NFL Nation: franchise tag

The deadline for NFL franchise players to sign long-term contracts in 2013 will pass Monday at 4 p.m. ET.

NFC West teams can afford to sit back and watch without consequence. For the second time in three years and the third time since divisional realignment in 2002, no teams from the division named a franchise player.

The three potential NFC West candidates we discussed all departed their teams' rosters as unrestricted free agents this offseason:

Elsewhere, the Denver Broncos reached agreement over the weekend on a long-term deal for 2013 franchise player Ryan Clady. But as the first chart shows, there were only eight franchise players across the league this offseason, down from 21 a year ago.

Several interesting developments took place while I was away last week leading up to free agency.

Here are my thoughts on the most recent moves in the AFC East:

1. Wes Welker to test free agency

Thoughts: Even with added cap room thanks to quarterback Tom Brady, you knew the negotiations between Welker and the New England Patriots would not be easy. The Patriots rarely overpay for anyone, and that includes a player as successful and productive as Welker. New England has a number in mind for Welker and will stick as close to that number as possible. Welker, who has never been a free agent in his career, believes his five, 100-catch seasons can land a lucrative contract. Both sides are playing poker and appear willing to risk losing each other. This should be one of the most compelling storylines of free agency this week.

2. Miami Dolphins keep three key players

Thoughts: The Dolphins entered this offseason with more than $40 million of cap room, and I like Miami's moves to spend some to keep its own talent. The Dolphins paid receiver Brian Hartline a five-year, $30.775 million contract and backup quarterback Matt Moore $8 million over two years. This plugs two holes on offense. Giving Randy Starks the franchise tag is the only move I question. Starks is a good player, but he's not a top-five defensive tackle and will be paid that way in 2013 unless the Dolphins work out a long-term extension. Starks will make $8.45 million in salary next season. That’s also a big number against the cap.

3. Buffalo Bills re-sign cornerback Leodis McKelvin

Thoughts: The Bills re-signed McKelvin to a four-year, $20 million contract. I thought the Bills overpaid for a former first-round pick who underachieved as a cornerback and was a backup. The biggest asset is that McKelvin remains one of the NFL's best kick returners. But an average of $5 million per season seemed steep for a special teamer. Perhaps McKelvin will improve his coverage skills and develop into a better nickel corner under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

4. New York Jets continue search for quarterback

Thoughts: The Jets are still looking for a quarterback to challenge incumbent Mark Sanchez this season and are quickly running out of options. The latest name is former Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami quarterback David Garrard. He provided stiff competition in Miami last year before injuring his knee and getting released. Garrard is 35, injury-prone and in the twilight of his career. It’s unclear how much he has left in the tank.
The 2013 deadline for naming franchise players passed Monday without NFC West teams using the mechanism to protect against losing their unrestricted free agents.

Dashon Goldson, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl safety, tweeted his approval.

Teams can begin negotiating with representatives for UFAs from March 9 before the signing period opens March 12.

Goldson, 49ers tight end Delanie Walker and St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola are among the more notable NFC West players scheduled to hit the unrestricted market.

Goldson earned $6.2 million as the 49ers' franchise player last year. The labor agreement would have required the 49ers to increase that by 20 percent to $7.45 million if the team decided to name him its franchise player for a second consecutive season.

Without the franchise tag, Goldson is free to test the market for the second time as a veteran player. Last time, Goldson settled for a one-year, $2 million deal from the 49ers. This time, Goldson, 28, has Pro Bowls on his résumé. Will teams pony up?

The 49ers had the NFL's most expensive defense last season. Giving Goldson a 20 percent raise as a two-time franchise player would have been difficult philosophically in that context. The team was more interested in extending inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman's contract. Bowman signed an extension during the season.

San Francisco would like to retain Goldson and Walker. The tag value for Goldson ($7.45 million) and Walker ($6.066 million) lagged far behind what teams would have to pay franchise players at quarterback ($14.896 million), defensive end ($11.175 million), cornerback ($10.854 million) or wide receiver ($10.537 million). The 49ers' reluctance to tag Goldson and Walker could reflect their acknowledgement that difficult decisions must be made in the interests of long-term planning. Their reluctance also could reflect a line of thought that neither player is worth that much on a per-season basis.

Nothing would stop either Goldson or Walker from re-signing with the 49ers later in the process.

