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Philadelphia Eagles should just let Nick Foles hit the open market

Even a Super Bowl MVP award can't buy freedom.

For Nick Foles, the early days of this crucial offseason serve as a reminder that immortality has its limits. Foles might be depicted outside Lincoln Financial Field in statue form, but the Philadelphia Eagles are treating him like just another player.

As the window to place the franchise tag on Foles opens Tuesday, it's worth examining options for the Eagles, and whether Foles should stop helping an organization that isn't interested in paying him fair value.

The Eagles announced that sentimentality was off the menu when they picked up the option in Foles' contract shortly after the season. They could have simply said thanks for delivering the team its first Super Bowl title and then helping to save a depressing championship defense with three straight regular-season wins before a playoff victory at Chicago last month. Instead, the team required Foles fork up $2 million in order to theoretically become a free agent.

The Eagles now have the option to use the franchise tag on Foles and then attempt to trade him, but the entire situation is strange at best and against league rules at worst. The Miami Dolphins used the franchise tag on wide receiver Jarvis Landry last offseason one day before trading him to the Browns, although a similar tactic could be contested by Foles' agent this time around.

As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk pointed out earlier this month, Article 4, Section 8, subsection (b) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement states that "A Club extending a Required Tender must, for so long as that Tender is extended, have a good faith intention to employ the player receiving the Tender at the Tender compensation level during the upcoming season."

It didn't come up as an issue last year because Landry, the Dolphins and the Browns were all happy with the arrangement. But Foles shouldn't be. The Eagles have no intention of keeping Foles on the books at $25 million, which is roughly what the franchise tag costs. By trading him on the tag, they would potentially be limiting his market.

The obvious retort: It's just business.

That was true when the Eagles asked Foles to pay back money and it's also just business if Foles refuses to talk long-term contract with any interested team unless he's a free agent. Foles can essentially kill his own trade market and the Eagles will run out of time to deal him.

The two sides have been building to this standoff for a while. As far back as early January, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Foles was "expected to have a quality trade market" and "the Eagles should be able to cash in on Foles' success." (As if they haven't already.)

The first sign that Foles may not be on board with this plan came after the team picked up his option. Less than an hour after that happened, Foles informed the team he'd buy back his freedom. The Eagles would have loved if Foles delayed that choice, making him easier to trade. Instead, they will have to theoretically place the tag on him by March 5 and work out a trade with a QB-needy team like the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Even if Foles' side doesn't challenge the legality of trading him on the tag, there are other inherent problems to trying the maneuver. As mentioned above, he would be due roughly $25 million guaranteed if given the tag and could sign the contract immediately, putting the Eagles in a financial bind. General manager Howie Roseman has a surplus of roster issues to answer this offseason with free agents like Ronald Darby, Jordan Hicks, Brandon Graham and Golden Tate, not to mention questions surrounding the futures of Eagles like Jason Peters and Nelson Agholor. It's a roster in transition, and Philly can't be nearly as flexible in fixing its problems until Foles' future is decided.

Getting a draft pick in exchange for Foles would be great, although the Eagles are likely to pick up a 2020 compensatory pick anyhow if he leaves via free agency. This entire game of chicken might simply be an effort to keep Foles from signing with an NFC East rival. There was a report that Foles would be interested in joining the New York Giants, where a scheme fit with coach Pat Shurmur makes some sense. The Washington Redskins could be another interested party after The MMQB reported they were "in on" talks to acquire Joe Flacco. Examining the market for Foles, there aren't that many potential landing spots.

The Eagles understandably would prefer Foles land in Jacksonville, rather than in the division, and there could be "mutual interest" between Foles and the Jaguars, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. But the Eagles have one surefire way to prevent facing Foles twice a year: Pay him what he's worth. If Roseman and Co. can't handle that, they need to saddle up and accept that they might have to beat him.

Foles has already changed the lives of every single person working for the Eagles. At this point, he doesn't owe them anything, much less being a good solider by making a trade go down smoother when it could harm the biggest pay day of his career. Foles' loyalty should start with himself and to his next team, because the Eagles have already decided they don't want him. Playing hardball through an appeal or through contract talks are the only options Foles has left if the Eagles use the tag. The team could wind up looking petty and not getting anything for it as a result, because Foles is in a better position to get what he wants.

It would be a shame for Foles' epic second tenure in Philadelphia to end with such drama. But it doesn't have to be that way. The Eagles can still make the right move by showing their love and appreciation for Foles in the most meaningful way possible. They can set him free.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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