Game of tag starts Monday

The Vikings won't be involved in franchising a player this year, but teams can start dishing out the franchise tag to players scheduled to be free agents.

Today starts one of the stranger couple of weeks in the NFL year. It's a time when ownership displays how much it values a player. At the same time, that token of respect is more often than not viewed as a personal offense.

Today opens the two-week window for teams to place the franchise tag on players. The Vikings aren't in a position this season in which that is an issue – by rule, Jared Allen would have to receive a 20 percent increase of his mammoth 2013 cap number if the team wanted to use the franchise tag on him and that isn't happening.

The last vestige of the totalitarian ownership power in the NFL is the franchise tag. Free agency didn't come easily and it didn't come quickly. Players had to fight to get the opportunity to get paid what any team in need was willing to pay. The franchise tag, in theory, allows teams to keep their best player and pay him a one-year salary commensurate with collective bargaining legalese that lays out the convoluted formula under which a franchise amount is reached and how often owners can drop the trump card on a player's free agent ability.

Jimmy Graham won't be leaving New Orleans any time soon. You knew Drew Brees wasn't leaving, even though he was a tad litigious about his right to leave when he balked at the franchise tag.

Greg Hardy, Brent Grimes, Jairus Byrd and Michael Bennett, don't make any significant travel plans for March. It is what it is.

As with every negotiated deal, there are ways around "the system." When the cap number for kickers was embarrassingly low, teams were franchising free agent kickers left, right and sideways. It made no sense, unless you knew the rules of the salary cap at the time.

For players, free agency is a chance to see if their body of work to this point in their careers is worthy of a team stepping up and paying that set-you-up-for-life contract. The franchise tag is the detour in the road. Clearly, anyone who gets a franchise tag is going to be compensated well the following season. But the motto of free agency is "guaranteed money." Some free agents signing a five-year deal will get about 30 to 40 percent of the total in the form of guaranteed checks coming. A player being franchised gets one year of elite pay, but, if he gets injured to the point he can't command the kind of money he would have a year earlier on the open market, that's how it goes.

At some point the franchise tag will be the lynchpin of a future collective bargaining agreement. But, as of today, teams can start telling players they can't leave. We want you to stay, even if it means at the accepted professional version of what free agency symbolizes.

At face value, franchising players creates a rift between player, agent and ownership that at times is a volatile mix of respect and fear. Teams can't afford to lose true franchise players. True franchise players deserve to be paid. The franchise tag is the one thing old-school NFL owners still have as a leverage point. They only get to exercise that right for two weeks. Those two weeks start today.

Let the animosity begin!

MONDAY NOTES

  • Aja Evans, the sister of Vikings defensive tackle Fred Evans, will begin competing for a gold medal tomorrow. Evans, a member of the U.S. bobsled team will have her first run in Sochi, Russia Tuesday. Evans' team, captained by Jamie Greubel, is a medal favorite.

  • The Vikings may give safety Louis Delmas a look. Delmas, who is a talented safety, was released by Detroit because he was going to count $6 million against the salary cap. If the Vikings can get him signed to a team-friendly contract size, he could be an immediate upgrade and would be able to be signed prior to the opening of free agency because he was released – making him an immediate unrestricted free agent.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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