Amendola's situation in St. Louis is one we discussed in detail previously. As the chart shows, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was much more effective on third and fourth downs last season when Amendola was on the field. However, Bradford averaged slightly more yards per pass attempt across all downs when Amendola was off the field. That is not to suggest that the Rams would be better off without Amendola. Rather, it's fair to question whether Amendola would be worth the $10.537 million franchise price as a frequently injured player whose value could be limited to third-down situations as a slot receiver.

NFL teams named eight franchise players Monday, down from 21 last season.

The list included Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, Dallas Cowboys defensive end-turned-linebacker Anthony Spencer, Denver Broncos tackle Ryan Clady, Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, Kansas City Chiefs tackle Branden Albert and Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks.

The Colts' use of the tag for McAfee moves them past Seattle as the team that has used the franchise tag most frequently since the designation became available in 1993. Indianapolis (11), Seattle (10) and Arizona (nine) top that list, according to Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information.
The Buffalo Bills are a struggling organization trying to move forward. That is why it was important to place the franchise tag on starting safety Jairus Byrd.

Byrd is one Buffalo’s few franchise building blocks. Players like Byrd, tailback C.J. Spiller, receiver Steve Johnson and possibly defensive end Mario Williams (if he plays to his potential) provide Buffalo a foundation of players to build around. The Bills couldn't afford to lose any of those key players.

Byrd, who made the Pro Bowl this past season, is Buffalo’s most consistent defensive playmaker. He has recorded 18 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles in his four-year career. He’s also durable, missing just two games in his career.

Buffalo cut its other starting safety, George Wilson, earlier this offseason. Losing Byrd would have been devastating to the Bills’ secondary.

The Bills are wise to protect their investment. Byrd might not be happy with the tag, but it doesn't mean the Bills won't continue to negotiate a long-term extension this offseason.

But the franchise tag promises Byrd will be a Bill one way or another in 2013. That is great news for Buffalo fans.

Is this it for Jake Long in Miami?

December, 4, 2012
The Miami Dolphins put four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long on injured reserve Tuesday evening. Long tore his tricep muscle in the first half of Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the New England Patriots.

But here is the multi-million dollar question: Did Long just play his last game in Miami? The former No. 1 overall pick will be an unrestricted free agent in March after wrapping up his rookie contract.

Whether to re-sign Long or let him walk is the biggest decision Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland will make this offseason. It’s a complex situation with many layers.

Long was once considered the top left tackle in the NFL. But he’s been plagued by injuries and inconsistency the past two seasons. This is the second consecutive year Long ended his season on injured reserve. Can Miami make Long one of the NFL’s highest-paid linemen based on his play the past two seasons?

Long plays the premium position of left tackle, and good left tackles are hard to find. Long is no longer elite, but still a top-10 player at his position. The development of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill also depends on good pass protection on the blindside.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the franchise tag is not an option for Long. Therefore, the Dolphins have narrowed their choices to a long-term extension or letting Long sign elsewhere.

The Dolphins (5-7) will start rookie Jonathan Martin at left tackle for the remainder of the season. Martin’s performance over the final four games could determine if Long returns to Miami next season.

Willie McGinest was right: You cannot beat the New England Patriots in contract negotiations.

The Patriots are emotionless and truly believe no one player is above the team. Many NFL clubs say it but later cave into star players' wishes. The Patriots do not.

Wes Welker is the latest poster child of "The Patriot Way." The deadline for players under the franchise tag passed at 4 p.m. ET Monday without a new extension for Welker. He will receive no long-term security and this could turn out to be his final season in New England.

So how did Welker and New England get to this point?

A case can be made that Welker has done everything right in his five years with the Patriots. He is an undersized receiver who worked very hard to overachieve and outperform a modest contract with New England.

Welker never complained about his previous contract. He signed it and played it out in full. But this offseason was supposed to be a reward for years of staying quiet and playing great football. Welker caught 100 or more passes in four of his five seasons in New England.

Instead, the Patriots are sticking to what they are comfortable with and didn't budge. They want to keep the 31-year-old Welker for at least one more season. New England is willing to risk of losing Welker when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2013. Another, more expensive franchise tag is possible next year. But the Patriots will not give Welker a long-term contract at 32, when they wouldn't do it at 31.

