On the surface, the franchise tag, which teams can use between now and March 3, seems like a great way for the New York Giants to virtually guarantee that one of their 23 unrestricted free agents will be retained for at least the 2014 season.
However, after some research, it is clear that the franchise tag can be an expensive, cap-crippling maneuver, especially if it isn't used on a worthy player.
The reason is that a non-exclusive franchise tag—the most commonly used among the three available—for a non-quarterback position player on offense or defense will cost a team anywhere between approximately $6.7 million and $12.5 million in real dollars and cap room for the 2014 season, based on estimates provided by Joel Corry of CBSSports.com.
The Giants currently have about $12.5 million to spend in free agency, according to OvertheCap.com. They could have significantly more to spend, though, if they conduct some of the moves Bleacher Report’s Kevin Boilard suggests in his informative Feb. 13 article.
Therefore, they could have the means to offer a franchise tag, but do any of their unrestricted free agents deserve it?
Below are the only four players worthy of consideration for the tag. Included is the estimated one-year value of the tag, and the odds that it is used on that player.
Also, keep in mind that a tag on a player does not automatically mean they play under a one-year contract for the predetermined salary. After a tag is used, the team has the ability to negotiate a longer-term, more cap-friendly contract up until July 15. With the exception of the exclusive franchise tag, other teams can offer that player a contract as well during this timeframe, but the current team has the right to match.
Hakeem Nicks: 100-1 odds (Approximate tag value: $11.539 million)
Nicks is the biggest long shot to get a franchise tag because it doesn't appear that the Giants want him back at all.
It’s hard to blame New York if this is indeed its stance. Despite the fact that the 26-year-old was a huge part of Big Blue’s most recent Super Bowl-winning team, he has been a colossal disappointment since that magical 2011 season.
Nicks averaged only 54.5 receptions for 794 yards and 1.5 touchdowns over the last two seasons. In addition, he was far from reliable during this stretch—missing games, OTAs, practice and, reportedly, treatments, along with being late to team meetings.
On the oft-chance that Nicks is retained, it will be because no one else wanted him, allowing the Giants to sign the five-year veteran to a bargain deal.
Linval Joseph: 25-1 odds (Approximate tag value: $9.182 million)
Based on his resume, it is likely that the Giants are interested in retaining Joseph, but it is unclear how much they are willing to spend to do so. The 25-year-old has missed only one game in the last three seasons while accumulating Pro Football Focus ratings (subscription required) of 6.6 in 2011, 6.3 in 2012 and 9.9 in 2013.
However, his nine career sacks in four seasons suggest that the majority of his value lies in his ability to stop the run. Therefore, he is not deserving of a long-term contract that pays in excess of $10 million annually, like Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Geno Atkins are locked into by their respective teams. These players pressure the quarterback just as well, if not better, than they halt the running game.
In a vacuum, a $9 million gamble on Joseph may be worth it if it will help ink him to a multi-year deal worth $5 to $7 million. The Giants, though, have a worthy replacement for Joseph in Johnathan Hankins. The 2013 second-round pick accumulated an 8.0 PFF rating (subscription required) during his rookie season in only 195 snaps. Also, he is only on the books for $916,000 in 2014.
My guess is that Big Blue tries to retain Joseph without using the tag, and let him walk if another team offers an annual salary north of $5 million, with at least $10 million guaranteed.
Jon Beason: 15-1 odds (Approximate tag value: $10.895 million)
Like Joseph, Beason doesn't want to go anywhere. He also was a productive player in 2013, racking up 93 tackles in only 11 games played with Big Blue.
These are where the similarities end, though, with the free-agent tale of the tape for Joseph and Beason.
Will the Giants use their franchise tag in 2014?
While Joseph is entering the prime of his career, Beason is quickly exiting it at 29 years old. He is also not nearly as durable as his defensive teammate. While the seven-year veteran was healthy last season, he missed most of 2011 due to a torn ACL and all but four games in 2013 because of lingering knee and shoulder issues.
Beason, however, does have a significant advantage over Joseph. While Hankins is an option to replace the latter at defensive tackle, the Giants do not have a middle linebacker on the roster to step up if Beason leaves.
This is a big leveraging chip for Beason, but I don’t think New York is willing to risk nearly $11 million in cap space to virtually guarantee he is retained. It is no secret it would like to keep him, but it will probably need to be for around $4 million annually, as ESPN.com's Dan Graziano suggested back in mid-January.
Josh Brown: 7-1 odds (Approximate tag value: $3.383 million)
A placekicker getting the franchise tag is not a headline-grabbing choice, but it does make better financial sense compared to the other positions.
Nearly $3.5 million for a player that only counted for $640,000 against the cap in 2013 seems steep, but it is certainly better than paying $9 to $11 million for the services of Nicks, Joseph or Beason in 2014.
Brown made 23 of 26 field goals last season, a performance that has the Giants very interested in re-signing the 34-year-old, according to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com.
If anyone on the Giants is going to get the tag, it will be Brown. However, I don’t think New York will use it on him.
Brown and the Giants will probably settle on a contract worth $1.5 to $2 million for 2014, without the risky proposition of using the tag as part of the negotiations.
Final Verdict: Giants don't use tag in 2014