As we did last year, we’re going to use Football Relativity as a tool to compare this year’s class of franchise and transition players. We’ll compare them on a 10-point scale, with 10 being a franchise MVP and 1 being a why-bother-keeping guy. We’ll update this post with franchise players until the Feb. 25 deadline to name them passes. If you want a history of the franchise tag, Wikipedia has you covered. And for this year’s tag amounts, check out this post. All players below got the franchise tag unless otherwise noted.
A few general thoughts: Some defensive ends who might have normally been franchised, including Aaron Kampman of Green Bay or Kyle Vanden Bosch of Tennessee broke free instead because the DE franchise tag cost so much – $12.4 million. That artifically-high tender resulted from Julius Peppers’ $16 million-plus salary in ’09.
Also, fewer players were franchised this year because some players who would have normally hit the open market were instead free because the league is moving into an uncapped year. Instead of needing four accrued seasons to become free, players now need six seasons, and that leaves many players restricted instead of unrestricted. That means that some 2009 franchise players, including S O.J. Atogwe of the Rams and TE Bo Scaife of Tennessee, were given restricted free agent tenders instead of franchise tenders. Basically, the teams still get the right to match any offer those players get, and if they sign elsewhere they will get 1st- and 3rd-round draft picks instead of two first-rounders. That’s a financial boon to those teams.
Now, on to the comparison of the 2010 franchise players. And as we did last year, we’re linking to Pro Football Weekly’s scouting reports where available.
10 – NT Vince Wilfork, Patriots – The massive Wilfork won’t see unrestricted free agency because the Patriots used the franchise tag on him. That guarantees Wilfork a one-year, $7 million contract but keeps him from hitting the lottery with guaranteed money in a long-term contract elsewhere. The Pats say they want to find a long-term solution with Wilfork, but the franchise’s unwillingness to pay other players like Asante Samuel or Richard Seymour is enough reason to make Wilfork’s agent nervous. Wilfork is the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle, and that makes him incredibly valuable. He’s a run stuffer who can collapse the pocket, and there just aren’t many of those guys walking the earth. So Wilfork is definitely worth the $7 million to the Patriots this season, and he might still end up cashing a bigger check by the time his status is resolved.
9 – none
8 – none
7 – NT Aubrayo Franklin, 49ers – Franklin doesn’t get the pub that other 3-4 nose tackles do, but he’s developed into a solid player at that position since joining the 49ers from Baltimore three seasons ago. After four seasons as a backup in Baltimore, Franklin has been a full-time starter in San Francisco, and his ability to take on blocks has helped Patrick Willis and the rest of the Niners’ defense fly around. That makes Franklin a core player in San Francisco, which makes it no surprise that the Niners decided it was worth a guaranteed $7 million in 2010 to keep him. Franklin may not be quite the impact player that fellow NT Vince Wilfork is for New England, but he’s better than a declining Casey Hampton of Pittsburgh and is a guy San Francisco just can’t afford to lose. This is good use of the tag by the 49ers, especially in an uncapped year, because Franklin is a big reason their defense is emerging as a force.
6 – none
5 – DE Richard Seymour, Raiders – The Raiders paid handsomely – a 2011 first-round pick – to acquire Seymour from the Patriots on the eve of the 2009 opener, so it makes sense for them to protect that investment by paying a premium to keep Seymour in 2010. The $12.4 million franchise tag for defensive ends is steep, especially for an end who had just four sacks last season, but Seymour is a quality leader who can help the Raiders’ dysfunctional locker room as well as their pass rush. For his part, Seymour doesn’t seem to mind the franchise tag, which makes sense because it’s no guarantee that a 30-year-old defensive end like him will get much more than $12 million in guaranteed money with a 2011 lockout looming. So look for Seymour to lock in that money while the Raiders seek a long-term deal (or perhaps even trade Seymour once 2010 is officially an uncapped year).
4 – NT Ryan Pickett, Packers -The Packers joined the list of teams putting the $7 million franchise tag on a nose tackle by tagging Ryan Pickett. Pickett, once a first-round bust in St. Louis, has found himself in Green Bay, and his ability to move from defensive tackle to the nose was a key in Green Bay’s smooth transition into the 3-4. He’s 30 at this point, but Pickett is probably a better nose tackle than at least Casey Hampton and may be equal to Aubrayo Franklin among the franchise-tagged nose tackles this season.
3 – none
2 – PK Jeff Reed, Steelers – Pittsburgh planned taking advantage of the uncapped year rules by using both a franchise tag and a transition tag, but they signed potential franchise player NT Casey Hampton on the day the franchise tags were due. That left Pittsburgh the freedom to use the franchise tag instead of the transition tag on Reed. Reed has been the team’s kicker since late in the 2002 season, and his ability to successfully kick in the tricky winds of Heinz Field is a big asset. He’s made at least 82 percent of his field goal tries in all but two of his seasons, and he continues to be a solid kickoff guy as well. In a year when so many teams had kicker problems in the playoffs, keeping a dependable guy like Reed is worth the one-year, $2.8 million franchise tag.
1 – PK Olindo Mare, Seahawks – Mare almost got cut after Week 3 (as we noted in this post), but now that the free-agent market is opening the team has decided that he’s worth keeping around and paying a one-year, $2.8 million salary. Mare isn’t an elite kicker, but he’s been solid over his 11-year career, and in a year when so many teams struggled with kickers (especially in the postseason) he could have easily found another home. And Pete Carroll, who didn’t have the beef with Mare that old coach Jim Mora did during the season, saw that Mare has made 48-of-53 field goals in Seattle and is also one of the shrinking number of kickers who’s just as good on kickoffs and on field goals. That makes the investment feasible for the Hawks – and a nice payday for Mare.