McGinest, who won three Super Bowls with New England, warned Welker this offseason during a highly-publicized Twitter spat. McGinest pointed out to Welker that every player is replaceable at One Patriot Drive, and Welker should be happy he’s getting the one-year, $9.5 million offer. Welker scoffed at McGinest but on Monday learned the hard way that McGinest is correct.

The Patriots' harsh approach to doing business under Bill Belichick has worked well the past dozen years. It's hard to argue with three Super Bowl championships and 10 AFC East titles since 2000.

But there are some Patriots casualties who feel cheated along the way. You now can add Welker to that list.
The deadline for New England Patriots Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker to get a contract extension is about 24 hours away -- and things still look bleak.

A source told’s Mike Reiss this weekend Welker and the Patriots are not expected to reach an agreement before Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline. That means Welker will play 2012 on the one-year franchise tag of $9.5 million and become an unrestricted free agent in 2013.

Not much has changed between Welker and the Patriots in the past few weeks. Both sides are talking but progress is slow. The Patriots appear comfortable keeping Welker, 31, on the one-year franchise tag, while Welker wants long-term security.

Either way, Welker said he would not let his contract situation impact his performance. Welker had at least 100 receptions in four of the past five seasons. He is an important part of the offense and that will continue in 2012.

But what happens in 2013 between Welker and the Patriots does not look good. The franchise price tag will increase next year to the point where the Patriots wouldn't pay it. It also appears less likely New England would provide a long-term extension to Welker at 32, when the team isn't expected to do the same a year earlier.

If things play out Monday as expected, this could be Welker's final season as a Patriot. Is this the right call for the defending AFC champions?

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has been drawing most of the attention as Monday’s deadline for franchise players to get long-term deals approaches.

But there’s one other NFC South player carrying the franchise tag that’s worth keeping an eye on the next few days. That’s Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes.

As D. Orlando Ledbetter writes, Grimes is in a much different spot than Brees. To start with, Grimes already has signed his franchise tag, worth $10.281 million. Brees hasn’t signed anything and there’s one other key difference between the two. Brees is the only player in the league who was hit with the exclusive-rights franchise tag.

The mere fact that Grimes signed his franchise tag in the spring is a pretty strong indication that he’s prepared to play for the tender this season and hope for a long-term deal down the road. There aren’t any strong indications the Falcons and Grimes are talking about quickly working a long-term deal and the Falcons don’t have a lot of salary-cap room to work with. But salary-cap room really shouldn’t be a factor if Grimes and the Falcons want to work a deal now.

If structured properly, Grimes' first-year cap figure in a new deal could be well less than the $10.281 million. That’s why I’m not completely ruling out the possibility of Grimes getting a long-term deal before Monday’s deadline. There might not be any active negotiations, but I think there’s a good chance the Falcons previously let Grimes know what they’d be willing to do in terms of a long-term deal.

If an offer remains on the table, Grimes could decide to take it before Monday afternoon.

For the record, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also used the franchise tag on kicker Connor Barth. But the Bucs and Barth worked out a long-term deal in May.

Report: Brees holdout possible

July, 10, 2012

We’re less than a week away from the deadline for franchise quarterback Drew Brees to sign a long-term deal and, as you might expect, the innuendo is heating up.

Chris Mortensen reports that sources said Brees has no plans to sign his $16 million franchise tender and report to training camp if a long-term deal isn’t reached by 4 p.m. ET next week. A holdout would be a nightmare scenario for every New Orleans fan. Same for Brees and the Saints.

Can I see Brees actually playing that kind of hardball when it comes right down to it? Yeah, his competitive streak and pride are part of what make him so good on the field, and I think he’s just stubborn enough to do it, because he’s probably looking at the last contract of his career.

That said, I still highly doubt this will come down to a holdout. In relative terms, there still is a lot of time to get a long-term deal done.

Talks have been going on for months, and both sides have a common goal. According to Mortensen, the Saints have offered a deal that averages $19.25 million a season, while Brees is seeking a contract worth $20.5 million a year.

In the grand scheme of things, that’s not that large a gap. One side can go up or one can go down, or the two can meet in the middle. That’s what negotiations are about, and we really are just getting down to the heavy part.

I’d expect a little more posturing. But sometime before Monday afternoon, I’d expect Brees and the Saints both to be smiling. If they’re not, then what’s already been a bad offseason for the Saints will turn into a full-fledged fiasco.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Wes Welker wants a long-term contract extension, but it's the New England Patriots who hold all the cards. That is pretty much what it boils down to with Welker's contract situation.

