Starting today, all 32 NFL teams will have the ability to place the franchise tag on one player of their choosing. The deadline for applying said tag is Monday, April 5, eight days before free agency begins.
The underlying purpose of the franchise tag is for teams to have the option of retaining a player with an expiring contract if a long-term agreement can’t be had before free agency begins. Unlike previous seasons, in which a franchised player would receive the average salary of the five highest paid players at his position, the NFL’s new CBA introduces a complicated formula that now controls what the number for each position will be.
For 2012, the numbers figure out as such:
QB: $14.4 million in 2012; down from $16.1 million in 2011
RB: $7.7 million in 2012; down from $9.6 million in 2011
WR: $9.4 million in 2012; down from 11.4 million in 2011
TE: $5.4 million in 2012; down from $7.3 million in 2011
OL: $9.4 million in 2012; down from $10.1 million in 2011
DE: $10.6 million in 2012; down from $13 million in 2011
DT: $7.9 million in 2012; down from $12.5 million in 2011
LB: $8.8 million in 2012; down from $10.1 million in 2011
CB: $10.6 million in 2012; down from $13.5 million in 2011
S: $6.2 million in 2012; down from $8.8 million in 2011
Since Ted Thompson took over as GM in 2005, the Packers have used the franchise tag just twice.
DT Corey Williams received the tag in 2006 and then was traded to the Cleveland Browns for a second-round pick, and DL Ryan Pickett got the tag in 2010 but worked out a four-year, $25 million deal shortly thereafter.
In 2012, it’s widely assumed that the Packers will be using their tag on one of three players: quarterback Matt Flynn, tight end Jermichael Finley or center Scott Wells.
Let’s quickly run down each of those options:
Tagging Finley is likely the leader in the clubhouse. He turns just 25 years old at the end of March but hasn’t come close to scratching the ceiling of his football potential. Coach Mike McCarthy has also talked at length on several occasions about how much the matchup-busting tight end means to the Packers offense. Yet after just five starts in 2010 and an inconsistent 2011 season, Finley hasn’t quite sold the Packers on the idea that he has earned the kind of top-end tight end money that he’s likely asking for in negotiations. In the end, Finley is exactly the kind of player the NFL envisioned when the franchise tag came about: Young, talented and important, but difficult to retain. If the Packers aren’t confident in being able to re-sign Finley before March 13, they would be taking a huge risk by not franchising him. Letting Finley walk and then having to restart at what has become an increasingly important position doesn’t make a lot of sense with the franchise tag as an option. Finally, it’s unlikely that Finley would win an arbitration case on the WR-TE tag, as he lined up as a tight end on more snaps in 2011.
It is pretty easy to understand fans’ infatuation with tagging Flynn and then trading him away for picks. Flynn’s trade compensation would dwarf what the Packers would get as a comp pick for letting him walk in free agency, and there’s always a bonus in being able to control the final destination of a good football player. But there’s far more to this decision than just the compensation and destination. For starters, tagging Flynn—a backup quarterback at best on the Packers’ roster—eliminates the tag possibility for Finley or even Wells. Also, the Packers would need to trim salary immediately, as the franchise number for quarterbacks is $14.4 million and the Packers’ cap situation is somewhere in the $10-11 range right now. That kind of monetary commitment would really put stress on the way Thompson handles the cap in the present. In the end, I don’t think tagging Flynn is completely out of the picture, but there’s a lot of things that need to fall into place quickly for this to come to fruition.
You could make a pretty sensible argument that Wells is the Packers’ most important free agent this offseason. He is getting up there in age (Wells will turn 32 years old next January) but 2011 was the best year of his career and the Packers have no future plans at the center position. Would that make him a viable tag candidate if the two sides were at an impasse in negotiations? It’s unlikely. The franchise number for offensive lineman is $9.4 million, and centers are rarely kept at a number that high. The Packers should play their hand on signing Wells to a manageable multi-year deal, and if Wells isn’t satisfied, he’ll hit the market. But even if he does enter free agency without a new deal, the Packers should eventually get him signed, much like they did with Chad Clifton a handful of seasons ago. Losing Wells would only create another gaping hole on the roster.
The Packers work to find a common ground with Finley, but no deal is going to be reached before free agency starts looming over the negotiations. Instead of losing such a dynamic talent like Finley, the Packers franchise him at a very reasonable $5.4 million. Flynn happily walks in free agency to the highest bidder, and Thompson happily takes a compensatory pick next April. Wells gets to free agency without a new deal but eventually agrees to return to Green Bay on a three- or four-year deal.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2