Beginning February 25th, clubs around the league may begin to designate the Franchise or Transition Tag for impending free agents. These tags are similar and are used by every club around the NFL to keep the talent that they have. Traditionally, teams have used the Tag to come to long-term contracts, while keeping the player off the market in free agency, but it is also helps to limit the liability for the team in the event a player has other concerns. Usually, these concerns revolve around injury, level of play, or character off the field. The tag almost always benefits the club, but in rare instances, it provide big bucks to the player who a team may be on the fence for.
The best example of this was Kirk Cousins, who was Franchise Tagged twice by the Washington Redskins. Cousins played well enough to earn a second contract from the Redskins, but not well enough for anything other than an average quarterbacks salary. He was offered a multi-year deal around $15-17M/year range, but rejected the offer looking for more. The Redskins Franchise Tagged him on a 1-year $20M contract, and forced him into a 1-year prove it deal. He played well the following year, passing for nearly 5,000 yards with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but still didn’t seem like he was deserving of top-5 QB money. The Redskins were in a predicament where they had a young, rising QB with top-5 stats, looking for top-5 QB money, yet still had not shown up in any prime-time games.
Again, to limit their liability, the Redskins decided to Franchise Tag Cousins, who rejected another mid-level long-term contract. The difference this time, is the new contract came boosted at $24M for another 1-year prove it deal. That essentially means Cousins turned the Franchise Tag into a 2-year, $44M contract of fully guaranteed money. In that year, Cousins threw for 4,093 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Again, playing admirably well, the Redskins had to make a decision: pay Cousins hefty money on a long-term deal, or let him hit free agency. They opted to trade for Alex Smith and Cousins hit free agency. The crazy thing is Kirk Cousins was able to earn top-5 money through the Franchise tag for 2 years. He would miraculously sign a historic 3-year, $84M contract with the Minnesota Vikings that was FULLY Guaranteed. Total, that was $108M of Fully Guaranteed money over 5 years.
The only Chargers pending free agent who is worthy of the tag is Hunter Henry, and the Chargers will likely apply the Transition Tag to keep him. This gives them the right of first refusal in contract negotiations. The Charger’s will likely match any offer any other team is willing to make to Henry, but in the event the price tag is too high, there will be a glaring hole at tight-end, similar to the 2018 season. If the Chargers Transition Tag Henry, and no team offers him a contract, Henry will be paid the average of the top-10 salaries at the Tight End position, which is currently about $9.2 Million. With Henry’s injury history, this limits the Charger’s liability, or provides them time to come to a long-term contract with the young star.
The Chargers could opt to Franchise Tag Henry, which would provide them additional leverage at a higher cost. The Franchise tag pays the player the average of the top-5 salaries at the specific position, which in Henry’s case, would be about $11M fully guarenteed. In return, Henry would not hit the free agency market and can only negotiate with the Chargers. Henry’s play on the field suggest that he is worthy of top-5 money on a long-term deal, though his ability to stay on the field lowers the value a bit. Maybe part of the reason the Chargers have opted for the transition tag is that Henry’s value may not be as easy to predict. Allowing a club to offer a contract gives the team the ability to negotiate with Henry.
The Transition Tag at $9.2M/year is pretty similar to what the Chargers are likely to offer to Henry on a long-term deal. Henry missed some time at the beginning of the season, but finished strong and he played well. Theres no way that a Tibia Plateau Fracture was able to fully heal in a month, which means that he played through the injury for a total of 11 weeks. It typically has a 3-4 month recovery, and Henry risked further injury on a contract year. Personally, that speaks volumes and should give the Bolts comfort in bringing him back. He is a star and is still growing into his abilities. A full offseason of recovery should mean that he comes back as strong as ever. Look for #86 to make a return and have a breakout year in 2020!