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Monday, February 17, 2014
Franchise/transition tags: Bills

By Mike Rodak

It's that time of year again.

Monday marks the first day that teams can designate franchise and transition players who are otherwise set to become free agents. The window for making the decision is relatively short; teams have until March 3 to tag a pending free agent.

Byrd
Need a quick refresher on the rules? Under the current CBA, each team is allowed to use only one of the designations -- franchise or transition player -- but not both. If a team assigns the franchise tag to a player, it can be one of two varieties: the exclusive version (more costly, but it means other teams cannot negotiate with the player) or the non-exclusive version (less costly, but other teams can negotiate).

Because the transition tag does not include any compensation if another team signs a player to an offer sheet, it is highly unlikely that the Buffalo Bills -- or any other team -- will use it. The transition tag is effectively obsolete in the NFL.

But what about the franchise tag? In all likelihood, there are only two players whom the Bills would consider naming their franchise player: safety Jairus Byrd and kicker Dan Carpenter.

Why Byrd? He's one of the better safeties in the NFL, snagging 22 interceptions in the first five seasons of his career. Unless the Bills can win a bidding war on the open market for Byrd -- who is set to become an unrestricted free agent -- then the franchise tag could be their best option to keep him in Buffalo.

Of course, that's what the Bills did last season, tagging Byrd in February for $6.9 million. That started a summer-long contract dispute that led to Byrd sitting out all of training camp before signing his guaranteed tender. If Byrd gets tagged again -- it will have to be at 120 percent of his prior year's salary, or $8.3 million, unless the safety tender is higher -- then it would be reasonable to expect the same results this summer.

The Bills could decide that $8.3 million is too rich for Byrd. Some teams don't value the safety position as highly as others and may not be willing to give $8 million to anyone other than a quarterback or top offensive playmaker. That's a decision the Bills will need to make within the next two weeks.

If they decide to pass on franchising Byrd, another option is Carpenter. Despite being signed shortly before the regular-season opener, Carpenter enjoyed the best season of his career. The Bills may want to keep Carpenter around, and while they would have to make him one of the highest-paid kickers in the league, it comes with no long-term commitment and, compared to Byrd, a small price tag.

Then again, the Bills could decide that a kicker is too interchangeable a position to warrant the franchise tag. In addition to Carpenter, the Bills have Dustin Hopkins, a sixth-round pick last season, on their roster at kicker. If they believe Hopkins, who spent all of last season on injured reserve, is a dependable option at kicker, they could simply let Carpenter walk and not use the franchise tag at all.