by Paul “The Closer” Wanecski
It is no mystery that NFL players hate the franchise tag. Most, as recently as Denver’s WR Demaryius Thomas and Dallas’ Dez Bryant, are vocal about how they feel. They see it as an insult, something that teams do to take control of a player’s future. Honestly, players can do very little to avoid the franchise tag and all the weight that comes with it. “The Tag”, as it is referred to, could be seen as beneficial to players financially for one season, but the real benefits are given to the organization. Players have every right to be angry when they get tagged. Pending franchise tag candidate Marcell Dareus may voice his frustrations soon if a contract extension can’t be worked out; if I were him, I would be mad too.
Why Players Cringe:
The tag for the defensive tackle position was just a bit over $11 million this season, which is only a $3 million raise from the salary the Dareus is playing for now. Do you wonder why players get so upset when they receive the franchise tag? Dareus could possibly receive on the free agent market an offer closer to what Ndamukong Suh signed with the Miami Dolphins. Suh’s average salary is over $19 million per season. Dareus has never even come close to that. Assuming that the Bills were to tag Dareus next season and the year after, he still would be nowhere near the money that Suh, a player who statistically is a fair comparison, has made. As a player, Dareus could be held by the Bills for 3 additional seasons outside of his 4 year rookie base deal and he can do nothing about it. When you compare the rookie contract the Dareus has played under to the rest of the league at his position, the average per year salary would rank him 12th in the NFL; clearly not commensurate with his true value. He is a top 3 player at his position and his contract does not reflect that. The Buffalo Bills were able to exercise an $8 million option for Dareus this year to extend his 4-year rookie contract an extra season, which is a benefit only allowed to players who were drafted in the 1st round of the NFL draft. Players do not have the ability to decline this offer either.
What Does The Tag Really Mean?
For the sake of simplicity, we are referring only to the “Exclusive Franchise Tag”, which is one of 3 tags that can be placed on a player. This means that the player cannot negotiate with another team at any time once he has been designated with the tag. To be honest, the tag system is really built to the advantage of the owners. They are allowed to place a contract with a league stipulated salary on an eligible player who would otherwise be able to test the free agent market. The deal is only a one year offer that contains no bonus money and no future guarantees. Players are paid the amount stipulated in the tender across 17 pay periods, commonly called “game checks” (the league does also offer where players are paid year-round, but it is not a popular option).The player has no way to have the franchise tag removed, but they can refuse to sign it for an extended period of time. Jarius Bryd did this in 2013 with the Bills, refusing to sign his tender for 6 months.
A Future With The Bills
When talking about a contract extension, GM Doug Whaley has not been shy when speaking of the future of the defensive tackle, saying that Dareus is “priority one”. It would be shocking to see his salary anywhere below an average of $15 million per season in either an extension or if the Bills happen to let him hit the open market.
While Dareus could be held by the Buffalo Bills for this season and the next two that follow, the tag gives him no future financial security. He is paid only for the weeks that he has games. If he is injured, the team may decline future options on him, meaning that his biggest opportunity for a lengthy or lucrative contract may have passed. If he has a year where is not as productive or runs into off-field trouble, the Bills could walk away and he could struggle to find a top 5 positional offer from another franchise. On top of that, he may feel like he is truly not respected by the organization if they cannot come to terms on a contract extension. While some teams will use the tag as a mechanism to assure one additional season to work out a contract extension, many players feel that this move is not done with their best interest at heart. Given the nature of the business side of the NFL, we can’t blame them.