We’ve emerged from the rubble of franchise tag deadline day with 21 players tagged, six of whom are full-time special-teams players who kick an oblong ball for a living. So we leave you Monday night with one final thought: Why’s it called the franchise tag if it’s rarely handed out to any actual franchise players?
Not once in the history of the NFL has a kicker or punter led a franchise. Some of the best of them have played significant roles and have been worth every penny they made/make (and sometimes more), but rarely does losing or gaining a top-end player at said positions make a difference in the win column over the course of a season. On each team, there are a minimum of 22 other players (11 offensive starters, 11 defensive starters) who automatically qualify as more pertinent than the placekicker and the punter.
The NFL officially calls the player slapped with the tag a “franchise player,” which implies that the original intent of the policy was to help keep the faces of certain teams in certain cities. This would presumably assist small-market or struggling franchises that, if not for the tag, might have otherwise lost irreplaceable members of the team.
But only a small percentage of the players who’ve been hit with the tag in recent years have been irreplaceable. Instead, teams typically choose to manipulate the framework of the tag in order to keep players who are valued yet not worthy of long-term deals, valued yet asking for too much money or valued yet might actually come at a cheaper rate under the tag when all’s said and done.
It’s strategic, which is perfectly legal. But it’s also out of sync with the spirit of — and intent for — the rule.
The franchise tag hasn’t been used on actual franchise players for years, and now, with a new collective bargaining agreement only making tweaks that haven’t curbed that tendency, we’ll be stuck for the next nine years with lazy teams shying away from deadlines and negotiating-table realities by resorting to tagging the most strategically appropriate player they can find.
During those talks for a new CBA last spring, there was a hot rumor that the franchise tag was on the chopping block. Unfortunately, and much to the chagrin of everyone but the owners and maybe some fans in smaller or weaker markets, it survived.
And now we’re stuck calling guys like Mike Nugent “franchise players” for another decade.