AFC West: Franchise Tags
The Franchise Tag option hasn’t been used by teams nearly as often in recent seasons as it was in 2011 and 2012, but it remains as a method of retaining top talent — even if it’s just buying time to work out a long-term deal. In many cases the numbers don’t add up or it just doesn’t make sense for one reason or another, but until you’ve had a look through a team’s cap situation and needs, it often not so easy to guess where the tags will be applied. To help with that, we’ll be giving our take in this division-by-division series.
Its fair to wonder just how much time the Broncos have left atop the AFC West especially with their recent coaching changes. The Chiefs have to address their disappointing receiving unit and the Chargers may want to take a look at protecting their quarterback a bit better in 2015. One of the more interesting stories will be just how wisely the Raiders spend their ample salary cap space for the upcoming season. For now though we’ll take a look at who, if anyone, deserves to be franchise or transition tagged for each team.
The Broncos have a number of key players heading towards free agency, with Demaryius Thomas clearly being the one who merits the greatest consideration for the franchise tag. Considered a little raw when he was drafted in the first round out of Georgia Tech in 2010, Thomas has developed into one of the most consistent difference makers at the receiver position. He finished sixth overall in our receiver rankings in 2014, and has the highest cumulative overall grade (+58.2) of any receiver in the NFL since 2012, the year he started catching passes from Peyton Manning. The Broncos must ensure that their most dangerous weapon returns in 2015, regardless of who is under center. Of the other imminent free agents, tight end Julius Thomas may be the next most important, but while they will likely try to get both to return, they can only tag one.
Decision: Tag Demaryius Thomas as No. 1 wide receivers are tough to find especially ones that have developed chemistry with Peyton Manning along the way.
Kansas City Chiefs
No team can afford to spurn a 26-year-old pass rusher coming off a 23 sack season, so it’s hard to see the Chiefs letting rush linebacker Justin Houston hit the open market. Houston was outstanding in 2014, in addition to the sacks he recorded 85 total pressures, making him the most dominant Edge Rusher in football in 2014. The Chiefs have some salary cap issues to deal with, so expect them to tag him then attempt to work out a deal to relieve his 2015 cap hit.
Decision: Tag Justin Houston. The Chief’s can’t afford to let one of the best players in football hit the open market.
With the Raiders’ free agent class looking largely replaceable, the lone member of their offensive line to stay in place over the past few seasons, center Stefen Wisniewski, could end up as the team’s target, should they choose to use the tag. The former second-rounder enjoyed a strong 2013 season as a top ten run blocker at the position, but saw something of a step back in 2014. A tag structure that sees offensive linemen grouped together means the figure could approach $13 million and that simply wouldn’t make sense to apply in his case. Especially since Alex Mack’s cap number for 2014 was $10 million with his new contract.
Decision: No tag
San Diego Chargers
Tom Telesco has more wiggle room under the cap than in his two previous offseasons as Chargers GM, and a number of free agents he could consider bringing back. However two players in particular stand out; left tackle King Dunlap and cornerback Brandon Flowers. While he may not be a pure pass protector, Dunlap has helped solidify Philip Rivers blindside. The team already has enough offensive line questions to deal with this off-season without letting their left tackle walk. Flowers was our sixteenth ranked cover corner in 2014, and will be difficult to replace if they let him sign elsewhere.
Decision: No tag. The franchise tag cap figure for either position is likely to exceed $12 million, and neither player can command close to a on the open market. So the Chargers may have to let them test free agency and hope to match any offers they receive, rather than significantly overpay to keep them.