Opinion Sports Columns

Franchise Tag, or Franchise Tie-Down?

Marshall Hastings

Assistant Sports Editor

Free Agent. Free. Free to do whatever you choose, right? In the NFL, maybe not so much.

At the conclusion of any player’s contract, they should be welcomed with a choice: a choice to re-sign with the team they had been with or walk into the free agency pool and decide where to play next, but it isn’t that easy. In a world of franchise tags, free agents aren’t actually free to do whatever they please.

Instead of letting players walk out the door, teams can slap them with a franchise tag if they can’t agree to a contract extension, keeping them in house for one more season. Now, a team can’t do this every year (they’re allowed just one tag per season) but for two consecutive seasons, teams can assign a franchise tag to the same player.

The tag lasts just one year, paying the player the average of the top five contracts at the player’s position, or 120 percent of his previous contract. So without a doubt, the player gets paid, but sometimes, it prevents him from bringing in all he possibly can.

In the midst of a player’s prime, they are forced to remain in the same franchise, which isn’t the worst thing. But they aren’t allowed to see the market, where they could get offers much larger than the franchise tag. Dez Bryant, who was tagged by the Dallas Cowboys, will be earning $12.823 million, nearly $4 million below Calvin Johnson’s yearly wage, something Bryant surely could’ve matched had he had the chance to test his value.

It’s an insult to players like Bryant and Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos, who both will be receiving less money this season than Percy Harvin, a player who hasn’t lived up to the contract he signed in Minnesota, a fee the New York Jets are currently paying, because of the franchise tag.

Justin Houston could potentially be franchise-tagged by the Kansas City Chiefs, preventing him from hitting the free agent market. He has said he won’t sign the tag until week 10, but still wouldn’t be able to go elsewhere.

The Dallas Cowboys are no stranger to the franchise tag, tagging Anthony Spencer in 2012 and 2013, keeping him in-house for well under what he could’ve got on the market. For Spencer, it all fell apart. Two seasons ago he had microscopic surgery on his knee, an injury that greatly diminishes production for defensive lineman. Now, with his career nearing its end, Spencer can only sit in Dallas and wonder just how much money he could have made had he been given the chance to test the market.

For fans, the franchise tag keeps the teams best players around, allowing them to breathe easy for at least one more year. But for the player, it prohibits them from getting the most money out of their careers as they can.

In a game where the average career lasts just three years, players need the chance to take advantage of every spot to earn money. You can’t complain about nearly $13 million, but when you can make three to four more, wouldn’t you want that chance?

Not only that, but if a player is completely fed up with his current situation, they should have the chance to leave. Coaches can leave at any point, resign or accept another job, and not be held back. GM’s can bounce, but players are forced to stay past their previously agreed upon contract.

If a player is fed up with his situation but the team doesn’t get the hint, let them walk. People shouldn’t be held beyond their predetermined agreement.

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