hip injury forced Sturgis onto injured reserve, and even though he was healthy midway through the season, the Eagles opted to keep him on the shelf in favor of Elliott. He connected on 85 percent of his field goal tries with the Eagles over three seasons and should be an attractive kicking option in free agency.