NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Franchise/Transition Tag AFC

Franchise/transition tag descriptions

February, 17, 2014

Franchise/transition tags: Dolphins

February, 17, 2014
The window has opened Monday for all 32 NFL teams to use the franchise tag on star players. The Miami Dolphins have used the tag two of the past three years, on defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, respectively.

Will Miami utilize the franchise tag in 2014?

I expect the Dolphins to use the exclusive tag on Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes this year. Miami cannot afford to lose its most consistent defensive player from last season and also one of the few proven corners in its secondary. Perhaps the nonexclusive tag is a possibility, considering no team would want to give up two first-round picks for Grimes. The transition tag would be too dangerous, as other teams could outbid Miami for the star corner.

Grimes was phenomenal in 2013 after signing a one-year contract. He tied for the team lead with four interceptions. But Grimes’ coverage was so consistent that opposing quarterbacks often threw to the weaker corner on the other side.

Grimes also showed he could bounce back 100 percent from Achilles surgery in 2012. He made his second Pro Bowl and even got an interception in that game. I asked Grimes at the end of the season if this was his best year, and he said it was.

The Dolphins have a lot of free agents this year. But Grimes is the only legitimate candidate for the franchise tag. The Dolphins will try to work out a long-term extension with Grimes, but the one-year franchise tag is a major bargaining chip in the team’s favor.

Miami would be wise to tag Grimes if both sides cannot reach an agreement soon. There is flexibility with the tag that still allows both sides to negotiate an extension well into the summer. The worst mistake the Dolphins could make is to let Grimes hit the open market on March 11, when there is a solid chance a bidding war could commence and Grimes might not return.

Franchise/transition tags: Browns

February, 17, 2014
Franchise-tag possibilities: center Alex Mack, safety T.J. Ward

Transition-tag possibilities: none

Player most likely to be franchised: Ward

Likelihood: 75 percent

Mack and Ward have both been productive starters for the Browns since they joined the team, Mack as a first-round pick in 2009, Ward as a second-rounder in 2010.

Neither, though, would be a possibility for the exclusive franchise tag. That would simply be too expensive. (For an explanation of the franchise and transition tags, click here.)

Ward would be a likely candidate for the non-exclusive tag.

That’s because, according to the new collective bargaining agreement, Mack would receive the average salary of the top 10 offensive linemen if he was tagged, not just the top centers. That includes left tackles, which makes tagging Mack a $10 million proposition. A year ago, the franchise-tag cost for an offensive lineman was $9.828 million. That figure will go up this year.

Safety, though, was a relative $6.916 million, a number that will go up this year.

Eight safeties average more than that figure per year, led by Troy Polamalu at $9.867 million and Eric Berry at $8.33 million. The same number (eight) have a higher salary-cap cost than $6.9 million.

Ward is probably among or close to the top 10 safeties in the league. His franchise cost would be in line with what others make. No team would give up two first-round draft picks for Ward, so if the Browns decide the salary cost is palatable, they could apply the tag and keep Ward with the Browns.

As for centers, only five offensive linemen average $10 million or more per season -- including the Browns' Joe Thomas. Only eight have a salary-cap cost of more than $10 million per season.

Mack is a very good player, but he’s not among the league’s top 10 linemen.

Finances would seem to dictate that if any Browns player receives the franchise tag, it will be Ward, and the chances are probably fairly good it happens.

Franchise/transition tags: Broncos

February, 17, 2014
In each of the previous two years, the Denver Broncos used the franchise tag on an impending free agent they hoped to lock up to a long-term deal but just needed a little more time to cross all the T's and dot all the I's in the contract.

In 2012, it was kicker Matt Prater, who got the tag before he signed a new multiyear deal with the team. Last year it was left tackle Ryan Clady, who was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery when the Broncos placed the tag on him.

Clady, who would have earned $9.828 million on that one-year deal had the tag remained in place, eventually worked out a five-year, $52.5 million contract with the team just before training camp.

But don’t look for the Broncos to use either of the tags this time around. Their most prominent free agents -- most notably running back Knowshon Moreno, wide receiver Eric Decker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and linebacker Wesley Woodyard -- have been productive starters with the team, but none are so deep in the team’s plans that the Broncos would use the tags to have them guaranteed of being on the roster next season.

Decker has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since the Broncos signed Peyton Manning, but the franchise-tag salary on a one-year deal at wide receiver was $10.537 million last year and is expected to be slightly higher this time around.

At running back, the franchise tag was $8.219 million last season, and at linebacker, it was $9.619 million.

