If the start date NFL free agency (which is 3 p.m. Houston time on March 14) were an airport, then the wheels just touched down on the runway and we will be taxiing over the next seven days, amidst a ton of illegal tampering and rumor mill manipulation by player agents.
The key action item greeting our plane on the runway yesterday afternoon was the deadline for NFL teams to apply the franchise or transition tags to one of their unrestricted free agents, a privilege most teams opt to forego. However, there are always a half dozen or so that choose to use these mechanisms to keep key free agents off the market.
Quick refresher on each of the tags, in case you need them, courtesy of Wikipedia. If you don't need a refresher, skip down below:
In the National Football League (NFL), the franchise tag is a designation a team may apply to a player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The tag binds the player to the team for one year if certain conditions are met. Each team only has one franchise tag (of either the exclusive or non-exclusive forms) and one transition tag per year. The transition tag can only be used if the team does not use a franchise tag.
Perhaps originally designed to reduce player movement to bigger markets, which is often evidenced in the other major pro sports leagues, the NFL revenue sharing and a hard salary cap have placed teams on an even playing field relative to salaries. The tag options allow NFL franchises an extended bargaining period for a player that they feel is key to their success. Usually reserved for players of great skill or of high importance to the team, a franchise tag allows a team's general manager the privilege of strategically retaining valuable free-agent players while seeking talent through the NFL draft or other acquisitions without exceeding the League's salary cap.
The designated franchise player will have his one-year salary guaranteed if he elects to play for the team that designated him with the franchise tag and if he does not negotiate a contract with another team.
A transition tag is a tool used by National Football League teams to retain unrestricted free agents. It guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team. The transition tag can be used once a year by each club unless they elect to use a franchise tag instead. Transition tags can be rescinded; however, teams that rescind a transition tag cannot use it again until the next season.
Here is a complete list of all the players given a franchise tag or transition tag yesterday, and, me being completely selfish, what it could mean for the Houston Texans:
WR Jarvis Landry, Dolphins ($15.982 million)
The expected outcome here is that Landry will be traded, as it is rumored the Ravens and Bears are both interested in the former LSU Tiger. Somehow, he managed to catch 112 balls last season and gain UNDER 1,000 yards, as a wide receiver. That's nearly impossible, but he did it.
TEXANS IMPACT: If indeed the Dolphins retain Landry, the Texans will see him next season, and even with his paltry 8.8 yards per catch, with their cornerback situation right now, the Texans can't feel great about covering anybody. (I know, thats a reach for impact on the Texans, but I promised you SOMETHING for each of these guys.)
RB Le'Veon Bell, Steelers ($14.544 million)
This one could get ugly, as the Steelers have opted now, for the second straight season, to apply the franchise tag to a reluctant, despondent Bell. He's even threatened to retire if franchise tagged again, but obviously the Steelers aren't buying it.
TEXANS IMPACT: Hey, with a healthy Deshaun Watson, the Texans expect to compete for a spot in the AFC title game. If they are THAT competitive, it'll be Pittsburgh they're duking it out with possibly, so the more turmoil in Pittsburgh, the better.
DE Ezekiel Ansah, Lions ($17.143 million)
DE Demarcus Lawrence, Cowboys ($17.143 million)
I have no real analysis on what this means for the Lions and Cowboys, but Lawrence wins the award for "Best Player Reaction to a Franchise Tag on Twitter"....
TEXANS IMPACT: With a contract extension for Jadeveon Clowney looming this offseason, the Texans should be paying attention to any contractual situation involving elite level defensive ends/edge rushers.
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S Lamarcus Joyner, Rams ($11.287 million)
The Rams said Monday they would be choosing between Joyner and WR Sammy Watkins for their franchise tag recipient. They chose Joyner, which made all of the defensive back-needy teams with cap money to spend very, very sad.
TEXANS IMPACT: The Texans are a defensive back-needy team with cap money to spend.
CB Kyle Fuller, Bears ($12.97 million, TRANSITION tag)
Another defensive back who would be a great fit in Houston.....
TEXANS IMPACT: This transition tag means the Texans can sign Fuller, who again would be a nice fit, to an offer sheet, but they would then have to wait for the Bears to decide whether or not to match it. Meanwhile, they could be watching the parade go by on other free agents.
It;'s worth noting two teams deciding NOT to use the franchise tag and the impact on the Texans — first, the Jaguars chose not to franchise tag WR Allen Robinson, who tore his ACL on the third play of the season at NRG Stadium in Week 1. He will likely now leave Jacksonville in free agency, which is fine with me. Second, the Panthers chose not to franchise tag guard Andrew Norwell, meaning he will be available, in all likelihood, for the Texans to pursue next week in free agency.
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