Franchise-tag window opens, but Seahawks have no likely candidates

Feb 16, 2016, 11:44 AM | Updated: 12:03 pm
As is the case with all of the Seahawks' unrestricted free agents, using the franchise tag on punter Jon Ryan might not make financial sense for Seattle. (AP)
(AP)

Tuesday marks the beginning of a two-week window during which NFL teams can designate a franchise player for the 2016 season, an option that the Seahawks seem unlikely to exercise.

The reason: the projected franchise-tag values are higher – in some cases, significantly higher – than what any of Seattle’s pending unrestricted free agents are expected to command.

The franchise tag is a mechanism through which a team can keep an unrestricted free agent – one per year – from hitting the open market by tendering him a guaranteed, one-year contract at a set value. That value is determined by either a) the average percentage of the salary cap taken up by the franchise-tag number (at the given position) over the last five seasons, which is then applied to the upcoming season’s salary cap, or b) a 20 percent increase from the player’s cap number from the previous year, whichever is greater.

That means it’s exceedingly expensive either way, and because it’s a one-year contract, teams don’t have the ability to spread out the cap charges over multiple seasons like they would on a long-term deal. That’s why it’s usually a last resort reserved for the cream of the free-agent crop after unsuccessful attempts to reach a long-term deal.

Related: Unlike last offseason, Seahawks have running backs to replace Lynch

The exact franchise-tag values won’t be determined until the NFL announces the 2016 salary cap, which isn’t expected to happen until some time closer to the start of free agency next month. But the league’s website posted position-by-position estimations based on a projected cap of $153 million. An NFL Network report indicated that the cap is expected to be at least $155 million, which would raise the franchise-tag values in proportion.

But either way, those would seem to be prohibitive amounts for any of Seattle’s unrestricted free agents.

Punter Jon Ryan might be the player among that group with any shot whatsoever, but NFL.com’s estimated franchise-tag value for kickers and punters (based on a $153 million cap) is $4.5 million, which would be about a $3 million raise from what his previous contract averaged.

The estimated cost to tag linebacker Bruce Irvin would be a whopping $14 million. That would be unrealistic based on what Irvin is worth and the money Seattle is already committing to linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. Also, recall that the Seahawks declined last offseason to exercise the fifth-year option on Irvin’s contract that would have paid him $7.8 million in 2016.

For franchise-tag purposes, the NFL doesn’t differentiate offensive linemen by position, so the estimated cost would be $13.5 million for left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy. Premier left tackles are among the highest-valued players in the NFL, but Okung would have a hard time commanding anywhere near that much even if he were healthy as opposed to coming off surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder.

The estimated cost for cornerbacks is $13.7 million, which is way more than what Jeremy Lane is expected to make – especially if he hits the open market and teams view him as a nickelback as opposed to someone who plays on the perimeter.

The same goes for Jermaine Kearse, Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin, who are the other Seahawks starters who are set to become unrestricted free agents. The projected tag value for wide receivers is $14.4 million, which is about $12 million more than Kearse made last year on a restricted-free-agent tender. It’s an estimated $13.4 million for defensive tackles. Mebane’s last contract averaged $5 million while Rubin made $2.6 million on a one-year deal in 2015.

The Seahawks haven’t designated a franchise player since 2010, when they used the tag on kicker Olindo Mare.

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Franchise-tag window opens, but Seahawks have no likely candidates