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Eagles wise to tag Vick -- even though it might be meaningless

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If I'm an Eagles fan, I think I'm glad that Philadelphia placed the exclusive-rights franchise tag on quarterback Michael Vick to assure him being back for at least another year. The "franchise tag" mechanism is a team-to-player tether that seemingly buys the club time to work out a longer-term deal or, at least keeps him off the open market for a season at roughly $16 million.

If I'm an Eagles fan, I'm also a little nervous, because the franchise tag might not mean anything come March 4 and Vick might become a free agent. Owners, and thus teams, think the franchise designation is what it's been. The union says it is what it's been -- until midnight March 3.

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If a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached before March 4, the current CBA could expire, throwing everything, including the franchise tag, into uncharted nothingness. Right now, Vick, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Patriots guard Logan Mankins, Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and Jets linebacker David Harris have been franchised, with more players likely to follow.

Should owners lock players out of work and the NFLPA decertify, it could be every man, franchised or not, for himself. If things come to that, the real battle has just begun. If a franchised free agent like Vick wants to dispute the franchise tag and shop himself -- or entertain offers -- can you imagine the conundrum that teams and owners could find themselves in?

Would, oh, let's say Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, risk napalming his 31 brethren by ordering general manager Bruce Allen to pursue Vick and throw things further out of order? Or, would teams respect the franchise tag -- and ownership's principles -- and not poach franchised players?

Right now, each side thinks they have a case, with the NFLPA saying that the franchise tag is as good as a $3 bill without a CBA come March 4 and owners saying the franchise tag is legitimate and binding. The only way to avoid the confusion is to broker a deal like both sides say is desired.

Meanwhile, teams are stuck. They have to use the franchise tag now because they really don't have any other options. Few, if any, owners are going to authorize the long-term signing of a player without a CBA in place and the franchise tag is the only way they can, at least in theory, assure that key players don't leave through free agency.

As it pertains to Vick, there has been speculation for months that the Eagles would franchise him because they don't want to sign him to a long-term deal, yet. They want to see if his dazzling 2010 season was a fluke and if he's truly a changed man. Financial security helped foster his criminal dogfighting exploits and other negative behavior before and if they pay him, maybe he takes a step back, or so some thinking goes.

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I'm not buying that. The Eagles might have some concerns about him maintaining his high level of play, but they can't be too worried if they are willing to franchise tag him while Kevin Kolb, a player they once thought was better than Vick, is a viable Plan B. If they really felt his play might slip, that organization is wise enough to let him go the Albert Haynesworth route and let someone else deal with the headache.

They've also invested too much in Vick to be overly concerned about him going wayward again. And don't think they wouldn't include language in any long-term deal that covers the forfeiture of serious money should he mess up.

Philadelphia franchised Vick because it knows he's a franchise player. The Eagles have heard all the rival defensive coordinators and opposing players talk about how tough it is to face him. They want him on their side. Which is why they did what they had to do -- for now.

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