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Saturday, February 25, 2012
On Arian Foster and the franchise tag

By Paul Kuharsky

INDIANAPOLIS — The new CBA changes the landscape for restricted free agents. It’s less costly for a team to sign a player to an offer sheet and take him away.

Arian Foster
The Houston Texans would like to sign running back Arian Foster, 25, to an extension.
If Arian Foster gets the top RFA tender, a team can sign the Houston Texans running back to a front-loaded offer sheet Houston would struggle to match. And all they’d give up is their first rounder. For a team like the Packers or Patriots, it’s not an impossible-to-envision scenario.

Houston would love to lock up Foster, who’s been the best value in the league over the past couple years, with a long-term deal. If it can’t, the franchise tag is in play. It will be worth close to $8 million.

The franchise tag has not been used on a restricted free agent since 1999, when San Francisco used it to ensure it would hold on to Terrell Owens.

Is GM Rick Smith reluctant to use the tag to secure a guy who’s only going to be a restricted free agent, not an unrestricted one?

His non-answer certainly can’t be read as a “no.”

“We will use every available option that we have and try to do, we’ll try to make the decisions that give us the best chance to impact our team overall,” Smith said. “Whether we’re talking about a Mario (Williams), an Arian (Foster) or a Chris Myers or whoever we’re talking about with respect to our guys that we would like to sign back that are in some form of free agency, whether it’s restricted or unrestricted. What we’re trying to do is put together a game plan together that gives us the best chance to have the best overall football team.”

Foster is a fantastic player in the Texans’ system. While Ben Tate can do many of the same things, I don’t think Houston can afford to lose its top back. I don’t think a team would be wise to effectively trade a first-round pick for him.

The Texans can probably risk it if they want to avoid that high one-year number or use the tag elsewhere. But if they lost him in such a scenario, there would be a ton of second-guessing.