Franchise, transition tags go largely unused
Jeremy Green breaks down the reasoning behind every team's decision regarding the franchise and transition tags.
Arizona: The Cardinals have re-signed QB Kurt Warner, so their top free agent is DT Russell Davis. Although the team would like to re-sign Davis, it is not going to overpay. Handing him a base salary of $5,656,000 as a franchise player would have been overpaying for a 30-year-old defensive tackle who played in only five games last season after tearing his biceps muscle.
Atlanta: The Falcons' top free agent is LOT Kevin Shaffer. To franchise Shaffer would have cost the Falcons close to $7 million. Shaffer is a young player with a lot of upside, but the team has too many holes to fill on defense to commit that kind of money to him.
Baltimore: The Ravens' top free agent is RB Jamal Lewis. It appeared they were going to use the franchise tag on him, but GM Ozzie Newsome announced Wednesday that they wouldn't. Lewis is a player with well-known off-the-field issues and is coming off the worst season of his career. Running back is the deepest position in free agency, so Baltimore will try to re-sign backup Chester Taylor and add another back in free agency instead of committing $6,085,000 to Lewis for 2006.
Buffalo (franchised DC Nate Clements): Clements will make $5,893,000 in '06. This is a good move for a team that should be much improved on defense with the return of OLB Takeo Spikes. Buffalo could not afford to lose Clements after losing DC Antoine Winfield (Minnesota) two seasons ago. Clements is a legitimate shutdown corner.
Carolina (placed transition tag on RB DeShaun Foster): The Panthers had two players worthy of the being tagged -- Foster and WLB Will Witherspoon -- and they decided to use the transition tag on Foster. Injuries have always been a concern with Foster, but the Panthers decided it was worth the $5.153 million transition number to preserve their chances to hold on to him.
Chicago: The Bears do not have a lot of top unrestricted free agents and felt there wasn't anyone worthy of the franchise tag.
Cincinnati: The most important free agent the Bengals need to sign is QB Jon Kitna. Kitna is a veteran backup with an excellent feel for the system, and starter Carson Palmer is coming off a serious knee injury. However, the Bengals were not going to commit $8,789,000 to franchise Kitna. The Bengals will be working feverishly to get Kitna under contract before free agency opens.
Cleveland: The Browns' top unrestricted free agent is DE Orpheus Roye, but they did not franchise him. Roye is a leader, and the team needs serious D-line help. Losing Roye would create yet another hole up front, but the Browns were not willing to commit $8,332,000 for a 33-year-old.
Dallas: The Cowboys' top free agent is OLB Scott Fujita, but they did not franchise him. Fujita put up decent numbers last season, but he is a player who is not dominant in any one phase and not worth the $7,169,000 it would've cost to franchise him.
Denver: Free-agent DT Gerard Warren found new life in Denver last season after a disastrous start to his career with Cleveland. However, there always will be concern that another big payday could put Warren back on the underachieving path. The Broncos were not willing to invest $5,656,000 to designate him their franchise player.
Detroit (franchised LOT Jeff Backus:) The Lions have committed nearly $7 million to Backus in '06. Like the rest of the Lions' offensive line, Backus played well below expectations last season. He really has not earned the big money the team will have to pay him, but with a very poor free-agency crop at offensive tackle, the Lions had very few options.
Green Bay: The top free agent for the Packers is RB Ahman Green. In fact, Green Bay's top three running backs are all free agents. Green played in only five games last season before being placed on IR with a torn thigh tendon. Green will turn 30 this year, and there is a fear that he is on the downside of his career. Those concerns prevented the Packers from committing $6,085,000 to make him their franchise player.
Houston: The Texans do not have any free agents worth franchising. Their top free agent is WR Corey Bradford, a veteran player on the downside of his career. The Texans would be wise to cut loose the majority of their unrestricted free agents and start over with new head coach Gary Kubiak.
Indianapolis: With the team coming to terms on a long-term deal with WR Reggie Wayne, RB Edgerrin James is the top free agent on the Colts' roster. James was the Colts' franchise player last year, and is coming off an excellent season. However, the team was not willing to commit the $7 million-plus it would have taken to retain James. This could be a dangerous move, as history has shown us that QB Peyton Manning needs James as his "security blanket."
Jacksonville: Akin Ayodele is a solid starter, but the Jags are very strong at linebacker with Mike Peterson in the middle and Daryl Smith on the weak side. Although the team would like Ayodele back, he is not worth the $7,169,000 it would've cost to make him a franchise player.
Kansas City: The Chiefs do not have a lot of big-name unrestricted free agents. The best of the group would be 34-year-old FB Tony Richardson, who has been a consistent performer. The fullback franchise number falls under the running back category, which is why there has never been and never will be a fullback who receives the franchise tag. Although Richardson is a leader, the team needs to start thinking about finding a younger player for the fullback role.
