How McNabb’s roster bonus affects a trade

Why would the Eagles trade Donovan McNabb?

Although this is a major organizational decision to move on from the team’s signature player for the past decade, it appears to be more about Kevin Kolb than McNabb.

The Eagles, like the Packers two years ago with Aaron Rodgers, have identified their future at the position and are prepared to move on with that player. Kolb has the confidence of the coaches and management that he’s ready to assume the role of leading the team.

Like the Packers two years ago, the team would not be prepared to move on from their longtime fixture at quarterback if there was not a strong option. It’s not like the Packers or the Eagles would have to resort to a stopgap veteran while they looked for a successor. The successors were/are already in the building.

Teams evolve, and it’s hard to know the right time to make a change. The Eagles have apparently decided the time is now.

Why is McNabb’s contract a big part of any trade negotiations?

For the Eagles to consummate a trade, there will be two negotiations in play simultaneously. As with the Jason Peters negotiations mentioned on Monday, there are two parts to the deal.

First will be the negotiations between the Eagles and the acquiring club over the compensation for McNabb. Related to that, however, is the financial compensation for McNabb beyond 2010. Were a team to acquire him without a contract extension, it would, in effect, be renting him for the season while preparing another player for the future.

Acquiring McNabb without an accompanying contract extension would (or should) merit far less in trade compensation to the Eagles than acquiring him with an extension, thereby securing McNabb as a long-term solution at quarterback. That is, of course, unless the acquiring team is the Raiders.

Why would the Raiders acquire McNabb without a contract extension?

As we know, the Raiders tend to do things a bit differently, perhaps for that reason alone. Prior to last season, they acquired defensive end Richard Seymour from the Patriots in the last year of his contract and did not secure, or even attempt to secure, a contract extension. Rather, they placed an exclusive franchise tag on Seymour for 2010 and now have Seymour’s services for at least two years – 2009 and 2010 – and about $16 million in exchange for the 2011 first-round pick they surrendered. Using that as a guide, the Raiders might be the one team that would trade for McNabb without an extension.

With JaMarcus Russell due $9.45M this year and McNabb due $11.2M, the Raiders would have $20.65M in cash expense to two quarterbacks, along with the second-round tender signed by Bruce Gradkowski of $1.76M. If they decide to part ways with Russell, they would be on the hook for $3M of his contract, the amount guaranteed for this year, after having paid Russell $36.35M since he arrived in 2007. There may never have been so much paid for so little in the history of the NFL.

Why is McNabb’s roster bonus the defining date for any trade from the Eagles?

As part of a renegotiation last year, the Eagles gave McNabb significant raises from what was due for 2009 and 2010 without any additional years added. Here are some particulars from McNabb’s contract adjustment (it was not an extension) in June of last year:

• McNabb’s 2009 salary of $9.2M was guaranteed, and $3.5M of his 2010 salary of $5M was guaranteed.

• $500,000 ($31,250 per game) of 45-man active roster bonuses were added for both 2009 and 2010.

• $1M ($500,000 per season) of potential Super Bowl incentives were added.

• A $2.8M roster bonus in 2009 was added.

• A $6.2M roster bonus in 2010 was added.

Unlike many large roster bonuses, which are due on or around the first day of the new league year – usually in early March – McNabb’s bonus is due on an express date two months after the start of the 2010 league year, May 5. Obviously, this date was put in to allow the Eagles to evaluate their options and situation after the 2010 draft. Simply, the later the date for the earning of the roster bonus, the more options they may have, or so they would think.

The quid pro quo of the June adjustment was that McNabb was able to have raises in both years with no strings attached in terms of commitment beyond 2010, while the Eagles have maintained the flexibility of paying-as-they-go to McNabb, keeping options open for a future where all of their quarterbacks have expiring contracts.

The May date – as opposed to early March, as in the Michael Vick contract -- was a benefit for the team, allowing the flashpoint timing of the draft to sort out their situation. The issue will take on greater meaning if the draft passes with May 5 hot on its heels. Writing a check for $6.2M raises the stakes, and that must happen if McNabb is still an Eagle on Cinco de Mayo.

Again, we will see, with a date now certain by which McNabb’s home team for the upcoming season will be known.

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