Recapping the Franchise Tag Decisions and Todays Transactions

Today was a crazy day in the NFL with the franchise tag deadline coming at 4PM.  All told we had 10 players get tagged, a few major releases, and a big signing by the Eagles.  Let’s recap todays action.

The Tagged Players

Von Miller– The Broncos used the exclusive tag on Von Miller to completely block him from free agency. This was an expected move since the exclusive tag and franchise tag for the position will likely be the same price. The failure to get an extension done with Miller before the deadline ensures that Malik Jackson will be a free agent and should mean that the team will have to release Peyton Manning ,who hinted at wanting to play next season. Miller will likely become the second highest paid defensive player in the NFL at some point this offseason, but for now he will count for $14.129 million on the cap.

Alshon Jeffery– Everyone knew of this one already and was a no brainer. He was the best receiver in Chicago and available free agent this year. I would think the Bears will at least entertain trade offers but most likely will sign him to a contract in the $14 million range. His cap figure is now $14.599 million.

Josh Norman– Norman will now count for $13.952 million against the Panthers salary cap. Of all the tagged players I feel Norman has the least leverage. Despite this being his first crack at free agency he is already on the older side and he is coming off a career season that will be hard to duplicate next season. I don’t know if the Panthers will move him into the $14 million class but he’ll eclipse the Maxwell deal from last season.

Kirk Cousins– The $19.953 million tag was designed for one season wonders like Cousins. Cousins is seeking big money, and in light of the recent Bradford deal he has a strong argument, but there is no way for the Redskins to justify that contract.  This should essentially be a one year prove it contract for him. I think I would be surprised if they struck a long term deal because even next years tag number would not be prohibitive for the position and money he is seeking.

Muhammad Wilkerson– Of all the tags this is the one that smells the most like it was done to protect the teams options than as a legit negotiating tool.  Every other player on this list had been rumored to be working hard on an extension. We really heard little on the Wilkerson front to make you feel the Jets are negotiating with him. This has the makings of the Branden Albert situation from a few years back where the Chiefs tagged him to keep a trade option open but will deal with the one year charge if no deal was reached. In KC they came very close to a deal that would have sent Albert to Miami but they could not come to terms.

Eric Berry– This was another no brainer tag. At $10.806 million this is not that expensive for the position and keeps the negotiating window open. KC is a tag team and I would expect a deal done before the deadline to keep him with the Chiefs for the foreseeable future.

Trumaine Johnson– With two good cornerbacks set to become free agents it made sense for the Rams to protect themselves with one player, taking the safer bet in Johnson on the $13.952 million charge. When the Rams purged themselves of a few big deals the other week it was clear they were headed here, even though the tag probably puts Johnson in a higher class than he should be in.

Cordy Glenn– I doubt the Bills were originally going to use the tag on Glenn given their cap woes but after the recent extension for Lane Johnson in Philadelphia realized they had no choice despite the $13.706 million cap figure. Glenn has leverage here because the Bills cap is a mess and they need him on a lower number. He’ll need to greatly improve his consistency to justify whatever the long term deal is that they will eventually agree on.

Justin Tucker– The Ravens applied the tag a few days ago on Tucker. It’s a low cost one and Tucker is so good that he could easily end up in the tag for two years category. Ravens have cap issues so getting a deal done will help, but Tucker should end up the highest paid at some point.

Olivier Vernon– Vernon is the lone player to receive a transition tag with a salary of $12.734 million, about a $3 million savings from the franchise tag. A lot of people have said this is a risk and that Miami lost Charles Clay last season because they used this tag, but I firmly believe that was gamesmanship last year. It was common knowledge coming out of the combine that the Bills were going to push for him, so Miami put them in a position where they had to craft a contract nobody would match. They did and kind of messed their own cap up and Miami took about one second to decide to not match it. This seems more like a real difference in valuation between Miami and Vernon. Vernon is inconsistent but probably sees the rise in cap and recent deals in Philly as a sign of an exploding market. Miami will let him see if that market takes form and if the price is right they will keep him.

Eagles Sign Bradford

Rather than using the franchise tag on Sam Bradford they signed him to a two year contract extension worth $18 million a year and $26 million guaranteed. It is a massive contract for a player whose primary claim to fame is that hes a former number 1 overall pick and hasn’t been healthy enough to prove he isn’t good. The contract essentially pays him somewhere in between the Daltons and Kaepernicks of the world but gives Bradford the ability to hit free agency again at 31 which is still a prime for a quarterback. That is a lot to give up for a player who has the right to leave after two years. One of the reasons you pay a player that much is to have that option, if he plays well, to have him at what will be affordable rates 4 and 5 years down the line.

The timeframe of the contract more or less signals that the Eagles are not sold on Bradford as a quarterback but are less sold on the unknowns that exist in the draft. In that respect this is similar to a higher priced version of the Nick Foles contract with the Rams.  Because Bradford was a free agent it was better to pay the premium that chance that a team like the Browns would break open the vault or to get into the Jay Cutler type situation in Buffalo. While this guarantee is certainly high on a longer term contract at this price the Eagles probably would have forked over $45 million in vested guarantees by next February. My guess is the Eagles will be drafting a quarterback this year to develop behind Bradford and take over for him in two years.

From a financial standpoint Bradford’s injury history has been a blessing in disguise. He completed a $78 million rookie contract missing multiple games and not winning many others when healthy enough to play. Had Bradford played 5 injury free years and posted a 40% win total while looking pretty average he would likely be playing on a backup deal paying between $5 and $7 million a season. Mark Sanchez, his backup, had far more success but played enough to be considered a failure. Dalton, who has had a far superior career, had trouble moving the contract needle because his upside limitations were enough to hold him down. Bradford’s incomplete history has seen him win in the game of contracts.

Bills Release Mario Williams

One of the most player friendly contracts in the NFL finally saw its end when Williams was released by the Bills. The Bills signed Williams to a $16 million per year contract a few years back when the market was around $12 million tops. This was similar to the Ndamukong Suh situation from last year where a desperate team did anything they could to sign a player. The Bills will save $12.9 million on the cap by cutting him but will still carry $7 million in dead money from all the bonuses paid.

Williams numbers fell dramatically last year and he was pretty much a malcontent with Rex Ryan taking over the team. As a free agent he will look to surpass the DeMarcus Ware $10 million a year contract signed in Denver two years ago. Ware, like Williams, was coming off a bad season and was also coming off injuries. Dallas cut him because of cap considerations and there were questions about how much he had left. Williams doesn’t have the injury concern that Ware had which could help him.

The big difference in the two, in my opinion, is that Ware was never considered someone who would take plays off or turn off a staff.  Wares effort helped him exceed all expectations while Williams never really lived up to his.  Williams always seemed content to play at close to a Pro Bowl level. Guys like Ware or JJ Watt want to play at a Hall of Fame level and that is a difference. Im sure many contenders will be calling to see where he is at with his demands.