The biggest surprise of the 2020 NFL has been the play of Eagles star QB Carson Wentz, who has quickly fallen from a borderline Pro Bowl level player to a replacement level player. Wentz signed a four year, $128 million contract extension last year (technically he has yet to even reach the first new contract year as the deal runs for six total years) and now the questions are popping up about what the Eagles can do to get out of the contract. I’ll break down some of the options here.
The Guarantee Structure
Wentz’ contract is one of the more complex deals in the NFL but I believe when you cut through most of it the contract included nearly $108 million in guarantees. A lot of that guarantee was injury only protection, but as is commonplace in the NFL there are schedules by which those injury protected salaries become fully guaranteed salaries. The timing of those guarantees will impact the dead money in the contract.
Looking forward to 2021, Wentz will have a $34.673 million salary cap charge, the fifth highest in the NFL. The sunk costs in Wentz contract total $33,820,608, which is the remaining proations from his $16.367 million signing bonus and $30 million option bonus. The Eagles have to account for those costs on the salary cap even if they trade him.
In addition Wentz has earned $25.4 million in full guarantees for 2021. That includes his $15.4 million base salary, which became guaranteed this past March, and a $10 million roster bonus which was more or less guaranteed at signing. The roster bonus is due on the 3rd day of the league year and that date is important so we’ll get back to that later on. If cut the Eagles owe Wentz that $25.4 million, which would also immediately hit the salary cap.
If Wentz is on the roster on the 3rd day of the 2021 league year then $15 million of his 2022 base salary will become fully guaranteed. If cut after that date that also accelerates onto the salary cap. The next important date comes in 2022 when he can earn another $7 million of 2022 salary guarantees if on the roster on the 3rd day of that league year. Essentially this timeline means that if he is on the roster next March you can consider his 2022 salary a sunk cost as well. The remainder of guarantees, which are small, and roster bonuses are tied to being on the roster on the 3rd day of those respective league years and are unimportant at this point.
The first things we need to look at is the cost of cutting Carson Wentz at various dates. Here is the standard cut calendar for Wentz from 2021 to 2023. The cap savings are relative to his salary cap number.
|Cut Year||Cut Date||Dead Money||Cap Savings|
|2021||Prior To 3rd day of LY||$59,220,608||($24,547,072)|
|2021||After 3rd day of LY||$74,220,608||($39,547,072)|
|2022||Prior To 3rd day of LY||$39,547,072||($8,272,536)|
|2022||After 3rd day of LY||$46,548,072||($15,273,536)|
|2023||Prior To 3rd day of LY||$15,273,536||$16,001,000|
The numbers in 2021 are so large relative to the cap number that it isn’t feasible to cut him using this form of cut in 2021. The Eagles cap situation is far too tight to lose an additional $25 million in cap space in 2021 so let’s just throw that option out. You can make a case that they can do it in 2022 and certainly can do so in 2023.
Designating Wentz a June 1 Cut
Another option is the June 1 cut. The June 1 cut allows a team to essentially hold a player at his current cap charge during free agency and then deal with the acceleration from the bonuses the following year. In all cases the team would utilize this before the vesting of the future salaries in 2021 and 2022 as the June 1 avoids those from vesting. This would look as follows:
|Cut Year||Current Year Dead||Next Year Dead|
This is a more viable solution for the Eagles though the payouts here are certainly massive. A cut in 2021 saves the team the $15 million guarantee for 2022 kicking in and they would receive some credits from offsets in the contract once Wentz signed elsewhere but that wont be much.
Though $15 million is certainly a lot of money to save I think it makes more sense for Philadelphia at that point to bite the bullet, modify the contract as needed for cap relief in 2021, and keep their fingers crossed that he can remember how to play quarterback. The 2021 salary is a sunk cost and that $15 million would also be subject to offsets so you would get something back on that as well if cut the following year and maybe the trade market would improve as well. Gut feeling is that there is more reward in holding him for a year than just cutting him, but you can can at least argue for the June 1.
The next option is the trade option and to me that is the only option that the Eagles should consider for 2021. When you trade a player you trade away all the guaranteed salary along with it so all you need to deal with at that point is the prorated acceleration.
