The clock is ticking toward Monday's deadline for the application of Franchise Tags (the Tag) across the NFL. I expect a number of Tags, with teams waiting until the deadline to apply them. Here are some answers about the Tag.
Why are Tag numbers down this season from last year?
As explained here in November, the new CBA formula for determining the Tag number is looking back five years at the top five Salaries at each position ("Salaries" include salaries plus proration), rather than a looking only to last year. The result of this calculation is that Tag numbers are down from last year an average of $2 million per position!
The lower numbers are advantageous to teams for a couple of reasons. First, it allows $2 million in savings to use on other areas of the team. More importantly, it sets a lower floor for negotiations, giving teams a lower starting point in negotiations on a long-term deal.
The Tag reduction is another nugget gleaned from the ten-year CBA as we enter the first offseason under the deal, a "win" for owners that may grow more important as the deal progresses.
What goes into the decision to place a Tag on a player?
Sometimes teams believe the agent and player are, well, delusional as to the player's value. The Tag can put negotiations that are far apart on hold while allowing for future data to enter into the discussion.
Also, teams may want to go "year-to-year" with players rather than committing to a long marriage. There may be concerns about longevity, durability and, most importantly, work ethic. The Tag gives the team the option to "pay as you go," albeit for a large amount.
The primary example here is the when the Titans -- concerned about motivation and work ethic with Albert Haynesworth -- chose to apply the Tag to Haynesworth in consecutive years while making little to no effort to sign him beyond one year. The Redskins then sunk $41 million of guaranteed money into Haynesworth and have been trying to recover ever since.
Can teams apply the Tag repeatedly? Is there any limit?
In the event the teams apply the Tag for a third consecutive year, they must tender an amount of not 120% of the player's previous salary -- as in a second consecutive year -- but 144% of that amount. That appears to be the only restriction on the continued use of the Tag.
For which positions is the Tag especially important?
The Tag gives teams an advantage with the two particular skill positions that have proven the most difficult to predict long-term success: running backs (projected Tag of $7.7 million) and wide receivers (projected Tag of $9.4 million).
These are the two positions where decline can come swiftly and irrevocably. The Tag allows teams to avoid being locked into a contract while such decline is happening before their eyes. I expect several Tags to be used here. As we speak, the Tag is being used as leverage in negotiations with running backs Ray Rice and Matt Forte, and receivers DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Wes Welker.
An interesting situation is also occurring with kickers, where top deals exceed a $3 million average yet the Tag is projected at about $2.7 million. The Bills' Rian Lindell recently decided to take a deal with the team, although not what he was hoping for, rather than being saddled with an under-market Tag. Other kickers faced with this dilemma may be Josh Scobee, Connor Barth, Neil Rackers, Matt Prater and Jay Feely.
As the top pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Mario Williams' contract not only contained $26.5 million in guaranteed money, but also had a host of bells and whistles that the new CBA sought to eliminate (and did).
Williams' 2011 salary was $13.8 million, above the projected $10.6 million Tag for defensive ends. Thus, his Tag number will be 120% of his 2011 "Salary" -- a number that includes the proration from his option bonus and buyback bonus (don't ask) -- totaling $18.325 million. 120% of that number gives Williams a Tag number - should the Texans choose to apply it -- of a staggering $21.99 million!
Thus, Williams will either make $22 million with the Texans or sign a long-term contract with the Texans or another team for guaranteed money that will certainly exceed $22 million. It's good to be Mario.
The game of Tag will heat up in the coming days.