Let’s get two things out of the way to start.
First, the Eagles are not moving on from Carson Wentz before the start of the 2020 season. Second, I am not advocating or saying they should trade Wentz before then.
But after the shocking decision to draft Jalen Hurts with the 53rd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the chances of the Eagles moving on from Wentz sooner rather than later have gone up. The first real potential Wentz replacement is on the roster and the time on Hurts’ rookie deal is already ticking.
So while the chances the Eagles move on from Wentz after 2020 are slim, the drafting of Hurts certainly raises the possibility, no matter what the team might say. Perhaps they get Hurts in the building and fall even further in love with him. Perhaps Wentz gets hurt at some point in 2020, Hurts steps in and takes the Eagles on a magical ride to the playoffs. Perhaps Hurts is the next Super Bowl MVP.
Anything is possible. Nick Foles proved that. But while anything can happen, the reality is that money will play a huge factor in whether, or when, the Eagles move on from Wentz in favor of Hurts.
It was just one year ago the Eagles handed Wentz a record-setting four-year, $128 million contract that kept him under contract with the team through 2024. The contract was a tricky and complex one, which isn’t surprising considering how good both Howie Roseman and Eagles cap guru Jake Rosenberg are at constructing contracts to benefit both the player and the Eagles’ salary cap.
The contract was a lucrative one for Wentz up front, and by the end of the 2020 season, he will have collected a large portion of the deal. That is key in looking at when the Eagles could theoretically move on from Wentz.
As you can see, his 2021 salary of $15.4 million became fully guaranteed by him being on the roster the third day of the 2020 league year. So Wentz’s base salary for 2020 and 2021 are already locked in, bringing that total to just over $81 million.
Wentz’s base salary for 2021 being locked in is big. If the Eagles traded Wentz at the end of the 2020 season he would have a $33 million cap hit in dead money for 2021 despite not being on the roster, which is obviously a huge number.
That doesn’t completely rule out the Eagles potentially trading him.
The Eagles are currently around $32 million over the salary cap for 2021. Trading Wentz would change that number to around $31 million over the salary cap, according to OTC's salary-cap calculator. So while their cap situation is not great overall, trading Wentz would not really impact it very much in terms of available space. Moving on from Wentz after this season would also increase their salary cap space in 2022 by almost $31 million, and by around $34 million in 2023.
Obviously, having $33 million in dead money on the books would be a lot to take for a team as fiscally responsible as the Eagles. They could, however, justify it depending on what they got for Wentz.
Wentz has pretty reasonable base salaries in each season after 2020, which starts at $15.4 million in 2021, $22 million in 2022, $20 million in 2023 and $21 million in 2024. Unless Wentz suffered a serious injury in 2020, the Eagles would likely have multiple teams interested in trading for him. They would likely get at least one first-round pick in return for Wentz, and perhaps two depending on how many teams were interested.
If the Eagles were able to get a good return for Wentz they could view the dead money as essentially buying extra draft picks. Plus, with Hurts only making around $1.5 million, they would in theory still have around the same amount of money allocated to the quarterback position in 2021 as they would if they kept Wentz. The difference would be not only would they have extra draft picks to build with, but they would also be able to build going forward without having to worry about the massive deal they handed Wentz, something that has clearly impacted their plans this offseason. They would also be moving forward with at least two seasons of having Hurts, their new starting quarterback, on a rookie deal.
More than likely, however, Wentz’s deal will keep him in Philadelphia through at least the 2021 season, as the Eagles have a much easier out that offseason. Wentz’s base salary of $22 million for the 2022 season becomes guaranteed on March 15th, 2022. If the Eagles were to move on from Wentz at that point, they would still have dead money — around $24 million — but would avoid committing to pay him another $22 million on top of the $81 million they will have already given him.
So what does this all mean?
The Eagles are committed to Wentz for at least the 2020 season. They could potentially try to sell high after 2020, eat the one year of dead cap space, collect draft picks and commit to Hurts for 2021. More than likely, Wentz has at two more seasons with the Eagles — 2020 and 2021 -- to prove he should continue on as their franchise quarterback.
After that, however, nothing is guaranteed — and the selection of Hurts seems to have officially started the clock on Wentz’s time as the Eagles franchise quarterback.