Now that the Browns have worked out a new contract with linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, they won’t have to use the franchise tag to keep him on the team.
But that doesn’t mean the Browns will use the franchise tag on someone else.
The two prime candidates are running back Peyton Hillis and kicker Phil Dawson, recipient of the team’s tag in 2011. According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, however, the Browns remain disinclined to use the tag on Hillis.
Though Hillis finally got his head pointed in the right direction late in the season, his unexpected 1,177-yard performance in 2010 coupled with his appearance on the cover of the Madden game caused him to have an overly high opinion of his value. And when he didn’t get the kind of contract he thought he should get from the Browns, he started behaving a bit bizarrely. Eventually, Hillis acquired some humility, and he put together strong performances against the Cardinals and Ravens in Weeks 15 and 16.
With the franchise tender for running backs expected to be at $7.7 million for 2012, applying the tag to Hillis would potentially rekindle his ego and dust off those moon-shot monetary demands. And so the Browns will allow him to hit the open market. Once he sees what his value is (and via the pre-free agency negotiations that inevitably occur, he possibly already has), Hillis could be in position to work out a long-term deal that would have an annual value far less than $7.7 million.
The risk for the Browns is that someone else could offer Hillis more than the Browns will pay. As Peter King explained during one of the various editions of Football Night in America last season, former Browns coach Eric Mangini will tell anyone who asks that Hillis is a great kid and a great player and would be a great addition to the team.
The Browns nevertheless should maintain an attitude of nonchalance. Hillis plays the most fungible position in football that doesn’t involve long-snapping, kicking, holding for kicks, or punting. The Browns will find someone else who can move the chains and compile yards and score touchdowns and strike a chord with the fan base and infatuate fantasy owners and maybe even end up on the cover of Madden.