The one caveat here is because there is a large roster bonus due on the 3rd day of the league year (remember we talked about that earlier) the Eagles would have to execute a trade prior to that date for a trade to really make sense. Here is how the salary cap works on a trade at various dates.
|Trade Year||Trade Date||Dead Money||Cap Savings|
|2021||Prior To 3rd day of LY||$33,820,608||$852,928|
|2021||After 3rd day of LY||$43,820,608||($9,147,072)|
|2022||Prior To 3rd day of LY||$24,547,072||$6,727,464|
|2022||After 3rd day of LY||$24,548,072||$6,726,464|
|2023||Prior To 3rd day of LY||$15,273,536||$16,001,000|
This represents significant savings for Philadelphia if they can move on. Trading Wentz saves the Eagles $25.4 million in salaries that would be paid in 2021 and $15 million in salary that would become guaranteed in 2022. While the overall situation is still bad (they would have paid Wentz an extra $29.6M more than if they just let his rookie deal play out) the optics would be much improved if they made this move.
The question is would anyone trade for Wentz? While the Wentz contract averages $32 million a year its important to remember that the Eagles paid a good chunk of that money already. For a team trading for Wentz the contract would work out to be four years, $98.4 million or $24.6 million a season. The first two years of that contract would basically be guaranteed and the remainder would be in the control of the team that trades for him. The cap figures on the contract would be $25.4 million, $22 million, $25 million, and $26 million.
To put the numbers in perspective those cap figures in 2021 and 2022 would rank 11th and 13th in the NFL. The contract value would be in line with Teddy Bridgewater ($21M a year, $42M over first two years) and Nick Foles’ Jaguars contract ($22M a year, $46.625M a year) so it is perfectly fine for someone likely considered a low level starter if he was a free agent.
I don’t believe it would cost much. Primarily you are giving the Eagles financial relief by trading for him. I dont think the Eagles would kick in money (that defeats the purpose) nor would they send over a pick (they can sell that they can handle the deal in 2021 and move on in 2022). The Bears gave up a 4th round pick for Foles who was benched for Gardner Minshew so I would imagine the cost would be a 3rd here plus conditionals. Thats good for someone who just last year was considered a good signing at $32 million a year.
Wentz gives a decent team who likely had no viable path to draft a young star access to a potential good quarterback who is 30. The teams that make sense in that regard are the Colts, Bears, and maybe Browns depending on what they think about Baker Mayfield at this point.
The Colts of all the teams make the most sense. They are a good team with no QB on the roster for 2021. They have tons of cap space and would love access to a sub $30M QB. There is also a clear relationship with the head coach. The Bears dont really have the cap space and are on the wrong side of the age curve (though this hasnt stopped them before) and the Browns would probably chase Mayfield for another year.
The 2021 Cap Situation
One of the problems for Philadelphia in any of these scenarios is that they are way over the 2021 salary cap if it comes in at $175 million as many expect (we estimate they are in the ballpark of $70 million over the cap). I’ve long said that their cap situation is a bit overblown but part of that reasoning is that Wentz was going to start for a few more years and that they would get immediate cap relief from his contract by reducing his 2021 cap number by $18 million.
If you trade or June 1 Wentz you don’t get any savings meaning that you will need to navigate the salary cap without getting cap relief from Wentz. The path at that point is to cut Jeffery, Jackson, Goodwin, Barnett, and Ertz while kicking the can with restructures, at a minimum, on Cox, Slay, Hargrave, Johnson and Brooks while potentially extending Graham. That would give them a few dollars to play with, but the path is much easier if they can work with the Wentz contract numbers.
This is a big reason why I think trading makes sense since you are getting so much financial relief to offset the cap headaches but the cut scenario proves more difficult.
A Fantasy Scenario
There is one additional option for Philadelphia but its one that would require them to make the determination now that they are cutting Wentz in 2021 no matter what and that no scenario exists in which they can trade him.
Under this scenario the Eagles would have to modify his contract this year by prepaying most of his 2021 salary in 2020, dramatically reducing his 2021 cap number and then designating him a post June 1 in 2021. By rule they would have to do this in 2020 if they want to be able to still utilize the June 1.
What would happen here is the Eagles would convert some of that money to a signing bonus. For the sake of argument lets say they convert $20 million to a bonus, prorating it at $4 million a season, and keeping $5.4 million as salary which would be subject to offsets if cut.
That move would cut the Eagles carryover from 2020 by $4 million but reduce Wentz’ 2021 cap number to $18.67 million, a $16 million savings over his $34.67M cap number and a net savings of $12M. When you June 1 him you will keep the $18.67 million on the cap in 21 while deferring $36.55 million to 2022. You are not escaping the costs but this gives you an avenue to push it into a year when you are better off, thus getting to pick and choose when you want to pull the lever on some of those other restructures mentioned above.
You can get more cap savings by converting more salary but I like the idea of a salary in the ballpark of $4-$5M because I think that can create a scenario where I may get to offset more than just $1M of that salary.
I consider this pretty far fetched and I wouldn’t expect it but I just wanted to throw it out there in the event you see something happen with his contract in December and you begin to go crazy because of it.
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Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.