NFC East: 2014 NFL Franchise/Transition Tag

Franchise/transition tags: Cowboys

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
IRVING, Texas -- The franchise-tag deadline will come and go without the Dallas Cowboys using it for one big reason: They don't have the cap room necessary to use it.

In 2012 and '13, the Cowboys used their franchise tag on outside linebacker/defensive end Anthony Spencer, paying him roughly $19 million.

Defensive tackle Jason Hatcher would be the only candidate for the tag among the Cowboys' current free agents, but that would be a lot of cap space to use on a soon-to-be 32-year-old defensive tackle with just one season of more than four sacks.

Hatcher was added to the Pro Bowl after the 2013 season after posting a career-high 11 sacks. He took to the 4-3 scheme and wondered how his career might have been different had he played in it the entire time as opposed to the 3-4. In the 4-3, Hatcher was able to attack the passer more. In the 3-4, he was asked to two-gap and hold up blockers for the linebackers to make plays.

If Hatcher were a few years younger, the Cowboys' decision might be more difficult, but with all the maneuvering the Cowboys will have to do to get under the cap, it does not make good business sense to lock up an aging player to such a big piece of the pie.

The Cowboys could have to shed $20-25 million to get under the 2014 salary-cap figure once it's finalized. Some of the moves are rather easy, such as restructuring the contracts of Tony Romo and Sean Lee. The Cowboys have to make decisions on veterans such as DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin, as well, which could open up room.

The Cowboys would need to get under the cap by roughly $9 million more to fit what Hatcher would be paid under the tag. It is not impossible, but it's just not wise.

For years, the Cowboys have been willing to push it to the brink with the cap, but they have received no on-field payout, with just one playoff win since 1996.

It might be too late to be fiscally responsible, but passing on using the franchise tag this year makes sense.

Franchise/transition tags: Eagles

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
The Philadelphia Eagles don’t have an obvious target for use of the franchise or transition tag, which is mostly a positive thing.

It means they have most of their most important players under negotiated contracts and don’t have to anger anyone by using the tag to keep him from free agency. Using the tag has created bad feelings and problems for the Eagles in the past, most dramatically when they removed the tag from linebacker Jeremiah Trotter after weeks of bitter back-and-forth.

The negative aspect, of course, is that the players most likely to be tagged -- such as Jimmy Graham of the Saints and T.J. Ward of the Browns -- are from the 2010 draft class. The Eagles don’t have star players from that class they are fighting to keep.

Monday is the first day teams can apply franchise and transition tags to players. For an explanation of tags and their ramifications, click here.

Safety Nate Allen and wide receiver Riley Cooper were starters in 2013. The Eagles wouldn’t mind having both back. But they are not likely to want to pay them franchise-tag salaries -- likely to be more than $8 million for one season for safeties and $10 million-plus for wide receivers.

The Eagles took Allen one pick before Cleveland selected Ward. Four years later, the Eagles remain in dire need of safety help. They are apt to be affected more by Ward’s status than Allen’s. If Ward is on the market, the Eagles could be very interested in him. At the very least, he would expand the pool of free-agent safeties.

The Eagles’ first-round pick from 2010, Brandon Graham, still has another year on his rookie contract. Nine of the 10 other 2010 draftees on shorter deals are long gone. The 10th, safety and special-teams guy Kurt Coleman, is certainly not going to be tagged.

The Eagles’ most intriguing decision among their free-agents-to-be concerns wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The 2009 first-round pick missed the entire 2013 season after tearing his ACL in training camp.

Could the Eagles use the tag to hang on to Maclin and try to work out a more reasonable deal? It’s possible, but not likely.

That’s how general manager Howie Roseman deployed the tag in 2012, the last time the Eagles used it. Roseman tagged wide receiver DeSean Jackson. By mid-March, Roseman had signed Jackson to a new five-year contract.

The difference here is that Maclin is coming off his second ACL surgery. The Eagles or another team might want him on a one-year, prove-it deal, but not at a guaranteed $10-11 million.

Franchise/transition tags: Redskins

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
Brian Orakpo will get paid this offseason. If Paul Kruger averaged $8 million a year in a deal with Cleveland last offseason, then Orakpo, who is considered the top outside linebacker available, should eclipse that mark.

