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Posted: Friday, 12 July 2013 11:20AM

Franchise tags: how players really feel about them

(WGR 550) -- When it comes to the franchise tag in the National Football League, it's quite a convenient mechanism for teams throughout the league who want to keep one of their best players in house for another year at least. At the same time, however, it's an action that is often met with resentment from the players that reside in the locker rooms.

"Nobody wants to get tagged," said agent C.J. LaBoy of Octagon Sports.

"I think players hate the tag," remarked another NFL agent. "Let's face it. The teams hold almost all the leverage unless you're an elite player at an elite position. And if you were an elite player at an elite position you would never get franchised, you would have your deal done well before that time came."

Buffalo Bills free safety Jairus Byrd is one of eight players in the league that were designated as a team's franchise player this off-season. To the surprise of few, none of the eight have agreed to long-term deals with the club that tagged them in early March.

"In my opinion, it kind of depends on your position," said Bills center Eric Wood, who himself will be a free agent after the 2013 season. "Safeties in this league don't generally make as much money as some other positions. So I know in the case of Jairus, I'm assuming without ever talking to him, the franchise tag isn't the best thing in the world."

From a fan's perspective, most of whom won't see the type of one-year salary these franchised players are owed, it's often times a stretch to feel badly for a player that receives the tag. LaBoy comprehends that part of it.

"I understand and agree from the player's aspect that protecting your financial well-being and financial longevity is always the most important thing, and the franchise tag does not necessarily offer that," he started. "But, if you're a player and you're making the franchise tag numbers, if you're good with your money you could be set for life just on that one year of salary. So it's hard to really look at it and be like, 'Wow, the franchise tag is so offensive.'"

"But it's not hard to understand why a player would be so offended by it because these players generally want to get paid by their clubs or the club that drafted them. It can be difficult for them to kind of understand why a deal can't get done if a team is willing to pay them at that franchise level."

It's not all bad from a player's point of view, however. Some would make the case that it's actually an honor to receive that designation from a team in the usual cold, heartless landscape that is the NFL.

"I do know it's kind of flattering that they felt that you were one of their top guys that they wanted to keep around and they're willing to pay a lot of money," said Wood.

"In my opinion, the franchise tag can easily be looked at -- and really should be looked at by players and an agent to some respect as the team is obviously willing to place this tag on your player because he's so valuable to the team that they're really not willing to let him go," LaBoy added. "It's somewhat of an acknowledgement of a player's value."

In the leverage game though, that 'honor' is fast and fleeting. For the sake of a player's career, the franchise tag process does more harm than good in the opinion of some.

"I think if you look at it today, all you have to do is look at what's happened over the last two years since the CBA's been signed and getting a franchise tag is no longer a good thing," said one agent. "The tag itself has been more of a benefit for the teams than the players."

Threat of injury

When franchise tagged, a player is very nearly close to the top of the mountain in salary structure for one year. Because of the violent nature inherently linked to the game of football though, that can be a scary proposition for many.

In the blink of an eye, a player can unexpectedly lose his balance and fall on the arm or leg of an unsuspecting player. And just like that, a season could be lost.

"[The franchise tag is] a tool the owners can use then and in the NFL we don't have guaranteed money. We're the only, out of the big three sports, we're the only one without guaranteed money," said Wood. "Without any long-term deal with some guaranteed money, it's tough to put yourself out on the field when you feel that you deserve a long-term contract."

Just last year there were two specific examples of a franchised player that had his year ended early due to an injury. Not surprisingly, their salary in 2013 was dramatically reduced from the number they played under in 2012.

The Atlanta Falcons tagged cornerback Brent Grimes and the Washington Redskins did the same to tight end Fred Davis. Both players ended up blowing out their Achilles tendon and saw a big drop-off in how much compensation they're set to receive in 2013.

For Grimes, he went from making $10.281 million on the franchise tag to signing a one-year deal with Miami for $5.5 million. With Davis, he fell from the franchised salary of $5.446 million to re-signing with Washington on a one-year, $2.5 million contract.

"It's certainly a risk that you have to be willing to take if you were to turn down a multi-year deal," LaBoy said. "As an agent, you can't feel worse for your client who is willing to take that risk and then suffers an injury which nobody can prevent. And now what? You're glad that he's able to have some built-in financial stability from that franchise tag amount, but you're also saddened by the fact now you might never get that long-term deal that you could have got or that you turned down."

July 15 deadline and its hiccups

With only a few days to go before the deadline for teams to sign a long-term agreement with their franchised players arrives, none of the eight with the tag in 2013 have been able to strike a deal.

Is that indicative of a flaw within the system? Most tend to think so.

"The deadline should be pushed back possibly either once training camp starts or two weeks in to training camp," said a veteran player in the league. "I look at the 15th, it's still kind of the dead period, there's really nothing going on right now. Why does it have to be now? Why does it have to be in the middle of the summer for all of us?"

Wood tends to believe that the deadline actually helps the franchised player in question.

"I guess as a player you'd like to think, 'Well, there's such a valuable time before training camp, before the first game to get a long-term deal done if I do accept the franchise tag, would there be an understanding that a long-term deal is coming, it just can't get ironed out yet.' This could really inhibit that," Wood said.

"It kind of puts the pressure on the team to try and get something done because you could always hold the threat that you wouldn't show up. It kind of goes against the team in that regard, but for the player that's a lot of valuable time that you could still have to negotiate to get something done."

While agreeing that the deadline isn't the best way to get a deal done between the two sides, an agent disagrees with Wood's sentiments that it puts the ball in the player's court.

