Starting on Monday, February 16th, teams can begin using the franchise (or transition) tag. Each team can only place the tag on one player, and the final day to use the tag is Monday, March 2nd before 4:00 PM ET. After that, if the team can't reach an agreement on a new contract with the player, they will hit the free agent market on March 10th.
The Cleveland Browns have ten unrestricted free agents this year. Let's take a look at the five most important players in that lot to see how much it would cost to utilize the franchise tag on them:
- QB Brian Hoyer - $18.38 million
- TE Jordan Cameron - $8.27 million
- DT Ahtyba Rubin - $11.09 million
- OLB Jabaal Sheard - $13.17 million
- CB Buster Skrine - $12.96 million
The figures above represent a non-exclusive franchise tag (which I will refer to as the franchise tag from here on out), which is the most commonly used tag. If the Browns slap the franchise tag on a player, the player can still negotiate with other teams. If another team signs the player to an offer sheet, Cleveland would have five days to match the offer. If they do not match the offer, the Browns are compensated nicely with two first-round draft picks. That's why teams rarely sign a player who is franchised -- nobody wants to part with two first-round picks.
Even though the Browns used the transition tag on C Alex Mack last year, I am not going to go over those figures, as they would be pretty similar, just at a slightly cheaper rate. The franchise tag figures are accurate under the assumption of a $142 million cap, and the numbers are courtesy of CBS Sports.
Using the Tag on QB Brian Hoyer
Prior to Hoyer's fall from grace, there was talk of the veteran quarterback wanting a contract as lucrative as the one that Andy Dalton has. Some fans on radio talk shows even floated the idea out there that we should consider placing the franchise tag on Hoyer if his asking price is too high.
If the Browns were to use the franchise tag on Hoyer, he would carry the 7th highest cap value in the NFL at the quarterback position in 2015, only behind Tony Romo ($27.7M), Drew Brees ($26.4M), Peyton Manning ($21.5M), Eli Manning ($19.8M), Matt Ryan ($19.5M), and Ben Roethlisberger ($18.4M). Back when Hoyer was 7-4, even though it still would have been a little ridiculous, maybe one could have at least listened to an argument as to why Hoyer was worthy of the franchise tag (i.e. if he would've led Cleveland to the playoffs).
With the offensive debacle to close out the season, there is zero percent chance of the Browns tagging Hoyer. If the team wanted to get away with a one-year deal (and even this is ridiculous), they could just offer him a 1-year deal worth like $10 million, and I'm sure he'd accept in a heartbeat.
Using the Tag on CB Buster Skrine
I would make the case that Skrine is the team's most important unrestricted free agent who needs to be re-signed. Despite all of his critics, Skrine has fit well in the secondary the past couple of years. He's not an elite-level player, but he's not a liability.
The Browns could afford Skrine's $12.96 cap figure under the franchise tag if they couldn't strike a deal with him, but I don't see it happening. It would make Skrine the highest-paid cornerback on his team in 2015 (Joe Haden's cap figure is $11.7 million), and investing over $20 million at cornerback among two players when you have a first-round pick from 2014 (Justin Gilbert) seems like you're spending money that could be used elsewhere. I expect Cleveland to make a push to re-sign Skrine long-term, but there is little-to-no-chance they use the franchise tag on him.
Using the Tag on OLB Jabaal Sheard or DT Ahtyba Rubin
Forget it. Both players had below average years in 2014 to the point where I don't even know if I'd want them back in Mike Pettine's defense on anything other than minimum deals in 2015.
Update: I felt I was a little harsh with my comments here. While I meant to indicate that the tag should in no way be used on either player, I was reminded that both players gutted their way through injuries all season and deserve a lot of credit for that.
Using the Tag on TE Jordan Cameron
The price tag of the franchise tag isn't a bargain for most positions, but at tight end, kicker, or punter, it's not something that's going to break your bank. That will change in the near future as pass-catching tight ends start receiving more lucrative, long-term contracts.
Heading into the 2015 offseason, the Browns know that they will be without WR Josh Gordon for the entire year. WR Miles Austin and WR Travis Benjamin are also free agents, meaning the only proven receivers on the roster are the waterbugs -- WR Andrew Hawkins and WR Taylor Gabriel. At tight end, TE Gary Barnidge and TE Jim Dray proved their worth last year, but both are more suited for backup roles and aren't a threat to be game-changing receivers.
Whether you believe them or not, there have been rumors that Cameron isn't interested in returning to the Browns. On top of that, Nick Mensio of RotoWorld made a good point:
Expect #Seahawks to target Jordan Cameron as FA. Remember, they tried acquiring Cameron for Harvin. Cameron played for Pete Carroll at USC.— Nick Mensio (@NickMensio) February 13, 2015
The Seahawks reportedly tried to acquire either Cameron from the Browns or TE Julius Thomas from the Broncos before shipping WR Percy Harvin off to the Jets. If Cameron had to choose between similar offers in Cleveland or Seattle, I'd venture to guess that Seattle would win that battle.
The franchise tag would hold Cameron hostage in Cleveland for another year. The Browns could consider drafting a tight end in a middle round and adding a couple of bigger receivers in free agency or the draft. While they are developing, Cameron can be a one-year holdover. If the team starts enjoying success in 2015, who knows -- maybe Cameron would be more open to a long-term deal in Cleveland.
The Browns should use the franchise tag of $8.27 million on TE Jordan Cameron. Even though he had a rather poor contract year in 2014 (10 games, 24 catches, 424 yards, 2 touchdowns), we know what he's capable of (15 games, 80 catches, 917 yards, 7 touchdowns in 2013). With Cameron, concussions are the biggest worry, as he could be one big hit away from calling it quits for good.
Our latest available cap space figure for the Browns came in at $53.735 million. Using the tag on Cameron would still leave the team with $45.90 million in cap space, which is plenty to use toward extending other players and making a run at a big free agent or two.
Let us know in the comments section below -- do you think the Browns should use the franchise tag on Cameron if he is not willing to sign a new deal before he hits free agency?