Connor Barth and the franchise tag
Franchise tags are flying all around the NFL today, and we could see one applied here in Tampa Bay before long.
Unless the Bucs can come to terms on a deal with kicker Connor Barth before Monday, you should expect them to apply the franchise tag to last season's NFL leader in field-goal accuracy (93 percent). It wouldn't be Barth's preferred outcome (he would like a multi-year deal), but this option offers many advantages for the organization, and it would be stunning to see general manager Mark Dominik not avail himself of it.
Here's why: While the price of franchise tags for premier positions like quarterback ($14 million) and receiver ($9.4 million) can be prohibitive, the projected franchise number for kickers is below $3 million. That alone makes using it an easy decision. Why risk losing the player later this month on the open market when that's all it takes to protect him?
Furthermore, if the Bucs have any hesitation about committing to a long-term deal with Barth, the franchise tag buys them time, allowing them to observe how he performs in 2012 first.
The one caveat: If the Bucs prefer to lock up Barth long term -- and they have been having conversations about that possibility -- this is a great time to do it. Tampa Bay has about $67 million in salary-cap space and could easily accommodate the salary guarantees on the front end of the deal.
The Bucs have made some questionable decisions with their specialists in recent seasons. They let kicker Matt Bryant get away and replaced him with Mike Nugent, a move that resulted in Nugent going the way of Steve Sax, falling into a funk and being released a month into the 2009 season. There also was the ill-fated decision to draft punter Brent Bowden in 2010, only to release him and spend the rest of the season looking for a punter who could, you know, punt.
This time, the Bucs aren't going to repeat those mistakes. Whatever ultimately happens -- franchise tag or contract extension -- Barth isn't going anywhere.