Miami: The Dolphins' top unrestricted free agent is center Seth McKinney. Although centers are not paid as highly across the board as tackles, the franchise number for all offensive linemen is $6,983,000. The team would like to re-sign McKinney, but he does not merit being a franchise player.
Minnesota (placed transition tag on DC Brian Williams): This move raised some eyebrows. Williams, who will earn $4,774,000 in 2006, is a solid corner, but the Vikings are already committed at the position. With Williams receiving the transition number, it could mean the end of a short Vikings career for DC Fred Smoot, who signed a lucrative free-agent deal last offseason.
New England: The team used the franchise tag last year on PK Adam Vinatieri, who is one of the best in the NFL. The franchise number for place-kickers is $2,045,000, but the team would have had to add another 20 percent to that number because Vinatieri was its franchise player last season. The Patriots now have to sign him as a free agent or risk losing a player who has been one of the most consistent cogs in their three recent Super Bowl runs.
New Orleans: DE Darren Howard missed five games last season and had only 3½ sacks, so the team decided not use the franchise tag on him. The player who made the most sense to franchise was center LeCharles Bentley, but $6,983,000 is too much for the position. The Saints will be working around the clock to get Bentley locked up before free agency begins.
N.Y. Giants: The top free agent on the Giants' roster is DC Will Allen, but the team did not franchise him. Allen has a lot of talent, but is coming off a disappointing season. He will be allowed to test the open market.
New York Jets
Oakland: The Raiders decided not to place the franchise tag on DC Charles Woodson this season, meaning he will become a free agent. They do not have any other UFAs that would merit a franchise tag. Woodson has a ton of talent but fits in the "buyer beware" category. He has less than stellar work habits, and is generally too inconsistent on and off the field. The price would have been too high.
Philadelphia: The top candidate to receive the franchise tag would have been ROT Jon Runyan, but the team is primed to let him hit the market. Runyan is still playing at a solid level, but the team wouldn't have wanted to pay him the $6,983,000 it would have cost to franchise him. Losing Runyan will hurt, because the Eagles won't find a player of his caliber to insert at the ROT position, but it would have been too costly to tag him.
Pittsburgh: The Steelers have two players -- WR Antwaan Randle El and FS Chris Hope -- they could have considered placing the franchise tag on, but didn't apply it on either one. Randle El is a player who is best suited as a No. 3 receiver and punt return man. The team has too much money committed at the WR position with Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson to pay Randle El more than $6 million. Hope is a solid player but not good enough for the franchise number of $4,109,000 for a safety. The team is working hard to get Hope done prior to free agency, but he appears poised to hit the market.
St. Louis: The Rams top free agent is SS Adam Archuleta, but they decided not to franchise him. Archuleta is one of the few leaders on their defense, and while giving him the franchise number of $4,109,000 would have taken up a lot of cap space, this team will suffer if it loses him. Archuleta is one of the few players on the Rams defense who consistently plays up to his ability. His loss would weaken an already-depleted defense. While they didn't franchise him, he is a player they need to come to terms with on a long-term deal before he hits the open market.
San Diego: It was assumed that the team would franchise starting QB Drew Brees. But with Brees' uncertain health, the Chargers decided that paying him over $9 million was too much. The Chargers are taking a tremendous chance in assuming that third year QB Philip Rivers will be ready to take over as the #1 guy. Brees has led the Chargers to back-to-back 10-victory seasons. If Rivers is not the answer, the Chargers could set their program back three years.
San Francisco: The team used the franchise tag on OLB Julian Peterson last season. While it would make sense to tag him again, the 49ers have way too many holes to commit more that $7 million to keep Peterson. He will be missed greatly, but the team will have a lot more cap space to get better across the board instead of committing a large chunk of cap space to one player.
Seattle (placed transition tag on LOG Steve Hutchinson): Hutchinson is arguably the best player in the NFL at his position and team will continue working on a long-term contract. MVP RB Shaun Alexander carried the franchise tag last season, but his contract extension last offseason prohibited the Seahawks from using the franchise tag on him again. This means he is poised to hit the open market.
Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers did not place the franchise tag on anyone. Their top free agent is ROT Kenyatta Walker, whose career has been plagued with inconsistency. Without a current replacement to Walker, the Bucs are poised to scour the free-agent market. While they probably won't find a player with Walker's ability, they might be able to find a player who can be more consistent at a better price.
Tennessee: The Titans don't have a player on their roster who merited using the franchise tag. They do have some key players they would like to re-sign. The team has been able to get DE Kyle Vanden Bosch under contract and would also like to get DS Tank Williams and OC Justin Hartwig done prior to the start of free agency.
Washington: The Redskins go into this offseason without a lot of big-name free agents set to hit the market. Their top free agent is SS Ryan Clark. Clark is a hard worker, but the team really could use an upgrade at the position.Jeremy Green has been an NFL scout for 10 years. Most recently, he was director of pro personnel for the Cleveland Browns.