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Let's meet the NFL's Unlucky Eight
Eight other top players weren’t so lucky.
That octet — Miami defensive tackle Randy Starks, Chicago defensive tackle Henry Melton, Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee, Denver left tackle Ryan Clady, Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson, Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd, Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert and Dallas outside linebacker Anthony Spencer — were tagged by the NFL’s 4 p.m. ET deadline for use of the designation.
All those players except Spencer are now guaranteed a one-year salary that is commensurate with the top-five salaries at their respective position. Spencer is guaranteed a higher number ($10.6 million) because he was Dallas’ franchise player in 2012 as well.
While a lofty one-year salary is appealing, those tagged players aren’t getting the financial security that comes with long-term contracts. Teams now have until July 15 to negotiate those multiyear deals with franchise players. Once the deadline passes, negotiations cannot resume until the start of the free-agent signing period in 2014.
Here is a look at the eight players who were tagged and the impact it makes:
Team/player: Miami defensive tackle Randy Starks
Franchise tag number: $8.45 million
Summary: The Dolphins had roughly $45 million in cap space available so tagging one of their 11 potential unrestricted free agents made sense. Defensive tackles don’t carry as big a franchise number as left tackles (Jake Long), wide receivers (Brian Hartline) or cornerback (Sean Smith). There also is a lack of top talent at the position in free agency. Starks and Paul Soliai form a stout run-stuffing duo.
Trickle-down effect: The tag comes at a tough time for Starks, whose chances of landing a lucrative long-term contract elsewhere in 2014 might not be as great because he will be 30 years old then. Miami, which signed Starks to a five-year, $20 million contract as a free agent in 2007, has the leverage now when it comes to negotiating a new deal. Jared Odrick, Miami’s 2010 first-round pick who would have replaced Starks in the starting lineup, will continue to split time between defensive end and tackle. The Dolphins will try re-signing many of their own players, but the fact the tag was used on Starks and not Long shows the franchise is willing to move on from the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft.
Team/player: Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd
Franchise tag number: $6.92 million
Summary: Byrd is the top play-maker in Buffalo’s secondary. The Bills also left themselves thin at the position when recently releasing strong safety George Wilson, who started 29 games the past two seasons.
Trickle-down effect: Unless a contract extension can be reached by March 12, the Bills now stand to lose the top young guard in free agency in 26-year-old Andy Levitre. Because all offensive lineman (tackles, centers and guards) count equally under the franchise designation, placing the tag on Levitre would have cost Buffalo $9.83 million for this season. Byrd was a cheaper option.
Chicago defensive tackle Henry Melton
Franchise tag number: $8.45 million
Summary: The Bears didn’t want to lose their top young defensive player in Melton, who blossomed in 2012 as both a pass-rusher and run-stuffer. A college running back his first two seasons at Texas, the 26-year-old Melton has become Chicago’s best defensive tackle since Tommie Harris.
Trickle-down effect: The Bears now have four defensive players (Melton, end Julius Peppers, linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman) counting for almost one-third of the team’s salary cap. A long-term contract with Melton would help alleviate some of the pinch without having to restructure deals for veteran players like Peppers that could prove costly later against the cap.
Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee
Franchise tag number: $2.98 million
Summary: McAfee set team records in gross average (48.3 yards) and net average (45.5) in 2012 while placing 26 of his 73 punts inside the 20-yard line. McAfee also set another Colts mark by sending 57 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks.
Trickle-down effect: Designating the punter as a “franchise” player sounds funky, but the Colts didn’t have any other pending free agents worth the tag. Indianapolis has more than $40 million in cap space available so signing the 25-year-old McAfee to a long-term deal makes sense. ESPN reported that Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt signed a five-year, $18.8 million deal on March 4 with $8.9 million guaranteed. Look for McAfee to angle for that type of deal as well.
Denver left tackle Ryan Clady
Franchise tag number: $9.83 million
Summary: Contract talks dating back to last offseason have remained so fruitless that Broncos executive John Elway told the Denver Post that Clady was getting franchised well before the designation could even be made. Clady didn’t let the lack of progress affect his play in 2012. He enjoyed his best season as Peyton Manning’s blindside protector.
Trickle-down effect: The contract that Miami’s Jake Long signs as a pending free agent could serve as a template for Denver getting a long-term deal done. If he does ultimately sign an extension, look for Clady to earn between $10 million and $11 million per season.
Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer
Franchise tag number: $10.6 million. That constitutes a 120-percent raise from the $8.8 million salary Spencer received in 2012 as a franchise player.
Summary: Even with the impending change to a 4-3 defense, Dallas wanted Spencer back so badly after an 11-sack season that the contracts of five players were restructured last week to create cap room for use of the tag. Spencer and DeMarcus Ware will be shifting to end under new coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Trickle-down effect: The market for 3-4 outside pass rushers took a hit when Spencer was franchised. Baltimore’s Paul Kruger is now clearly atop the free-agent list at the position. The price tag for Connor Barwin, who had a disappointing 2012 campaign in Houston, also may rise.
Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson
Franchise tag number: $11.2 million
Summary: With more than $50 million available under the cap, the Bengals weren’t going to risk letting an emerging player like the 26-year-old Johnson leave via free agency. The 11.5 sacks that Johnson notched in 2012 equaled the total from his first three NFL seasons combined.
Trickle-down effect: The template for a long-term contract could be cast by what other ends receive in free agency. One player to watch closely is Detroit’s Cliff Avril, who is also 26 and has enjoyed a more productive career during his first five seasons with the Lions. Detroit, which is having cap issues, declined to use the franchise tag on Avril for a second consecutive year.
Kansas City left tackle Branden Albert
Franchise tag number: $9.83 million
Summary: The Chiefs had the luxury of tagging Albert after reaching agreement on a five-year contract with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (ESPN reported the news first). Kansas City had some concerns about Albert’s injury history, but new head coach Andy Reid loves his offensive linemen.
Trickle-down effect: Predicting what the Chiefs do with the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft has become a little harder with Albert being tagged. Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel could still earn the honor, but that would require some shifting along the line to find Albert a new home.
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