The Broncos will make offers to most of their impending free agents, but it’s likely all of their more high-profile unrestricted free agents could get better offers, in terms of overall money, elsewhere.

Decker, Moreno, guard Zane Beadles and defensive end Robert Ayers are among the team’s free agents who, next month, will complete deals they signed with the Broncos as rookies. It will be their first opportunity in the open market. Woodyard, who has been a team captain in each of his six seasons with the Broncos, just finished his second contract with the team, while other unrestricted free agents, like Rodgers-Cromartie, safety Mike Adams, linebacker Paris Lenon and defensive end Shaun Phillips, came from elsewhere.

Part of the issue for the Broncos this time around is securing the players who are set to become free agents following the 2014 season, a group that includes wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.

Franchise/transition tags: Patriots

February, 17, 2014
Monday marks the first day NFL teams can use the franchise/transition tag, and cornerback Aqib Talib and receiver Julian Edelman are the team's two top free agents.

Would the Patriots consider using the franchise tag on them?

A franchise tag on either player would cost approximately $11 million on a one-year deal, making it highly unlikely the team does.

There is one scenario, however, in which a tag wouldn't be completely shocking.

In 2010, the Patriots used the franchise tag on defensive tackle Vince Wilfork as a vehicle to buy more time in negotiations on a long-term extension. At that point, the Patriots and Wilfork had reached the red zone in contract talks and just needed a little more time to push the deal across the goal line.

The Patriots tagged Wilfork to protect their asset, both sides played nice with public statements and a long-term deal eventually got done.

We could envision that type of scenario with Talib. Not so much Edelman.

But, on the whole, we'd call it more of a long shot.

Franchise/transition tags: Steelers

February, 17, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers, usually judicious with the designations that prevent a player from becoming an unrestricted free agent, are unlikely to use a franchise or transition tag for the third year in a row.

Jason Worilds, who had a breakout season in 2013, is the only candidate for a tag, but it looks as though the Steelers will try to re-sign the outside linebacker without the benefit of a safety net.

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

"They're always available to us," general manager Kevin Colbert said last week when asked if the Steelers will tag one of their players, "but I'd say doubtful."

The Steelers' precarious salary-cap situation -- Colbert acknowledged that the team has some "work to do" to get in compliance by March 11 -- is probably the biggest reason tags won't be in play for a third year in a row.

Using a franchise tag on Worilds would require the Steelers to offer the fourth-year veteran a one-year contract that should be at least $10 million (franchise tags for linebackers were $9.62 million last year).

The Steelers have used tags in the past with the goal of later re-signing that player to a long-term deal. They were successful in doing that three years ago with outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who received a franchise tag but later signed a six-year, $61.5 million contract.

The problem for a team that has to to get in compliance with the cap by the start of the NFL's new year and have the flexibility to sign their own free agents or others is that once a tagged player signs the one-year contract, the money is guaranteed.

More significant, it counts against the cap, and the Steelers do not have enough flexibility to absorb a $10 million hit -- or one that is not appreciably lower even if a transition tag is used -- without scrambling their finances and compromising their roster.

Worilds, who recorded 8.5 sacks in 2013 and supplanted Woodley at left outside linebacker late in the season, tops the list of Steelers unrestricted free agents the organization will try to re-sign.

The best-case scenario for the Steelers is to lock up Worilds before the free-agent signing period starts March 11. But it also looks as if they are prepared to gamble that they can still get a deal done even if Worilds hits the open market with no provisions for the Steelers to match any offer he receives.

Franchise/transition tags: Texans

February, 17, 2014
A long-term deal is almost always the better option for a player than being placed under the franchise tag. Sometimes it's also better for a team, many of which use it as a last resort.

That's how the Texans have viewed the designation of late. The franchise and lesser used transition tags offer tighter deadlines and windows which don't jive with the way Houston has done business.

Typically, the Texans re-sign players they want to keep the year before their contracts expire, a process spearheaded by general manager Rick Smith and vice president of football administration Chris Olsen. The players they can't reach deals with are sometimes ones they're willing to let go in free agency, as was the case with Connor Barwin and Glover Quin last offseason.

A franchise tag allows a team to restrict the movement of one pending free agent. Today the window for applying it and a transition tag, which is a similar concept but less restrictive, begins.

Tagging a player puts his next year's salary among the top five to 10 at his position. The top Houston players hitting free agency this year are nose tackle Earl Mitchell, defensive end Antonio Smith (one of the highest tag numbers), offensive guard Wade Smith and running back Ben Tate.

Of those, Mitchell and Tate are most likely gone. Tate will cost more than the Texans will be willing to pay for him and Mitchell's skill set is better suited for a 4-3 defense.

