[Editor's note: The window has closed on the 2014 use of the franchise tag. This year, only four players were tagged. Two received the little-used transition tag. Here's the entire list, with a quick take on each guy.]
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham
While some are blaming the looming fight over whether Graham is a receiver for tag purposes on Graham and/or his agent, this fight has been brewing for a couple of years. The Packers and Jermichael Finley worked out a deal before pulling the pin on a tag-and-grievance situation. Last year, the Titans didn’t even risk it by opting not to tag tight end Jared Cook, due in large part to the inability of the Management Council to guarantee that the Titans wouldn’t eventually have to pay more than $4.5 million more under the receiver version of the tag.
The question of tight end versus receiver becomes moot if another team signs Graham to an offer sheet. While highly unlikely, it wouldn’t be completely shocking if a team picking at the bottom of round one this year (and presumably next year) decides to make a run at Graham, in exchange for a pair of first-round picks if the Saints don’t match.
Jets kicker Nick Folk
Those who insist kickers aren’t franchise players forget that five kickers were tagged in 2012. At $3.55 million for one year, it’s a bargain as franchise tags go.
It’s also less than the going rate of $4 million per year for a high-end kicker.
Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy
With a slew of young, talented players who either are or will soon be eligible for long-term deals, the Panthers have to be careful about their long-term commitments. For now, they’ll commit $13.116 million to Hardy pending a long-term deal at a lower cap number — or possibly a trade to another team, if the Panthers just can’t find an acceptable middle ground.
Looming over the situation is the six-year, $76 million contract given to defensive end Charles Johnson in 2011. It’ll be hard to give Hardy a deal with an annual rate of less than Johnson’s $12.67 million.
Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo
They reportedly agonized over whether to tag Orakpo, who missed much of 2012 due to injury but rebounded with a Pro Bowl season in 2013. Orakpo could argue that he’s actually a defensive end and not a linebacker; the difference between the $11.455 million tag for linebackers and the $13.116 million tag for defensive ends is only $1.661 million.
Still, that’s $1.661 million.
Browns center Alex Mack
The transition tag became a little-used device after the 2006 labor deal made the transition tender fully guaranteed if accepted. For Mack, a center, the prospect of making $10.03 million in 2014 should prompt him to sprint to his agent’s office to sign the tender.
With the franchise tag for offensive linemen only $1.654 million higher and the Browns having $57 million in cap space, they arguably should have just used the franchise tag.
While it’s possible that another team will sign Mack to a contract that more accurately reflects the center market, there’s no reason for Mack to do a long-term deal unless it pays him a lot more than $10.03 million guaranteed. His best move could be to take the money for 2014 and hit the market next year.
Unless the Browns want to pay him $12 million under the franchise or transition tag in 2015.
Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds
Unlike Mack, Worilds should play this one out. With the Steelers likely to be pressed up against the cap, another team could sign him to an offer sheet the Steelers can’t match.
They’ll possible be able to match it only if they cut LaMarr Woodley.
Using the transition tag on Worilds buys some time for the Steelers, and gives Worilds a chance to test the market. If Worilds opts to sign the tender, the Steelers can live with $9.754 million in cap space for Worilds for one year, while negotiating a long-term deal.