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Breaking Down the Denver Broncos' Franchise Tag Decision

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Breaking Down the Denver Broncos' Franchise Tag Decision
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Monday marked the first day NFL teams could use the franchise tag on players. Technically, they can make one of three designations on a player.

Non-exclusive franchise tender, exclusive franchise tender and transition player designation are all options for NFL teams looking to keep a key player.

Below is a primer on how the tag can be used:

 

1. Each team can use the franchise tag on one player anytime between February 17 and March 3.

The tag allows a team to prevent a player who is scheduled to become a restricted or unrestricted free agent from hitting the open market by offering him a one-year deal at a specified high-dollar amount based on that player’s position.

 

2. There is a difference between the more common non-exclusive tag and less common exclusive franchise tag.

A player who receives the non-exclusive tag can negotiate a contract with any other team, but his original team will receive two first-round picks as compensation from that player’s new team if that player signs a deal with a new team.

A player who receives the exclusive tag is unable to negotiate with another team.

 

3. The formula for calculating the price of the franchise tag is different for the non-exclusive and exclusive tags.

Under the 2011 CBA, the formula for calculating the required tender for a non-exclusive franchise player is as follows:

(A) Average of the 5 largest Prior Year Salaries for players at the position, calculated by: (1) summing the amounts of the Franchise Tags for players at that position for the 5 preceding League Years; (2) dividing the resulting amount by the sum of the Salary Caps for the 5 preceding League Years (using the average of the amounts of the 2009 + 2011 Salary Caps as Salary Cap amount for 2010 League Year); and (3) multiplying the resulting percentage by the Salary Cap for the upcoming League Year (e.g., when calculating the Tender for the 2012 League Year, dividing the aggregate sum of the Franchise Tags for players at that position for the 2007-2011 League Years by the aggregate sum of the Salary Cap for the 2012 League Year); or (B) 120% of Prior Year Salary, whichever is greater.

 

This means that the non-exclusive franchise tender can be found by adding the required tender at a position over the previous five years, dividing it by the total salary cap over those five years, and then multiplying that number by the 2014 cap (which has yet to be determined) or by giving a player a 20 percent raise, whichever is greater. This will result in lower non-exclusive franchise tags than under the previous CBA, since the smaller tenders from past years are a part of the formula.

Under the new CBA, the formula for calculating the required tender for an exclusive franchise player remains the average of the five highest salaries at the listed position or 120 percent of his prior year salary, whichever is greater.

So what does all this mean for the Denver Broncos?

In recent years, the Broncos have used the franchise tag to give themselves time to sign a key player to a long-term deal. General manager John Elway has been cautious with the salary cap, and that's why the team could have around $25 million to spend in free agency.

Two years ago, kicker Matt Prater was tagged. It took until July, 2 2012 to sign Prater to a four-year $13 million contract with $4.25 million guaranteed.

Last year, the Broncos put the franchise tag on left tackle Ryan Clady. They went right up to the deadline of mid-July to come to a new agreement. Clady was handsomely paid a five-year $52.5 million deal with $33 million guaranteed.

They have several tough decisions to make this offseason. Their biggest transactions in free agency may be keeping their own free agents.

The franchise tag could almost certainly insure a player will stick around with the Broncos in 2014. It would also give the team more time to negotiate a new long-term deal with the player they tag.

Per CBSSports.com, the projected numbers for franchise players are as follows.

2014 Projected franchise numbers

Position

$126.3 million

$128 million

Salary cap percentage

Cornerback

$11,238,000

$11,389,000

8.9 percent

Defensive end

$12,455,000

$12,623,000

9.86 percent

Defensive tackle

$9,168,000

$9,291,000

7.26 percent

Linebacker

$10,878,000

$11,024,000

8.61 percent

Offensive line

$11,109,000

$11,258,000

8.8 percent

Punter/kicker

$3,377,000

$3,423,000

2.67 percent

Quarterback

$16,060,000

$16,276,000

12.72 percent

Running back

$9,060,000

$9,182,000

7.17 percent

Safety

$8,008,000

$8,116,000

6.34 percent

Tight end

$6,698,000

$6,788,000

5.3 percent

Wide receiver

$11,520,000

$11,675,000

9.12 percent

 

Here are the players the Broncos may consider for their franchise tag in 2014.

 

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

I have called Rodgers-Cromartie the most important free agent the Broncos must keep this offseason.

Rodgers-Cromartie had a bounce-back year in 2013. He seemed to regain the swagger and confidence he lost during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. Rodgers-Cromartie was arguably the team’s best cornerback, and most quarterbacks avoided throwing his way.

He compiled 25 tackles, 15 passes defensed and three interceptions in his first season with the Broncos. His three interceptions ranked second in the AFC West, only trailing Quintin Demps (Chiefs).

His importance is further emphasized because of the knee injury Chris Harris suffered in the playoff game against the Chargers. Harris may not be ready for the start of training camp, and his status for the beginning of the regular season may also be up in the air.

One of the decisions the Broncos will have to make is determining the future of Champ Bailey. The veteran cornerback is not the same player he used to be, and a switch to free safety may be in his future.

