The Oakland Raidershave a decision to make, except it is not much of a decision at all. Monday, February 18 marks the beginning of the time period in which NFL teams are allowed to place the franchise tage (exclusive or not) on one of their players in advance of the start of free agency.
In recent history, this meant looking at which pending free agent the Raiders did not want to lose and placing the tag on that player, despite his unhappiness. This year, however, the decision is about whether or not to even make use of the franchise tag.
For those who are not readily familiar with the franchise tag and what it means, I will explain. The franchise tag is used by teams to hold on to players whose market value otherwise might price the player out of the team's plans. By placing an exclusive franchise tag on a player, the team is guaranteed that player's services for one more year. By placing a non-exclusive franchise tag on a player, other teams are given the opportunity to sign the player, but will be required to provide compensation in the form of draft picks for doing so.
For the Raiders, use of the franchise tag simply does not make financial sense. The biggest free agents that the Raiders are seriously interested in attempting to retain are Shane Lechler, Philip Wheeler, Desmond Bryant and Brandon Myers.
Typically, a team should only be using a franchise tag when the player whom they are tagging is one of the best at that position. The reason being that the franchise tag entitles the player being tagged to a salary that is the average of the top players at that position, or a 120% increase over the previous year's salary, whichever is greater. The result of this is that the tag guarantees the player it is used on will be one of the highest paid at that position.
For the Raiders, only Shane Lechler has played at a level that could be considered on par with being one of the best players at that position in the NFL. Bryant, Wheeler and Myers are all young players capable of becoming great, but none have reached that level yet. As a result, using the tag on one of these three would mean greatly over paying them, something the Raiders cannot afford to do given the cap issues the team currently has.
For Lechler, an average of the top punters in the league would be no big deal. The problem is, he already makes more than the average punter, so he would be entitled to 120% of his current salary, or $5.88 million. His current salary already made him the highest paid punter in the league and the Raiders cannot continue to pay him that kind of money, especially after a down season in 2012 and with a potential stud at punter in the waiting with Marquette King.
Therefore, it should not be surprising if the Raiders do not use a franchise tag this off season.