If the Oakland Raiders decide to use the franchise tag, they can prevent either left tackle Jared Veldheer or defensive end Lamarr Houston from hitting the market on March 11. However, there is a price to pay for preventing a player from legitimately shopping their services to the other 31 teams.
The Raiders have to tender a one-year contract to Veldheer worth approximately $11 million or a one-year contract to Houston at nearly $13 million by Monday, March 3—about a week before the start of free agency. No one expects Veldheer and Houston to get that much on the open market, making the use of the tag highly questionable in both cases.
For years, the Raiders overpaid to keep free agents, only to mortgage the future by overspending. Although keeping Houston and Veldheer should be a priority, it’s important that general manager Reggie McKenzie avoid what got the team into the mess he just spent two years cleaning up.
Some would argue that the Raiders mortgaged the future in the past, but that overspending to retain a player on the franchise tag might make sense because it’s only one year and doesn’t push costs into the future. The Raiders have plenty of salary cap space, so it wouldn't hurt.
That’s simply not true because cap space rolls over into future years. Every dollar overspent in 2014 is a dollar the Raiders don’t have to sign other players in 2014, or future years. This has always been true, but it wasn’t always as simple to carryover cap space each year.
Houston’s tag value is an incredibly high dollar amount for an average pass-rusher, but Veldheer’s is close enough that it merits debate. By giving one the tag, the Raiders wouldn’t risk losing one of their top players in free agency.
Precedent is Set
Over the last five years, NFL teams have only tagged two offensive linemen. Ryan Clady of the Denver Broncos and Branden Albert of the Kansas City Chiefs each received the tag for different reasons in 2013. Clady signed a long-term deal, but the Chiefs unsuccessfully tried to trade Albert last offseason and he'll be a free agent March 11.
The franchise tag was $9.8 million in 2013, but that number will increase significantly this year. According to Joel Corry of CBSSports.com, the franchise tag for offensive linemen will be roughly $11.1 million.
Even though the tag for Clady was under $10 million, he received a contract from the Broncos worth an average of $10.5 million per year, according to Over The Cap. This higher value has nothing to with pushing money in the future; Clady’s cap number in 2013 was actually $2.8 million more than the franchise tag value.
|2013 Left Tackle Contracts & Franchise Tags|
|Player||Franchise Tag||Changed Teams||Years||APY||Guarantee per Year|
Clady received $15 million guaranteed, just over $5 million more than the franchise tag last year. Except Clady’s base salaries of $8 million in 2014, $8.5 million in 2015 and a 2015 roster bonus of $1.5 million all guarantee on the fifth day of each league year per Over The Cap. That bumps up his total guarantee to $33 million, which would be the highest in the league.
The franchise tag sets the starting point in negotiations. Even if the Raiders and Veldheer iron out a long-term contract, they will have to take into account the franchise tag value in some way. Otherwise, Veldheer would just take the risk to play under the tag for $11 million and hit free agency next season.
Albert made just about $2 million less guaranteed last year than the Chicago Bears gave Jermon Bushrod and the St. Louis Rams gave Jake Long over multiple years. Even the New York Giants got a better deal by signing William Beatty to a contract with $19 million in guarantees over five years.
It sounds odd, but the Raiders can get a better deal on Veldheer by competing with other teams on the open market for his services. There is risk that he will skip town, but that's unlikely considering the Raiders want him back and have the the cap space to make it happen.
In just about every scenario, the Raiders would be better off not giving Veldheer the franchise tag. Even in the case where the Raiders believe he is a short-term option, it makes very little sense to spend $11 million for one year.
Since salary cap space rolls over from year-to-year, overspending can have an impact down the line even if the Raiders don’t need that salary cap space now. If Veldheer happens to receive a lot more than the Raiders are willing to spend, they will be better off looking elsewhere.
|Franchise Tag Scenarios|
|Apply Franchise Tag||Overpay for one year for some players. No long-term security for team or player.||Ensures the player is worth top dollar. Buys time to find replacement.|
|Apply Tag and Re-sign||Tag can drive up cost on some players.||No risk of losing the player.|
|Free Agency||Can sign with another team. Market can be larger than expected and drive up cost.||Team can explore all the options available. In some cases, prices drop.|
|Re-sign prior to Free Agency||Overpay for multiple years if market is misjudged.||Player never has a chance to test market.|
If the Raiders do work out a long-term deal with Veldheer after tagging him, it's likely they will have had to overpay. Unlike Clady who has consistently been one of the best in the game and protects quarterback Peyton Manning—Veldheer is still proving his value.
Veldheer returned from a torn triceps and had a lackluster half season in 2013. Maybe it was the injury, but the Raiders certainly have to be a little concerned about how he performed in a contract year. His injury and performance in 2013 should keep costs from getting too crazy on the open market.
The Raiders could tag Veldheer to see how he responds in 2014, but they run the risk of losing him next offseason or needing to give him a much more lucrative contract. This option results in the smallest return on investment of any scenario, but it also minimizes long-term risk.
The Raiders need to take some chances, but they also need to be smart about how they go about rebuilding a roster that is low on talent. Veldheer and Houston are good players, but they also aren't totally irreplaceable.
Tagging Veldheer would be a panic move by an insecure front office. Veldheer should come in a lot cheaper on the open market than the $11.1 million tag value or the $10.5 million per year average Clady received last year. The Raiders shouldn't trick themselves into thinking Veldheer will be a hot commodity.
The Raiders have enough cap space to beat any offer that Veldheer is likely to receive, and they can shop around for a better deal. If the Baltimore Ravens don’t re-sign Eugene Monroe, he’s a very capable alternative. In fact, Monroe is probably the best option if he hits the market.
To put together the best roster, the Raiders need to maximize the impact of every dollar they spend. Overspending on a single player for fear of losing them is shortsighted and has long-term consequences—just the kind of thing McKenzie has tried to avoid over the last two seasons.
It’s not particularly fun to be a Raiders fan when the few good players on the team are free agents but emotions have to be set aside in order to make rational football decisions. McKenzie has been waiting for this offseason for two years, and it would be a mistake for him to get an itchy trigger finger.