The franchise tag is as ingrained into the NFL offseason as the combine, the draft and even free agency itself. And with the deadline officially passing at 4 p.m. ET Monday, several players are locked in with their current teams after getting slapped with the tag.
While the franchise label does guarantee the given player a contract for the upcoming year that is competitive with the top five contracts in the league at the respective position, it also voids that athlete a chance to test the waters of free agency.
Players like Greg Hardy and others embrace the tag and getting a chance to play another year without having to sign a new contract. Per David Newton of ESPN.com, Hardy spoke about being franchised Wednesday before the Panthers officially made the decision:
I would love a franchise, man. Add another year on my career. Get to play football a little bit longer without a contract. Another year to be in Carolina just to get them a chance to get their fiscal responsibilities in order so we can be here forever, like Steve (Smith) and a lot of other guys.
As for others like Jimmy Graham, there's some controversy over the way the tag works. Graham is not only one of the best tight ends in the league, but he also believes he should be paid like a wide receiver when taking into account his unique role and usage in the team's offense, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:
No progress yet for Jimmy Graham and #Saints. If, as expected, he’s tagged as a TE, expect an immediate grievance to be tagged as a WR— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 18, 2014
Since that point, the Saints have already locked him up with the franchise tag, according to the tight end himself:
Confirming it's officially Franchisefriday... TAG ... I guess I'm it...— Jimmy Graham (@TheJimmyGraham) February 28, 2014
Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun later reported that Graham was tagged as a tight end:
Jimmy Graham is listed as tight end on the franchise player designation by the NFL— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) March 3, 2014
While both Hardy and Graham are secured for the upcoming season, there was one player that will have a chance to walk away from the only team he's ever known.
Safety Jairus Byrd, who has been with the Buffalo Bills throughout his five seasons in the league, will not be franchised and is likely to hit free agency, according to Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550:
According to league sources, the #Bills will not be using the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd today.— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) March 3, 2014
The Bills later confirmed the report that Byrd would not be franchised, nor would any other player, according to Chris Brown of the team's official website. General manager Doug Whaley spoke about the decision Monday afternoon:
We have negotiated with representation for Jairus Byrd for more than a year, but have yet to reach an agreement on a contract extension. We remain open to getting a deal done with Jairus, but we have chosen not to use the franchise tag on any of our impending unrestricted free agents.
One of the final players to be tagged was Alex Mack of the Cleveland Browns. The center didn't receive the franchise title, but rather earned the transition tag, per Adam Schefter of ESPN:
Mack wouldn't be the only player to receive the transition tag, as the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to use theirs at the final moments leading up to the deadline. Talented 26-year-old Jason Worilds is expected to be popular in free agency, but the Steelers wanted to have the rights to match any offer.
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports confirmed the news and gave information on what it could mean for the Steelers moving forward:
Here is a look at every player who was franchised before the Monday deadline and a breakdown of some of the top players locked up by their teams.
|Jimmy Graham||New Orleans Saints||Tight End||Non-Exclusive|
|Greg Hardy||Carolina Panthers||Defensive End||Non-Exclusive|
|Nick Folk||New York Jets||Kicker||Non-Exclusive|
|Brian Orakpo||Washington Redskins||Linebacker||Non-Exclusive|
|Alex Mack||Cleveland Browns||Center||Transition|
|Jason Worilds||Pittsburgh Steelers||Linebacker||Transition|
Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina Panthers
After saying that he welcomed being tagged during the offseason by the Panthers, his wish came true well before the deadline as the team locked him up Friday.
The Panthers made the move official much to the delight of 2013 NFL Coach of the Year Ron Rivera, according to Bryan Strickland of Panthers.com:
We are very pleased that Greg will be back with the Panthers next season. He was a big reason we were able to lead the league in sacks last year and keeps our defensive line intact.
Hardy became just the second defensive end that the Panthers have used the franchise tag on after they locked up Julius Peppers back in 2009.
While a long-term deal didn't work out with Peppers following his franchise season (as he signed with the Chicago Bears the next season), Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman gave his fanbase a source of optimism, per Strickland:
The franchise mechanism gives us time to secure the services of a very good player while we continue to look at the future of Greg with the Carolina Panthers. We have had great dialogue with both Greg and his agent. It was important to keep our defensive front together.
The franchise tag for a defensive end in 2014 is $13.116 million, which is still $3 million less than his star teammate Charles Johnson, who is signed through the 2016 season, according to Spotrac.
"The Kraken" burst onto the scene in 2013 with 18 tackles for loss, 15 sacks and 59 total tackles, including a total of eight sacks in his final three games of the season.
With that type of production to go along with a healthy Johnson and the tandem of Thomas Davis and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly, the Panthers are in line for another great season.
And thanks to a stacked division that includes the New Orleans Saints and a healthy Atlanta Falcons team, Carolina will need all the help it can get to return to the top of the NFC South throne and make the playoffs for the second straight season.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
It's not even arguable at this point that Graham is the best tight end in the NFL.
Despite suffering through a torn plantar fascia as well as an injured elbow, Graham topped all tight ends in multiple categories throughout the 2013 season, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Saints will use franchise tag on Jimmy Graham, according to Adam Schefter. Last year, Graham led all TE in receptions, rec yards and rec TD.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 28, 2014
Now two questions remain about Graham's success: Is it worthy of earning wide receiver status, and is his talent enough for a team to lose two first-round draft picks.
Graham had 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, which certainly lines up with several of the top receivers in the game. While the receiving yards placed him 15th in the league, his 16 touchdowns were two more than Demaryius Thomas for the most in the NFL.
Can the Saints sign Graham long term?
With the non-exclusive tag being used on Graham, another team has the option to forfeit two first-round picks to the Saints to bring his services to their franchise. But according to Pete Prisco of CBS, no team will give up that much, even for Graham:
Graham's health and production could dictate the amount of money that he gets from either the Saints or another team following the season. If he puts up another year like he did in 2013, Graham might end up getting his wish of being paid at least $12 million a season, per Katherine Terrell of NOLA.com.
For this season, the tight end will have to settle for the $7.035 million he'll be paid as the average for the top five players at the position.
Brian Orakpo, LB, Washington Redskins
Along with the two previously mentioned players, Brian Orakpo would have been one of the most valuable free agents if he hit the open market.
Fortunately for Washington Redskins fans, the young star is locked up for another year with the franchise tag, according to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports 1:
Simply put, the Redskins now have one more year to attempt to lock up Orakpo or run the risk of losing the 27-year-old linebacker.
During his five seasons with the Redskins, Orakpo has amassed a total of 39.5 sacks in 64 games, including 11 sacks in his rookie year and 10 during the 2013 season.
There were concerns about Orakpo's health heading into the final season of his contract after playing in just two games in 2012. But with a clean bill of health and coming off another huge season, Orakpo was primed to sign a big contract this offseason.
The numbers didn't quite match up between the two sides, but Orakpo will earn a cool $11.5 million after Washington had to make a tough decision to franchise him, according to Mike Jones and Mark Maske of The Washington Post.
Washington struggled in 2013 after making it to the playoffs during the 2012 season. But with the chance of a healthy Robert Griffin III on offense and Brian Orakpo holding down the defensive side, it could be a turnaround season for the Redskins.
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