As most NFL fans are aware, premier defenders Asante Samuel of the New England Patriots and Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears have been threatening to sit out the first ten weeks of the upcoming season due to their teams' use of the dreaded franchise tag upon them. News today has Briggs and the Bears close to an agreement that will get Briggs into camp instead of having him continue his holdout. The agreement, as in almost all of these types of negotiations, appears to be contingent upon the Bears promising Briggs one simple thing; don't do it again. When the franchise tag system always seems to boil down to this same point, it is time for something to change.
First, it is good to understand why exactly the franchise tag exists. Ideally, the tag should be used by teams to keep their star player for an extra season in order for them to negotiate a long term deal. Here is what the tag actually means:
"A franchise player is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at his position in the previous season, or a 20 percent salary increase, whichever is greater. This type of franchise player may negotiate with other clubs. His original club has seven days to match the offer and retain the player, or receive two first-round draft choices as compensation if the original club elects not to match."
You can see the logic behind such a designation; the player gets an extremely good salary, and the team is protected during negotiations by the draft pick compensation. The problem with the system however, is that teams have begun to exploit it by franchising players they have no interest in signing long term deals with, thereby just holding them hostage for a season. They can do this with almost no risk considering that no team in their right mind would be willing to surrender two first round picks for all but a select crust of elite players, players that would never hit the franchiose tag market in the first place. The problem for the franchised player is that he is unable to truly negotiate a deal worth his market value and is unable to secure a long term deal with guaranteed money in case of an injury during the year in which he is franchised. So of course the use of the franchise tag almost inevitably leads to animosity developing between the player and the team, and the request that the team not use the designation again. Does this sound like a system that is allowing teams to keep their franchise players? Or does it sound like one that is securing one year rentals and ticking a lot of people off in the process?
Now that we have examined the problem, here is a look at two solutions to fixing the franchise problem.
Make It One Year: This is by far the simplest solution to the problem, and it would keep the original intent of the tag intact. If teams were only allowed to franchise a player for one season, then the team would still have a reasonable shot at negotiating a long term deal with the player while lessening the risk factor to the player. If the player really doesn't want to be there, fine; he can sign a big money tender for one season and then hit free agency the next summer and sign a long term deal with another club. The franchise tag was never meant to force hostage situations between a team and a franchise player, and limiting the tag to one use per player would put an end to that type of situation.
Reduce The Compensation: The shocking thing in all of this is that technically a franchised player can still sign with another team. It rarely ever happens though, since two first round picks are a ridiculous level of compensation in today's NFL. Again, players that are worth that much would never hit the franchise market in the first place. They would either be locked up to long term deals or be tagged as "exclusive" franchise players. (Meaning that they get more money but can't sign with other teams) So how do you solve this problem? Reduce the compensation to something more reasonable, like a single first round pick, or a second and a third, or even two second round picks. Lowering the compensation level would allow other teams to engage in bidding for the franchised player, which would actually increase the likelihood of the original team signing the franchised player to a long term deal since they would still be allowed the right to match the terms of any offer. And if the player got an outrageous offer? Then the team would still get compensated. Again, this simple change would return the franchise tag to its original purpose.