By Lewis Gould

The Eagles start their first 2019 drills a week from tomorrow, but let’s face facts.

No matter what else happens to the Birds, Carson Wentz’s health and recovery from a stress fracture in his back will determine how they do in the fall.

Followed by his contract negotiations.

He has two years remaining on his original contract, about $27 million in cash ($8.5 million cap hit in 2019, about $23 million in 2020)

Wentz is technically on the final year of his rookie deal, but the Eagles will surely elect to pick up his fifth-year option for 2020, which should come in around $23 million. That fifth-year option would be guaranteed only for injury, but I’m treating it as guaranteed because the chances of the Eagles moving on from Wentz for skill reasons are rightfully nil.

In most cases under the current CBA, teams prefer to let their first-round picks play out the cost-controlled first four years of their rookie contracts before signing them to an extension in advance of Year 5, when their salary takes a notable jump, especially for players in the top 10. (Teams can’t sign rookies to extensions before their fourth year in the league.) Of the first-round picks drafted under the current CBA to sign extensions of three seasons or more during their rookie deals, about two-thirds have waited until their fifth season to re-sign.

The exceptions tend to be players who are MVP candidates and teams who have a history of locking up players early in their careers, and this match fits both criteria. Wentz, of course, was likely about to win the MVP award in 2017 before going down with a torn ACL in December. Injuries remain a concern, given that he missed the final three weeks of the 2018 season and two playoff games with a back injury, but Wentz is Philly’s guy.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have been one of the most aggressive teams in the league in extending young talent going back through the days of former team president Joe Banner. They’ve extended only two of their first-round picks under the current CBA in Fletcher Cox and Lane Johnson, but in Johnson’s case, GM Howie Roseman signed his right tackle to an extension the month after his third season in the league. That’s about as early as legally possible. He hasn’t done the same thing with Wentz, but at the very least there are going to be serious discussions about locking up Wentz this offseason.

Finding common ground on a contract will be tough. Only one first-round quarterback under the current CBA has signed an extension after three seasons, and that was Ryan Tannehill, who got a very different sort of contract from the deal Wentz is likely to target.

Simultaneously, though, the Eagles hold a lot of leverage, with Wentz two years from even touching a franchise tag. They could theoretically go year to year with the former second overall pick and pay him something close to $55 million over the next three seasons in cash without having to commit on a long-term deal. When you consider that Jimmy Garoppolo booked $86.4 million over the first three years of his new deal with the 49ers, you can see how much compromise there has to be to make this deal work. The Eagles would have to throw away their leverage to give Wentz the sort of deal he would get on the open market or Wentz would have to settle for an Alex Smith-sized extension with significant per-game roster bonuses. Neither seems likely.

With that in mind, my guess is that the Eagles and Wentz will wait until 2020 to sign a new deal. Wentz will likely want to negotiate after a healthy season, and Roseman has too much to gain from keeping Wentz at an $8.5 million cap hit for 2019, even if it just means rolling money over to next season.

Here’s what his new deal could look like: Five years, $146 million with $50 million guaranteed at signing

Wentz’s agent probably wouldn’t be willing to settle for less than what Garoppolo got from the 49ers in February 2018, even given that Garoppolo was about to hit free agency. Factor in the cap increase and you get just south of $30 million per season, where Matt Ryan’s five-year, $150 million extension came in last May. Ryan was already due $19.3 million for 2018 and actually had an MVP trophy in his cabinet at home.

In all, Wentz would be looking at six years and $150 million when you factor in the $4 million or so in cash he’s due for 2019. It would be a considerable discount for Wentz, who would almost definitely fetch north of $30 million per season by waiting one year. The 49ers can get out of Garoppolo’s deal after two years and $60 million, and while Wentz’s initial deal would likely have an out after a couple of seasons, the Eagles would probably have to build in guarantees for future years if he stays healthy and productive in 2019. In all, it’s tough to see a way this could satisfy all parties.

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