The question is, will it be the Redskins who give that money to him? Their coaches talk as though Orakpo will be back, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has called him a top priority. They want to re-sign him, knowing that it will be costly. But life in a 3-4 defensive scheme demands having two linebackers who can rush the passer, and that means spending money at this position.

If the Redskins don’t think they can agree on a long-term deal, then, yes, the franchise tag, which can be used starting Monday, is a strong option. Here are the different types of franchise tags they could use.

The Redskins have used the tag only three previous times since it came to fruition in 1993. Only once has a player they used the tag on actually played for them the following season.

They tagged defensive lineman Sean Gilbert in 1997, causing him to sit out the entire season. They tagged him again in 1998 and that offseason swiped two first-round picks from Carolina in exchange for him. They also used it on corner Champ Bailey in 2004 before trading him to Denver. And they used it on tight end Fred Davis in 2012.

If the Redskins decide to tag Orakpo, it would cost them approximately $10.5 million in cap space this year. The benefit is that they could get another year of his services, possibly to see whether his strong finish leads into a bigger season. Of course, if that happens, his price tag would increase in 2015. Still, keep in mind that other players will need to be addressed in the next few years: left tackle Trent Williams, quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Alfred Morris, receiver Pierre Garcon and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.

The coaches like Orakpo and consider him a good all-around linebacker, and he has been their best pass-rusher -- and in the second half of 2013, he was their best defensive player. Haslett said that the Redskins did not let the outside linebackers -- Orakpo and Kerrigan -- rush with abandon on enough occasions and that they want to turn them loose more this season.

The problem for Orakpo is that he has just one career interception and six forced fumbles in 64 career games. That’s not a lot of game-changing plays. To pay someone more than $10 million per year, you’d like more of those plays. By comparison, in 69 career games, Green Bay’s Clay Matthews has 50 sacks, four interceptions and 10 forced fumbles. His contract will average around $13 million over the next five years if he plays to the end of his deal.

So paying Orakpo somewhere between Kruger and Matthews would be acceptable. Considering the Redskins could have approximately $30 million in cap space, they likely won’t let Orakpo get away unless they have a good alternative. Losing him would weaken an important spot in a 3-4 defense. They might not have to use the franchise tag, but it’s a legitimate tool to keep him around.

Franchise/transition tags: Giants

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
Monday is the first day NFL teams can designate franchise or transition tags in an effort to keep players they deem most valuable off the market. (They have until March 3 to decide whether to do it.) Teams don't have to use the designations, and most don't. But if they do, they have the choice to use the exclusive franchise tender, the non-exclusive franchise tender or the transition player designation, which no one uses anymore. A team can pick only one player, at most, on whom to use one of these designations per year. A brief explanation of the differences between the three can be found here.

What we want to figure out here, however, is the likelihood that the New York Giants will use one of these designations this year. We'll ignore the transition tag, because it's outdated and no longer used, and instead focus on the franchise tag. Historically, the Giants have used the franchise player designation as a means of holding a player in place because they believed they were making good progress with that player on a long-term deal and didn't want him to hit the market. Example: Two years ago, nearing completion on a new deal with punter Steve Weatherford, they used the franchise tag on him at the deadline but shortly after announced a long-term deal that superseded it.

They could do that this year if they find themselves in a good position in negotiations with one of their many free agents. Linebacker Jon Beason is a player they'd like to bring back and with whom they've discussed a long-term deal. The franchise-tag salary for linebackers is likely to be more than $10 million, though, so they'd have to feel confident about their chances of signing Beason long-term (they'd have until July 15 to do so) if they were to risk paying him that much on a one-year deal.

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph is another pending free agent who's a candidate for the franchise tag, which for his position should be around $9 million. If they're doing a long-term deal with Joseph before the market opens, it likely would be for less than that, but they could conceivably risk carrying him at that number. I do not believe they will use the franchise tag on wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, for whom the tag could be worth more than $11 million.

It's possible that the strongest Giants candidate for the tag could be kicker Josh Brown, since using the tag for kickers and punters is generally a palatable $3 million or so. The Giants like Brown and could try to sign him to a multi-year deal, using the tag in the meantime as they did with Weatherford.