Five things NFLPA can do to address franchise tag issues

Two years ago, a certain Internet hack wrote this sentence: "If the NFL Players Association will be pressured as part of the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement talks to take a smaller percentage of the football revenue than the 60-percent chunk that the union now receives, there’s something important the players should request in return. They should ask the league to get rid of the franchise tag."

Today, it’s now clear the players are being squeezed to take a smaller piece of the pie, in the name of the ongoing growth of it. So I’ll reiterate what the unnamed Internet hack said on Feb. 25, 2008 — the players should insist on the disappearance of the franchise tag.

The Patriots designated DT Vince Wilfork as their franchise player, with a tag figure of $7.003 million.
The Patriots designated DT Vince Wilfork as their franchise player, with a tag figure of $7.003 million.

Assuming the league won’t agree to wipe off the books the device for keeping one unrestricted free agent per year from becoming unrestricted, the union should make every effort to scale back its use. Two years ago, I suggested making the franchise tender irrevocable until the start of training camp, prohibiting trades of franchise players, and creating a structure that permits a franchise player to pick a multi-year deal that would provide the kind of long-term security that the year-to-year use of the franchise tag prevents.

Now that I’m two years older and, as evidenced by the additional gray hairs, wiser, I can add some more requests that the union should make.

1. Get rid of the transition tag

In 2006, changes to the labor agreement guaranteed the salary offered to players slapped with the transition tag, which gives only a right to match and no draft-pick compensation to the team using it. As a result, the transition tag has been used sparingly.

So it’s easy to get rid of the transition. The union should ask for it to be dumped, and the league should have no issue with doing so.

It’s the kind of thing that the union can trumpet as real consideration obtained in exchange for reducing the players’ percentage, even if it’s really meaningless.

2. Limit franchise tag to one year

In 2006, the players successfully addressed the year-after-year use of the franchise tag by adding provisions that dramatically increased the salary paid the third time the tag is used.

Still, the current system allows teams to readily use the tag twice, delaying by 24 months the player’s ability to obtain a long-term contract with life-changing guaranteed money.

As a result, the players should press for the franchise tag to be available only once per player. This would give the team plenty of time to work out a long-term deal. If a long-term deal can’t be negotiated, then the player should be permitted to negotiate with any, some, or all of the other 31 teams, too.

3. Base the tender on salary in the current year

The formula for coming up with the franchise tender is fairly simple. For each position, the amount is determined by calculating the average salary of the five highest-paid players from the prior year. For the "exclusive" version of the tag, which prevents the player from talking to any other teams, the player gets a contract worth the average of the five highest-paid players at the position for the current year.

But why should the non-exclusive version of the franchise tag be based on last year’s pay? That approach arguably made sense in 1994, when the year-to-year growth wasn’t as dramatic as it has become. Today, if a team is going to restrict a player, the team should be prepared to pay him in accordance with the highest-paid players in the game now, not a year ago.

As to the exclusive version of the franchise tag, the league should dump it. Only the Raiders ever use it (they did it again this year with Richard Seymour), and no team is going to give up two first-round picks for a franchise player, anyway.

4. Hold firm on the current categories

If the union tries to tinker with the franchise tag, owners could insist on a more specific categorization of the tenders. Because there’s only one tender for all offensive linemen, for example, guards and centers rarely are tagged, since left-tackle money drives the number to an amount that simply isn’t justified for interior offensive linemen.

Ditto for fullbacks, who would get running back tenders, and middle linebackers, whose outside counterparts tend to make more money.

The union should resist those overtures, if they’re made. The current system promotes movement of fullbacks and guards and centers and middle linebackers. For them, it’s the next-best thing to having no franchise tag at all.

5. On defense, develop a ‘defensive quarterback’ category

This year, three nose tackles who play in a 3-4 defense were slapped with the franchise tag: Vince Wilfork of the Patriots, Ryan Pickett of the Packers and Aubrayo Franklin of the 49ers. Each will make $7 million in 2010 under the franchise tender calculation.

A fourth, Casey Hampton of the Steelers, would have been tagged if he hadn’t signed a multi-year deal with a $7 million average.

But an argument can be made that, in a 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is the most important guy on the field. He shouldn’t be lumped into the same category as the defensive tackles in a 4-3 system.

And this leads to a broader point. Every defense has a quarterback — a key player who is the leader of the unit. In Pittsburgh, it’s Troy Polamalu. In Minnesota, it’s Jared Allen. In Denver, it’s Elvis Dumervil.

And so if, as in New England, the key player on defense is also a franchise player, he shouldn’t be tendered a number based on the average salary of the five highest-paid players at the same position, but the five highest-paid players on the defensive side of the ball.

This year, the number would be driven by defensive end Julius Peppers ($16.6 million), Allen ($14.5 million), cornerback Champ Bailey ($13.2 million), linebacker DeMarcus Ware ($11.4 million), and defensive end Dwight Freeney ($11.2 million).

The average? $13.38 million.

Such an approach would require a procedure for determining each team’s key player on defense. That player could be determined each year by a neutral panel of writers, with a combination of objective and subjective factors.

