Franchise-Tag Options for the Eagles: Maclin, Cooper or Donnie Jones?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 17: Punter Donnie Jones #8 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates a kick against the Washington Redskins during the fourth quarter of the Eagles 24-16 win at Lincoln Financial Field on November 17, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

There are only four impending Philadelphia Eagles unrestricted free agents worth talking about, but one is a backup quarterback who would never be worth franchise-tag money. 

And so if the Eagles are considering utilizing the tag when the window for using it opens on Monday, it comes down to three players: wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, and punter Donnie Jones. 

Don't be surprised if the punter winds up getting the tag. 

That of course has nothing to do with whom the Eagles value more, but the tag price for punters is expected to be about $3.5 million and Jones is one of the best in the game at that position. He had 34 punts inside the 20-yard line in 2013, which according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) was the fourth-highest mark in the league. He's a top-10 punter, and definitely someone the Eagles want to hold onto. 

Philadelphia Eagles: Notable impending free agents
1. Michael VickQuarterback33
2. Jeremy MaclinWide receiver25
3. Riley CooperWide receiver26
4. Donnie JonesPunter33
5. Nate AllenSafety26

That applies to Maclin and Cooper, too, but the tag might not be worth it for either. Maclin's stock is lower than ever after he missed the entire 2013 campaign due to a torn ACL. He won't earn a long-term deal anywhere anyway, so a one-year contract at a more reasonable range makes perfect sense.

After all, the tag price for wide receivers is expected to be above $11 million. How do you commit money like that to a guy coming off a major knee injury, especially when you already have DeSean Jackson and another option in Cooper? 

And how do you give that money to Cooper, who until this past season had never gone over the 315-yard mark in a single season? We still don't know if last year's breakout campaign was an anomaly. Now that defenses are ready, it could be a whole new ballgame. 

As we wrote earlier this month, the Eagles absolutely have to find a way to get both Maclin and Cooper back. But using the tag isn't the best way to accomplish that. The Eagles have about $20 million in cap space right now, according to Spotrac, but the receiver tag would eat up more than 55 percent of that space, and they'd still like to re-sign the other receiver, Jones, Michael Vick and some other role players whose contracts have expired. 

It's just not realistic. It's not even worth it as a temporary hold, because the reality is that Maclin and Cooper would both be so stupidly overpaid under the tag that they probably wouldn't budge during the ensuing negotiations. 

If you're the Eagles and you're thinking about what to do with the tag, it has to be Jones or nobody.