NFC East: 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.
The next destination in the PFF tour is the NFC East. The Cowboys were arguably one of the biggest surprises of the 2014 season but have major choices ahead of them. The Eagles stumbled down the stretch and now have to figure out the best way to move forward. Washington finally has all of their draft picks and a decent cap situation while the Giants need to rebuild in the trenches. Decisions have financial costs and we’ll take a look at one step in the offseason process for these teams.
The Cowboys find themselves with an interesting dilemma having both a consensus Top 5 running back in Demarco Murray and Top 5 wide receiver in Dez Bryant set to hit the open market, and with both players entering the prime of their careers. Demarco Murray finished with our second ranked running grade at +16.8 and led the league in rushing. Dez Bryant finished with our second ranked overall wide receiver grade at +20.8 and led the league in touchdown receptions.
Decision: The Cowboys tag Dez Bryant. A few different factors will hurt Murray here. The Cowboys have one of the best young offensive lines in football, he’s coming off of a year in which he had over 400 touches, and he has some injury history to factor in. The Cowboys can let Murray test the waters and might have the option to match any deals offered, but with the lack of big time play makers hitting the market they won’t risk losing Bryant.
New York Giants
The only obvious option for the franchise tag here is Jason Pierre-Paul. Pierre-Paul hasn’t turned into the dominant pass rusher the Giants had hoped for, but he has been solid, always finishing between 15th and 25th in Pass Rushing Productivity during his career and always grading out positively as a pass rusher. His work in the run game has been dominant at times. He finished with the sixth highest Run Stop Percentage in 2014 and ranked second in 2012.
Decision: Jason Pierre-Paul gets the franchise tag. His solid pass rushing ability paired with his dominance as a run defender is just too much value for the Giants to let go.
The Eagles have two franchise tag options in Brandon Graham and Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles have just used Graham as a part time player over the last few years but whenever he’s on the field he makes quite an impact. He finished with a +22.8 overall grade in 2014, a mark that ranked 3rd out of all 3-4 outside linebackers, and did this despite playing in two-thirds the snaps as many of his counterparts. Jeremy Maclin finished 16tg overall in our wide receiver grading and had the lowest Drop Rate in the league dropping only one out of 86 catchable balls.
Decision: The Eagles tag Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles should never let Brandon Graham hit the open market, but they might think they can get him back at a much lower annual price than the franchise tag. Maclin is rumored to command in the $9 to 10 million salary range which makes the $12 million franchise tag much more palatable.
The Redskins lone option for the franchise tag would be the same player they tagged last year in Brian Orakpo. When healthy Orakpo is one of the best edge defenders in the league, but he missed most of 2012 and most of 2014 with injury. In his three healthy seasons he has never finished worse than 6th in our Pass Rushing Productivity rankings. His run defense even improved throughout his first few years, culminating in Orakpo having the 4th highest run grade out of all 3-4 outside linebackers in 2013.
Decision: No Tag. Orakpo is extremely talented but his injury history is too much of a liability and the fact that he was tagged in 2013 means his franchise tag salary would increase by 20% if tagged again.