"I think when you set deadlines it always works in the team's favor. Because at the end of the day, the player would have to be awfully foolish to forgo a full year's salary at the franchise tag level regardless of position," they said. "So you're almost certain that the player is going to sign and he's going to sign before the season."

Because of the deadline, it puts pressure on either the player or team to cave in their demands five-and-a-half months before the two sides can ever come to a long-term agreement again. It's just further reason why the agent believes the franchise tag and the long-term deadline totally puts the team in the driver's seat.

"When you have these dates where you can't negotiate anymore, now the player -- while yes, they get a high one year salary -- but now they have tremendous risk because they're playing another season without the security of a long-term deal or guaranteed money," they remarked. "As you know from the injury ratios and the longevity of careers, more often than not the player is going to be adversely affected going back to free agency or back to re-negotiations in year two than they are prior to."

LaBoy, who also represents players in the league such as Buffalo's Stevie Johnson, takes a contrarian point of view on the deadline hubbub.

"The negotiation is never going to stop. It's not like all talks are over. You just can't come to an agreement," he stated. "For whatever reason they made the rule the way it is and what not, but you do need to have deadlines and rules to these things, especially when you're talking about your franchise players."

Even still, the closer a player gets to the start of the new league year in March with the pie in the sky idea that they'll strike it rich can sometimes increase the odds of an impasse between individual and organization. It's the risk both parties must take due to that very deadline.

"For every Andy Levitre out there who gets a long, huge deal at the start, there's a lot of guys that kind of linger and don't get what they thought they might get," Wood added.

The stake that drives the player and team apart?

In a recent article done by ESPN's John Clayton, he reveals that historically over 50-percent of players that received the franchise tag one year end up with a different team the following season.

Why is that? Is the act of tagging a franchise player the catalyst to driving the two sides toward a divorce?

From an agent's perspective who deals with the players directly, there is some evidence that this could be the case.

"I think it can be," said LaBoy. "The franchise tag can also put the team at a disadvantage because theoretically you're setting the player's annual price-point."

"I think it sets up an expectation that may not be reality," said another agent. "You sit there and say, 'Well, you franchised me at $7 million. How could you think that I would accept a deal for $6.5 million.' A long-term deal at $6.5 million with the right structure -- guaranteed money, etc., etc. -- may be just as valuable as a one-year deal at $7 million. But there's ego involved because there's the sense that you're going backward."

Most of those agents in that very scenario feel pressure to keep whatever long-term deal that may be on the horizon in line with the type of base salary a player is guaranteed under the one-year franchise tag. The annonymous agent inferred that it's a side no one talks about.

"If you're an agent and you have a guy who a team tendered at the franchise level, and you come to him and say 'Hey, I think you should take a deal for less average per year than the franchise,' man, you've better be able to sell that player really well, because he's going to be like 'What the (expletive) are you talking about?'"

The ego of the agent and the ego of the player combine into a force that creates many different stalemates throughout the NFL.

"Or the player is upset that the team wasn't willing to do a long-term deal and just took the easy way out of tagging them," LaBoy added. "So the player's like, 'You know what, screw that. I don't even want to come back to the team because they weren't willing to negotiate even though I wanted to be here.' It could definitely backfire for the team. No question."

How about the players? How does one veteran feel about the franchise tag and the message it sends?

One man with experience in the league says it sends the tone of disrespect for whatever player is getting tagged.

"You see when guys work, you see what he does for you on the field, you see his numbers," said the veteran NFL player. "Why not get him the long-term deal? Then you see in the league at his same position and you see what they sign for, and clearly this guy is just as good, if not better than that guy, so why isn't he getting paid at that same level?"

That's when, in a way, business gets personal. The NFL from a team perspective is more of the faceless, number-cruncing society. In the players eyes, the relationship could be harmed indefinitely.

"When the club stands off with the player, you've got to sign the franchise tag, I think it definitely drives that stake between them," the player continued. "From then on I feel like you don't really have my back anymore. I feel like you're looking at me like someone who is replaceable basically if they're not going to do what they need to do to get you a long-term deal."

Byrd and how others view his situation

There really is more than what meets the eye when a team decides to assign the franchise tag to a player on their team.

In the case of most franchise tag cases including the Bills and safety Jairus Byrd, not only is there the pressure on both sides to get a deal done, but there is pressure on the agent to get the best deal, concern over image of the player, backlash from within the locker room if things don't work out and everything in between.

"A guy like Eugene Parker who is dealing at a very high level, he can't afford to sell Jairus Byrd short," said one agent. "Other agents will use that against them, and that's where the system starts to fall apart."

From a player perspective, it's a predictably biased opinion, but it's an open-and-shut case.

"He deserves to get a lot more money than the franchise tag is going to give him. With him, his situation, them offering him the franchise tag it puts him in a bind," the veteran player opined. "Do you take less money, go out there and play this year running the risk of getting injured and then missing out on so much more money that you could make? At least you look like a good team player, but you jeopardize yourself."

"Or, on the flip side of that, do you hold out? Then the fans are saying you're selfish, all you care about is you, you don't care about the team. There's pros and cons to it. From a player perspective, if you've got an opportunity to get that big pay day, do what you've got to do to get it, because you don't know when you're going to be done."

At the end of the day however, Byrd's teammates just want him back in the locker room and on the field along side them, but not at the cost of him missing out on what he's owed.

"Jairus is obviously one of our best players and our chances of winning go up dramatically when he's there and we all want to win and we're out there to win," Wood said "But, in the same sense, Jairus has done nothing but take care of business since he got here, so we want Jairus to do what's best for him. You just have to wish him the best and tell him to do what's best for him. Whenever he comes back, if he comes back, we'll all welcome him with open arms."

To read the latest on the Jairus Byrd development, click here.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
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