NFC South: 2014 NFL Franchise/Transition Tags NFC

Franchise/transition tags: Panthers

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
It isn't a question of whether the Carolina Panthers want to use the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy. It's whether they can afford to.

Hardy, who had a team-best 15 sacks this past season, says he "would love" the franchise tag if that would help Carolina get its financial issues in order as far as a long-term deal after the 2014 season.

The problem is the tag would eat up about $12 million of an estimated $16 million to $17 million of salary-cap room for a cap-strapped team that has 21 unrestricted free agents.

And the Panthers already have more than $24 million committed to the defensive line in 2014, with $16.4 million of that going to end Charles Johnson.

Complicating issues is that Carolina has to decide whether to renegotiate a long-term deal for Cam Newton or activate the fifth-year option that is now available and deal with a long-term deal later for its franchise quarterback.

As general manager Dave Gettleman said after the season, Carolina won't be clear of its cap problems until after the 2015 season, "the good Lord willing and the creek don't rise."

Gettleman also was noncommittal about whether the team could keep Hardy.

"There isn't a team in this league that hasn't let a big dog walk out the door, and don't print that I'm saying he's going to go," he said two days after Carolina lost to San Francisco in the NFC playoffs.

"I'm just making a statement. There isn't anybody that hasn't done that. But again, there is a whole big puzzle we're putting together. And he's one of the pieces."

Hardy is a big piece. He played end and tackle and occasionally dropped into coverage for the league's second-ranked defense. He led the team not only in sacks but in quarterback pressures. He also was solid at stopping the run.

Coach Ron Rivera recently said after being named the Associated Press Coach of the Year that he couldn't imagine going into next year without Hardy, who has an alternate persona he calls "The Kraken."

Hardy made it clear throughout the season that he would like to return to Carolina, at one point saying he would give Carolina a "hometown discount" if the number was within reason.

The first-time Pro Bowl selection also spent Super Bowl week in New York City making a lot of radio and television appearances to make himself more visible to those who aren't aware of him.

Perhaps that's the reality that, if the Panthers don't use the franchise tag, he'll be able to make a lot more with another team, possibly NFC South rivals Atlanta and Tampa Bay, which are looking to upgrade their pass rush.

Hardy is willing to accept the $12 million a franchise tag would pay, which would be the best option for Carolina if it can afford that.

Whether it can afford that without hurting the rest of the team is the big question.

Franchise/transition tags: Saints

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
Monday is the first day that NFL teams can begin using franchise or transition tags on their free agents -- which means we're inching closer to one of the more fascinating contract debates in recent history between the New Orleans Saints and Jimmy Graham.

At some point between now and the March 3 deadline, the Saints will use their franchise tag on Graham, unless they work out a long-term contract extension first (which seems highly unlikely).

When that happens, Graham and agent Jimmy Sexton are expected to file a grievance through the NFL Players Association claiming that Graham should officially be franchised as a wide receiver instead of a tight end, since he lined up either in the slot or out wide for 67 percent of his snaps last season.

A third-party arbitrator would then be agreed upon by the NFLPA and the NFL Management Council to hear the case. And that will be a monumental decision, since the difference between the franchise tag salary for a tight end and receiver is expected to be around $6.7 million versus $11.5 million.

I broke down the possible scenarios at length last week, with some great insight from longtime former NFL general manager Bill Polian and data compiled by ESPN Stats & Information.

It will be fascinating to see if the two sides actually let this stalemate last all the way up to an arbitrator's decision. In the past, similar debates have crept up, but all of them have ultimately been worked out before reaching an arbitrator's decision.

However, finding a middle ground will be easier said than done in this case.

The Saints believe strongly that Graham should be considered a tight end -- which would give them a strong case for keeping his salary below $10 million per year in a long-term contract extension. But Graham's side will likely push for a contract well more than $10 million per year -- more in line with the top receivers around the NFL who put up similar numbers.

As for the specific type of franchise tag the Saints will use on Graham, I'm assuming they'll go with the more traditional “non-exclusive” tag over the more costly “exclusive rights” tag. Here's a breakdown of those options.

If the Saints somehow work out a long-term deal with Graham in the next two weeks, I wouldn't expect them to use any of their tags on any other pending free agents.