Franks gets transition tag

The Green Bay Packers on Monday took a step toward keeping Bubba Franks for at least another season by putting the transition player tag on the tight end.<p>

The Green Bay Packers on Monday took a step toward keeping Bubba Franks for at least another season by putting the transition player tag on the tight end.

With the designation, Franks is free to seek contract offers from other teams beginning March 2 but the Packers have the ability to match a signed offer and retain the standout.

Under league rules, as a transition player Franks can sign a one-year contract with the Packers worth the average of the 10 highest-paid players at his position. For a tight end, that works out to $2.095 million.

"Bubba is a fine player, and we would like to have him on our team," Packers general manager Ted Thompson told the Green Bay News-Chronicle.

It was a bit of a surprise Franks wasn't named the franchise player. That tag would have all but guaranteed Franks would remain a Packer — the price for another team to sign a franchise player is two first-round picks — and would have cost the average of the top five salaries among NFL tight ends, $2.687 million.

As a transition player, if Franks signs elsewhere the Packers receive no compensation.

While the financial hit wouldn't have been much greater — the difference between transition and franchise designations is less than $600,000 — the Packers would be in deep trouble without Franks. The No. 2 tight end is David Martin, an underachieving player who is a restricted free agent. The No. 3 tight end is Ben Steele, who coach Mike Sherman is high on but did little outside of his role on special teams.

Franks, the Packers' first-round pick in 2000, is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and was an alternate following the 2004 season. His 188 career receptions is tied for third among tight ends in franchise history. His 28 touchdown catches trails only Paul Coffman's 39 among team tight ends.

In 2004, Franks caught 34 passes for 361 yards and seven touchdowns. The seven TDs tied Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez for second in the league among tight ends, trailing only San Diego's Antonio Gates' 13. As one of the more productive tight ends in the game — especially in the red zone — Franks figures to command a lot of attention on the open market.

The deadline to name players transition or franchise is 3 p.m. Tuesday.

By giving Franks the transition tag, the Packers bought themselves two weeks of exclusive negotiating time to sign him to a long-term contract. Two years ago, the Packers gave the transition tag to defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt and the team was able to sign him to a long-term contract before he officially hit the open market.

Free agents are eligible to negotiate and sign with other teams beginning March 2.

A long-term contract would lessen the salary-cap blow of the $2.095 million tender; critical since the Packers are about $5 million above the projected $85.5 million cap. The Packers will gain cap relief assuming they release standout guard Mike Wahle. Wahle's cap number for 2005 is $11 million — $5 million in salary and $6 million in roster bonus.

Monday was the first day players could be released.

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