NFC North: 2014 NFL Franchise/Transition Tags NFC

Franchise/transition tags: Packers

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There’s probably only one player among the Green Bay Packers' free agents-to-be who would warrant any consideration for being tagged, and that’s cornerback Sam Shields.

Like most teams, the Packers would prefer to do a long-term deal rather than implementing the franchise tag, which for cornerbacks this year is likely to be more than $11 million.

Although they have the salary-cap room to absorb it, they would rather not use nearly half of their existing salary-cap space for 2014 on one player. The structure of a long-term deal with Shields would be such that it would allow them to assign him a much lower salary-cap figure for this season.

However, this has been and could continue to be a prolonged negotiation with Shields’ agent, Drew Rosenhaus. Last June, Rosenhaus flew to Green Bay for a face-to-face meeting with the Packers in an effort to get Shields -- then a restricted free agent who had been tendered at $2.023 million -- a long-term deal.

That didn’t happen, and Shields played in 2013 for the tender. He had his best season, further strengthening his negotiating power.

The fact that Shields entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent who received a signing bonus of just $7,500 makes this contract even more important for him because it’s his first -- and probably best -- shot at a blockbuster payday.

The Packers would like to retain Shields, and negotiations have been ongoing, but they might not be willing to use the tag to do it. Rosenhaus is expected to meet with the Packers face to face later this week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

If tight end Jermichael Finley weren't coming off a neck injury that required fusion surgery, then he could be a candidate for the tag like he was two years ago before he signed a $14 million contract. Now, with his playing career up in the air, there’s no chance the Packers will tag him.
Teams around the NFL on Monday can begin designating franchise or transition players, but the Chicago Bears won’t be using any of the tags, according to an NFL source.

At the conclusion of the season, quarterback Jay Cutler seemed the most logical candidate for the franchise tag, but the Bears quashed that notion in January by signing him to a seven-year deal. In the weeks leading up to the new Cutler contract, Bears general manager Phil Emery talked about wanting to avoid placing the franchise tag on the quarterback. Had Chicago applied the tag, it would have been on the hook for what was expected to be more than a $16 million cap hit for 2014.

Instead, the Bears now are responsible for Cutler’s $22.5 million base salary for 2014, which obviously will consume a significant portion of the club’s salary-cap space.

How could that be? It’s fairly simple.

One component of Cutler’s new deal is that the team at any time can convert a portion of the quarterback’s base salary into a signing bonus that it can prorate over the life of the deal, which would lower his cap hit and free up money to sign other players. After 2014, Cutler counts for $15.5 million and $16 million against Chicago’s cap, figures more manageable than the $22.5 million hit for 2014.

So it’s logical the team would convert some of that base salary into a signing bonus sometime this offseason, especially considering the team currently is just approximately $796,000 below the cap.

In essence, the Bears paid a premium to secure Cutler for at least the next three years before going into a pay-as-you-go type of agreement over the next four years of the deal. Obviously, guaranteed-money commitments are the most significant handcuffs to teams in terms of the cap. But the Bears seemingly avoided that scenario in the future by the way they structured Cutler’s deal.

No other player on the roster is a legitimate candidate to receive the franchise tag or the rarely used transition tag. The Bears used the franchise tag last season to the tune of $8.45 million on defensive tackle Henry Melton, but he suffered a torn ACL on Sept. 22 at Pittsburgh. In 2012, the team applied the tag to running back Matt Forte before pulling it when the sides agreed to a long-term deal that July.

Outside of Cutler, a 2012 version of Melton would be the most logical candidate for the franchise tag. But there’s no way the Bears, even if there weren’t cap concerns, would commit close to $9 million in cap space to a player coming off a torn ACL. On the surface, several veterans on the roster would seem to be candidates for the tag. But the Bears wouldn't make such significant financial commitments to players at the end of their careers such as cornerback Charles Tillman and center Roberto Garza.

Franchise/transition tags: Vikings

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
MINNEAPOLIS -- NFL teams can use their franchise or transition tags on players for the first time Monday, and in reality, there's one Minnesota Vikings player that stirs up the most intrigue when it comes to this topic: Jared Allen.

The defensive end will hit free agency in March, after making more than $17 million in the final year of his deal with the Vikings. He will be 32 in April, and he'll be setting out onto the open market with seven straight double-digit sacks seasons to his name, including a 22-sack performance in 2011.

By using the franchise tag on Allen, the Vikings could get themselves one more year with Allen, keeping their defensive line together and giving new coach Mike Zimmer another proven pass rusher. However, the guess here is they won't.

In 2013, the franchise tag guaranteed defensive ends a salary of $11.175 million, and if the Vikings gave that kind of a deal to Allen, they'd give back almost half of the cap space they're likely to have available come March. That kind of a deal could make it difficult for them to re-sign 26-year-old defensive end Everson Griffen, who seems more likely to get a new deal from the Vikings than Allen does, and it would mean the Vikings would have more than $16 million wrapped up in two thirty-something defensive ends (Allen and Brian Robison) when they have numerous other issues to address on defense and, at least at the moment, a hole at the quarterback position.

Allen surged to finish last season with 11½ sacks, but looked at times like he was cheating toward the pass rush at the expense of stopping the run. He said in December he would retire before taking a job as a situational pass-rusher, and while he'd possibly change his mind if offered the chance to still post sacks while getting some snaps to rest, the Vikings don't seem like the team to bring him back in that kind of a role, with their other commitments at the position. That seems especially unlikely at the franchise tag's expected salary figure.

There's a remote possibility the Vikings could put the transition tag on Griffen, but it seems more likely they will work out a new multi-year deal for him with a more team-friendly structure. The team had preliminary talks with Griffen's agent about a deal during the season, and Griffen has said he wants to stay in Minnesota.