The NFL franchise-tag deadline has passed. All but six NFL teams passed on designating a potential free agent as a “franchise” or “transition” player.
The most predictable franchise designation came in the form of Jimmy Graham, the freakish tight end who plays like a receiver. Since the Saints utilize him much like a receiver, Graham may file a grievance that he’s not being paid like one. The most surprising tag may have been the Pittsburgh Steelers placing a “transition” designation on linebacker Jason Worilds, which gives the team the right to match other offers and pays the linebacker somewhat less than what he would have received with a “franchise” tag. The Steelers, along with the Cowboys, remain substantially over the NFL salary cap.
Just four teams utilized the franchise tag with two additional teams using the transition tag. In addition to the Saints tagging Graham, the Jets placed the transition tag on kicker Nick Folk, the Panthers held on to tight end Greg Hardy, and the Redskins made Brian Orakpo one of the top-paid players at his position. The Browns slapped center Alex Mack with a transition tag.
Players that escaped franchising include Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, Bills safety Jairus Byrd, and Seahawks linebacker Michael Bennett, and Broncos receiver Eric Decker. All are now free to cash in on free agency.
Despite the NFL salary cap rising from $123 million for 2013 to $133 million for 2014, teams clearly remain more in subtraction than addition mode. A scheme originally decried as a way for ownership to further curtail players’ ability to test their value in an open market, the franchise tag has become increasingly unpopular among teams as well.