Bucs again unlikely to utilize franchise tag this year
The Bucs rarely use their franchise or transition player tag and that isn’t expected to change this year.
The two-week window to apply one of those tags began today and runs through March 1. The Bucs used their franchise tag on tackle Paul Gruber the first time it was available in 1993. But in the 23 years since, Tampa Bay has utilized that designation only three other times.
The franchise tag can be applied to a player about to enter unrestricted free agency. It would guarantee that player a one-year contract at the average salary of the top five players at that position. The transition tag guarantees a one-year deal at the average salary of the top 10 players at that position. However, if 120 percent of a player’s salary from the previous season is higher, he would receive that amount.
Those tags are also used sometimes to extend the negotiating window with a player who otherwise would hit free agency, but that comes at a risk if they player opts to simply sign the one-year contract rather than a long-term deal.
This year, the free agent the Bucs most want to retain is defensive end William Gholston, considered the team’s best run stopper on the defensive line. Gholston had 49 tackles, including 37 solo stops. He dislocated his elbow in a 26-20 loss at Dallas Dec. 18.
With Gholston out, the Saints’ Mark Ingram (18 carries, 90 yards, 2 TDs) and Tim Hightower (8 for 29) combined to rush for 119 yards.
The Bucs have 17 players set to become unrestricted free agents. While re-signing Gholston is a priority, the franchise tag for defensive ends is prohibitive. The franchise tag for a defensive end is expected to be about $17-million on a one-year deal. The transition figure would be about $14-million. Those contracts are given to players who are among the NFL’s sack leaders.
Gholston had only three sacks last season and has recorded 10.5 sacks over his four-year career. Around the NFC South, the Carolina Panthers are expected to use the franchise tag on defensive tackle Kawann Short, who had six sacks last season and 11 sacks in 2015. That would take a valuable free agent off the market in an area of need for the Bucs.
The Falcons and Saints are not expected to designate a franchise or transition player.
One player to watch in the NFL is Kansas City safety Eric Berry, who says he won’t play under a franchise tag but is likely to get one anyway if he can’t reach a long-term extension with the Chiefs. It’s hard to believe Berry and the Chiefs won’t work it out, but if he did hit the market, the Bucs would likely be among many teams that would have an interest in Berry. Both Bucs starting safeties, Bradley McDougald and Chris Conte, are set to become free agents.