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The Raiders have two weeks to assign the franchise tag. The window opened Monday, but don’t expect the team to use it before this fortnight’s passed.
General manager Reggie McKenzie doesn’t want to pull the club out of his bag, though the collective bargaining agreement allows him to do so. He said so in a January meeting with the press.
“It’s always a possibility, but I don’t like to really go there as my option,” McKenzie said. “I would like to negotiate a deal.”
As with most general managers, McKenzie would rather iron out a contract with free agents the Raiders hope to retain. That’s because the franchise tag isn’t cheap, and doesn’t offer a long-term solution.
Tags are typically used on an indispensable, top-flight unrestricted free agents, and only left tackle Jared Veldheer or defensive end Lamarr Houston could fall into that category. Given McKenzie’s stance and the price involved, that is extremely unlikely.
Before we continue, let’s outline the tagging options available to NFL teams:
Exclusive franchise tag: A one-year, fully-guaranteed contract worth the average of the top five salaries at a given position. A player can’t negotiate with other teams.
Non-exclusive franchise tag: Offers a one-year, fully-guaranteed contract (when signed) worth the average salary-cap percentage of the exclusive franchise tag over the past five years when applied to this year’s cap. A player can negotiate with other teams. The team can match any offer, and will receive two first-round picks (typically a poison pill) from the team that signs him.
Transition tag: Worth an average of the top 10 salaries from the previous year and gives a team right of first refusal if a tender is offered from another team. It’s a rarely-used option because there is no return compensation and courting teams can add language to a contract that makes it near impossible for the original team to match.
These tags are typically a last resort, used only when a longer-term deal can’t be reached. It can upset one side and lead to contentious, more complicated negotiations in the future.
In the Raiders’ case, it might not be worth the trouble because the franchise tag money might exceed or inflate Houston’s and Veldheer’s worth. They also play expensive positions, meaning the tags won’t come cheap.
Spotrac.com estimates how much the non-exclusive tag – the official 2014 numbers are expected in March – will be worth this season:
- Offensive tackle: $11.126 million
- Defensive end: $12.475 million
Those are steep prices to pay. While Houston plays some of the best run defense among 4-3 defensive ends, he’s never had more than six sacks in a season.
Veldheer is capable of being an excellent blind side protector, he’s fresh off a season shortened to five games due to triceps surgery. He wasn’t his consistently dominant self during that period, though he still played well.
Even if the Raiders considered the franchise tag, Veldheer doesn’t want it.
“I’d like to have some urgency and move this along so it doesn’t creep up to that date where something has to happen that’s not in the long term,” Veldheer said a few weeks ago in an interview with 95.7 FM in San Francisco.
Negotiations for both Veldheer and Houston are expected to pick up at the NFL scouting combine, which begins on Wednesday in Indianapolis.
The Raiders have exclusive negotiating rights until March 8, when other teams can speak with players prior to the formal start of free agency on March 11.
The Raiders have used franchise tags in the recent past. McKenzie used one on safety Tyvon Branch in 2012, which he signed prior to working out a long-term contract later that summer. The pre-McKenzie Raiders also used a non-exclusive tag on defensive end Kamerion Wimbley in 2011 and exclusive tags on Richard Seymour in 2010 and Nnamdi Asomugha in 2008. Wimbley worked out a long-term deal, though Seymour and Asomugha played under their franchise-tag tenders.