Starting today on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 4:00 PM ET, NFL teams can start using the franchise tag. What is the franchise tag, exactly? Well, there are actually three versions: the exclusive franchise tag, the non-exclusive franchise tag, and the transition tag. The exclusive is the most costly version and ensures that a player cannot negotiate with any other team. The non-exclusive tag is more common because it's not as costly but it allows players to be signed to an offer sheet. If the tagging team fails to match the offer, the team receives two first round picks in exchange for the player (unless a trade is worked out otherwise). The transition tag is the cheapest option but the tagging team receives no compensation if an offer sheet is not matched.
Teams typically use the franchise designation to prevent one of their key impending free agents from leaving in free agency. Teams have a two week period to apply this designation; the deadline is on March 1 before 4:00 PM EST. Keep in mind unrestricted free agency officially begins on March 9 while the "legal tampering" window opens three days earlier on March 7.
The Eagles had an opportunity to use the franchise tag on Jeremy Maclin last offseason but opted not to use it. Instead they tried to work out a long-term contract with the former Philadelphia wide receiver but he ended up leaving in free agency to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs.
This year the Eagles could potentially use the tag on Sam Bradford. The 28-year-old quarterback is set to be an unrestricted free agent when the new league year begins in March. Bradford is likely due for a big pay day after making $13 million in 2015. His next contract is projected to be worth around $18.7 million per year. If the Eagles tag Bradford and he signs it, he'll make about $19.8 million on the one-year tender. That money is full guaranteed and it's obviously a very high cap number.
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 each player from entering free agency. It's also worth noting a tag offer can be rescinded by the team if it is not signed.
So will the Eagles use the tag on Bradford? ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that it's unlikely the Eagles will use the designation on him. Local reporters denied Schefter's original report before he doubled down on it. There are a lot of reasons why a Bradford return might be unlikely.
In an ideal world, the Eagles could tag Bradford and then trade him in order to get an asset in return. It's not very common this scenario takes place, but it's not impossible. It's happened at least three times since 2008 with Matt Cassel, Jared Allen, and Corey Williams.
The more likely scenario, I'd argue, is that the Eagles simply do not tag Bradford. It could be too risky because if they don't really want him back but he signs the tag offer they'd be stuck with him at a high cap number. I think the Eagles might try to work out some kind of extension with Bradford but he won't be inclined to take it. Bradford's agent is Tom Condon, who also represents Maclin. It's hard to see Condon letting Bradford do a team-friendly deal, because that's simply not what he does. Bradford can make the most money by testing the open market and I think Condon wants to get him there. There will be a lot of competition for Bradford's services.
We'll find out soon enough how the Eagles plan to proceed. If Bradford doesn't get tagged and hits unrestricted free agency, Philadelphia will need a new starting quarterback for the 2016 season and beyond.