Monday’s deadline for teams to slap one-year franchise tags on an outgoing free agent of their choice came and went with eight teams choosing to exercise that option. The following players will all spend 2013 being paid an average of the top-five salaries at their position over the past five years (unless they come to a long-term agreement before the season starts). Below each player, I’ll give my expert opinion on whether their teams used their tags in a judicious manner or if they perhaps should have been inclined to let the player test the free agent waters.
Jairus Byrd: Safety, Buffalo Bills
One-Year Tender: $6.92 million
Worth It?: At first glance, if you judged this solely by Buffalo’s team defensive ratings over the past three years, you would say NO WAY NO WAY NO WAY WHAT IN MARV LEVY’S NAME ARE YOU DOING, BUFFALO? But according to Advanced NFL Stats’ Expected Points Added metric, Byrd was the fifth-best safety in the league last year and the ninth-best in 2011 – I’m not sure that those metrics are predictive at all for defenders, but it’s fair to say that Byrd has been one of the lone bright spots on the Bills defense the past couple of years. Plus, the cap hit of $6.92 million isn’t particularly steep and if the Bills’ defense looked THAT BAD even with a top-ten safety on the back end, just think how bad they’d look in 2013 with the likes of Madieu Williams back there. So I’m going to say this is an unqualified Worth It franchising.
Henry Melton: Defensive Tackle, Chicago Bears
One-Year Tender: $8.45 million
Worth It?: In the strictest sense of the term, no, Melton is not currently worth that much money. He has thirteen sacks over the past two seasons and can be a disruptive force in the run game but can also get gouged at the point of attack and probably shouldn’t have made the Pro Bowl last year. However, 26-year-old defensive tackles with excellent pass rush ability don’t hit the open market very often and if the Bears didn’t slap Melton with the franchise tag, another team would have doled out a long-term contract offering just as much money per year. In addition, the pass-rushing defensive tackle has perhaps more importance in the Bears’ defensive scheme than any other scheme in the league and, excepting the times Julius Peppers moves inside to play D-tackle, Melton is far and away the only inside lineman on the Bears’ roster who fits that bill. So, given Melton’s potential and his importance within the Bears’ defense, I’m going to give this a qualified Worth It grade as well.
Michael Johnson: Defensive End, Cincinnati Bengals
One-Year Tender: $11.175 million
Worth It?: If you’re just going by last year, oh yeah! Johnson had 11.5 sacks, ranked ninth among defensive ends in quarterback hits with nineteen and tied for fifth in tackles for loss with fourteen. Plus, he just turned 26 in February and conceivably could have his best years ahead of him. On the other hand, Johnson had just 11.5 sacks total in the three seasons prior to 2012 and had nowhere near the same impact in any of those first three years. Given the steep cap hit that franchised defensive ends bring, this would have been a pretty tough call to make for a franchise that didn’t have approximately $55 million in cap space this offseason. Since that’s the amount of money the Bengals do have to spend, however, it’s a worthwhile one-year gamble for them to see if Johnson replicates that same 2012 level of performance this year.
Anthony Spencer: Outside Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys
One-Year Tender: $10.627 million
Worth It?: This is the second year in a row that Spencer’s been franchised and, unlike last year, in a vacuum he’s actually worthy of the tag. He posted a career high in sacks with eleven while maintaining his usual excellence in run defense and, frankly, outperformed DeMarcus Ware. But the Cowboys are in salary cap hell right now and handing out $10 million to a player who has been slightly above-average in every year of his career except 2012 seems pretty foolish – particularly when you’ve got $78 million tied up in the outside linebacker lined up on the opposite side of the field. This earns a No Bueno grade from me.
Ryan Clady: Offensive Tackle, Denver Broncos
One-Year Tender: $9.828 million
Worth It?: This one’s easy. He’s one of the three or four best tackles in the league and the second most important player on the Denver offense behind Forehead. Worth it, worth it, a thousand times worth it.
Pat McAfee: Punter, Indianapolis Colts
One-Year Tender: $2.977 million
Worth It?: You laugh, but McAfee might secretly have been the Colts’ MVP in 2012 – the only thing that was above-average with them last year was the field position they earned due to good kickoff and punt coverage. Perhaps Mr. McAfee had a lot to do with that? On the other hand, though, McAfee WAS the guy who swam drunk in an Indianapolis canal back in 2010. Also, franchising punters is stupid. So this ain’t worth it.
Brandon Albert: Offensive Tackle, Kansas City Chiefs
One-Year Tender: $9.828 million
Worth It?: Albert comes in with a good rep and would have been snatched up in a second by another team in a second in the open market. But would that have been such a bad thing? Here are the Chiefs’ sack rates on offense the past three years: 7.8% (2012), 6.4% (2011), 6.3% (2010). All those rates are below league-average and while Matt Cassel and the litany of backup Chiefs quarterbacks that have seen action the past three years deserve their fair share of blame for those numbers, doesn’t the blindside protector Albert deserve some blame as well? With the qualification that I know absolutely nothing about offensive line play, I’m giving this a No Bueno rating.
Randy Starks: Defensive Tackle, Miami Dolphins
One-Year Tender: $8.450 million
Worth It?: Starks’ stat line will never show very much since his role is to be the run-stuffing defensive tackle in the Ted Washington role in a 3-4 defense, but he’s been the anchor of a Dolphins’ run defense that ranked in the top ten in Yards per Carry Allowed each of the past three years and he added 4.5 sacks last year to boot. For a team with $45 million in cap space, allocating $8.5 million of that to a guy you know is going to lock down the other team’s rushing attack isn’t the worst plan in the world. Randy, you’ve earned a qualified Worth It in my book.