Around the NFL, teams can start locking one potential free agent into a full guaranteed contract equaling the average salaries of the top five players at their respective position. Originally fought for by the players as a way to escalate salaries, and a concession to the league for free agency, the now dreaded franchise tag always causes consternation. Players hate the tag, feeling they are being disrespected because they are being given a one year deal that prevents them from seeing the huge money they could get in free agency, and they are being prevented from landing the long term contract that gives them some current, and future, stability.
But, teams continue to use the tag every year, trying to keep that one player they either cannot afford to lose, or to give a good player one more year to prove he is worthy of the long term contract the player desires. Last year, the NFL saw a record 21 players receive the franchise tag, breaking the previous record of 14 set in 2009 and tied in 2011.
However, the Miami Dolphins have only used their franchise tag once in the past ten seasons, keeping nose tackle Paul Soliai with the team in 2011. They elected to let Soliai hit the free agent market in 2012 before re-signing him.
Could the Dolphins use the franchise tag this year? The team has numerous free agents preparing to hit the market, and, if they were going to use the tag, this might be the season to do it. Players like Jake Long, Sean Smith, Reggie Bush, and Randy Starks could be slapped with the tag to keep them from going somewhere else while a long term deal is negotiated.
Long, the team's 2008 first overall draft pick and a four time Pro Bowler, could be given the tag, giving the team one more season to see if the recent rash of injuries to Long are going to continue, or if Long will return to the elite level of play expected of him. However, he will make a huge dent in the Dolphins' salary cap space if he is given the tag, landing somewhere around $15 million for next season.
Smith would make sense, as the Dolphins are hurting at cornerback already, and losing Smith would make the need even worse. The team chose Smith over Vontae Davis last year, and now losing Smith would only compound the inability to cover wide receivers the team already has. Smith is inconsistent at best, being able to shut down some of the game's best wide outs one week, only to get torched repeatedly the next week. It is hard to see him as a "franchise" player, but the team could hit him with the tag, then try to negotiate a deal with a lower salary cap number.
Bush is a big name, and will draw attention on the free agent market, but the Dolphins seem set to allow him to try free agency. Miami is happy with second year running back Lamar Miller, who is expected to step into the starting position if Bush leaves. Bush is getting older in a league that is focused on young, cheap running backs, but he is also coming off the two best seasons of his career, and has shaken the "injury-prone" tag he got while in New Orleans Saints.
Finally, Starks could be a target for the franchise tag, with the Dolphins keeping their two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle in exactly the same way they kept their other Pro Bowl defensive tackle, Soliai. Lock Starks into another year with the team, and continue to negotiate the long term deal.
Does it make sense for the Dolphins to us the tag on any of these players? Will they?
Here are the standard franchise tag numbers for this year (players with the franchise tag will make this amount, fully guaranteed for this season, unless 120% of their previous season's salary is higher - like Long):
CB: Franchise: $10.668
DE: Franchise: $10.984
DT: Franchise: $8.306
K/P: Franchise: $2.926
LB: Franchise: $9.455
OL: Franchise: $9.660
QB: Franchise: $14.642
RB: Franchise: $8.079
S: Franchise: $6.798
TE: Franchise: $5.962
WR: Franchise: $10.357
Do you think the Dolphins will use the tag this year? Or will they just keep their salary cap space and attack free agency to fill the holes players like Long and Smith would leave?