Jason O. Watson
There are a few players the Raiders would like to keep around among their free agents-to-be. But who among them would be the wisest to utilize the franchise tag should it come to that?
The two week window for teams to place the franchise tag on players begins today. That means the Raiders must begin thinking about who, if any player, to place the tag.
The Raiders have quite a few players set to become free agents; some of whom it just wouldn't make sense to place the franchise tag.
The Franchise tag figure takes the average of the top five players at that position to find their salary. This means different players will make different amounts based on the contracts of the other top players at the same position.
The Raiders have seven 2012 starters who are set to become free agents (not including Richard Seymour whose contract was voided by the team). Those players are punter Shane Lechler, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, offensive guard Cooper Carlisle, offensive tackle Khalif Barnes, linebacker Philip Wheeler, and defensive tackle Desmond Bryant.
Right off the top, we can remove some of these players as not being franchise caliber players. Cooper Carlisle and Khalif Barnes chief among them. They were on one year deals and are only set to become free agents because the team would like to upgrade from them.
Next we look at Matt Shaughnessy. He had a down year last year and is not considered to be high on the priority list and is not highly regarded among free agent defensive ends. The Raiders may still want to keep him but there is no way they would pay him anywhere close to the $10.984 franchise tag number for defensive ends.
The same can be said for Brandon Myers. While he had great receiving numbers, he is not considered anywhere near the top free agent tight ends. He is a weak blocker and most of his catches are considered more a product of the offense and a lack of viable options. The franchise tag for tight ends stands at $5.962 million.
Next up is Shane Lechler. The franchise tag figure for his position is the cheapest because he is a punter. That number is a very manageable $2.9 million. But there's a catch. In the language in the new CBA that states if a player receives the franchise tag, it can't be less than they made the previous season. In fact, it must be 120% of that salary. So the franchise tag number by position is meaningless in this instance. Lechler's salary with the franchise tag would be a ludicrous number of $5.88 million. He was already the highest paid punter in the league and getting a raise from that is simply not going to happen.
This leaves us with Desmond Bryant and Philip Wheeler. Both players are valuable to the Raiders are would be sought on the free agent market. They are both the top available free agent at their position according to Pro Football Focus' free agent rankings.
Bryant, however, grades much higher than Wheeler among free agents. He also came on strong late last season when Richard Seymour went down due to injury. And equally if not more important is the tag numbers for each. Wheeler's linebacker franchise tag number sits at $9.455 million while Bryant's tag number is $8.306 million - that would make it more than a million dollars cheaper to keep Bryant than Wheeler.
So, with a higher grade, and a cheaper tag number, if the decision came down to deciding between the two, the most sensible player on whom to use the franchise tag is Desmond Bryant. Although, it may come down to which of the players the team can sign to a long term deal. Then put the tag on the other player if need be.
That being said, best case scenario would be to lock both players down with long term deals. This should be able to be done with a much lower figure than the franchise number for both players. But if for some reason they can't work out a deal by the end of the two week window, the smart move to ensure Bryant doesn't leave as a free agent would be a to slap the franchise tag on him until a deal is done.