To tag or not to tag.
The Eagles have a decision to make, starting today, as the NFL's period for teams applying the franchise tag to players begins. The Eagles, of course, have huge decisions to make, including one on quarterback Nick Foles, scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 13 at 4 p.m.
Will the Eagles use the franchise tag on Foles, as many reports have indicated that they will? We'll see about that. The Eagles have said nothing publicly about their plans. If history is any indication, well, there really is no way to predict how it's all going to turn out. It's a cliffhanger, and we're along for the ride.
And the truth is, if the Eagles use the franchise tag, the ending the story could turn out to just as unpredictable, anyway. Five times the Eagles have used the franchise tag since 1993 – as well as one use of the transition tag – and a review of the cases show how varied the outcomes can be.
LB Jeremiah Trotter
February 21, 2002: The Eagles used the franchise tag on linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and then rescinded it on April 5. Two weeks later, Trotter signed a seven-year contract with Washington. It was a tumultuous time for the Eagles and for Trotter, who made the Pro Bowl after the 2000 and 2001 seasons. He objected to the use of the franchise tag, had a vocal run-in with head coach Andy Reid at the NovaCare Complex over the decision and then signed quickly with Washington once he had free agency freedom.
As it turned out, Trotter lasted only two injury-plagued seasons in Washington and then returned to Philadelphia, all fences mended. The Eagles certainly could have used Trotter in the 2002 season as they marched the NFC Championship Game, only to lose to Tampa Bay in the final game at Veterans Stadium. It was the worst defeat in the history of Philadelphia sports – from this perspective, anyway – and while the Eagles had success reaching that point in the postseason, Trotter would have been a much better option at middle linebacker than Levon Kirkland, who Tampa Bay victimized in the passing game.
DT Corey Simon
February 10, 2005: Having just suffered a heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl XXXIX to New England, the Eagles used the franchise tag on defensive tackle Corey Simon, a standout along the line of scrimmage and a former first-round draft pick. It was the start of an incredibly rocky season-after for the Eagles. Well, Simon didn't like being tagged, and he didn't sign the one-year contract. The Eagles rescinded the tag on August 25 and Simon signed a five-year contract with Indianapolis on September 1. Simon played in 13 games with the Colts in 2005 – and didn't play very well – and then missed the entire 2006 season with a knee injury before finishing his NFL career by playing with Tennessee (four games) in 2007. In this instance, it was a lose/lose for the Eagles and Simon as the Super Bowl team's troubles mounted in 2005 and beyond.
TE L.J. Smith
February 7, 2008: The Eagles used the franchise tag on tight end L.J. Smith, who was limited to 22 receptions, 236 yards, and a touchdown the previous season due to injury. Quarterback Donovan McNabb wanted Smith back and the Eagles wanted him back, so they used the franchise tag on Smith and he signed the deal and looked forward to big things in the Philadelphia offense for the 2008 season. "After the season, I said goodbye to my teammates, and I really thought I wasn't going to be back," Smith said. "So today, I feel weird – just them giving me the franchise tag. But I mean, hey, I've always wanted to be here. I just think it's another opportunity for me to showcase my stuff." Smith made $4.52 million that season and caught 37 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns. He played the next season, his last in the NFL, with the Baltimore Ravens and caught two passes in 12 games.
K David Akers
February 15, 2011: The Eagles used the transition tag on placekicker David Akers as the league went into a work stoppage and when it ended, Akers signed a three-year contract with San Francisco. The Eagles had used a fourth-round draft pick on Alex Henery and turned the kicking game over to the rookie, who was outstanding for two seasons before slipping in his third year with the Eagles. He did not return for a fourth season and instead played briefly with Detroit before his NFL career ended. Henery made 74 of 86 field goal attempts with the Eagles.
QB Michael Vick
February 15, 2011: The Eagles used the franchise tag on quarterback Michael Vick as the league began its work stoppage to protect their rights to him. Prior to the start of the regular season, the Eagles signed Vick to a six-year contract extension. Vick played three seasons on the deal before the Eagles moved on at the position under then-head coach Chip Kelly.
WR DeSean Jackson
March 1, 2012: The Eagles used the franchise tag on wide receiver DeSean Jackson and then signed him to a five-year contract extension prior to the regular season. Jackson, obviously, had a major impact with the Eagles, including 82 receptions for 1,332 yards and nine scores in a Pro Bowl season in 2013, but Kelly decided to move on from Jackson as the Eagles released Jackson in March 2014. Jackson has since played with Washington and Tampa Bay, and has been a thorn in the Eagles' side every time he's been on the opposite sideline.
The gist of the story? The franchise tag is a guarantee of nothing and that the end result is often far away from the original intention. As the Eagles mull what to do in this offseason with a franchise tag that can be applied until March 5, they know the risks and the unpredictability involved.