Franchise tags keep impressive talent off the market

Nine players received franchise tags and one got the transition tag, effectively keep them off the free-agent market and extending their time to sign a long-term deal with their current team.

Last week, we wrote about the recent history of teams using the franchise tag at the deadline. That deadline for 2016 came and went and, once again, a flurry of activity came into play that, when all was said and done, 10 players were slapped with either the franchise tag or transition tag.

What made the 10 selections interesting was that they represented nine different positions, enlightening many fans about the exact amount of franchise tags for different positions, which encompassed offense, defense and special teams.

On the offensive side of the ball, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins waltzed his way into a $19.53 million contract – not too shabby considering his rookie contract was for $2.5 million – not in 2015, but in all four years. Ironically, the Redskins may play wait and see to see if his 2015 sample size can carry over another year. Even if it does, they likely will be looking to cut a long-term deal that will be for less per year than what they’re now schedule to pay him.

Despite a decreasing number, which will get much lower once Adrian Peterson’s contract comes off the books, running back was a position that no team felt obligated to tag at $11 million. That could allow Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin, the second-leading rusher in the NFL, to hit the open market, where he likely won’t get an $11 million deal from anyone else. Along with tight end, running back was the only other position that didn’t receive a franchise tag designation.

Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery represented at wide receiver, getting hit with a $14.6 million tag. With the exception of Larry Fitzgerald, who is a first-ballot Hall of Famer but is being grossly overpaid at this stage of his career, the other players who comprise the elite end of the contract structure for the WR franchise tag are guys like Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green. Jeffery is very good, but is he a dominant player to that extent of the names previously listed? There isn’t a lot of unanimity there.

Buffalo offensive tackle Cordy Glenn likely isn’t going to yip too loud about getting the $13.7 million tag. As far as an average per year of any current contract – including players recently getting the heavy end of the front end of their contracts – his average per season tops the list of offensive linemen. He may be willing to put pen to paper just to make sure he cashes that big check, risks staying healthy and then gets the guaranteed money pot of gold.

Two defensive ends – Muhammad Wilkerson of the Jets and Olivier Vernon of the Dolphins – got hit with tags. Wilkerson was given the franchise tag and Vernon was the only player given the transition tag.

Denver wised up and gave Super Bowl MVP Von Miller the franchise tag at linebacker. The Broncos have a history of tagging players and then signing them before they have to pay them tag numbers (see Ryan Clady and Demaryius Thomas). Once Peyton Manning’s retirement becomes officially official – the worst-kept secret of 2016 to date – the Broncos will have the available working capital to lock down Miller and QB Brock Osweiler, who will have to live with the indignity of not being paid Kirk Cousins money.

The second worst-kept secret was that Carolina would franchise cornerback Josh Norman. While his success may be scheme-specific, he’s earned his check and, much like Richard Sherman, we won’t find out for years if his skill set would transfer to another organization as well as it does with the Panthers.

The best story of the bunch was Kansas City tagging safety Eric Berry. After it appeared his career was over and his life was in jeopardy with a cancer diagnosis, Berry is defying the odds and playing some of the best football of his life.

Baltimore doesn’t let their own get away if it can be avoided, which is why kicker Justin Tucker got hit with the franchise tag in hopes of completing a long-term deal that keeps him with the Ravens.

The franchise tag is controversial because, while it pays a player handsomely for the coming season, it prevents him from showcasing his talents on the open market. It’s something the Vikings have tried very hard to avoid using, but a strategy many other organizations have been forced to employ – nearly 30 percent of the league this season – with mixed reactions from the players hit with the tag.

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