Franchise tag not popular with NFL players

Sunday, January 31, 2010
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. The average fan may not be able to relate to an NFL player speaking out against something that would guarantee him more than $6 million for one season.

But Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers understands why Casey Hampton is so opposed to the idea of the Steelers using a franchise tag on the veteran nose tackle before the start of the free-agent signing period.

"It's a large sum of money," said Peppers, who made almost $9 million last season as the Panthers' franchise player. "But if you're looking for a long-term deal and then you're restricted, you're not able to secure your future. So that's why most guys are against it."

Hampton, who is an unrestricted free agent, made it clear that he is against the Steelers tagging him even if they do so with the intention of buying more negotiating time with the ninth-year veteran.

"It's going to be a problem if I get franchised," Hampton told The Tribune-Review Friday.

The Steelers have said they want Hampton back in 2010, and they have not committed to using the franchise tag on him.

With the free agency period starting March 5, time is of the essence if the two sides are to agree on a multi-year contract.

With that key date approaching, the franchise tag has become a topic of discussion at the Pro Bowl, which will be played today.

New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork has taken a stance similar to Hampton, saying he will be insulted if the Patriots use a franchise tag on him.

Peppers said there are multiple reasons why players don't like the franchise tag, even though it guarantees that they will be among the highest-paid players at their position for the upcoming season.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to the franchise tag is that it delays premier players from hitting the open market for a year. That is no small consideration in a sport as violent as football and for a player such as Hampton, who turns 33 in September.

"You might get injured, production might fall off, you don't know," Peppers said. "If you're able to go out and get that (long-term) deal, of course that's what you want."

But long-term contracts in the NFL don't offer players the same level of security that they do in Major League Baseball and the NBA since only part of the NFL money is guaranteed.

Of course, long-term contracts are still safer for players than the one-year deals that come with the franchise designation.

The Steelers, as an example, will have to offer Hampton a one-year contract in excess of $6 million if they use a franchise tag on him.

Ken Zuckerman, an agent for Priority Sports & Entertainment, said a player of Hampton's caliber might command a five-year deal worth as much as $40 million on the open market.

Roughly half of that, Zuckerman said, would be guaranteed.

Simple arithmetic, he added, shows why a player such as Hampton frowns upon the idea of getting tagged even though that might make the most sense for the Steelers from a business standpoint.

"You want to guarantee yourself $20 million instead of $6 million," Zuckerman said. "A player doesn't want to play on a one-year (contract) in this game. It's such a dangerous, volatile game."

That reality may be why outside James Harrison said he would have "definitely" been upset had the Steelers let him finish the four-year contract he signed in 2006 and then used a franchise tag on him.

It never reached that point as the Steelers signed Harrison last April to a six-year deal that made him the highest-paid defensive player in franchise history.

Harrison, who will play in his third consecutive Pro Bowl tonight, was one of a handful of key veterans that the Steelers locked up before they went into the final year of their contract.

Hampton, a five-time Pro Bowler, didn't get a new deal, and he has framed his contract issue as one of fairness.

He said he merely wants the Steelers to reciprocate on the commitment he has shown to them or let him test the open market without restrictions.

"I think franchising me is not fair," Hampton said. "They say we're going to get (a deal) done, so we'll see."

A closer look

The franchise tag has been a part of the NFL since 1993. Teams are allowed to use one franchise tag a year on one of their own free agents. Here are the two franchise tags available to teams and how they are different.

Exclusive: Players are offered a one-year contact that is the average of the five highest salaries at that position the previous season. Unrestricted free agents that get the "exclusive" tag are not permitted to negotiate with other teams.

Non-exclusive: The contract is the same as with the exclusive tag, but other teams are allowed to negotiate with "non-exclusive" franchise players. Any offers made to these players can be matched, and if that player's team declines to match an offer, it gets two first-round picks in return.