The NFL franchise tag window officially opens today, Tuesday, February 19 starting at 4:00 PM ET. Here’s a look at what this development means for the Philadelphia Eagles and their potential tag candidate, Nick Foles.
What you need to know about the tag
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; this year’s deadline is on March 5 before 4:00 PM ET.
There are three tag 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 (and most relevant for the Eagles this year) because it’s not as costly as the exclusive version but it still allows players to be signed to an offer sheet. If the tagging team fails to match the offer, the tagging team receives two first round picks in exchange for the player (unless a trade is worked out otherwise — again, relevant to the Eagles). The transition tag is the cheapest option but the tagging team receives no compensation if an offer sheet is not matched.
Once a player signs his tag tender, his deal is fully guaranteed and cannot be rescinded. The tag CAN be rescinded at any point before a player signs their offer.
For more information on how tagging works, read SB Nation’s detailed explainer.
Will the Eagles use the tag on Nick Foles?
Foles is currently set to be a free agent since he quickly voided his 2019 contract option after the Eagles picked it up.
Multiple reports indicate the Eagles plan to use the tag on Foles in order to trade him. Earlier this month, NFL insider Adam Schefter said “the Eagles ARE expected to use their franchise tag on him and they ARE expected to try to trade him so they can help dictate where he winds up.” NFL insider Jason La Canfora also recently wrote that “smart people I talk to around the league think the Eagles apply the tag” to Foles.
We’ll repeat what we’ve said here all along:
Tagging and trade Foles is possible but it’s not necessarily likely. There are challenges that come with doing that. Essentially, Howie Roseman has to be 100% sure he can trade Foles before he tags him or else the Eagles risk having Foles’ fully guaranteed $25+ million salary on the books for 2019.
Maybe there’s a team out there desperate enough to trade for Foles on the tag.
Or maybe everyone calls the Eagles’ bluff because they feel like Philly can’t risk putting the tag on Foles. Teams could feel like they don’t need to give up draft compensation for Foles because they can just try to sign him during free agency instead.
The latter scenario is why it seems likely the Eagles WON’T be able to tag and trade Foles. Other teams know Philly can’t carry Foles’ projected $25.578 million cap hit on their books should a trade fail to materialize.
With that said, you can never rule out Roseman getting creative and finding a way to get a deal done. Teams do desperate things to acquire quarterbacks every offseason.
Isn’t tagging and trading Foles illegal?
But it’s not like the league has strictly enforced this policy in the past.
Also, do we know for sure that Foles definitely wouldn’t want to be tagged and traded? There’s so far been no indication he’s vehemently opposed.
What if Foles feels like his market wouldn’t be all that strong — which there are indications that’s possible — if he becomes a free agent? He might feel like getting hit with a $25.578 million tag is a good option for him.
What’s the upside to trading Foles as opposed to letting him walk in free agency?
Well, if the Eagles trade Foles, they could potentially get at least a 2019 third-round pick for him. That’s reportedly their asking price.
Is that 2019 third-round pick significantly better than the 2020 third-round compensatory pick they could get by Foles signing a big deal in free agency? Answer: Yes.
Getting a guaranteed pick this year is certainly worth more than a theoretical pick the Eagles could receive next year. Getting a third-round compensatory pick for Foles isn’t guaranteed because it depends on a number of factors such as the deal he signs and the Eagles otherwise being relatively inactive in free agency.
BGN alumnus Jimmy Kempski made another good point about why getting a pick for Foles in a trade is more valuable than hoping to receive a comp pick:
Maximum number of compensatory picks any team can receive in one year is 4.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) February 19, 2019
I wonder if the Eagles think that if they can trade Nick Foles, they can get a 2019 pick for him, and then also still max out at 4 comp picks in 2020 by losing their other free agents, as expected.
...because guys like Brandon Graham, Ronald Darby, Golden Tate, and Jordan Hicks are all going to get contracts that will qualify for comp picks.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) February 19, 2019
Instead of letting Foles walk and potentially only receiving four comp picks while losing him, Graham, Darby, Tate, and Hicks ... the Eagles could work it so they get five picks for all five players lost. Five > four.
Will the Eagles use the tag on any of their players not named Foles?
To be clear: teams can only use the tag once per year. If the Eagles don’t use it on Foles, it IS possible they can use it on another impending free agent.
But despite the fact Philly has a lot of key players set to enter free agency, they don’t have anyone worth tagging. Brandon Graham would be the most deserving candidate but the Eagles aren’t about to keep him at a $18.653 million cap hit in 2019.
Here are the estimated salaries for each position under the franchise tag in 2019, courtesy of OvertheCap.com:
Quarterbacks: $25.578 million
Running backs: $11.98 million
Wide receivers: $17.101 million
Tight ends: $10.93 million
Offensive linemen: $15.283 million
Defensive tackles: $15.571 million
Defensive ends: $18.653 million
Linebackers: $15.777 million
Cornerbacks: $15.992 million
Safeties: $12.037 million
Kickers/Punters: $5.162 million
How will other teams using the tag impact the Eagles?
A number of players currently set to be free agents could soon be off the market before the new league year even begins on March 13.
Starting today and until March 5, there could be at least 10 players receiving some form of a tag: DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, Frank Clark, Gardy Jarrett, Landon Collins, Nick Foles, Le’Veon Bell, Donovan Smith, Robbie Gould and Stephen Gostkowski, per sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 19, 2019
It’s worth noting that a number of key pass rushers are listed here. That impacts the Eagles in a number of ways.
If the edge market thins out, that only makes it harder for the Eagles to retain Brandon Graham. Graham will be one of the best free agent defensive ends on the market should guys like Lawrence, Clowney, Ford, and Clark all get tagged. Philly’s best hope of retaining Graham relies on him testing free agency and not finding the big deal he wants. That situation is not likely to happen if Graham ends up being the top available option at his position.
Another thing to consider is the Eagles have been rumored to be interested in top free agent defensive ends. Is one of their targets going to get tagged? Or will their target still be available but end up being more expensive than previously thought due to a shrinking supply of pass rushers?
We’ll see how things go prior to the tag deadline on March 5.