— The window for declaring franchise players is now open. Until February 19, any team that wants to lock down a soon-to-be free agent can use its franchise designation on that player. If they don’t get it done by then, the player’s hitting the open market.
The franchise tag is a one-year, guaranteed deal that guarantees the player a salary that’s the average of the top five salaries at his position OR 120 percent of what he made in 2008 if he was franchised the previous season. If the player is already in the top five salaries, he’ll also receive the 120 percent. While the compensation for a franchise player is great, it is a tag that prohibits him from realizing the long contract and signing bonus he’d most likely get if he were on the open market.
It’s viewed as a blessing and a curse. Some teams apply the tag in hopes of continuing to work on getting a long-term deal done. Other teams put the tag on so that they can trade the player elsewhere, which is what happened with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen last year when was with the Chiefs. Also, not every unrestricted free agent is on this list. For instance, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, franchised in 2008, got Tennessee to agree not to franchise him in 2009 if he hit certain incentives. And he hit them, so he’ll be free. These guys? Maybe not.
FRANCHISE COSTS (in millions)
Wide receiver: $9.88
Defensive End: $8.99
Offensive Line: $8.45
Running back: $6.62
Defensive tackle: $6.06
Tight end: $4.46
Matt Cassel, QB, New England
Cassel’s case is unique. If Tom Brady’s knee rehab, which was complicated by an infection, makes him a question mark for 2009, having Cassel for insurance makes sense. But it may not make financial sense. The $14.65 million cost of franchising him combined with Brady’s $14.6 million salary puts the Pats out of whack financially. The Patriots could try to franchise Cassel and trade him but, if they’re franchising a backup merely to keep him off the market, the NFLPA might have an issue with that (though they may just shrug and say $14.6 million to back up is good for a union member). Finding a trade partner who’ll give New England what it might want could be a long dance.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants
Paying Jacobs $6.62 million for a year’s worth of work is not cost-prohibitive for the Giants. If they have to, it makes sense for them to slap him with the tag. But Jacobs doesn’t believe it will come to that. “I plan on being back,” Jacobs told “Newsday” during Super Bowl week. “I can’t imagine it not working out.” Asked how he’d react to being franchised, Jacobs said, “I think we'll get something done before they need to.”
Antonio Bryant, WR, Tampa Bay
Bryant had a breakout 2008 season with 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns. At 27, his best days are conceivably ahead of him (he’s been a bit of an irritant at prior stops). And, while the two sides have been working to lock Bryant up long term, it’s been reported that Tampa will consider using the franchise tag on Bryant and paying him the $9.88 million.
Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina
The Peppers situation is a real brain-bender for Carolina. Since he was the league's highest paid defensive end last year, his franchise number is $16.7 million. He’s stated that he doesn’t want to stay in Carolina and wants to “explore other options.” Asked how he’ll respond if franchised, Peppers said, “There’s not really anything I can do about it. It’s just how it is. I don’t think I would have an option.” Peppers also said he would not hold out if the tag was applied. “I don’t think that’s how you do business,” he stated. “But I guess we’ll see if it happens.”
Terrell Suggs, LB/DE, Baltimore
Suggs was franchised last season to the tune of $8.47 million. He got a specially made tag that paid him the number between linebacker and defensive end because he floats back and forth. Suggs, who wasn’t appreciative of being tagged, has suggested he’d be willing to take a little less if he, Ray Lewis and Bart Scott were signed as a package deal (Lewis didn’t seem too keen on that). The Ravens have not ruled out using the tag on Suggs again.
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Oakland
The game's reputed best cover corner was franchised last year so he’ll make 20 percent more than the $9.96 million the franchise tag for this year. Asomugha does not want to remain in Oakland and told the Sacramento Bee in January he was hoping for a “new beginning.” Still, reports are that he will “almost certainly” be tagged.
Jordan Gross, RT, Carolina
If the Panthers don’t franchise Pepper, they can still use the tag on Gross. That’s what they did in 2008. If that happens, he’ll make $8.95 million.
Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona
The most active tackler on the NFC Champions is already drawing lines in the sand about wanting a new deal. “The world is watching. If you want to commit to changing and being a winning organization, you have to do the right things and do it the right way. This is a test.” Dansby was franchised last year, so he'll make 20 percent more than the $8.3 million the tag will cost this year. He won’t be happy if he gets tagged, though. “I helped change this organization around, no doubt about it. If they want me back here, they've got to step up to the plate."