A long-term deal is almost always the better option for a player than being placed under the franchise tag. Sometimes it's also better for a team, many of which use it as a last resort.
That's how the Texans have viewed the designation of late. The franchise and lesser used transition tags offer tighter deadlines and windows which don't jive with the way Houston has done business.
Typically, the Texans re-sign players they want to keep the year before their contracts expire, a process spearheaded by general manager Rick Smith and vice president of football administration Chris Olsen. The players they can't reach deals with are sometimes ones they're willing to let go in free agency, as was the case with Connor Barwin and Glover Quin last offseason.
A franchise tag allows a team to restrict the movement of one pending free agent. Today the window for applying it and a transition tag, which is a similar concept but less restrictive, begins.
Tagging a player puts his next year's salary among the top five to 10 at his position. The top Houston players hitting free agency this year are nose tackle Earl Mitchell, defensive end Antonio Smith (one of the highest tag numbers), offensive guard Wade Smith and running back Ben Tate.
Of those, Mitchell and Tate are most likely gone. Tate will cost more than the Texans will be willing to pay for him and Mitchell's skill set is better suited for a 4-3 defense.
As for Smith and Smith, the more veteran of the group, I wouldn't be surprised if they returned in some capacity, but I would be very surprised if the Texans franchised either of them.
Antonio Smith made $6 million last year and had a salary-cap number of $9.5 million. His franchise number would be $12.475 million according to a projection by CBSSports.com. Wade Smith made $3 million last year and had a cap number of $3.75 million, but his franchise number, raised by left tackle salaries, is projected to be $11.126 million.