The NFL's annual game of tag begins Tuesday.
That doesn't mean the Eagles are going to play.
Tuesday marks the first day that NFL teams can slap a franchise tag (or transition tag) on a pending free agent, which basically gives that player a one-year deal at a pretty high salary for a season (average of the top five players at that position). The Eagles really only have one candidate for the franchise tag this year and it's quarterback Nick Foles.
The idea here is that the Eagles could possibly slap a franchise tag on Foles and then trade him to get back better compensation than they'd eventually get from a compensatory pick for 2020. The tagging window runs through March 5.
If the Eagles were to use a franchise tag on Foles, they would have to be extremely confident in their ability to trade Foles; more likely, they would need to have a trade worked out. So don't just expect the Eagles to tag Foles and then see what happens.
Later this month, the NFL combine will take over Indianapolis. That seems to be the most likely time for Eagles VP of football operations Howie Roseman to work something out. And Roseman would probably really love to trade Foles because the former Super Bowl MVP does have value.
But I still think it's unlikely to happen. Here are three reasons why:
1. It's technically against the rules
My colleague Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk did a good job digging this up (see story). In the CBA, it says if a franchise tender is extended, the club must "have a good faith intention to employ the player receiving the Tender at the Tender compensation level during the upcoming season."
So it would seem pretty obvious to all of us that the Eagles don't plan on employing Foles to be a backup quarterback with a price tag of around $25 million in 2019. Slapping a tag on him for the purpose of a trade would violate the spirit of the franchise tag rule. Florio thinks if the Eagles tagged Foles, the QB could still become a free agent by March 13 by fighting it with an expedited grievance.
There is some gray area here, though. Because while it sure seems obvious the Eagles don't want to pay Foles $25 million, we'd be expecting the NFL to decipher the intentions of a team, which certainly isn't an absolute.
2. It would take salary cap space
Since the Eagles already exercised Foles' option and Foles paid back $2 million to buy his freedom, his contract will come off the books at the start of the new league year, making the Eagles cap compliant. If the Eagles tag him and Foles signs the tag - even if they just want to trade him - they'd have to fit his entire salary (approximately $25 million) under the cap. Basically, Foles has to be on their books before they trade him. The Eagles are in a tight cap spot right now, so that would take some maneuvering. They could get there, but it would be a little more complicated.
3. Foles has all the leverage
To me, this is the big one. It seems pretty clear Foles will want to become a free agent. Why would he want the Eagles to dictate where he ends up? If you're thinking it doesn't matter what Foles wants - the Eagles should trade him anyway! - think about this: What team would trade for a QB who doesn't want to be there and who won't sign an extension? And why would Foles want to strip his new team of assets (players or picks) before he gets there?
The Eagles would also be in a position where any trade partner knows they need to trade Foles. That doesn't necessarily make it harder to trade him; but it does hurt his value. We have no way to know for sure, but we kind of assume Foles will bring back a third-round compensatory pick in the 2020 draft, so any compensation in a trade now would need to be greater than that.
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Just after the season ended, Roseman, when asked about the Foles situation, said the Eagles ultimately needed to do what was best for them. But he also admitted there's a "respect factor" when it comes to players like Foles. If that's true, the Eagles should have open communication with Foles and his agent. And maybe Roseman is able to work some magic and get him on board with a trade, but I just can't see it.
If the Eagles don't tag Foles by 4 p.m. on March 5, he'll become a free agent on March 13. To me, that still seems like the most likely ending to this story.
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