The Vikings have some key decisions to make during the offseason as they head toward the new league year. The clock started ticking on one of those potential decisions Monday.
Monday was the start of the two-week window in which teams could put the franchise tag on potential free agents. The Vikings have the question to ask themselves: How much do they value offensive tackle Phil Loadholt? If they can't sign Loadholt to a new deal, franchising or transitioning him is an option, but the system used for tagging players might make it more difficult for the Vikings to put the tag on Loadholt.
For some reason, all offensive linemen are clumped together when it comes to the franchise tag. Those numbers for 2013 are $9.66 million for the franchise tag and $8.56 million for the transition tag – which allows a player to get offers from other teams, but gives the current team a right of first refusal to match the offer. The transition tag can also be rescinded by the current team after it is placed on a player.
For some teams, like Denver which has left tackle Ryan Clady as a potential free agent, the franchise tag makes sense. Elite left tackles are paid in excess of $10 million a year because of the critical nature of their job protecting a quarterback's blind side. Right tackles aren't coveted as much, are paid less and are viewed as much easier to replace. When Loadholt came out of Oklahoma four years ago, he was a left tackle whose feet were viewed as being "too heavy" to play left tackle in the NFL. Yet, he was able to step in and start from Day 1 as a second-round rookie with the Vikings. The conventional wisdom is that, while the Vikings want to keep Loadholt, the franchise tag might be a little too steep a price to pay.
It would seem that owners have found a way to use the franchise tag to their own benefit and greatly dilute the free agent pool. There was a time not too long ago that putting the franchise tag on a player was viewed as a slap in the face by players and all but assured that they would hold out of offseason workout programs, teams activities and minicamps. Because of that, teams were very reluctant to assign the tag to players. Clearly that has changed.
Last year, the Vikings were in the minority – they didn't use their franchise tag. Of the other 31 teams, 21 of them did. While it was still met with strong resistance from the players slapped with the tag designation, it has become much more commonplace to use the franchise tag as a negotiation strategy to either get a long-term deal done or prevent a player from getting to the free agent market for another year and presumably give a franchise more time to assess the value of a player and get a contract done.
The Vikings have been a team that has used the franchise tag as infrequently as just about anyone. As an organization, it would appear the Vikings view the alienation caused by putting the tag on players as such a deterrent that it is an act of last resort.
While the Vikings hope to bring Loadholt back – they have already heard a personal endorsement to bring him back from Adrian Peterson – don't expect the Vikings to put the franchise tag on Big Phil. It doesn't make sense given the team's history of avoiding the tag and the cost associated with it for 2013. Although it remains an option and a possibility, the organizational Magic 8-Ball is saying, "All Signs Point to No."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.