Starting on Tuesday, 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 Tuesday, March 1st 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 9th.
The Cleveland Browns have six unrestricted free agents this year. We know the tag definitely won't be used on special teams coverage players, so we'll remove ILB Tank Carder and CB Johnson Bademosi from the equation. Let's take a look at how much it would cost to utilize the franchise tag on the other four players:
- WR Travis Benjamin - $14.5 million
- OL Mitchell Schwartz - $13.7 million
- ILB Craig Robertson - $14.1 million
- FS Tashaun Gipson - $10.7 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 two years ago, 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 $154 million cap, and the numbers are courtesy of ESPN.
Using the Tag on WR Travis Benjamin or ILB Craig Robertson
The franchise tag on wide receivers is not used often, and when it is used, it's for the likes of WR Dez Bryant and WR Demariyus Thomas when the Cowboys and Broncos, respectively, used it in 2015. $14.5 million for Benjamin would be insane, so there is a 0% chance the team will use the tag on him. The team has already been reportedly close to a contract extension, although in a year where the free agent receiving class is sparse, maybe Benjamin will try to test the market to drive up his value. Robertson is a backup inside linebacker. Like Benjamin, there is a 0% chance the tag even gets discussed once when it comes to trying to retain him.
Using the Tag on OL Mitchell Schwartz
The value of the franchise tag is the same for all positions on the offensive line. Even though $13.7 million would be a pretty penny for Schwartz, the team could afford it if they felt he was going to sign elsewhere. It would be a poor precedent for the front office to set, though. On a one-year deal, his cap hit in 2016 would be the highest in football among offensive linemen. It would eat up about a third of the team's available cap space, and the team might also have to try to commit more money to retain C Alex Mack.
Schwartz has never made a Pro Bowl or been named to an All-Pro team. Should he get a lucrative contract? Yes -- but if we're talking about $13.7 million, that should be how much he makes over a two-year span. If Schwartz really wants to leave, then I'd rather see Cleveland let him walk than overpay with the franchise tag.
Using the Tag on S Tashaun Gipson
The Bills used the franchise tag to retain Jairus Byrd in 2013, and it was used by the 49ers in 2012 on Dashon Goldson and the Raiders in 2012 on Tyvon Branch. The price tag of $10.7 million would overpay Gipson compared to what he's worth, but the cost of the tight end and safety tags are the cheapest among non-kicking tags.
Gipson is coming off of a down season, but was very good in 2014 and has a previous relationship with defensive coordinator Ray Horton. With SS Donte Whitner getting older and no proven safeties in the pipeline, Gipson might be viewed as an important piece to retain. The team couldn't extend him last year despite him holding out for a bit, so I don't have a lot of faith that he won't try to test the open market. I could see the Browns tagging Gipson to "see what happens this year."
The Browns should consider using the franchise tag of $10.7 million on FS Tashaun Gipson. Despite his down season, when you look at where the team would be without him, it isn't pretty. It would be expensive for a safety, but is still cheaper than the other franchise tags. I personally value OL Mitchell Schwartz more, but am hopeful the team can extend him if he wants to remain a cornerstone along with OL Joe Thomas.
Our latest available cap space figure for the Browns came in at $35.99 million. Using the tag on Cameron would still leave the team with $25.29 million in cap space, which is plenty to use toward extending other players and making a run at a free agent or two.
Let us know in the comments section below -- do you think the Browns should use the franchise tag on Gipson or Schwartz if they are not willing to sign a new deal before they hit free agency?