The franchise tagging process went into effect this week on Monday, February 20. It is an effective way for teams to keep free agent players for another year and thus discourage their movement to another squad. The calculation to determine the costs of franchising players for each position has changed due to the most recent CBA. The calculation used to take the average of the top five salaries from the previous year at each position; however, this year the CBA specifies that the franchise tender be tabulated by calculating the sum of the franchise tags at each desired position over the last five years, dividing it by the total sum of the salary cap from the last five years and then multiplying by the salary cap for the upcoming season (Article 9, Section 2(a)(i)). This is rather confusing, but to say the least, the franchise tag costs will be less than in recent years for each position. Speculative values (in millions) for the 2012 NFL season at the skill positions are as follows: QB - $14.4, RB - $7.7, WR - $9.6, and TE - $5.4.
Teams will be making their designations public from now until March 5. During that time period, many could argue that the decision that the Green Bay Packers make for their sole franchise tag could define their season. The question herein is whether or not they should tag their starting tight end Jermichael Finley .
Franchising Finley for $5.4 million would be a very good deal for the Packers considering they could get a stud tight end that forces defenses to game plan for his superb athleticism and strength. That salary would put Finley right behind Owen Daniels and barely in the top 10 for tight ends in the league. Although the Packers might be happy with this scenario, Finley would probably not be. Currently, Finley and his agent are lobbying for the tight end to be evaluated as a wide receiver for the franchise tag. This would force the Packers to pay an extra $4 million dollars for his redefined position. In 2008, the NFL issued a "hybrid" position circumstance for Terrell Suggs that allowed him to get paid between a defensive end and an outside linebacker; the difference that the Ravens were forced to compromise with was between $500,000 and $800,000, while the Packers situation carries a 5 to 8-fold increase in comparison. Statistically, Finley lined up as a wide receiver 46.3% of the time; early reports from Pro Football Weekly suggest that this is probably not enough to win the classification of wide receiver. Secondly, it is very hard to imagine that 55 receptions (never more than 7 in one game) for 767 yards (never amassing 100 yards in any single game) and 8 touchdowns (3 of those attained in week 3) is enough to be rewarded with $9.4 million in 2012. Those yardage statistics do not even place him in the top 40 at wideout. At $5.4 million, TAG him; at $9.4 million, let him WALK.
If Finley is not awarded the WR designation and gets tagged as a TE, he has the option of holding out; which is a very real possibility. If he holds out, this will give his capable backups an opportunity to shine. Tom Crabtree and D.J. Williams have potential; the latter was the best collegiate tight end in 2010 coming from the University of Arkansas. Andrew Quarless is also on the Packers' depth chart and is coming off of a season ending injury, and rookie Ryan Taylor showed glimpses of potential as a seventh round pick last year. This shows the Packers have depth (even though they still need some grooming) that could make Finley dispensable. If Finley shows any indication of a possible hold out, let him WALK.
The Packers need to make it known that the idea of franchise tagging starting center Scott Wells is equally as important (if not more so than) as tagging Finley. If Finley leads to any headaches that Ted Thompson does not tolerate, the possibility of tagging Scott Wells becomes more realistic and the non-existent contract talks occurring with Finley will continue. One can argue that the need at running back is more important than the need to tag Finley. A stronger running game would be more beneficial for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers than anything that Finley could do; this assumes that minimal change occurs within the receiving corps. Could Mike Tolbert or Peyton Hillis be the answer for the ground game?
In sum, the only way that I see Finley staying with the Packers is if he accepts the TE franchise tag and does not hold out. All other options should end in him leaving the Packers. He does not have the consistent hands and the team first mentality to be a long term staple of the Packers. Not to mention, the Packers secured a Super Bowl victory without his presence. Statistically, Finley would be more productive on a different team. Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Denver, and Kansas City all have money to spend and could use an outlet like Finley to help groom their young and immature quarterbacks while taking pressure off of their ground games. Before Finley can help a team grow, he needs to grow into the hype that NFL scholars and fantasy gurus have placed unto him; the expectations are high – but if any young talent has the ability to grow into those expectations it could be Finley (but the conditions need to be right). Those conditions may not be in the icy, frozen tundra.