Today, Monday, Feb. 16 marks the first day when NFL teams can apply the franchise tag designation. PFT offers a more detailed explanation of what this means:
Starting Monday, the two-week window opens for application of the franchise tag. The device, launched two decades ago with the commencement of true free agency, gives each team the ability to apply some restriction to one otherwise unrestricted free agent each year. Any player who receives the nonexclusive version of the tag may still negotiate with other teams. An offer sheet may be signed. The franchise player’s current team has seven days to match. If the current team doesn’t match, the contract becomes effective and the new team gives two first-round draft picks to the player’s former team.
In practical terms, teams can use this designation to prevent one of their key pending free agents from leaving in free agency. Teams have a two week period to apply this designation; the deadline is on March 2 before 4:00 PM EST. Keep in mind free agency officially begins on March 10 while the "legal tampering" window opens three days earlier on March 7.
So will the Eagles make use of their franchise tag this year? Unlike last year, this time it's possible. The Eagles have ten players scheduled to be free agents when the new league year starts. Two of those ten players could be tag candidates.
The most likely target is Jeremy Maclin. The 26-year-old is coming off of a career season where he caught 85 passes for 1,318 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Maclin is in line for a big pay-day after opting to bet on himself by playing on a one-year contract in 2014. His gamble clearly paid off.
The Eagles will likely try to negotiate a long-term contract with Maclin. Both sides have expressed interest in getting a deal done. But if for some reason if the team feels they might lose Maclin in free agency, putting the tag on him is an option. The only problem is that it's an expensive one: Maclin would be due $12.71M in 2015 if he plays on the tag.
Then again, just because a team uses the tag on a player doesn't mean he has to immediately sign the tender. In 2010 the Eagles applied the franchise tag to Michael Vick before later signing him to a big contract extension. The same scenario took place with DeSean Jackson in 2011. This strategy allowed the franchise to buy more time to negotiate a deal while preventing the player from entering free agency. The Eagles might not have to use it on Maclin, but it's there if they need it.
The only other tag target on the Eagles roster is Brandon Graham. The team has expressed interest in re-signing their former first round pick, but Graham is reportedly seeking a contract worth $30 million over four years. Applying the tag to Graham would cost the Eagles $13.08M in 2015, so that's pretty unrealistic.
If I had to guess what will happen, I think this will be another year where the Eagles don't have to use the tag. Maclin and the Eagles has expressed mutual interest in getting a deal done. There's still plenty of time to work out a new deal. It wasn't until Feb. 8 last year that Maclin signed his one-year contract.