GREEN BAY – If the Green Bay Packers don’t think they’ll be able to get a long-term deal done with unrestricted free-agent cornerback Sam Shields before he hits the open market on March 11, they do have the franchise tag at their disposal – and enough salary-cap space to use it without hamstringing themselves with their other 16 unrestricted free agents or other teams’ players.
With a projected salary cap of roughly $126 million, the Packers are set to enter free agency with almost $30 million in cap space, even after signing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews to lucrative long-term extensions last year.
That said, the Packers haven’t historically used the franchise tag under general manager Ted Thompson. He hasn’t used it the past three years – there was talk last spring that the Packers might apply the tag to wide receiver Greg Jennings – and Thompson has only used the franchise tag twice: On defensive tackle Corey Williams in 2008 and on defensive tackle Ryan Pickett in 2010. Williams was later traded to Cleveland for a second-round pick; Pickett’s tag was a precursor to a long-term deal, which is now expiring.
Thompson has used the transition tag once, on tight end Bubba Franks in 2005.
The Packers also toyed with the idea of using the tag on tight end Jermichael Finley in 2011 but reached an agreement on a two-year, $14 million deal before needing to apply the tag.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis two years ago, Thompson was asked about his philosophy on using the tag.
“I think it’s part of the collective bargaining agreement. It’s part of the strategies you use in building your team,” Thompson replied. “There’s a lot of uncertainty this time of year. That (tag) can give you a little more certainty. It’s something that if you use it, you use it. But, I think every team and every situation with every team is a little different.”
Asked if Williams was an example of a player who was more valuable as a trade commodity than as a player to keep on the roster, Thompson replied: “It was just the way it worked out in that particular situation. In Seattle, we had a franchise guy (Joey Galloway) that we wound up trading. But I think if you tender someone, it’s a tender. It’s not, ‘Let’s trade you.’”
Shields, who has developed into the team’s most consistent cover man, could command a long-term deal that averages $8 million per year or more. Ideally, the Packers would like to get a deal done with Shields before the two-week franchise-tag window, which opened Monday, closes.
The NFL has not yet set the 2014 salary cap, so the franchise tag numbers are not yet set, either. But, here were the franchise and transition tag numbers for last season. (The franchise tag number is the first number, the transition tag is the second.)
Those figures are likely to increase with the salary cap an expected $3 million higher this year, but not significantly.
The Packers also could use the franchise tag or transition tag on defensive lineman B.J. Raji, even if they don’t intend to keep him. Using the tag would give them the opportunity to trade Raji and get something for him if he is not in their long-term plans. Last week, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Packers are looking to remake their defensive line and that Raji may depart as a result.
Raji is represented by David Dunn, the agent for Rodgers and Matthews. Dunn and Raji reportedly spurned an $8 million per year offer that the Packers made last fall.
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