The two-week window for teams to apply the franchise tag opened on Monday, but all remains quiet around the NFL. That includes the Philadelphia Eagles, who have no obvious candidate for the designation.
However, rumblings from the Birds blogosphere that the club will not use the tag may be a tad premature. With eight unrestricted free agents ready to hit the market on March 11, it’s not as if the Eagles have no decisions to make.
That being said, there are only two players who realistically could be considered franchise-tag material—wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and punter Donnie Jones.
The franchise tag provides front offices the chance to restrict the movement of a single impending free agent in the hopes of negotiating a long-term contract. It’s a one-year deal at the average salary of the five highest-paid players at the respective free agent’s position.
|Cap @ $126.3 Million||Cap @ $128 Million||Cap %|
Depending on which version of the tag is applied, other teams can tender an offer in exchange for first- and third-round picks—a rarity—or the player is barred entirely from negotiating with anybody else.
There is also a transition tag that works similarly.
It’s been suggested that Maclin is the one impending Eagles free agent the organization absolutely must re-sign this offseason. Only a handful of receivers have been more consistently productive since he came into the league in 2009, and there is a sense that the 19th-overall pick of the draft has yet to realize his full potential.
That doesn’t mean he’s worth around $11.5 million next season, though, the projected figure for a wide receiver under the franchise tag.
For starters, Maclin is coming off of a torn ACL that erased his 2013 campaign. While ACL injuries are not the death sentence they once were, and Maclin tells Zach Berman for the Philadelphia Inquirer that he’ll be 100 percent by training camp, there’s no telling how his knee will respond.
Maclin might not be worth that kind of money even if he were healthy. For various reasons, he has yet to post a 1,000-yard receiving season in the NFL, or really do anything to establish himself as a star.
For what it’s worth, the organization may not need to franchise Maclin in the first place. He reiterated his desire to remain in Philadelphia in the interview with Berman, so as long as the Birds can come up with a fair offer before free agency opens, they can avoid making a difficult decision.
Why the franchise tag is not completely off the table, though, is because even if the amount is way too expensive for Maclin, it’s only for one year. The Eagles are an estimated $20 million under the cap for the upcoming season, and there would be no commitment beyond 2014.
Of course, using the franchise tag may make it harder to sign Maclin to a long-term extension later. The team will have artificially raised the value of this player in the eyes of an agent.
Maclin receiving the tag is unlikely, to say the least.
The best fit for the tag—if necessary—would be Jones. Yes, the punter.
If that sounds crazy, you should know using the franchise tag on a punter is not without precedence. The Indianapolis Colts did it to Pat McAfee just last season, and there are several other instances throughout history.
The projected figure for a kicker or punter under the franchise tag is over $3.3 million, which would make Jones’ cap hit the fourth-highest among all punters in 2014, according to Spotrac. The truth is, he’s probably worth it.
|Net Avg||IN 20||% Ret.||Lng|
|40.5 (7th)||33 (t-4th)||34.1 (5th)||70 (t-6th)|
NFL.com, Pro Football Focus (subscription)
Jones’ left leg was instrumental in Eagles victories last season, earning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors in back-to-back performances.
In Week 11 against Washington, four of Jones’ six attempts were downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, including a 70-yarder that went to the 4 with 3:26 remaining. After a long drive, a Robert Griffin III interception sealed a 24-16 Birds win.
Two weeks later following a bye, Jones one-upped his own performance, pinning seven of eight punts inside the Arizona Cardinals’ 20, including a 69-yarder that reversed field position in the second half. Philadelphia emerged from the hard-fought defensive battle with a 24-21 W thanks in part to Jones’ contributions.
Jones set a new Eagles franchise record with 33 punts inside the opponents’ 20, finishing just two behind the NFL leader. Only five of his 82 attempts resulted in touchbacks, none of them over the final nine weeks of the season.
Obviously, it would make more sense to reach a long-term deal with Jones, but if for some reason the two sides are unable to agree to terms, the franchise tag is a solution. With no other viable candidates and at $20 million-plus under the cap, there really is no reason for the Eagles not to do it.
The Eagles could have interest in retaining unrestricted free agents wide receiver Riley Cooper or safety Nate Allen in starting roles as well. However, neither player’s production or ability merits consideration for the tag.
There’s a good chance the Eagles may not need the franchise tag at all, but it’s a nice tool to have available. They will not write off its use so easily and are no doubt weighing every option with respect to their players.