Good morning. The silence from the Eagles won’t last much longer. The combine will begin next week, and that will lead into a busy offseason period.
— Zach Berman
The window to use the franchise tag started Tuesday and extends through March 5, a two-week period during which teams have the option to keep top free agents off the open market. If the Eagles use the tag during this period, it will be on Nick Foles. (Bob Ford explained why they shouldn’t in a column this week.)
Here’s an overview of what to know about the franchise tag:
What is the franchise tag?
The franchise tag is essentially a one-year deal at either the average salary of the five highest-paid players during the past five years at the position or 120 percent of the previous year’s salary (whichever is greater) for the “non-exclusive” franchise tag, or the average salary of the top-five salaries at the position for the current season or 120 percent of the previous year’s salary (whichever is greater) for the “exclusive” franchise tag.
The non-exclusive tag, which is more common, allows the player to negotiate with other teams. But if he signs with another team, his current team has the chance to match or receive two first-round picks in compensation. Given the value of two first-round picks, that seldom happens. So a player who is tagged is not usually signed elsewhere unless the tag is rescinded.
The exclusive tag means a player cannot negotiate with another team.
Can a player with the tag be traded?
Yes, and this is why the Eagles would use it with Foles — to keep him off the market and try to get compensation for him. It’s against the spirit (and the rule) of the tag to use it to trade the player, but it’s been done before — even with a No. 2 quarterback. In 2009, New England used the tag on Matt Cassel after he replaced Tom Brady after a Brady injury and put him in a package to Kansas City for a second-round pick. Just last season, the Dolphins traded Jarvis Landry after he signed the franchise tag. It would likely be a problem only if Foles and his camp objected.
Another team would be compelled to make the trade because the player who is tagged (Foles in this scenario) would not hit the free-agent market. Of course, the Eagles must be willing to absorb the projected $25 million salary. That makes it more challenging, because the Eagles must be in compliance with the salary cap by March 13 before a trade can become official. That would require the Eagles to cut or restructure other salaries.
Of course, Foles holds leverage, too. He’d need to want to play for the team that’s trading for him and sign a contract extension, as Landry did last season with Cleveland.
When would it happen?
If the Eagles use the tag on Foles and work out a trade, my guess is it will happen during or after the combine, when coaches and executives from all 32 teams — along with agents from around the league — convene in Indianapolis. The combine is next week, and the tag deadline comes quickly the following week. So the Eagles will have a sense of the marketplace then, and other teams interested in a quarterback will have a better sense of the draft class and who will hit the open market.
I still think the most likely scenario is not to tag Foles and let him walk in free agency, but Howie Roseman is aggressive and is always looking for value. The known value of a 2019 pick beats the unknown of a compensatory pick.
If the Eagles didn’t tag Nick Foles, would they still receive compensation for him?
The Eagles would not receive compensation for 2019, but they would be in line for a compensatory pick in 2020. It could be as high as a third-rounder, depending on the salaries in and out during free agency. If the Eagles are active on the free-agent market, it will affect their compensatory-pick formula. If they’re not big spenders, they’ll be in position for compensatory picks.
Will the Eagles tag anyone besides Foles?
My guess is no. Brandon Graham, Jordan Hicks, Golden Tate, Ronald Darby, and Jay Ajayi are the Eagles’ other top unrestricted free agents, but it doesn’t make financial sense to tie any of them up with the franchise-tag salary.
I think the Eagles’ starting cornerbacks in 2019 were all on the roster in 2018. Jalen Mills will start one side, and I’d expect Sidney Jones to start on the other side. Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas could push for starting spots, although I think Maddox will play the slot and a hybrid safety role in the dime, and Douglas will be the top reserve on the outside. Cre’von LeBlanc would then be the top reserve for the slot and also play in the dime.