As the franchise tag deadline approaches, the Steelers haven’t ruled out using it on running back Le’Veon Bell. If they do, the price of it will have nothing to do with the future of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Under the 2011 CBA, the non-exclusive franchise tenders are determined based not on what any one player made in 2016 or will make in 2017, but on the five-year average of the percentage that the tenders for each position consume under the total cap. For running backs, the 2017 franchise tender will equate to 7.257 percent of the overall cap. At a salary cap of $165 million, that’s a tender of $11.9 million.
NFL Network has suggested that a decision by the Vikings to cut Adrian Peterson will cause that number to drop to $8 million. It won’t. Peterson’s $18 million cap number for 2017 is relevant only to the exclusive tag, which is based on the average of the five highest cap numbers at the position the coming year.
Via Spotrac.com, the five highest running back cap numbers for 2017 belong to Peterson, Bills running back LeSean McCoy ($8.875 million), Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart ($8.25 million), Texans running back Lamar Miller ($6.5 million), and Titans running back DeMarco Murray ($6.25 million). Even with Peterson’s $18 million, the next four drag the average down to $9.5 million If Peterson is cut, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles replaced Peterson at No. 5, with a cap number of $6.187 million. That reduces the average to $7.2 million.
As it relates to the exclusive version of the tag, none of that matters; under the CBA, the exclusive tender can be no less than the non-exclusive tender. (The same dynamic applied a year ago to Broncos linebacker Von Miller.)
The broader lesson from this quick excursion is that the Steelers should consider applying the exclusive version of the tender to Le’Veon Bell, sealing off his opportunity to negotiate with other teams and potentially signing an offer sheet elsewhere. Then again, if the Steelers could get two first-round picks for Bell, they should consider pouncing on the opportunity, since a pair of first-rounders (theirs and someone else’s) could be needed to trade up to get their next franchise quarterback, in 2017 or 2018.
Either way, it will cost them 7.257 percent of the salary cap to squat on Bell’s rights for one more year. No specific player’s cap number for 2016 or 2017 will make it any less than that.