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February 21, 2023

Which Eagles player could get franchise tagged?

Safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson could be a franchise tag candidate for 2023.

Starting Tuesday, NFL teams can place the "franchise tag" on their own impending free agents. The tag is a fully guaranteed contract that prevents players from hitting the open market before free agency truly begins in March. 

What is the franchise tag?

It's a pricey endeavor. 

The contract numbers come in at the average of the top-five players at a respective position or 120 percent of the free agent player's salary from the previous season, whichever number is higher. 

Here are the prices for you for the 2023 franchise tag courtesy of ESPN's Field Yates:

Quarterback: $32.416 million

Running back: $10.091 million

Wide receiver: $19.743 million

Tight end: $11.345 million

Offensive line: $18.244 million

Defensive end: $19.727 million

Defensive tackle: $18.937 million

Linebacker: $20.926 million

Cornerback: $18.14 million

Safety: $14.46 million

Punter/Kicker: 5.393 million

Quarterbacks and pass-rushers make the most money on the tag because those are the highest paid positions. Conversely, running backs and tight ends receive smaller contracts than the more premier positions. It should be noted that a team can only give the franchise tag to one player in an offseason. 

Some other quick notes on the tag (skip if you don't want a lesson in contract minutiae):

• Teams have until March 7 to use the tag. Free agency opens on March 15.

• There are multiple types of tags, but the most frequently used is the "non-exclusive franchise tag" for unrestricted free agents, which is what this whole spiel focuses on. I'm trying to keep this from feeling like you're reading a textbook! 

• If a team places this franchise tag on a player, they don't hit the free agent market proper, but can negotiate with other teams. The incumbent organization that placed the tag on the player has the right to match any contract. If they don't match, the new team trying to sign a player must give that player's former team two first-round picks in compensation. That does not happen often. 

Not too complicated, right? (It is.)

Could the Eagles franchise tag a player?

That brings us to the Eagles. The Eagles have three marquee free agents this offseason: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, James Bradberry and Javon Hargrave

Of course, those players salaries would be different for 2023 if they were on the franchise tag. Gardner-Johnson would be making $14.5 million, Hargrave would make almost $19 million and Bradberry's tag number sits at a little over $18 million.

Could Howie Roseman and the Eagles organization use the franchise tag in 2023?

The franchise hasn't done so since they hit former wide receiver DeSean Jackson with the tag in 2012. If the Eagles were to tag a player in the coming weeks, I would expect the team to eventually work out a longer-term contract. Yes, that's possible. Tagging a player and keeping them from the open market also allows the player and team to agree to a larger contract with more years and more money. 

If the Eagles were to use the tag, I would not expect the team to allow the player to play out the 2023 season on the franchise tag deal. It's not the wisest financial move. They just do not operate that way. 

If I had to rank the Birds' free agent priorities this offseason, I would go with Gardner-Johnson, then Hargrave and finally Bradberry. Gardner-Johnson turned 25 two months ago, tied for the league lead in interceptions in 2022 and plays a position where the Eagles don't have much depth. 

Hargrave has had great seasons the last two years in Philly, totaling 18.5 sacks, but he just turned 30 and the Eagles have reinforcements along the way with 2022 first-round pick Jordan Davis and 2021 third-round pick Milton Williams. That's before even considering that the Eagles could with another defensive lineman with the 10th-overall pick in April's draft. 

Bradberry was great and a Second-Team All-Pro selection this past season, but Darius Slay currently has a cap hit of more than $26 million for 2023. Breaking the bank for Bradberry and having two big-time contract cornerbacks who would be 30 or older this fall might not be the wisest investment. 

Again, Gardner-Johnson should be at the top of the to-do list here. If they aren't able to work out a new deal before free agency begins on March 15, placing the franchise tag on him with the goal of working out a longer contract in the aftermath remains a sound plan. 

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