Franchise tag might be bad for Birds & Bradford

The Birds aren't expected to use the franchise tag quarterback Sam Bradford. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )
The Birds aren't expected to use the franchise tag quarterback Sam Bradford. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer ) (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer ))
Posted: February 17, 2016

THE EAGLES have a complicated, less-than-happy history with the franchise tag, which NFL teams can begin applying today to keep key players from becoming free agents.

The Birds aren't expected to use the 2016 tag, today or at all before the March 1 deadline, to ensure the retention of their most prominent free agent, quarterback Sam Bradford. They still might sign Bradford, but they don't seem wed to him to the extent that they're willing to dedicate $20 million or so of their 2016 salary cap to the notion.

They also aren't expected to employ the less-utilized transition tag.

We don't know how Bradford feels about the tag, but given that playoff teams such as Houston and Denver might be interested in his long-term services when free agency opens March 9, we might infer he is happy he is probably going to avoid it.

If they're willing to gamble on losing Bradford, the Eagles might have a free-agent QB target in mind - maybe Brock Osweiler, if he isn't tagged or signed by Denver, or Chase Daniel, who worked with new Eagles coach Doug Pederson in Kansas City. Or they could be expecting to draft a quarterback 13th overall and build around him, though many experts have said there is no surefire franchise QB in this year's draft crop, and that even the handful of potential ones won't be ready to start right away. It's probably worth mentioning that though the Eagles aren't expected to trade for Nick Foles, he still could end up back in the picture here, one way or another, if St. Louis wants to cut ties.

Both tags came into being in 1993, the advent of full NFL free agency. There are exclusive and nonexclusive franchise tags: A player tagged exclusively can't negotiate with other teams, and gets the average of the top five salaries at his position as of April of the year he is tagged, whereas a nonexclusive tag means a team has the right to match an offer for a player, or receive two first-round draft picks in compensation. That tag means the player's salary is equal to the average of the top five at his position over the previous five years. In either case, the player can instead get 120 percent of his previous year's salary in the unlikely event that figure is higher than the specified average.

The transition tag means the player gets the average of the top 10 at his position from the previous season, and there is a seven-day right-to-match window for other offers.

The Eagles transition-tagged defensive lineman Rhett Hall in 1998 and kicker David Akers in 2011. They didn't use the franchise tag until 2002, on middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, and the episode ended in a memorable disaster.

Trotter wanted a long-term guarantee and was offended by the tag, which would have paid him about $5.5 million in 2002. He eventually drove down to NovaCare looking to meet with then-coach Andy Reid. Reid wasn't in the building and Trotter ended up confronting then-team president Joe Banner. Accounts vary as to how contentious the encounter became, but in April, the team withdrew the designation and made Trotter a free agent at age 25, coming off two Pro Bowl seasons. (Hard to believe the Eagles were doing this kind of stuff even back when Chip Kelly was but a New Hampshire offensive coordinator.)

Trotter's exit led to a poor outcome for both sides. Trotter got the money he wanted from the Redskins, but he also suffered a serious knee injury and was released after two unsatisfying seasons. The Eagles did not find a Pro Bowl-level middle linebacker to replace Trotter and lost the NFC title games after the 2002 and 2003 seasons, the first of those partly because of a game-changing catch-and-run by Joe Jurevicius, who was being covered by Trotter replacement Barry Gardner.

Of course, Trotter returned in 2004 and made the Pro Bowl again while helping lead the Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX.

The year after that, the Birds used the franchise tag on defensive tackle Corey Simon. Again, they ended up rescinding the unsigned tag, and again, no good came of the situation - Simon, then 28, signed on for two years of injury-plagued disappointment with the Colts, before finishing his career with a four-game Tennessee stint in 2007, and the Eagles got nothing for the player they'd drafted sixth overall in 2000.

In 2008, tight end L.J. Smith became the first Eagle to actually sign a franchise-tag tender and play under the designation, but his season was a disappointment. Smith then became a free agent in 2009, signed a one-year deal with Baltimore, never started another game and was out of the league in 2010.

The Eagles franchised quarterback Michael Vick in 2011, when it was hard to place a long-term value on a QB who'd managed an amazing comeback season in 2010, after going to prison in 2007. Vick said he was fine with the tag but signed a longer-term deal before the season started.

The next year was DeSean Jackson's turn for the tag, but the designation lasted just 13 days before Jackson was signed to the five-year contract he had sought. Jackson was less than thrilled with his deal by the end of the 2013 season, after which he was released.

So, five times the franchise tag has been applied to an Eagle, and in none of those instances did the relationship flourish. Vick is the only tagged Eagle to play more than a season for the Birds after being designated.

So, maybe not tagging Bradford will work out better, for him and for the Eagles, even though it will lead to a lot of short-term uncertainty at the game's most important position.

bowenl@phillynews.com

@LesBowen

Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog

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