Everyone's talkin' about Jimmy Graham (5th year TE, Saints) and how he got screwed by the NFL Franchise Tag valuations, which designate his price tag as $7 million for a tight end, as opposed to $12 million for a wide receiver.
First of all, $7 million is a LOT of dough...in fact, I was amazed by just how high the Franchise Tag numbers for each position really are. Almost $17 million to tag a QB for a year? You gotta be kidding.... What single player on any team (with the possible exception of Joe Flacco [blush]) is really worth that kind of money relative to the total team salary cap (about $130 million for the entire team) ?
I say nobody is really worth $17 million, and few are worth even $7 million... but that said, yes---Jimmy Graham did get screwed over, based on the fact that he lines up all over the field, more often than not as a wide receiver than a tight end. That valuable versatility ended up costing him money when it should have made him worth more.
But there is another insidious side of the Tag. Unrestricted free agents around the league will soon discover their new deals will be much lower in value than they expected. I'm talking about the quality players who had good years in 2013 in the final year of their rookie contracts.
This is the flip side of my button-down mind, so warning!: original thoughts coming up fast here!...(my theory could bomb!)...
Franchise Tag valuations overall are so high for most positions, most teams won't apply them to quality 5th year players whom they might like to hold onto otherwise. About the only reason many teams will apply the tag these days is if works out to be a bargain in the team's favor, as in the Jimmy Graham situation...
There. I said it. The Franchise Tag was sold to players and fans as a way to ensure every player had a fair shot at earning the most money he could over his career--- free from artificial salary limits imposed by the team owners as a collusive group, and protected from restrictions on free movement as employees to other teams.
That's how it was sold by the owners and the League. But here's how it really works to the detriment of many quality players:
I'll use Nate Allen of the Eagles and Arthur Jones of the Ravens as a current example.
Both players earned the league minimum of $730,000 playing last year (2013) in the final year of their rookie contracts.
Allen at free/strong safety for the Eagles had a so-so year after 3 previous seasons of more downs than ups. The Franchise Tag has no chance of applying to Allen's situation, other than reminding him that any safety who's tagged is valued at $8.4 million. Allen and his agent know they have no shot at that kind of money. In fact, Allen would be lucky to sign a 3-year deal worth $8.4 million in total for all three years.
Now take Arthur Jones, the big 6-3, 313-pound defensive end in the Ravens 3-4 scheme. Brown has been steadily building value in 4 successive seasons. He's not as famous as his Ultimate Fighting champ brother Jon, but Arthur is quietly becoming one of the best run-defend/pass-blocking DE's in the league.
The Ravens said publicly they would like to keep Arthur Jones. They would Tag him if they could. But guess what a defensive end's Tag valuation is this year?--- it's $13.1 million ! Seriously? Few teams could afford that cap hit, and the Ravens can't, either. So they send Arthur Jones off into free agency with the best of wishes---knowing full well nobody is going to pay Jones $13 million a year, let alone $7 or $8 million in all probability.
Had the Tag valuation been more realistic, say like $7 million, the Ravens would have tagged Jones---and probably used the ensuing offseason remaining to negotiate a more cap-friendly deal with Jones that would have been beneficial to both parties.
Instead, now Jones will make the free agent tour of the NFL with hat in hand. Every team in the league now knows the Ravens don't think he's worth $13 million---and they will use that against him to cobble low-ball offers which ultimately could cause Jones to slink back to Baltimore like a prodigal son, and ask Ozzie for a renegotiated deal.
Situations like Arthur Jones' are happening all over the league right now to quality players. The system of Franchise tag valuations is actually working against their earning powers moreso when they are NOT tagged than when and if they are tagged.
And guys on the semi-fringe like Nate Allen exist all over the league, too. And when quality guys like Arthur Jones end up settling for less than they thought they were worth, guys like Nate Allen end up getting low-balled as well.
Is it just me, or is the Tag $ valuation system itself a clever tool of the owners to keep all players' expectations of bigger earnings very much in check?
I researched my theory and didn't find much out there on the subject---at least as it pertains to the "blowback" part of my idea.
The closest parallel analysis I could find was Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who kinda touched on the "everyone suffers" part of the Franchise tag system:
"The franchise tag was originally designed to keep true “franchise players”—quarterbacks such as Dan Marino and John Elway—on their teams. Its use has now expanded to restrain a team’s best free agent for that particular year, a much more potent application. The new CBA calculation of the tag has held the salaries in check. While the tag number was previously determined by averaging the top five salaries at a player’s position from the preceding year, it is now based on a formula that averages the top five salaries at a player’s position for the preceding five years. This new twist has led to flat, and sometimes even lowers numbers since the inception of the new CBA. Here is a comparison, in millions, between franchise tag numbers for 2011, when the salary cap was $120 million, and this year, with a $133 million cap:
Peter King leaves out the number for Kickers and Punters, which is $3.6 million...Linebackers, which is $11.5 million, Offensive Line, which is $11.6 million, and Wide Receiver, which is $12.3 million...
Tag amounts not only affect elite players, the issue trickles down to influence negotiations for all players. The tags empower teams to bargain more assertively with elite players, which in turn changes the negotiation parameters for everyone.
Where Peter King and I differ is: he thinks the numbers are too low--- I think they're too high, virtually unrealistic in the case of QB and DE, WR and CB, in fact--- heck, even OL and RB--- to the point where most teams couldn't even use the Franchise Tag if they wanted to. In my opinion, that is worse for the players--- because if elite players aren't getting paid Tag-valuation scale by their teams and encouraged to walk, it only means less-than-elite players will be valued lower accordingly.
Perhaps the most chilling words on the subject come from King, who does agree with my thesis that the Tag valuations structure is a salary put-down device in the end.
"Which brings us back to where we started: the power of the tags. If contract negotiations are about one thing it is the allocation of risk. The tags exist to transfer the risk of future security, in a sport with a 100% injury rate, to the player. These are powerful weapons."