The widow is open but nobody is going to go through it just yet.
Today is the day that NFL teams can apply the franchise tag to their players. The tag essentially handcuffs a player to a team, either precluding the player from negotiating with other teams or allowing him to negotiate an offer sheet but requiring two first-round draft picks as compensation.
To be sure, the handcuffs are golden. The salaries associated with the franchise tag range from about $5 million for kickers to $21 million for quarterbacks with most positions falling in the $10-$15 million range. The salary is fully guaranteed when the player signs the tender.
Tag talk is relevant in Washington, of course, because of Kirk Cousins. If the Redskins tag him he will get 120% of his 2016 tag salary of $19.9 million. However, don’t look for that to happen today.
In fact, even though there are at least half a dozen players around the league who are likely to be tagged, don’t look for any of them to get the designation today. There really is no reason for the NFL to have a two-week window to apply the tag. In almost every case the team wants to at least have the opportunity to try to work out a long-term deal with the player before applying the tag. Why do it two weeks early when they can wait until March 1, when the window ends?
Why the NFL does it this way is anybody’s guess. Perhaps they like that the nominal opening of the tag window generates a 24-hour round of media buzz when the sports world is relatively quiet. But they could open the window one morning and close it at 4 p.m. the next day and the timing of teams declaring tags would change very little.
The thing to watch over the next two weeks is what, if anything, we hear about the negotiations between Cousins’ agent and the Redskins. As they saying goes, silence is golden. If the state of the talks stays out of the media, that will be a good thing. If we start hearing reports of talks becoming contentious or one side or the other leaking contract numbers, get ready for a train wreck.
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Getting a deal done before they have to use the franchise tag would be beneficial for the Redskins in many ways. Once the tag is applied there is little incentive for Cousins, who has made it clear that he is happy to play on the tag and collect the big salary again, to work to get a new contract. The organization would have to go through free agency and the draft with a cloud of uncertainty over the most important position on the field.
Technically, they have until July 15 to get a deal done. But if they can’t make it happen by March 1 there is no reason to think that anything would happen in the ensuing four and a half months.