Despite a recent extension for Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, there has been "no meaningful progress" on contract talks with Welker, a source told the AFC East blog Thursday. Welker is scheduled to play on a one-year franchise tag worth $9.5 million in 2012.

Time is ticking for the Patriots and Welker. The deadline for working out an extension for players with the franchise tag is July 16. Perhaps the Patriots will have a change of heart over the next month or so. But things aren't looking good as of mid-June.

Earlier this month, we wrote that New England probably has to choose between two of its big three pass-catchers: Welker, Gronkowski and tight end Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots chose Gronkowski first, which was the right move. But the hard part is figuring out whom to keep long term between Welker and Hernandez. Keeping all three beyond 2013 would tie up a lot of salary-cap room on players who have fairly similar roles.

Welker is New England's best receiver but he's 31. Hernandez, 22, is nine years younger with less wear and tear, but New England already has an elite tight end. Welker will become an unrestricted free agent in 2013. Hernandez has two years left on his rookie contract, but the Patriots would probably give him a raise by 2013 as well.

The good news for New England is it doesn't have to make that choice right now. The Patriots have the trio in the fold this season at salaries they are comfortable with. We will know more about New England's future intentions with Welker after July 16.
We’ve written a lot about Drew Brees and the franchise tag.

But the New Orleans quarterback wasn’t the only player hit with the franchise tag before the start of free agency, although Brees was the only one designated with the exclusive-rights franchise tag. But he was one of a record 21 players to be designated as a franchise player.

Here’s a good overview of how things have played out so far with franchise tags. Brees is one of nine players that still has not signed a franchise tender or worked out a long-term deal. But he’s the only one from the NFC South to fall into that category.

Two other division teams used the tag, but that hasn’t resulted in the kind of problems that Brees and the Saints have had. Brees has stayed out of the offseason program, and the deadline for him to work out a long-term contract is July 16.

Tampa Bay kicker Connor Barth also was designated as a franchise player, but he and the Bucs agreed to a four-year deal worth $13.2 million. Four other franchise players around the league have worked out long-term deals.

Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes doesn’t have a long-term deal, but he has signed his tender for $10.281 million. Grimes could end up playing for that amount this season, but it still is possible for him and the Falcons to agree to a long-term contract. Six other players around the league have signed their franchise tenders.
For months, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees had been saying he was optimistic and confident a long-term contract with the Saints would be worked out.

Brees changed his tune a bit in an interview with New Orleans’ WWL Radio.

"What's been a little frustrating on my end, or disappointing, is the lack of communication," Brees said. "We've reached out on quite a few occasions and at times I know I've been frustrated with the lack of response."

Brees raised the possibility of missing the team’s upcoming minicamp (June 5-7). The Saints placed the exclusive-rights franchise tag on Brees, but the quarterback continues to say he wants a long-term deal and won’t sign his $16 million tender.

"There should be a sense of urgency and it just seems like there's not," Brees said.

It seems like a bit of finger pointing has started. There have been some reports saying Brees wants as much as $23 million per season. Brees said reports of his asking price have not been accurate.

There are two sides to every story, but the potential for this one to get truly ugly continues to grow with each day that Brees doesn’t have a long-term deal. The deadline for franchise players to work out long-term deals is July 16.

Brees had emerged as the most popular player in franchise history in recent years and was applauded for his work on and off the field. But the drawn-out contract situation has caused a bit of a divide among New Orleans fans. Some have accused Brees of being greedy. Others say the team simply should open its checkbook, give Brees whatever he wants and get the quarterback back with his teammates immediately.

Here’s your chance to weigh in on that. Cast your vote in the accompanying SportsNation poll and fill up the comments section below with your thoughts on whether Brees or the Saints are more to blame for the contract stalemate.

Offseason programs kicking off

April, 16, 2012
Most of the NFC South gets back to work Monday, but not the division’s best player.

Barring a sudden turn in contract talks that didn’t appear to be heating up recently, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is not expected to be in Metairie, La., as his teammates begin their offseason program. The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers also begin their offseason programs Monday.

The three teams will begin with conditioning and meetings, but the Saints begin their offseason program with perhaps the most intrigue ever surrounding an offseason program. Coach Sean Payton begins his season-long suspension Monday, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt takes over. But Payton won’t be the only leader missing for the Saints.

