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What you need to know about Jason Pierre-Paul and the franchise tag

3/2/2015

The deadline for NFL teams to designate franchise players is 4 p.m. ET Monday. Barring a major last-second break in long-term contract negotiations, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is likely to be among the half-dozen or so players to receive that designation. We won't know the final franchise numbers until the 2015 salary cap is official, but based on all projections you can expect Pierre-Paul's one-year salary -- if he plays on the franchise tag -- to be about $15 million for 2015.

Getting franchised today doesn't preclude Pierre-Paul from getting the long-term deal he seeks from the Giants. The two sides would still have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract. If they don't get something done by then, Pierre-Paul would play out the 2015 season on the franchise salary and then be eligible for free agency again this time next year, shortly after his 27th birthday. His 2016 franchise number, should the team decide to franchise him again, would be 120 percent of his 2015 salary, or about $18 million. That rule is designed to make it more difficult for teams to franchise players multiple times.

From what I have been told, Pierre-Paul is looking for a contract close to the top of the pass-rusher market. The deal Robert Quinn signed with the Rams last year averages about $14.2 million per year and came with about $15.6 million in guarantees. That's probably a good guideline as to where Pierre-Paul sees himself, and at this point the Giants aren't ready to commit to Pierre-Paul at that level. There are still legitimate health concerns, as Pierre-Paul's 2012 and 2013 seasons were severely affected by injuries. And while Pierre-Paul played all 16 games in 2014 and finished eighth in the league with 12.5 sacks, the Giants privately and publicly expressed concerns about the consistency of his production in the pass rush. Nine of his sacks came in the season's final five games.

So, assuming they can't get him to sign a long-term deal at their preferred price, letting him play one year on the franchise number isn't a bad way to go. It gives him a chance to put another year between himself and his health issues, and to demonstrate the week-to-week consistency they're asking from him. And at his very young age, a long-term contract signed this time next year would still include several prime seasons.

Also, they can afford to do this. The Giants have about $25 million in cap room right now, and this move would obviously eat up a large chunk of it. But they have the ability to increase their cap room with adjustments to the contracts of players such as Eli Manning, J.D. Walton, Jon Beason and Jameel McClain. They could save $3 million by releasing Walton, $2.858 million by releasing Beason and $3.1 million by releasing McClain, and they could save up to about $11 million if they extended Manning's contract beyond 2015.

It sounds crazy to say this about a team that's 13-19 over the past two seasons and has missed the playoffs three years in a row, but the Giants don't have a lot of big spending to do this offseason. The positions at which they need free-agent help aren't very costly ones. They need a right tackle or guard, a safety or two, a couple of rotation players at defensive end and defensive tackle, maybe one or two 4-3 outside linebackers and a change-of-pace running back. Tagging Pierre-Paul will use a lot of cap room, but he's by far the biggest-ticket item on their shopping list. They can absorb it.

The stickier question is how Pierre-Paul will take it. Sometimes, a player who has been looking ahead to his first big free-agent payday gets annoyed or upset about being franchised instead of signing the long-term deal of which he's been dreaming. Often, that player is annoyed enough to skip offseason workouts. Even the mandatory minicamp would not be mandatory for Pierre-Paul if he waited until after it ended to sign his franchise tender. So the biggest risk the Giants are running if they franchise Pierre-Paul is upsetting him.

But there's little-to-no risk of Pierre-Paul holding out into the regular season. Like almost everyone else who's ever been franchised, he'll eventually make his peace with the fact that this is the collectively bargained situation under which he and his fellow NFL players must operate. While the system is obviously slanted heavily in favor of the teams and not the players, a $15 million salary is a pretty sweet consolation prize. And there are worse things than being a 27-year-old free agent with two (or possibly three) double-digit sack seasons on your resume.

So there you have it. A full rundown of the situation most likely to unfold before 4 p.m. ET. Fundamentally, the Giants want Pierre-Paul on their team in 2015, and this appears to be the best way to make sure that happens. It doesn't ruin the chances of his spending his whole career with the Giants. It just delays the decision on that for at least a few more months and maybe one more year.