Bailey has a $10 million cap number in 2014. However, he has zero guaranteed money owed this year. The structure of this contract almost certainly insures he will be restructured or released sometime this offseason.

So what kind of deal should Rodgers-Cromartie and his agent be looking for?

The Broncos could use a deal like Lardarius Webb got from the Ravens in 2012 for the framework.

A deal in the range of five years for about $50 million sounds about right. The Broncos could essentially swap the cap number ($10 million) for Bailey over to Rodgers-Cromartie.

If the Broncos wanted to use the franchise tag on Rodgers-Cromartie, it would cost them approximately $11.2 million. It makes more sense to give the veteran (and your team) the security of a long-term deal with a lower yearly price tag.

 

Eric Decker

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With many holes on the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos may choose to let Decker hit the free-agent market. In fact, Ian Rapoport from NFL.com is reporting that’s exactly what the Broncos will do.

If the team views him as a No. 2 wide receiver, they may not be able to match the potential No. 1 money he’ll see on the open market. Decker told 9 News in Denver that he doesn’t know what his future holds. "I would love to come back. I don't know my future either," Decker said.

In a recent interview on Sirius satellite radio, Decker once again declared his business-like approach to free agency. “If we can get on the same page I will welcome a call from the Broncos, but I need to do what is best for my family.”

Decker is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. In 2013 he was targeted a career-high 136 times. Decker hauled in 87 of those targets for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Catching passes from Peyton Manning can make a wide receiver into a star. Looking over the available free agent wide receivers, Decker is arguably the best of the bunch.

If the Broncos lost Decker to another team, they could look to the NFL draft to find a rookie who could step in and start.

Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU) is a player who can make difficult catches seem routine. He runs crisp routes, gets his head around quickly after making a break and he gets his hands up quickly when a pass is coming in.

In my opinion, Beckham would be a great addition for the Broncos at the end of the first round. He has the ability to pick up chunks of yards after the catch, and his large catch radius will come in handy near the end zone.

It’s not crazy to think that Beckham could virtually duplicate the stats of Decker in the high-powered Broncos offense.

Decker may get a deal similar to what Mike Wallace received from the Dolphins last year. A five-year $60 million deal would likely price him out of Denver’s range.

If he only gets offers similar to what Brian Hartline received from the Dolphins last year (five-year, $30 million), then perhaps he could stay in Denver.

If the Broncos want to keep Decker around for another season under the franchise tag, it would cost them around $11.5 million. That’s a hefty price tag for a player they could arguably replace with a first-round pick.

 

Knowshon Moreno

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The Broncos have been setting themselves up for life without Moreno for some time now. In the last two drafts, the Broncos have selected running backs with premium picks.

Ronnie Hillman, a third-round pick in 2012, has not exactly worked out. When I graded all of the drafts under Elway, I rated Hillman as a “miss.”

The speedster from San Diego State spent last offseason as the first team back in about 75 percent of the drills. When training camp rolled around, Hillman was listed at the top of the depth chart.

Three fumbles in the preseason cost him that spot. When the regular season began, Hillman was splitting time as a backup behind Moreno. A fumble near the goal line against the Colts sealed his fate. Hillman spent most of his time after that on the inactive list.

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Montee Ball, a second-round pick in 2013, could be the team’s featured back in 2014. He could not win the starting job early in his rookie season for a couple of reasons.

First, Ball struggled in pass protection. In the team’s Week 2 preseason game against the Seahawks, Ball missed an assignment that almost got Peyton Manning hurt. Manning took a ferocious hit after the throw because Ball failed to recognize where his assignment was.

Second, Ball was too tentative as a runner. Early in the season he was dancing and moving laterally behind the line of scrimmage.

As the season went on, Ball improved both parts of his game.

Ball is a tough runner between the tackles. His most impressive stat might be the 239 yards after contact he had in 2013. Ball led all rookie running backs with an average of 1.99 yards after contact per rush.

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Equally impressive is Ball’s first-down per-rush percentage. He ranked third in the NFL (and was the top running back) with 29.2 percent of his carries moving the sticks.

On the open market, Moreno may be seeking a deal similar to what Reggie Bush received last year from the Lions. A contract in the range of four years and $16 million may be what he sees from interested teams.

If the Broncos wanted to keep Moreno around, the franchise tag would cost them approximately $9 million in 2014. That’s a ridiculous number for an injury-prone veteran with only one 1,000-yard season under his belt.

 

Summary

I don’t believe the Broncos are going to use their franchise tag this year. Jeff Legwold, from ESPN.com, doesn’t feel the Broncos are going to use the tag either.

With the players who are eligible for the tag, the Broncos have better options.

As it stands right now, the Broncos could sign Rodgers-Cromartie to a reasonable deal. This would mean letting Decker and Moreno explore their options in free agency.

The decisions for the Broncos are tough this offseason.

Next year they get even tougher for the franchise. The contracts of Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Von Miller are all up after the 2014 season. Next offseason will be even more difficult for the team to navigate.

 

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. Draft grades all from NFLDraftScout.com. Cecil Lammey can be followed on Twitter @CecilLammey. 

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