With the two-week franchise tag period underway, the Eagles now have the opportunity to take the NFL’s short cut in retaining players. Drop the tag on a player, and the team holds onto his rights for the following season, even if no new deal is negotiated. The consequence? Massive salary cap hits. Players earning above their value. Players disgruntled by their lack of freedom to sign.
Now that the Eagles have released tight end James Casey to clear up $4 million in cap space, should Chip Kelly and new “general manager” Ed Marynowitz use this double-edged sword on any impending free agents?
A special teams-oriented wide receiver, three mediocre defensive players, and a backup quarterback make up five of the seven free agents. The only notable candidates for the tag would be linebacker Brandon Graham and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
If the Eagles were to use the franchise tag on Jeremy Maclin, then Jetff Lurie’s characteristic loyalty to players and executives will have been sacrificed. Maclin has played on a one-year contract for the last two seasons, and has played the role of “good soldier” throughout. He hasn’t held out, expressed frustration, or even spoken about his contract status. In fact, the only player who has addressed Maclin’s contract situation has been the enigmatic Riley Cooper, who “jokingly” brought it up when speaking to a reporter.
The only scenario where it would be fair to Maclin, and wise for the Eagles, to tag him would be if no deal can be reached leading up to the end of the two week period. If the Eagles are to franchise tag Maclin, they must do so under the condition that they will negotiate a long-term contract later in the offseason. Under no circumstances should Maclin be forced to sign the tag, as it should simply be a placeholder while the team works to reward a loyal player. Maclin certainly played like a top ten receiver last year, but the point is moot if the Eagles renegotiate sometime this spring.
In Graham’s case, the Eagles will be committing full time to a player that took five years to blossom. Graham thrived as a pass rusher this season, racking up 5.5 sacks as a situation-oriented player. With Trent Cole aging, and costing the Eagles over $11 million on the salary cap, it may be time for the team to trust Graham with the starting outside linebacker position. Graham improved in coverage as well as in pass rushing, and experienced starting at linebacker in the final two games of 2014.
If the Eagles keep Cole on the roster, they will be docked $11.625 million on the salary cap. By cutting Cole, and renegotiating Graham’s contract to about $5.5 million a season, the Eagles would save about $3 million (including the $3.2 million in dead money Cole would cost if cut). Franchising Graham may not make sense because of the high price of linebackers, but cutting Cole and giving Graham a long-term deal—and naming him the starting outside linebacker—does.
In the end, the Eagles would be wise to rush with Graham’s deal first, and stay poised in speaking with Maclin. If the Eagles can lock up Graham, and us ethe franchise tag as a placeholder for Maclin, they will be able to keep two of the brightest stars from what was, ultimately, a disappointing season.