Could Bucs use franchise tag on Davin Joseph or Barrett Ruud?
The NFL made it known last week that it intends to make the franchise tag available to teams this season despite the uncertainty surrounding free agency and the collective bargaining agreement.
Those tags would historically be applied some time this month, but all that's on hold as labor talks continue.
But if and when free agency guidelines are actually established, let's talk about whether the Bucs would consider using the franchise tag on any of their own free agents.
First, a refresher. The franchise tag is a device that allows teams to reduce the likelihood of losing a key player. If a player is tagged, he cannot leave before the Bucs have a chance to match the offer. If the Bucs opted not to match, the interested team is awarded the player and would be required to yield a pair of first-round picks Tampa Bay. You can see why this almost never happens. In exchange for being tagged, the franchise player receives a one-year salary equal to or greater than the average of the five highest-paid players at his position.
I asked general manager Mark Dominik last week whether that's something the team would consider -- in general terms -- and he confirmed it's something that could be on the table.
"It's an option that we believe still exists," he said, acknowledging nothing has been made official by the league. "It's an option that we certainly understand that we have and that if we have to or feel like it's necessary or warranted, we will use it."
So, what would the Bucs consider a "necessary" use of the franchise tag? Well, when you look at their class of free agents to be, the most likely player to get consideration would seem to be guard Davin Joseph. If he hits the market, he could command a sizable salary as he is one of the Bucs' best offensive linemen. We don't know the actual salary figures for franchise players yet, but last year's number for offensive linemen was $10.731 million.
Yes, that's a lot of money for a guard, but don't forget the Bucs spent $9.8 million franchising receiver Antonio Bryant two years ago only to see him hobble his way through the season on a bad knee (loosely-related sidebar: I hear Bryant is doing much better and will attempt a comeback soon. We'll see how it goes).
And don't forget we'll probably see the return of the salary cap at some point in 2011, meaning the Bucs -- who have the lowest payroll in the NFL -- will have to be mindful of the so-called salary floor, which didn't exist in uncapped 2010.
Another possible use of the franchise tag is Barrett Ruud. I wouldn't consider this likely, but it's not completely ridiculous, either. Last year's franchise number for linebackers was $9.68 million. Ruud is looking for a lucrative long-term contract, but the franchise tag could be a way to keep him off the market while also giving him a significant boost in pay he might be willing to live with, even if it's for just one season.
The franchise tag isn't something the Bucs have used often in the past. Before using it on Bryant, they hadn't employed the tag since using it on Chidi Ahanotu in 1999. Given that, I wouldn't go betting money we'll see the Bucs use it this season.
But they have the option. And they have a couple possible uses for it, too.