Brees has been hit with the franchise tag, and has not signed his tender. Brees has said throughout the offseason that he was optimistic a long-term contract would be agreed to, but that hasn’t happened. Brees could take part in the offseason workout if he signs a waiver, but franchise players almost never do that.

As much as it would appear to hurt the Saints that they’re opening the offseason program without their leader, it’s mostly just a symbolic thing. The Saints won’t hit the practice field for a couple of weeks. It’s a virtual certainty that Brees, who always has taken good care of himself, will work on conditioning on his own.

Brees’ absence isn’t that big a deal right now. But it would be in the best interest of the Saints and Brees to get a contract done before the team holds its minicamp. The exact date for that hasn’t been announced, but it’s likely to be in mid-May.

Speaking of minicamps, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin one on Tuesday. The Bucs got to start their offseason program two weeks earlier than the other NFC South teams because they had a coaching change. New coach Greg Schiano will get his first real on-field look at his team in a minicamp that starts Tuesday and continues through Thursday.
It appears the contract standoff between the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees will reach a point few ever expected.

Mike Triplett reports that Brees will not join his teammates when their offseason program begins Monday. A source close to Brees told Triplett that the quarterback is disappointed about the situation and wishes he could join his teammates to help fill the leadership void that will come when coach Sean Payton begins his season-long suspension Monday. Saints owner Tom Benson said Friday that the sides were close to a long-term extension.

I’d stay tuned on this one. In contract negotiations, things can change with one phone call. Although it’s looking like Brees won’t be joining the Saints on Monday, that possibility still can’t be ruled out. We’ll monitor the situation over the weekend and see if anything changes.

Brees currently is carrying the franchise tag, but wants a long-term deal. He could join the offseason program at any time, if he chooses to sign a waiver. But, at least for now, it appears Brees will stay away until he has a long-term deal.

Questions linger for Saints

April, 12, 2012
There appears to be a bit of a lull in the saga of the New Orleans Saints and their bounty program. Don’t get too used to it.

This is just a momentary pause, and new developments could come at any time. Things could start happening again as soon as Thursday, and continue right up until the start of the NFL draft.

There is no timetable, because there are many variables, and the involved parties have to work through a lot of different issues. But Monday’s start of the offseason workout program provides a sense of urgency on a couple of fronts, and the start of the NFL draft in two weeks looms as another potential marker.

[+] EnlargeJoe Vitt
AP Photo/Margaret BowlesThe Saints could turn to Joe Vitt to run the team in Sean Payton's absence this season.
Between now and Monday, the Saints almost certainly will name an interim head coach. Sean Payton’s suspension starts Monday, and someone has to be in charge when the players return to the team’s facility to begin their workouts. Bill Parcells has said he’s not going to be the coach. I know Parcells has a history of changing his mind, but I don’t see that’s happening this time. He’s 71 and says he’s going to stay retired.

The Saints have to start moving on, and indications are that they’re preparing to move assistant head coach Joe Vitt into Payton’s role. The problem with that is Vitt will begin his own six-game suspension at the start of the season. But Vitt has been Payton’s top assistant since 2006, and he knows the system and the personnel as well as anyone. Putting Vitt in charge of the offseason program and letting him run the team through training camp and the preseason makes a lot of sense, because he’ll do things the way Payton did. In that scenario, the Saints would likely elevate another assistant into the top job when Vitt’s suspension begins. But Vitt could get the team ready for the season, and take control again after the sixth game.

The other issue that could see some clarity by Monday is the contract situation of quarterback Drew Brees. He currently is carrying the franchise tag, and hasn’t signed his tender. Brees was non-committal when asked if he’ll show up at the facility Monday. I’m thinking the Saints continue to talk to Brees and his agent about a long-term deal. It would make lots of sense to get something done by Monday, so this team can start the offseason program on a positive note and start the healing process.

The other issue that’s hanging out there is the possible suspension of players for their role in the bounty program. The timetable on that is even less clear. The NFL has given no strong indication of when it plans to announce any potential disciplinary action. News could come this week or next. It almost certainly has to come before the NFL draft begins April 26. We don’t know how many current Saints could be suspended or how long those potential suspensions will last. It’s only fair that the Saints know what they’re up against before the draft. If they’re going to be without several players for multiple games, they’ll need to find replacements, and the draft is one way to accomplish that.