Before we get to the part of this post where I am screaming "Yes, please put the franchise tag on Eric Weddle," let me explain a little bit of what the franchise tag is and why the San Diego Chargers should use it this offseason.
Three Different Tags
Before we get into the why, let's first get into the what.
Contrary to what most people think, there is more than one type of franchise tag. The most common type, which is actually named the exclusive franchise tag, locks in the player with the team that he was on the year before without him ever hitting free agency. It also pays him the average salary of the top 5 players at his position, or 120% of his salary from the year before, whichever is greater.
There's also the non-exclusive franchise tag, which allows for the player to go out into free agency. This is more of a "let the market set the price" philosophy, though, because the team that has tagged the player has the opportunity to match any offer made. Even crazier, if they don't match an offer made (the offer has to be signed and agreed to already, so it's more of an agreement than an offer, but I digress), the team that receives the player via free agency has to send two first-round draft picks to the team that is losing the player.
This could, understandably, hurt the market value of that player and leave him with only his previous team to negotiate a deal with.
Finally, there's the transition tag. This one is pretty cut and dry. It allows the player's current team to match any offer made by another team in free agency. That's it. If they want to match, they can. If they don't want to, the player leaves and they get nothing.
I have no idea why the Chargers would ever go a single offseason without using at least one of these tags on their top departing free agent (seriously, there's nothing to lose!), but sometimes they do and a lot of people think that they'll do the same thing this offseason.
This Is Insane
Was Eric Weddle poison in the San Diego Chargers locker room last season? No.
Was he his usual self on and off the field? Of course not, but he is still one of the better Safeties in the league and there is almost no chance that the Chargers can replace him this offseason with someone who does not represent a fairly significant dropoff in talent.
The only reason for the Chargers to not even try to retain Weddle is that they're hurt over the actions of him and his agent in regards to their statements to the media (and on social media) over the last year. To that I say, "Hogwash!"
Are the Chargers trying to build a group of friends or are they trying to win football games? This is a business, and winning games is how your business improves in profitability. That means using every single resource available to you to retain your best players.
A Soft Market
Weddle may not be the slam dunk "top free agent" at his position that some have painted him to be. In fact, out of safeties that will be unrestricted free agents this offseason, Pro Football Focus had him ranked as the 11th best last season.
Guys ahead of him include Eric Berry, Reggie Nelson, Rodney McLeod, George Iloka, Husain Abdullah, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Walter Thurmond, Charles Woodson, Tyvon Branch and Chris Conte.
Now, not all of those guys are competition for Weddle. Berry will likely get the exclusive franchise tag from the Kansas City Chiefs. Charles Woodson is retiring. About half of the list is made up of Strong Safeties where Weddle is more of a Free Safety.
Still, it's not as if Weddle is the only option for a team looking for a Free Safety in free agency. And, there will be some teams that look at his 2015 performance and wonder if he's on the decline.
Best for Both Parties
A one-year deal to boost Weddle's value again might be just what the player needs. That would mean signing an exclusive franchise tag from the San Diego Chargers that would pay Weddle about $9.1 million for the 2016 season.
If that's something Weddle would consider, knowing that he wouldn't have to uproot his family and he'd still get to play with his friends (Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Danny Woodhead, etc.), that's something that the team has to find out or he needs to tell them. Because I think that's something that Tom Telesco would be willing to do.
I could see Weddle bristling at signing an exclusive franchise tag, but I can't see a 31 year old deciding to take a year off from playing football because he doesn't want $9.1 million and expecting that to go over well with anyone. The Chargers have the leverage here. They can keep Weddle for another year at a price that's not far from what he's worth.
The Chargers have an even stronger hand to play here, if they wanted, with the non-exclusive franchise tag. The only possible outcomes from using that tag would be a long-term deal with Weddle (probably below market value), a short-term deal with Weddle (probably below market value), or two first-round draft picks that would undoubtedly boost the talent of the team another level over the next few years. Again, as much as Weddle may hate it, sitting out doesn't help him any at this point in his career.
Use Your Tags!
Simply put, the only reason the Chargers should not have Eric Weddle on the team next season is if they have two first-round draft picks instead (and Weddle ends up being overpaid by someone else in the league). I think either one of those situations are ones that the Chargers fans can live with.
If, somehow, the Chargers end up not putting either franchise tag on Eric Weddle, the only possible reasoning they could have is that they want to avoid the media/PR fight that might come with using the rules to their advantage to box in an incredible player. They would essentially be saying that they're afraid to use the CBA as currently negotiated. They would be living in fear of a player and his agent's twitter account, which doesn't seem like a good message to send to the other players that you'll be negotiating with some day.
Do the right thing, Tom Telesco. Put the franchise tag on Eric Weddle.