Hey, if it’s good enough to determine the players who are immortalized in the Hall of Fame, it should be good enough to determine whether a guy like Wilfork deserves $7 million or $13.38 million based on what he means to his team.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

Two years ago, a certain Internet hack wrote this sentence: "If the NFL Players Association will be pressured as part of the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement talks to take a smaller percentage of the football revenue than the 60-percent chunk that the union now receives, there’s something important the players should request in return. They should ask the league to get rid of the franchise tag."

Today, it’s now clear the players are being squeezed to take a smaller piece of the pie, in the name of the ongoing growth of it. So I’ll reiterate what the unnamed Internet hack said on Feb. 25, 2008 — the players should insist on the disappearance of the franchise tag.

The Patriots designated DT Vince Wilfork as their franchise player, with a tag figure of $7.003 million.
The Patriots designated DT Vince Wilfork as their franchise player, with a tag figure of $7.003 million.

Assuming the league won’t agree to wipe off the books the device for keeping one unrestricted free agent per year from becoming unrestricted, the union should make every effort to scale back its use. Two years ago, I suggested making the franchise tender irrevocable until the start of training camp, prohibiting trades of franchise players, and creating a structure that permits a franchise player to pick a multi-year deal that would provide the kind of long-term security that the year-to-year use of the franchise tag prevents.

Now that I’m two years older and, as evidenced by the additional gray hairs, wiser, I can add some more requests that the union should make.

1. Get rid of the transition tag

In 2006, changes to the labor agreement guaranteed the salary offered to players slapped with the transition tag, which gives only a right to match and no draft-pick compensation to the team using it. As a result, the transition tag has been used sparingly.

So it’s easy to get rid of the transition. The union should ask for it to be dumped, and the league should have no issue with doing so.

It’s the kind of thing that the union can trumpet as real consideration obtained in exchange for reducing the players’ percentage, even if it’s really meaningless.

2. Limit franchise tag to one year

In 2006, the players successfully addressed the year-after-year use of the franchise tag by adding provisions that dramatically increased the salary paid the third time the tag is used.

Still, the current system allows teams to readily use the tag twice, delaying by 24 months the player’s ability to obtain a long-term contract with life-changing guaranteed money.

As a result, the players should press for the franchise tag to be available only once per player. This would give the team plenty of time to work out a long-term deal. If a long-term deal can’t be negotiated, then the player should be permitted to negotiate with any, some, or all of the other 31 teams, too.

3. Base the tender on salary in the current year

The formula for coming up with the franchise tender is fairly simple. For each position, the amount is determined by calculating the average salary of the five highest-paid players from the prior year. For the "exclusive" version of the tag, which prevents the player from talking to any other teams, the player gets a contract worth the average of the five highest-paid players at the position for the current year.

But why should the non-exclusive version of the franchise tag be based on last year’s pay? That approach arguably made sense in 1994, when the year-to-year growth wasn’t as dramatic as it has become. Today, if a team is going to restrict a player, the team should be prepared to pay him in accordance with the highest-paid players in the game now, not a year ago.

As to the exclusive version of the franchise tag, the league should dump it. Only the Raiders ever use it (they did it again this year with Richard Seymour), and no team is going to give up two first-round picks for a franchise player, anyway.

4. Hold firm on the current categories

If the union tries to tinker with the franchise tag, owners could insist on a more specific categorization of the tenders. Because there’s only one tender for all offensive linemen, for example, guards and centers rarely are tagged, since left-tackle money drives the number to an amount that simply isn’t justified for interior offensive linemen.

Ditto for fullbacks, who would get running back tenders, and middle linebackers, whose outside counterparts tend to make more money.

The union should resist those overtures, if they’re made. The current system promotes movement of fullbacks and guards and centers and middle linebackers. For them, it’s the next-best thing to having no franchise tag at all.

5. On defense, develop a ‘defensive quarterback’ category

This year, three nose tackles who play in a 3-4 defense were slapped with the franchise tag: Vince Wilfork of the Patriots, Ryan Pickett of the Packers and Aubrayo Franklin of the 49ers. Each will make $7 million in 2010 under the franchise tender calculation.

A fourth, Casey Hampton of the Steelers, would have been tagged if he hadn’t signed a multi-year deal with a $7 million average.

But an argument can be made that, in a 3-4 defense, the nose tackle is the most important guy on the field. He shouldn’t be lumped into the same category as the defensive tackles in a 4-3 system.

And this leads to a broader point. Every defense has a quarterback — a key player who is the leader of the unit. In Pittsburgh, it’s Troy Polamalu. In Minnesota, it’s Jared Allen. In Denver, it’s Elvis Dumervil.

And so if, as in New England, the key player on defense is also a franchise player, he shouldn’t be tendered a number based on the average salary of the five highest-paid players at the same position, but the five highest-paid players on the defensive side of the ball.

This year, the number would be driven by defensive end Julius Peppers ($16.6 million), Allen ($14.5 million), cornerback Champ Bailey ($13.2 million), linebacker DeMarcus Ware ($11.4 million), and defensive end Dwight Freeney ($11.2 million).

The average? $13.38 million.

Such an approach would require a procedure for determining each team’s key player on defense. That player could be determined each year by a neutral panel of writers, with a combination of objective and subjective factors.

Hey, if it’s good enough to determine the players who are immortalized in the Hall of Fame, it should be good enough to determine whether a guy like Wilfork deserves $7 million or $13.38 million based on what he means to his team.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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