The NFL franchise tag exists to help teams retain their best players instead of losing them in free agency. It generates a massive one-year contract designed to motivate both team and player to negotiate a long-term deal.
The Seattle Seahawks have used the franchise tag just once since head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over the team. That was in 2010, their first season, when Seattle used it on kicker Olindo Mare. Since then, the Seahawks have stayed away from the tag and its hefty salaries.
The Seahawks have 19 players who are set to become free agents after the season. Given the success that the team has had with its current roster, the expectation is that Seattle would like to retain as many of those players as possible.
Unfortunately, the franchise tag doesn't look like a viable way to help the team do that this season. The NFL has released projected franchise tag values, and the numbers involved will make it difficult for Seattle to use its tag.
|Defensive End||$12.6 million|
|Wide Receiver||$11.6 million|
|Offensive Lineman||$11.2 million|
|Defensive Tackle||$9.2 million|
|Running Back||$9.1 million|
|Tight End||$6.8 million|
The Seahawks will enter the 2014 league year short on salary-cap space and with a lot of players who will need to be re-signed or replaced. That combination means that Seattle will be unlikely to deal with the large cap numbers involved with the franchise tag.
However, there are two players whom the Seahawks might consider to be valuable enough to make that commitment.
Defensive end and inside pass-rusher Michael Bennett was arguably Seattle's most disruptive defensive lineman. Bennett wasn't a starter, but he played more snaps than any other player on the line.
Bennett's total salary in 2013 was just $4.8 million, so the franchise tag would constitute a raise of almost $8 million for 2014.
Bennett is likely to be Seattle's highest-priority free agent, but the franchise tag number is still likely too high for him. The Seahawks could use it to keep Bennett from signing elsewhere, but it would only be a tactic to get him to sign a long-term deal with a lesser cap number.
The Seahawks tried to replace kicker Steven Hauschka after the 2012 season but ended up re-signing him late in the free agency period. Hauschka responded by having an incredible season and becoming a Pro Bowl alternate.
Hauschka missed just two kicks all season, one of which was blocked. He also increased the length of his kickoff this year and had a higher percentage go for touchbacks than in 2012.
At just $3.4 million, the franchise cap number for a kicker is certainly palatable for the Seahawks if they choose to use it. Obviously, the team would prefer to keep Hauschka with a long-team deal that includes a smaller cap number, but that doesn't mean the franchise tag isn't an option.
The Seahawks have other starters who are set to hit the free-agent market, but none of them would appear to be an option for the franchise tag. Fullback Michael Robinson and right tackle Breno Giacomini both have their value to the team, but both are relatively replaceable and not worth anything close to the value of the franchise tag.
Wide receiver Golden Tate also fits into that category. Tate led the Seahawks in receptions and receiving yards this season, but $11.6 million is awfully rich for someone of Tate's abilities, especially with Percy Harvin and his $13.4 million cap number already on the roster at that position. Tate is likely to command a salary in the $5-7 million range, so the franchise tag should not be in play.
Predictions and Projections
Given Seattle's current salary-cap situation, it is likely that the Seahawks leave the franchise tag on the shelf again this year, even though Hauschka or Bennett might cause them to consider using it. Seattle simply lacks the cap space to commit to such a large one-year deal for any of its current free agents.
The same might not be true a year from now. If either cornerback Richard Sherman or safety Earl Thomas remains as a free-agent-to-be following the 2014 season, the franchise tag will almost certainly be used to keep one of them in a Seahawks uniform.