Franchised players left longing

Franchised players who didn't sign long-term deals by Monday's deadline, including 49ers' safety Dashon Goldson and Lions' defensive end Cliff Avril, are left to prove it all over again while playing the odds under lucrative one-year deals.

In the kind of flurry of negotiating and deal-making activity that always seems to accompany any NFL deadline -- and which spurred agreements with an aggregate face value of nearly $215 million and that included a record $100 million contract for New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees -- five players previously assigned the franchise tag signed accords in about 80 hours starting last Friday morning.

That was only two fewer than had signed long-term franchise contracts in the first five months of free agency. And it directed much of the attention over the past several days to the franchise players who figure to remain with their current clubs for at least a few more seasons.

But that left six players who signed only a one-year franchise tender, and three more who have yet to sign anything, but are relegated to eventual one-year deals.

And while a lot can transpire between now and next spring, when teams must make another decision about the futures of those nine players, it's never too early to speculate about which members of the group of nine won't be back with their current franchises for the 2013 season.

There figure to be several one-and-done players from the nine. And a few more who will be one-and-let's-get-it-done, as far as long-term contracts, as well, with their clubs either exercising the franchise tag for a second straight season or attempting to work out a long-term contract. But there is now a seven-month window, not to mention an entire 2012 campaign, for both players and teams to evaluate a long-term strategy for dealing with the franchise players now limited to one-year tender contracts for the upcoming season.

And both sides, now able to exhale a little bit after the Monday deadline for signing guys to multi-year contracts, figure to take advantage of the stretch ahead.

"You'd always like the security (of a long-term contract)," said San Francisco's Dashon Goldson, one of the three franchise players who has yet to sign even his one-year tender. "But we'll see what happens in Round Two ... if there is one. There's still a long time until we reach that point."

The multi-year contracts signed by fellow safeties Michael Griffin in Tennessee and Oakland's Tyvon Branch did not provide the kind of blueprint many predicted might spark a Goldson deal. Neither did the DeSean Jackson contract with Philadelphia prompt long-term contracts for wide receivers Wes Welker of New England (one-year tender) or Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe (unsigned). Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril (unsigned) didn't use the contracts of Robert Mathis of Indianapolis or Calais Campbell as guideposts. Kickers Mike Nugent of Cincinnati and Cleveland's Phil Dawson signed only one-year contracts, despite the fact three of their placement-kicking cohorts each got four-year contracts.

"What it shows," said a top executive from a team with one of the nine franchise players unable to reach a long-term accord, "is that every situation is evaluated team by team. They're all different cases. And those cases could change over the next (seven) months. We'll see. There are reasons, though, either with the team or the player, for why (long-term) deals didn't get done."

And why they may never get done.

As the late agent Gary Wichard often noted, the franchise designation dramatically changed over time from what it was originally intended to be, and became a matter of bargaining leverage rather than perceived preeminence. People can debate over which side held the leverage in the latest round of franchise negotiations, but the next seven months figure to clarify the picture for all involved.

Avril, who reportedly rejected a three-year, $30 million contract, desires to be paid like one of the NFL's premier defensive ends. The Lions seem to covet Avril, but would have to tender him at $12.7 million next spring, assuming the two sides fail to agree to a long-term contract after the season, to use the franchise designation for a second straight year. Such a situation could net Avril over $23 million for two years, but might fall short of the cumulative money in the first two seasons of a long-term contract with a fat signing bonus, and might count on him staying healthy.

In the case of Welker, who is 31 and turned down a two-year, guaranteed $16 million proposal during the season, age and durability, and the Patriots' penchant for exacting hometown discounts on players with long-term contracts, probably played a part in him not landing a contract. Bowe's sometimes erratic history, and the Chiefs' reluctance to commit guaranteed upfront money to a player with a spotty past, obviously were factors in his case. His standout '11 season aside, Nugent is a journeyman, previously released by one team, and the Bengals weren't prepared to lay out big money for a kicker. Dawson was "franchised" for a second straight year and, at 37, his future seems to be laid out. Because the Browns would have to pay him a quarterback-level salary if they use the franchise tag a third straight spring, he'll either get a long-term contract after the '12 campaign or be released.

It's tough to imagine Atlanta forking over more than $12 million on a one-year deal to cornerback Brent Grimes -- what they would have to pay him if the Falcons used the franchise marker again next spring -- so a long-term deal is appropriate. But it's notable that on Tuesday, after Grimes was relegated to a one-year contract for the coming season, neither the club nor the media in Atlanta even reported on any attempts to sign the cornerback to a long-term contract now. Which means that the Falcons either knew Grimes wouldn't bite on a multi-year contract, or were content to simply play out the current tender and see what transpires next spring.

That was certainly the stance adopted in Dallas, where the Cowboys and linebacker Anthony Spencer both seemed agreeable to a one-year arrangement.

The history of players limited to one-year tenders, either by choice or deadline, is a bit uneven. But conventional wisdom certainly suggests that many of the nine guys who got or will get one-year deals for 2012 will end up playing elsewhere. In 2009, nine of 14 franchise free agents signed tenders instead of long-term contracts.

Notably, all nine are either with new teams or out of the league entirely.

Said one of the six one-year tender players on Monday night: "You've got seven months now to either prove to your (current) team that you're invaluable or to show some other team they should pay you a lot of money. For the guys who didn't get long-term contracts, that's the upshot of this all."


Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.
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