Skip to main content

Point, counterpoint: Use the franchise tag?


! Staff Writer Mike Spofford says yes.

I think the franchise tag is a useful and effective tool when applied to the right situation.

Teams can use the tag to retain the rights to a pending free agent in exchange for that player getting paid commensurate with the top salaries at his position the following year. A team only gets one tag per year, so it must be used wisely.

It's a compromise tool. There's give and take on both sides. The team is preparing to take a significant salary cap hit to keep a player, while the player is giving up, at least for the time being, a long-term contract.

And therein lies the beauty of the tag. Often, the tag is applied to give a team extra time to work out a long-term deal without the risk of losing the player to the open market. The Packers have used the tag successfully in that manner twice in the last decade, with left tackle Chad Clifton (in 2004) and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett (in 2010).

The tag prevents either side in a long-term contract negotiation from being forced to make a hasty, 11th-hour decision before the free-agency bell rings. It pushes back the deadline between two parties trying to work something out.

With free agency beginning in March, the tag allows another five months until training camp to negotiate the right long-term deal for everyone involved. In the meantime, the free-agent market for a particular position can start to take shape, determining whether the player's contract demands are reasonable or if the team's offer is fair. Perhaps the market is at the midpoint, in which case letting it play out league-wide can confirm that for both sides.

I don't see the harm in that, and if a long-term deal can't be worked out, the player is guaranteed a hefty salary for one year with a chance to test free agency again 12 months hence. I do see a potential problem if a team tags the same player repeatedly, year after year, forcing him to play every season without any long-term contract security.

Animosity is almost guaranteed then, and rightfully so. Teams should take one shot with the franchise tag to try to work out that long-term deal, and if it doesn't happen, it's time to part ways.

But if a team has the right motives in mind, I don't think a player can or should take offense. He's either going to get a whopper of a one-year salary or a significant signing bonus when that long-term deal is worked out.

There's always the tag-and-trade possibility, which the Packers did successfully with defensive lineman Corey Williams four years ago. Even though that's not the intent of the tag, there are benefits for both sides there, too.

At that time, following the 2007 season, the Packers weren't going to invest long-term in Williams with having already made major commitments on the defensive line to Aaron Kampman, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Pickett. So, the Packers were willing to either pay Williams good money for one year or recoup something in trade, in this case a second-round draft pick from the Cleveland Browns, who signed Williams to a long-term deal.

There's speculation, of course, that the Packers could try to do the same thing this year with backup quarterback Matt Flynn, but the financial commitment with a QB, should a trade fall through, practically precludes it in Flynn's case. It still could happen, but it's dicey, given the money involved at that particular position.

Regardless, the franchise tag is a good tool when both team and player are on the same page with it. Any bad feelings surrounding the tag probably existed before any discussions of the tag even came up, in which case teams must be careful to whom they apply it.

That's the case in any event, but that doesn't mean teams shouldn't use it at all.

! Editor Vic Ketchman says no.

As is usually the case, the original intent was innocent. There was a concern for free agency robbing teams of their most important player, the cornerstone on whom the franchise is built, so owners and players agreed to a "franchise" designation in the CBA that originally provided for unfettered free agency.

The franchise designation was clearly intended for star players. Hey, it was intended for teams to keep their quarterbacks.

So what players are being assigned the franchise designation now? Everybody but quarterbacks.

"There's a tendency to reach," one league cap guy said. "We tend to use it on players that aren't worthy of the designation."

The franchise tag system has been corrupted. It was not intended to be used on kickers, for example, but that's exactly what it's come to because the rules promote its use on positions at which the average of the top five salaries is more affordable than doing a new contract with the guy and having to give him a big signing bonus.

That's not fair and that's the kind of thing that breeds contempt between the player and the team. Every player wants a long-term deal that'll provide a signing bonus that is the financial security he's seeking. The franchise tag is a one-year deal that dooms the player, in many cases, to go back through the whole process again a year from now.

"It's a game of chicken," the cap guy said.

The fallout from this game of chicken can be enmity between the team and the player, and if this enmity intensifies, it can become a major distraction. Here's why:

Until the player signs the tender, he's not on the team. He doesn't have to attend anything, including training camp. He can wait until Week 1 of the regular season and then sign the tender, waltz into the team's facility and begin drawing his regular pay. The franchise money is now guaranteed to him, but what does the team have in exchange? An angry, out-of-shape player committed to little more than getting to the end of the season and finding a new team.

Why wait until the bitter end to do a deal? If you want to retain the player's services, then do a new contract with him before you have to use the franchise tag. Teams that avoid using the tag send a message to their players that they are sincere when they negotiate and that they don't use the tag to play chicken. As a result, their players are likely to negotiate with a greater sense of urgency, instead of waiting to play the game of chicken.

What the Packers did with Jermichael Finley is how it should be done. They wanted him, they signed him. The team was happy to keep him, and Finley was ecstatic when he spoke with minutes after signing his new deal.

It's how you develop a respectful relationship with your players, which is an absolute must in the pursuit of victory. Your team's fate is in their hands. Do you really want to put your team's fate in the hands of a guy that doesn't like you?

What do you think?

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.