Is The Franchise Tag A Kiss Of Death?

It sounds impressive when you hear the term "franchise" applied to a player, but getting into that top five salary merely seems to be a kiss of death for most players -- especially at tight end.

When you think of the franchise tag, you think of great players. After all, the tag assures a player that he is to be paid the average of the top five salaries at his position. As the clock continues to tick until Friday, when the Vikings either need to have Jim Kleinsasser signed or they lose their franchise tag for the duration of any contract he signs, you have to wonder about the value of the franchise tag.

As most of you know, the franchise tag guarantees a player the average of the top five salaries at his position, but for 2003 it's rather embarrassing to see the players that make up that top five group. At QB, Peyton Manning tops the list, but he is joined by Jake Plummer, Mark Brunell, Kerry Collins and Kordell Stewart – two of whom will be with new teams this year.

The same is true at RB, where the top five salaries include Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Stephen Davis, Eddie George and Corey Dillon. Two of those top three (Smith and Davis) were cut for cap reasons. The top five wideouts? Terrell Owens is No. 1, but he's followed by Muhsin Muhammad, Jimmy Smith, Tim Brown and Curtis Conway. Why was Red McCombs hesitant to slap a TE franchise tag on Kleinsasser? Because the top five salaries are on players with diminished skills due to aging – Jay Riemersma (cut), Mark Bruener (likely to be cut), Kyle Brady (cut), Wesley Walls (cut) and Frank Wycheck (restructure or be cut).

This trend continues throughout the rest of the positions, with swingman Adam Timmerman among the top five paid offensive linemen, Sean Gilbert and John Randle among the top five DTs, two Houston Texans among the top three paid cornerbacks and three of the top four cap numbers at safety (Rodney Harrison, Lee Flowers and Sam Shade) were spent on players who won't be returning to their old teams.

Perhaps Kleinsasser's agent should read the writing on the wall – players who get the franchise tag and move into the top five spots don't seem to prosper in the long term. With the clock running down until Friday to get Kleinsasser signed to a long-term deal, it's make or break time for both sides and could spell the end of his time with the Vikings.

* The Bengals have scheduled a press conference today to announce the signing of Raiders CB Tory James to a four-year, $14 million contract. While James and former Rams/current Lions CB Dre Bly were high on the Vikings wish list, the price for both was simply too steep.
* The Vikings intend to increase interest in DL Vonnie Holliday and CB Alex Molden, since both of them have made no headway in free agent negotiations.
* A Bears source has told VU the team was "stunned and shocked" by the Vikings' offer sheet to kicker Paul Edinger. The Bears expected someone might come after their young kicker, but with a deal more like $4 million over five years, not $7 million with a big up-front bonus. Even so, the Bears are expected to match by the Friday deadline -- something our Bears source said the Vikings were likely aware of when they signed the offer sheet -- a la Dale Carter a few years ago when he was with the Chiefs.
* How nuts is the early part of free agency. Daniel Snyder of the Redskins has gone crazy signing people and he isn't done yet. The Jets have been put in the position to overpay for WR Laveraneus Coles, who signed a seven-year, $35 million offer sheet with the Redskins that includes a crippling $13 million signing bonus. If the Jets match that offer, they will be out of free agency for this year and maybe next year, too.

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