Posted on: February 7, 2008 10:46 am
Feb. 7 is the first day teams can begin designating players with the franchise tag (or the transition tag, which no club uses much anymore). Allow me to give you a quick lesson on what these tags mean, and who might get tagged.
As you know, the NFL allows its players to test the "free-agent market" when a player's contract expires. This means that if a player has four or more accrued seasons, he may sign with any team that offers him a contract to his liking. Note that a player with three years is a RESTRICTED free agent (the club gets varying compensation if the player signs elsewhere); a player with two or fewer is an EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS free agent (the player can only sign with his current club). These designations differ from the franchise tag.
WHEN A PLAYER GETS THE FRANCHISE TAG ... it's basically a team's way of handcuffing him to the locker room, with the club holding the key. A player may receive contract offers from other clubs, but if he signs such an offer, the original team has the chance to match it. If they choose not to, they'll get TWO FIRST-ROUND PICKS from the team signing the player. Because of the astronomical price tag for signing a franchise-tag player, teams usually don't sign those types. HOWEVER, the team designating the franchise tag MUST guarantee a one-year deal for the average of the top-five contracts of players in the league at the same position. In most cases, that's not cheap, and it's GUARANTEED cash for the player. The franchise tag was designed for clubs to keep their best players from hitting the street. Each club may use one such tag on one player per offseason.
WHEN A PLAYER GETS THE TRANSITITION TAG ... they get the red-headed step-child equivalent of the franchise tag. A club guarantees a one-year deal for the top-10 contract of players in the league at the same position, but if another club comes along and signs a transition-tag player to an offer sheet, the initial club gets no compensation for the player if they choose not to match. So basically, a transition tag is an invitation for another team to come and sign your should-have-been-franchised player. Most clubs don't even consider using the transition tag. It's a waste.
We received a list of free agents from the NFL Player's Association yesterday, complete with EVERYONE who will be a free agent (restricted and unrestricted). While us here in FantasyLand will put together a Fantasy-relevant list for you guys soon, you should be able to find a complete list of free agents on CBSSports.com (and if you can't, blame Ron Davis ).
Here are the POTENTIAL franchise-tag free-agents this offseason (P.S. All of these players are unrestricted free agents):
Jared Allen, DE, Kansas City Chiefs: Allen is one of the best pure pass-rushers in the league, and the Chiefs know it. The last thing they want is to lose him, even with teammate Tamba Hali playing on the other side of the line. Allen will wear red next season.
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland Raiders: Asomugha will have the option to bail on his contract, and the club will then franchise him. He's become a very solid NFL cornerback over the last two seasons, and the Raiders would rather wear pink on Sundays than let him get away from their defense. Asomugha is one of the best defensive players Oakland has.
Bernard Berrian, WR, Chicago Bears: The Bears aren't allowed to tag LB Lance Briggs after doing so last season, and QB Rex Grossman wouldn't be worth the price. On the surface, Berrian isn't either, but he'll be a hot commodity if he hits the free-agent market. At the very least, franchising Berrian would extend the Bears' window of trying to re-sign him. And knowing what I know about Berrian, if he leaves Chicago he'll land somewhere warm.
Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis Colts: Technically not a free agent yet, Clark can opt out of his deal if he so desires. Making peanuts (compared to other tight ends), he's expected to do so. The Colts have made no bones about keeping him via the franchise tag. Although I'd like to think an AFC South rival of the Colts would step up and try to sign Clark and give up the draft picks just to keep Peyton Manning's favorite target away from him, there's no chance of it happening.
Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona Cardinals: A good fit for their 3-4 scheme, so chances are they're not going to let him get away. No chance another team signs him to an offer sheet, either, so he better get used to the idea of staying with the Redbirds.
Jordan Gross, OT, Carolina Panthers: Unless they can sign him before the start of free agency, Carolina will have no choice but to handcuff their young bookend tackle. Teammate Travelle Wharton is also an unrestricted free agent, and unless Gross signs a deal, he will walk free. The Panthers must try to keep both; having the franchise tag helps a little bit.
Ken Hamlin, S, Dallas Cowboys: It's either him or veteran OT Flozell Adams getting the tag in Big D. Neither one would draw much interest from other teams. Hamlin's career got a jump-start this season with the Cowboys, and with the club uncertain about Roy Williams' future, Hamlin is the sure thing they need to hang on to.
Albert Haynesworth, DT, Tennessee Titans: The huge plug up front for the Titans isn't going anywhere, especially when the tender for him might seem like a bargain considering what he does for that team.
Randy Moss, WR, New England Patriots: Unless Moss gives the Patriots a cap-friendly wink, this will play out a while. Setting the single-season receiving TD mark, you can understand why Moss thinks he deserves to be one of the highest-paid WRs in the league. But he's getting older and is no lock to be healthy for 16 games even though he did it last season. Moss will likely stay with the Patriots. Note that CB Asante Samuel, who was tagged last offseason, will go free. He's going to be a very wealthy man.
Justin Smith, DE, Cincinnati Bengals: He was franchised last year, so I'm not sure if there's verbage in his contract that let's him get away from the tag this offseason. Either way, Cincy needs him as he's the only really viable piece on that defense right now.
L.J. Smith, TE, Philadelphia Eagles: We've heard that the Eagles will tag Smith, but we're not sure why. He's not a lock for 16 games nor is he a reliable receiver. He's good in other areas, but Philadelphia has Matt Schobel and Brent Celek waiting behind Smith.
Terrell Suggs, LB, Baltimore Ravens: I'm not sure if the Ravens can wholly afford to keep Suggs even for the one-year franchise price, but he's such a tremendous disruptor and really strong against the run. So versatile, too. Suggs has already hinted that he wants to play for his hometown team, the Arizona Cardinals.
Marcus Trufant, CB, Seattle Seahawks: Another great cover corner (and a great character person) who the club won't get away easily. He deserves a rich deal, and the franchise-tag tender is the first step in that. Placekicker Josh Brown might squeak out of Seattle because of Trufant's reception of the franchise tag. Note: NFL Network reports that Seattle won't tag Trufant -- if they let such a thing happen, they're inviting trouble next season.
Now then, there's one more thing clubs consider when franchising a player: Potentially trading him. Last year it was no secret that the Bears and Redskins were close to a deal that would have sent Lance Briggs and a late first-round pick to Washington to the Redskins for their early first-round pick. While a player may sign the one-year guaranteed contract at any time after the team puts it out there, usually there's a long period between the designation of the franchise tag and the signing of the deal. What's to stop a team like San Diego from franchising Michael Turner (an unrestricted free agent and the hottest RB on the market), then telling interested NFL clubs that they'll release him from the tender if a club offers ONE first-round pick? Other than Turner showing up at Chargers Park with a pen in one hand , an empty grey satchel with a green dollar sign on it in the other, and a grin on his face, nothing.
Don't be surprised if we start seeing franchise tags as trade-enablers for clubs to get "whatever they can" in exchange for a franchised player who they'd otherwise get nothing for. What might have set off such a trend was the Patriots' acquisition of Wes Welker last season; Welker wasn't franchised, he was a restricted free agent, but the club was able to offer more in trade than what the Dolphins wanted as compensation for losing Welker, and they bit. Welker has since done well for himself.