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Denver Broncos Free Agents: Who Is in Play for the Franchise Tag?

Dec 22, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker (87) spikes the football after scoring a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the second half at Reliant Stadium. The Broncos won 37-13. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Cecil LammeyContributor IJanuary 13, 2014

The NFL created the franchise tag so teams could get one more year out of a player they wanted to keep around.

When players enter their free-agent year, many are anxious to see what kind of salary (and guaranteed money) the open market will bring. There are many players who have simply outplayed their rookie (or free-agent) contracts in the NFL.

They are deserving of exploring their options and finding out what’s out there. However, the home team has the right to keep them around for a one-year deal with an inflated price tag.

Per NFL rules, any player that has the franchise tag placed upon them will get a fully guaranteed, one-year deal with a salary that is the average of the top five paid players at their position.

This gives the team another year to evaluate the long-term prospects, but it also gives the player top-five money that is fully guaranteed. Also, if a team signs someone with a franchise tag on them, it must relinquish two first-round draft picks in exchange.

This hefty price means most franchise players stay in place for at least that one season. Teams will have until the middle of July for a player to sign his one-year franchise tender or work out a new long-term deal.

The Broncos have been very cautious when considering the franchise tag. They used it on left tackle Ryan Clady last year, but they were able to sign him to a new long-term deal before the deadline in July.

The Broncos have put themselves in a good position with the salary cap. Looking at the numbers below, it's clear to see the one-year payout is quite significant. Here's a look at what the numbers were for 2013.

2013 Salary Cap Numbers

Quarterback

$14.896 million

Running Back

$8.219 million

Wide Receiver

$10.537 million

Tight End

$6.066 million

Offensive Lineman

$9.828 million

Defensive Tackle

$8.45 million

Defensive End

$11.175 million

Linebacker

$9.619 million

Cornerback

$10.854 million

Safety

$6.916 million

Kicker/Punter

$2.977 million

NFL.com

 

Looking at the upcoming free agents for the Broncos, three players immediately stand out. But are either worth the franchise tag?

Let’s take a look.


Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Denver brought in Rodgers-Cromartie with an unusual technique for attracting players. Instead of telling him how great he was, the Broncos pointed out the weaknesses to his game.

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 27:  Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie #45 of the Denver Broncos strides towards the end zone for a touchdown after making an interception on a pass intended for wide receiver Pierre Garcon #88 of the Washington Redskins during t
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

This tactic worked out as the veteran corner decided to go to Denver on what essentially was a one-year “prove it” deal.

With Champ Bailey struggling to stay healthy, the team turned to Rodgers-Cromartie as their lead cornerback. He responded to the added pressure and had a fantastic season in 2014.

Now Rodgers-Cromartie will be looking for a payday.

If the Broncos wanted to put the franchise tag on Rodgers-Cromartie it would cost them around $11.3 million.

They’ll have the money to do that and might be inclined as Rodgers-Cromartie’s production has been inconsistent through his career. Instead of locking him down for multiple years, the Broncos may decide to give him another “prove it” deal (with a much heftier price tag).

Players want security for multiple years, and some don’t like having the franchise tag placed on them. Rodgers-Cromartie might be upset with this type of move, and a holdout is always a possibility for a player unhappy with his contract situation.

 

Eric Decker

The Broncos have a good thing going at the wide receiver position. Decker and Demaryius Thomas were selected in the same draft (2011), and they’ve given Denver a dynamic duo to catch passes from Peyton Manning. Many Broncos fans think they should keep this corps together no matter the cost.

Denver is in a Super Bowl window so long as Manning is the quarterback. They may decide the one-year price tag is worth it in order to keep the chemistry of the passing game intact.

The price to franchise tag Decker would be somewhere around $11.6 million. They would have enough money if they can sign Rodgers-Cromartie to a long-term deal that pays him less than $10 million in 2014.

 

Knowshon Moreno

The 2009 first-round pick has finally started playing up to his potential. Before 2013, Moreno's career had been set back by injuries and inconsistencies.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 12:  Knowshon Moreno #27 of the Denver Broncos celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown against the San Diego Chargers during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 12, 2014 in Denver, Colorad
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

This season he rushed for over 1,000 yards for the first time in his pro career. Moreno also became the first Broncos running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark rushing and 500-yard mark receiving. His 10 rushing touchdowns ranked fourth in the league in 2013.

Moreno had a standout year, and now he's looking for a big deal.

The Broncos spent their 2013 second-round pick on Montee Ball. If they lose Moreno in free agency, the Broncos would be able to easily slide Ball into the starting lineup.

Of the three players who stand out, the price tag for Moreno would be the lowest. The franchise tag for a running back would pay only approximately $9.1 million.

Here are the rest of the 2014 salary-cap projections, per NFL.com's Albert Breer. 

2014 Salary Cap Projections

Position

Cap Number

Quarterback

$16.2 million

Defensive End

$12.6 million

Wide Receiver

$11.6 million

Cornerback

$11.3 million

Offensive Lineman

$11.2 million

Linebacker

$11 million

Defensive Tackle

$9.2 million

Running Back

$9.1 million

Safety

$8.1 million

Tight End

$6.8 million

Kicker/Punter

$3.4 million

NFL.com

 

When I examined the Broncos potential salary-cap situation for 2014, the results showed the team would have about $26 million to work with.

This is plenty of money, but which player (if any) is worthy of the franchise tag?

Decker is arguably the best wide receiver on the free-agent market next year. While Rodgers-Cromartie regained his swagger in 2014 and could be a shutdown corner with Denver for years to come. Moreno has not been able to stay healthy during his pro career, and the team may lack confidence in his ability to duplicate the production (and health) he had in 2013. 

 

Prediction and Projections

The Broncos are going to have a little bit of money to play around with in 2014. Those funds will dry up quickly as the team turns to free agents like Rodgers-Cromartie and Decker.

They most likely won’t use the franchise tag in 2014.

Looking ahead to 2015, there are several players who could prove to be more worthy of that designation. Players like Demaryius Thomas, Von Miller and Julius Thomas are all set for free agency next year. They won’t have enough money to go around next year if they’re not careful with the salary cap this year.

 

Note: All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos. All contract information for individual players is from Spotrac.com.

Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey.

 

 

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