March 1 has come and gone, with nine otherwise free agents now restricted by the franchise tag. The next key deadline in this deadline-driven industry arrives in four-and-one-half months.
The franchise-tagged players and their teams now have until July 15 to negotiate long-term contracts. Otherwise, the franchise-tagged players can play under only a one-year deal in 2016.
Last year, the deadline indeed drove the discussions, for all franchised players except Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. The only problem with the approach is that, until then, the nine players are essentially unemployed, not under contract and under no obligation to participate in any offseason workouts or meetings or any portion of the looming effort to prepare for the 2016 season in the weeks and months before training camp.
Tagged players, like unsigned draft picks, can participate in the offseason program by signing a letter of protection, which will guarantee the tagged player’s salary in 2016 in the event of a season-ending injury happening during football activities. Last year, Broncos G.M. John Elway argued that tagged players should embrace the opportunity to work out with the team instead of assuming the risk of working out on their own.
“That makes no sense to me,” Elway said last April regarding then-tagged receiver Demaryius Thomas. “If he gets hurt here, he’s covered. If he gets hurt somewhere else, he’s not. Tell me why that makes sense that he wouldn’t be here working out with us? That’s why I don’t understand it at all. That’s part of the game, but it makes no sense for him not be here. . . . I see absolutely zero value in him being away from here — zero value for him. There is no value for him not to be here with his teammates. As far as negotiations and his new deal and what’s going on, we’d like to get something done. By him being away from here, there is zero value not only to us, but also to him. To me, it makes no sense. That actually has no effect on anything that we’re talking to about trying to get a contract done with him, because that’s what we’d ultimately like to do. For him not to be here has zero effect.”
From the players’ perspective, the only leverage they have when tagged is to withhold services. In theory, any of them can stay away from all offseason and preseason preparations, arriving just days before the start of the regular season and getting their full franchise tenders.
Elway and the Broncos are in that familiar posture again this year, with linebacker Von Miller tagged and possibly inclined to not be around the team until he gets a long-term deal (or doesn’t get a long-term deal) by July 15. For Miller, who reportedly hopes to cash in like Ndamukong Suh, showing up for the offseason program clearly has value to the team. The question is whether the Broncos would give Miller a better deal in April than they’d be willing to give him as July 15 arrives.
If not, anything Miller or any other franchise-tagged does before signing a contract is a gratuity for the team. And players will continue to view it that way, unless and until a guy bearing the franchise tag has one of his load-bearing limbs snap, shatter, or implode while working out on his own.