Carson Wentz’ New Contract and the CBA

A few days ago the Eagles and Carson Wentz agreed to a reported $128 million contract extension that would potentially tie Wentz to the Eagles through the 2024 season. The contract became official either on June 10 or June 11 and the numbers began to trickle in via a series of tweets by ESPN’s Field Yates which has led to a bunch of confusion surrounding the contract. Yates later added more details as did MMQB’s Albert Breer who indicated that the contract was so complex his head hurt trying to figure it out.  With those details in mind (and knowing that the numbers may not be 100% accurate) I’d like to try to clear out most of the confusion surrounding the contract.

Here is Yates original tweet that broke down the contract.

Quickly adding up the numbers you will see that they don’t add up to the reported $128 million in “new money”, falling about $17 million short.  Yates would later clear up that by adding another $17 million in salary to his original numbers which Breer would then qualify as “improvement escalators” that kick in if Wentz were to hit one of many possible milestones.

If you happened to pick up a copy of the book I co-authored (Crunching Numbers) you may recall reading about a little known rule in the CBA called the 30% rule. The 30% rule kicks in at the end of the NFL CBA which limits the amount of salary that a player’s contract can increase by in the uncapped years that extend beyond the terms of the CBA. The rule is in place to prevent a team from taking an incredibly low salary cap charge during a capped NFL season with the hope that a future year may be uncapped.

To calculate the 30% raise limit you basically are going to add all the salary contracted to a player in 2020, plus any option bonus proration, and multiply that by 0.3. That gives you the raise allowed year by year for a player. For Wentz, based on the reports, it would seem as if the most his salary can increase from 2020 to 2021, 2021 to 2022, etc… is $4.6149 million. You will see in the original reported numbers that the contract does just about that with $4.5 million a year or so raises.

Once we increase the salary to the reported $15.4 million in 2020, however, we get a salary raise of around $16 million, which clearly is not compliant with the rule. In the old CBA this was easy to get around as you simply added a special teams incentive that was considered likely to be earned for the purposes of calculating the 30% rule but would have no chance of, in reality, being earned (Obviously Carson Wentz will never play 95% of special teams plays even though that would have been considered likely to be earned because of CBA rules). Because teams abused that so much at the end of the last CBA to do extensions the NFL banned that practice and no longer allowed special teams incentives for offensive and defensive players. Enter the “improvement escalator”.

The 30% rule is more or less only in place to limit the amount of salary that is “likely to be earned”. Escalators are not likely to be earned. So a creative way around the 30% rule limit is to use escalator clauses that are a virtual certainty to be earned by giving the player a million different ways to earn it even if the NFL doesn’t consider it that way. If unearned it one year it tacks on to a second year and can continue to grow until finally earned.

For those old enough to have studied rookie contracts from the old CBA you would notice a very similar pattern. The old CBA only allowed rookies to have the same 25% increase in salary as they do now. The difference was back then you could use escalators and incentives to get a Sam Bradford from a baseline of around $30 million by complying with the rules to $78 million by figuring out loopholes in the CBA. Back then these were called log bonuses because the trigger to earn the raise was as easy as falling off a log. Almost everyone earned them no matter how bad they were. This is the same concept. Call it a log escalator if you want.

So while it probably is a ton of paperwork and seems complex and you can jump to a number of conclusions as to why its there, its probably just as simple as this was the easiest way around the rules in place.

The other confusion came from a reported $30 million option for the 2024 season. Some believed his salary increased to $31.383 million in 2020 if exercised. Others thought the 2024 salary increased. Others thought this gave the Eagles a way to cut ties if he was hurt again.

The option in this contract is to “buy into” the 2024 season of the contract. Since you can not guarantee an option (it wouldn’t be an option then would it?) you guarantee other portions of the contract. Technically Wentz’ 2020 salary is $31.183 million which is fully guaranteed. If the Eagles pick up the option they would commit a $30 million prorated option to Wentz, buy 2024, and reduce the base to the $1.383 million number. The Eagles can use the proration, if exercised, for the 30% rule raise as well. This is a way of protecting all parties for financial and salary cap purposes.

Option confusion is understandable because they are rarely used anymore though they used to be the norm in the NFL. Generally speaking only the Panthers and Falcons use this type of option structure anymore, but anytime you hear about an option bonus or option for the final year of a contract they are being used for bonus prorations and complying with other certain rules that are in place in the CBA.

Based on the reported numbers (and Ill post these later when I get a chance) I believe Wentz’ new cap numbers will be $3.99M, $18.66M, $34.67M, $31.27M, $34.27M, and $32M. There are some other minor rules I want to check into (and these can fluctuate if he doesn’t fall off the log right away), but I think these should be in the ballpark of where Wentz will be with the salary cap down the line. I’ll update this if I come across any more details.

If you have any questions feel free to email me or hit me up on twitter and Ill try to clarify, but in general don’t get wrapped up in these options and escalators as an indicator that the Eagles arent sold on Wentz or that Wentz has to perform some magic on the field to get paid. It’s just a way to make a normal deal work around the current constraints of the CBA.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc