Now that Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy has put pen to paper and accepted an offer to make $13.116 million guaranteed in 2014 under the franchise tag, the other tagged players (three franchise, two transition) need to decide what to do about their own situations.
So let’s give some free advice (money-back guarantee) to the remaining five guys who have decisions to make.
The options are simple — sign it now, sign it later, sign it in September.
Browns center Alex Mack: Sign it now.
The little-used transition tag allows Mack to negotiate with other teams and to sign an offer sheet elsewhere. If the Browns don’t match, Mack joins the new team. If the Browns match, he gets that same contract in Cleveland.
But no one will be offering Mack a contract that averages $10 million per year. So why not take the $10 million guaranteed for 2014 and hit the open market in 2015?
The Browns would have to pay Mack $12 million to use either the franchise or transition tag in 2015. If they use either tag, Mack should immediately sign it then, too.
He’s a great center, but he’s a center. The position doesn’t pay eight figures per year.
Once Mack signs his transition tender, it will.
Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds: Sign it later.
Yes, $9.754 million represents solid one-year compensation for a guy who has made a total of $3.7 million during his four-year career. But Worilds has a chance to fish for a long-term contract, possibly from a team that can front load a contract in a way the Steelers can’t match.
While the poison pill is dead, a new team with plenty of cap space can use a huge base salary or a gigantic roster bonus for 2014 to put the Steelers in a box.
Worilds should aggressively pursue an offer from another team early in the free-agency period. If nothing acceptable comes within a week or so, he should take the $9.754 million before the Steelers rescind the tag, which would instantly create $9.754 million in cap space and thrust Worilds onto the market after the big money has been spent.
Jets kicker Nick Folk: Sign it now.
The franchise player designation seems a little goofy for kickers and punters. It becomes even goofier when considering the possibility of another team signing a franchise-tagged kicker or punter to an offer sheet and giving up two first-round picks.
Folk should take a page out of the Greg Hardy playbook and sign the franchise tender right now, taking the $3.55 million for 2014 and continuing to negotiate a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline.
For kickers, going year-to-year is easier to justify because the position entails a much lower injury risk. Next year, Folk can hit the open market or get $4.26 million for another season with the Jets.
Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo: Sign it later.
Tagged officially as a linebacker, Brian Orakpo may argue he’s actually a defensive end, dusting off the position taken by Terrell Suggs in 2008. (The Ravens and Suggs eventually worked out a compromise on the value of the tag, and then agreed to a long-term deal the following year.)
Once Orakpo’s status is resolved, he should immediately sign the tender. Washington’s hesitation to use the tag could later become a decision to rescind it. If they decide to rescind it in April or May, Orakpo will have a hard time making $11.455 million as a linebacker or $13.116 million as a defensive end for 2014 on the open market.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham: Sign it in September.
Graham definitely should wait for the threshold question of whether he’s a tight end or a receiver to be resolved before even considering signing the tender.
Even then, he shouldn’t sign it — because someone else could decide to try to make a run at him. Although few non-quarterbacks would justify a trade of two first-round draft picks, Graham’s availability could persuade a team with a late first-round pick (and likely to have a late first-rounder in 2015) to give it a go.
A coach and/or a G.M. who currently are feeling the heat to win may also consider trying to sign Graham after the 2014 draft, at which time the surrendered picks would come in 2015 and 2016.
The Saints are likely to give Graham the long-term contract he wants before the July 15 deadline for doing a multi-year deal. If an acceptable agreement isn’t reached, Graham should still wait to sign, skipping training camp and the preseason and showing up as close to the start of the regular season as possible before inking the tender and getting the full amount of the contract with no penalties for holding out, since a guy can’t be fined for holding out if he’s not under contract.