The unfair dynamics of the franchise tag is something I’ve wanted to touch upon since I started this site. Former NFL defensive tackle Sean Gilbert can explain the issue a hell of a lot better than I can. Gilbert is the last player to skip an entire season rather than sign his franchise tender. After bad negotiations lead to the Washington Redskins issuing him their franchise tag, Gilbert decided he’d much rather sit out a year than risk everything on a one year deal. After sitting out the 1997 season, Gilbert was traded to the Carolina Panthers, making the entire ordeal worth it for him. Here’s what he had to say recently about the franchise tag:
The problem with that franchise tag is, it’s not appropriate. It’s not put in the right place. I mean, you’re tying a guy down that’s earned his right to go into the market. If there’s another team, you’re restricting him from securing his future based on his performance. And I always tell guys, ‘You’re getting paid, but you’re not getting paid for what you’re gonna do, you’re getting paid for what you’ve done. You’ve proven you can play at a certain level. You gotta look at how you’re being viewed. You have to see yourself in a certain way to maximize your value.’ A lot of guys, they don’t know. They don’t know their value. They just let the agent do the thinking. It’s unfortunate. The game is not fair. I used to tell my GM… ‘This marriage is one way. And I’m not going to divorce it, it’s gonna divorce me.
We bust our butt out there. We put ourselves out there for you to say, ‘Good job or bad job.’ But if I’m getting paid what I’m worth, it works for everybody. Because guess what? At the end of the year, you don’t like the job I did, you can fire me. You don’t have any team coming back to a player and saying, ‘You played great, we’re going to give you an increase.’ But as soon as you have a down year — you know? I think we’re going to have to ask you to take a pay cut. If I’m running a team, I would definitely run it different. I understand you can’t make everybody happy. But I think Pittsburgh has the best blueprint, as far as how you structure a team, what you’re looking for in ballplayers, and them understanding the family atmosphere and being part of a franchise.
Drew Brees, Wes Welker and Matt Forte have endured some contentious negotiations this offseason with their respective teams. Proponents of the tag say that no player should ever complain about being paid on par with the top 5 salaries at his position. What they fail to realize is that no player with half a brain is seeking a one year deal to play with any team. Players are looking for the security that comes with a long term pact. Of course they would all love to to land the highest paying deal possible. But I’m willing to bet a lot of players would sacrifice a few dollars in pay as long as they were assured of having a roster spot a few seasons down the line.
The reality of the franchise tag is this – it is really only beneficial to the team, not the player. If all things were right within the NFL, once a player and the team are unable to come to an agreement, that player would be able to shop his services elsewhere. Holding a player hostage with the franchise tag eliminates that option for players. The players had an opportunity to possibly alter the use of the tag during last season’s Lockout/CBA negotiations, but no real change was brought about. They are now stuck with this system for the next 10 years. This means we’ll be seeing plenty of cases similar to Brees, Welker & Forte over the next decade.