As for Smith and Smith, the more veteran of the group, I wouldn't be surprised if they returned in some capacity, but I would be very surprised if the Texans franchised either of them.

Antonio Smith made $6 million last year and had a salary-cap number of $9.5 million. His franchise number would be $12.475 million according to a projection by Wade Smith made $3 million last year and had a cap number of $3.75 million, but his franchise number, raised by left tackle salaries, is projected to be $11.126 million.

Franchise/transition tags: Titans

February, 17, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As good as Alterraun Verner was in 2013, it’s hard to imagine the Titans would view him as being worth the salary that will be tied to the franchise or transition tags for a cornerback.

Monday is the start of the window during which the teams can apply tags to pending free agents. Each team can use only one.

Verner had a cap number of $1.454 million in 2013, the fourth and final year of his rookie contract.

Last year, the franchise-tag number for cornerbacks was $10.854 million, and the transition tag was $9.095 million.

A franchise tag means the player gets that salary guaranteed for one season. If another team signs him to an offer sheet and his current team doesn’t match it, his original team gets two first-round picks as compensation. That’s an exorbitant price.

A transition tag means the player gets that salary guaranteed for one season. If another team signs him to an offer sheet and his current team doesn’t match it, there is no compensation involved.

Verner was very productive in 2013, with five interceptions -- including one returned for a touchdown -- as well as 26 passes defensed and the eighth-most tackles on the team (73).

He’s got a knack for the ball and a great feel for where it will be heading, but he doesn’t have the speed or the size (he’s 5-foot-10, 186 pounds) teams expect from a top cornerback who’s getting top price.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean recently reported there has been minimal movement between Verner and the Titans. The two sides are expected to talk at the scouting combine in Indianapolis later this week.

I think the Titans value Verner and will make a fair offer.

But come March 11 and the start of free agency, I expect at least one other team will value him more and the Titans will be turning to Coty Sensabaugh or Blidi Wreh-Wilson as their No. 2 cornerback.

Franchise/transition tags: Colts

February, 17, 2014
NFL teams can begin franchise tagging players on Monday. Only eight players received the franchise tag from their teams last year. Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee was one of those eight players. The Colts used the franchise tag to pay him $2.977 million last season.

Cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Antoine Bethea are two players the Colts could potentially use their tag on this year.

I’d say it’s a long shot, though, based on the amount of money paid out to cornerbacks and safeties by teams using the franchise tag last season.

The franchise-tag number for cornerbacks last season was $10.8 million; it was $6.9 million for safeties.

Davis has the talent to become one of the top cornerbacks in the league, but he didn’t show enough last season to make a jump from the $1.86 million he made to likely more than $10 million once the tag numbers for 2014 are set.

The tag number for safeties might hover around the $7 million mark again, and if that’s the case, it would be only a slight increase in pay for Bethea, who made $5.75 million last season.

Putting the franchise tag on Bethea would hurt him because he’ll be 30 years old in July, and there might not be too many more opportunities for him to sign a multiyear contract.

"It’s my first time really testing the market, so [I am] kind of excited," Bethea said in January. "Want to finish my career here, but if not, hey, got to go on and start a new chapter in my career."

Here is an explanation of the franchise-tag guidelines.

Franchise/transition tags: Bills

February, 17, 2014
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.

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.
One priority in free agency for the San Diego Chargers is re-signing middle linebacker Donald Butler. The two sides broke off discussions on a long-term deal during the 2013 season. But with the Chargers looking to get something done before the start of free agency on March 11, preliminary discussions are in the works, with the potential of talks picking up at the NFL scouting combine this week in Indianapolis.

A third-round draft selection in the 2010 draft, Butler is considered a core player for the Chargers. He missed four games in 2013 but finished second on the team in tackles with 84 during the regular season. And in the playoffs, Butler elevated his game for the Chargers, a good sign for an organization that wants to make the University of Washington product a piece of the team's foundation.

With Monday being the first day teams can begin using franchise-tag designations, the Chargers could consider placing an exclusive franchise-tag designation on Butler, although they would likely wait until closer to the March 3 deadline for using the tag designations.

The projected salary for franchised linebackers is expected to be around $10 million, which is more than San Diego would like to pay Butler in terms of an annual salary. Using the franchise-tag tender designation would also hamper the Chargers in securing other free agents because they are tight against the cap.

However, if negotiations are at an impasse, the Chargers could use the exclusive franchise tag to make sure Butler cannot negotiate with other teams while the two sides continue to work on a multiyear deal.