The Philadelphia Eagles have a critical decision in front of them when it comes to quarterback Carson Wentz, who is eligible for a new contract starting Dec. 31.
Nick Foles mania aside, coach Doug Pederson has made it clear that "when [Wentz is] healthy, he's our quarterback." The organization has long held the conviction that Wentz is a franchise QB with enormous potential, and they have a history of locking in their core players early.
Wentz is dealing with a stress fracture in his back at the moment, though, and is coming off a serious multiligament knee injury. Does the team slow-play the negotiations given his recent health issues and risk getting slammed financially when the market resets, or do they try and lock him up soon while the cost is (comparatively) reasonable and cross their fingers that these type of injuries don't continue to strike?
We spoke with some industry experts to figure out where Wentz is physically and to understand the various factors that will influence how this all plays out.
Wentz health update
Wentz's back was actually feeling better as the season went along, a sign that the healing process from the stress fracture is well underway, according to a league source. But when the fracture was discovered via a CT scan last Tuesday, the organization decided to play it safe and rest him.
A separate stress fracture in his back was discovered via scan during Wentz's freshman year in college, but it was completely healed while he was at North Dakota State and is unrelated to the current injury, a source said.
Optimism remains that he will not be hampered by back injuries long-term.
The case for getting a deal done soon
The Eagles are well aware that the price tag for quarterbacks is only going to go up. Aaron Rodgers set a new high-water mark by inking a four-year, $134 million deal ($33.5 million per season) in August that includes over $98 million guaranteed. Matt Ryan ($30 million per season, 94.5 guaranteed) isn't far behind, and Kirk Cousins recently broke new ground with a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract.
The 2019 salary cap is projected to be as high as $191 million -- a notable increase over this season's number of $177 million. As the cap skyrockets, so too will players' salaries.
The longer they wait, the greater chance new precedents are set. There are two quarterbacks in particular who former agent and salary cap expert Joel Corry has identified as market shapers for Wentz: Russell Wilson and Jared Goff. Wilson has one year left on his current deal. If the Seattle Seahawks were to franchise tag him after the 2019 season, Corry explains, it would cost them north of $30 million. If they tag him a second time, Wilson is looking at a cool $68 million or so over a two-year period. In order to prevent Wilson from playing "the franchise-tag game," then, Seattle is going to have to make Wilson the highest-paid player in the game, Corry concludes, which could set up a huge haul for Wentz if he develops as hoped and is not already locked into a deal.
“If Wentz is ultimately who you think he is, you’re probably going above $35 million per year when it’s all said and done if you wait, because Russell Wilson is probably going to get there on his next contract,” Corry said.
And there's a unicorn in the rearview mirror. This time next year, Patrick Mahomes will be eligible for a new deal. Teams with franchise QBs will definitely want to be ahead of that contract if Mahomes keeps playing at this clip.
Agents polled suggested their current asking price for a player like Wentz would be in the $26-$30 million per year range. In other words, the deal the Eagles could get now might soon look like a bargain.
The Tollner factor
Goff and Wentz, the top two picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, share the same agent: Ryan Tollner. That makes for an interesting dynamic when it comes to negotiating the duo's second contracts, offering the agent a higher level of control over the situation.
Since Goff is on firmer footing than Wentz at the moment from a play/health perspective, Corry is betting that Tollner times it so Goff's deal gets done first (assuming he bounces back from his recent mini-funk) to establish the standard for Wentz.
“Whichever guy goes first, Goff or Wentz, will set the floor for the other,” he said.
And what will that floor be?
"Matt Ryan," Corry said. "The better [Goff] does the rest of the season and postseason, the better chance he has of eclipsing Aaron Rodgers.”
The case for waiting
The Eagles have Wentz under control for the next couple seasons at a manageable number. He is scheduled to make a base salary of $720,000 and carries a cap number of about $8.5 million next season. They have until Dec. 31 to exercise his fifth-year option for 2020, which they almost certainly will. Wentz's salary that season is likely to be about $23 million. Philly could use the franchise tag after that, if necessary.
Holding off on a monster contract would allow the Eagles to gear up for another title run next season with Wentz at a low cap number, and see how things go health-wise before investing major dollars in him.
"The Eagles should play it out," one NFL agent said. "Injury history, and he wasn't great this year."
It seems unlikely that something gets done in the immediate future. Outside of running back Todd Gurley, who signed a mega-contract in July, first-round picks typically don't get extensions after their third season given the presence of the fifth-year option. Perhaps Gurley's deal will help set a new trend, but teams typically wait until after the fourth year.
Wentz's agent has incentive to get Goff under contract first, and the Eagles likely wouldn't mind seeing how it goes from an injury standpoint before opening the vault.
Whether the wheels start moving sooner rather than later will depend in part on the organization's willingness to look past the recent injuries and commit to a 25-year-old QB who they believe, if healthy, can fuel championship aspirations for the next decade-plus.
“I’m not sure it gets done this offseason," Corry said. "It’s all going to depend on how much Philadelphia wants to factor the injury history into the equation. If they’re going to want some sort of real financial discount for the injury history, the agent is not going to be interested in that. I can’t see how he would.”