NFL teams starting to use their franchise tag

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson celebrates after completing a 13-yard gain which set up the Eagles first touchdown during first quarter Philadelphia Eagles-New York Giants game action in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field November 21, 2010. UPI/John Anderson

On Thursday night it was DeSean Jackson and Tyvon Branch. On Friday morning it was Brent Grimes. By Monday, it could be Ray Rice, Matt Forte and Cliff Avril.

NFL teams are starting to use their franchise tag, including the Eagles (Jackson), Raiders (Branch) and Falcons (Grimes). Teams can apply the tag to a player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, which binds that player to that team for one year. If it’s not the exclusive version of the tag, a player can sign offer sheets with other teams and if the team that tagged the player doesn’t match that offer, they will be compensated with two first round picks.

Jackson released a statement on Thursday indicating that he’s “honored” that the Eagles perceive him as a franchise player. But if a report by CBSSports.com’s Mike Freeman is accurate, Jackson won’t appreciate how the Eagles view him.

Per Freeman, there’s a debate within the Eagles’ front office about whether the team can trust Jackson with a long-term deal. The 25-year-old receiver often disappeared on the field last season as he complained about his contract situation off it. Jackson has been viewed as an immature player dating back to his days at Cal, so it’s hardly surprising that the Eagles aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to sign him long-term. Freeman also notes that the team remains open to trading Jackson if the right deal were to come along.

As for Grimes, tagging him was a must for a Falcons team that is trying to win a playoff game under the regime of Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff. They’re 0-3 in the playoffs over the past four years and losing Grimes would have made it even more difficult for them to beat pass-happy opponents like the Saints, Packers and Giants. Grimes is easily Atlanta’s best defensive back and is also one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league.

Jackson, Grimes, and the aforementioned Branch won’t be the last players to receive the franchise tag before March 5. An estimated 25 tags will be applied before Monday’s deadline, so don’t be surprised if/when Rice (Ravens), Forte (Bears) and Avril (Lions) are franchised as well. There’s always a possibility that the Texans could apply the tag on free agent defensive end Mario Williams, which would deplete this year’s free agent pool even more than it already is.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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