Sure, the Eagles reportedly aren’t interested in trading for Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell. But how much leverage would they have to get a deal done on favorable terms if they were come right out and say, “Yeah, we want him”?
Here’s a wild guess: Whoever from the Eagles leaked to ESPN the news of the Fletcher Cox contract restructuring made the “we’re not interested in trading for Bell” part and parcel of the one-two scoop punch in order to establish a position of strength, in the event that trade talks for Bell occur after he returns to the Steelers next week. If trade talks occur between the two Pennsylvania teams (the Steelers reportedly want a second-round pick, and the Eagles have two of them in 2019), the Cox restructuring contains a potential clue as to how the Eagles would persuade Bell to want to go all-in when it comes to playing for the Eagles for the balance of 2018.
Bell has concerns about his compensation for 2018 in relation to his workload. By using so-called Not Likely to Be Earned Incentives, the Eagles could dangle significant extra compensation to Bell for 2018 based on workload and performance, which then would hit the cap in 2019. Which would bring into play the eight figures in extra 2019 cap space that the Eagles created in the Cox restructuring, with the extra $6.5 million in extra 2018 cap space being used to cover Bell’s base salary for the balance of the current season.
One key benefit of the 2019 cap space: The Eagles could tie incentive payments to Bell playing in various levels of postseason games, ensuring that Bell would receive much more than the peanuts-level (in relation to his franchise tender) playoff share if/when the Eagles qualify for postseason games that would put a healthy Bell’s March 2019 open-market payday in jeopardy. Bell may need that extra incentive in order to be willing to subject himself to extra reps (with enhanced intensity) at a time when he’s so close to his long-coveted free-agency prize.
The extra cap space for next year also could be devoted to an effort to sign Bell in 2019, either on the open market or via the transition tender, if the Steelers choose to use the right-of-first-refusal option — and if the Eagles hope to fashion a front-loaded offer sheet that the Steelers can’t match.
If it’s true that they aren’t, and won’t be, interested in Bell, the 2019 cap space from the Cox restructuring would give them extra cap dollars in the event they decide to extend quarterback Carson Wentz promptly upon the completion of his third NFL season.
Either way, the Eagles have used the easily-available cap-shuffling device of the simple restructuring not only to create a nice chunk of cap space in 2018, but to carve out even more for 2019. Which means that they likely intend to use it.