As the NFL's two-week window begins for applying the franchise tag to top players, the natural question in Seattle is: Should the Seahawks consider using the device to hold Marshawn Lynch or Red Bryant, widely perceived as their two most important free agents?
The answer reportedly is, they will use it on Lynch if they don't have a deal by the tag deadline of March 5.
But the answer should be no; they definitely should not use the franchise tag.
We already broke down how negotiations for Lynch's deal are likely to go: His agent figures to ask for a deal like DeAngelo Williams', worth about $8 million a year and guaranteeing $20 million, and the Hawks likely will try to get a deal like Frank Gore's: $25.9 million over four years, with $13.5 million guaranteed.
In the end, Lynch should get a contract somewhere between Gore’s and Williams’ deals—maybe a four-year pact worth up to $28 million, with $15 million guaranteed. That would be more than fair.
But if they can’t reach that deal by March 5, the Hawks should think about using the transition tag rather than the franchise marker.
Yeah, that's the same device Tim Ruskell used to try to keep Steve Hutchinson in 2006, only to have it backfire when Minnesota signed the All-Pro to a poison-pill deal the Hawks could not sensibly match.
The franchise tag is generally the better method for holding on to a top player, simply because it offers the protection of double first-round remuneration in the unlikely case that a team does sign the player to an offer sheet.
But, a player has to be worth the tag value. And Lynch is not worth $7.7 million a year.
Plus, if the Hawks put the franchise tag on Lynch, they would have to start negotiating at that price (this was Ruskell's concern in 2006). That is too much to pay a guy who figures to last about four more years (on the high side).
It's possible the Lynch negotiations go much smoother than that and they don't even get to March 5. But if they don't have a deal, the Hawks would be financially foolish to use the franchise tag and give up their bargaining position.
They would be much better off using the transition tag, which carries a projected value of $6.7 million for running backs.
The Hawks would not be entitled to draft-choice compensation if they decided not to match any offer sheet, but they at least would have the option to match. And, because the NFL has banned poison-pill contracts in the wake of the Hutchinson fiasco in 2006, there would be no danger of the Hawks losing the player—unless they simply didn’t like the terms of the deal he arranged with the new team.
You might ask: Why use the transition marker now if it wasn't a good idea in 2006? Because Hutch was a much better player than Lynch and needed to be kept at all costs. Lynch is more of an emotional investment because Pete Carroll likes his tough attitude and fans love him and his Skittles. He is not a necessary piece, just one it would be nice to have back.
Beyond that, there is little risk of losing him anyway. Running backs just don't receive big contracts on the free-agent market. That's why it is very likely the Hawks will have Lynch signed by March 5 and why the transition tag wouldn't be a big risk (some other team probably would not want to do all the work for Seattle of negotiating a contract the Hawks probably would match anyway).
If Lynch does get signed by March 5, the question becomes, what if Bryant is not signed by then? And the answer is, keep negotiating until March 13 and let him become a free agent if a deal has not been struck.
The $10.6 million DE franchise tag is out of the question, and so is the projected $8.9 million transition marker. The Hawks don't have a single player on the team worth that; Bryant is worth about $5 million a year, as we outlined last month.
If the Hawks are able to sign Lynch before the tag deadline, the other guy they might consider using the transition tender on is tight end John Carlson.
We have already talked about what a great pairing Zach Miller and Carlson could be, and Pete Carroll has said the same thing and mentioned he would like to bring Carlson back. The Seahawks have a hodgepodge wide receiver outfit, and their best weapons are really their tight ends.
The Hawks might be able to re-sign Carlson before March 5, but if they can't, the TE transition tag is expected to be around $4.7 million and wouldn't be the worst way to keep him. No, he doesn't seem worth that now because of his recent injury issues and the presence of Miller. But after he set team records for receptions by a tight end in his first two seasons, most people would have said he was worth every penny of $4.7 million. So why can't he be again?
At this point, he's really worth about $2 million to $3 million, and his agent knows it. The transition tag would be a mutual favor, keeping Carlson in Seattle for at least a year and guaranteeing him that $4.7 million. Then, the Hawks could use that $4.7 million as the guaranteed money in a long-term offer, say, a four-year deal worth $12 million.
The Seahawks have used the franchise tag on kickers (Josh Brown and Olindo Mare), so why not use the transition marker on a tight end?
Speaking of the transition tag and Hutch, it looks like he won't make it to the seventh year of that $49 million deal.
Hutch played at an All-Pro level his first four seasons in Minnesota, but has started just 25 games the last two years, ending each on injured reserve (broken thumb in 2010 and concussion in 2011), and it sounds like he won't get to finish the poisoned contract.
Ruskell's former boss in Seattle, Tod Leiweke, talked him up last month, and Leiweke proved he made a good decision to leave the NFL since he knows nothing about it.
"If you think about who's out there, I don't think there is a better guy to lead a team," said Leiweke, who fired Ruskell in December 2009 and left the Seahawks seven months later to take over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Leiweke defended Ruskell's drafts in Seattle, even though Ruskell went 0-for-5 in the first round. And then, Leiweke ridiculously defended Ruskell for not using the franchise tag on Hutch in 2006.
"Never did we think a team would invoke that kind of offer," Leiweke said of the Vikings' $49 million poison-pill deal. "To lay that on Tim is just unfair."
This shows Leiweke's complete lack of knowledge about the NFL and the way business should be done. Ruskell messed up, plain and simple, and the Seahawks running game paid for it for over five years. Now, just as Hutch is finally winding down, the Hawks seem to have rebuilt their rushing game.
Meanwhile, the coach who lost Hutch (through no fault of his own) has hired the coach who gained Hutch. Mike Holmgren's Browns named former Minnesota coach Brad Childress their offensive coordinator last month. If Hutch were released by the Vikings, it would be pretty funny if the Browns signed him.
It's a safe bet, though, that Holmgren won't be interested in bringing Ruskell on board.
Forget Peyton Manning and go Outside the Press Box to see which guys the Seahawks could be eyeing at the Combine this week and why we think they should look at drafting another offensive lineman in the first round.