There have been reports for a while indicating the Jets are likely to use the franchise tag on Muhammad Wilkerson. It is not an ideal scenario for either player or team.
Why is the franchise tag bad for the team?
The team has to pay the player a top five salary at his position. The team also can only keep the player from year to year rather than having certainty the player will stay over the long haul. With a long-term contract, the team can allocate the player's cap hit in a way that maximizes its financial position. If the team lacks cap space, it can lower the cap hit in year one and make cap hits bigger in the future when the team has greater financial flexibility. The team also has peace of mind knowing the player will be part of the team's long-term.
Why is the franchise tag bad for the player?
The player is losing guaranteed money. Let's use Wilkerson as an example. Take a low end deal for an excellent player at Wilkerson's position. Cameron Jordan of the Saints signed a contract last June that guaranteed him over $33 million. If Wilkerson plays under the tag, he will be guaranteed under $16 million.
Couldn't Wilkerson just play out the year of the franchise tag and sign a big deal next year?
Potentially, but there are no guarantees. What if he suffers a serious injury? What if his play declines? He could be losing big money.
What are the odds of that? Aren't they small?
It's tough to say, but a deal now gives Wilkerson a 100% chance of maximizing his value. Even if he'll have a 90% chance he'll avoid injury and get paid in a year, that is a lot more uncertainty. He plays a position where freak injuries can happen from as simple as somebody inadvertently rolling into a leg can alter a career. If the odds drop below 100%, it hurts the player. Those odds don't mean anything if the player is unlucky.
Wilkerson would still make over $15 million. How can he complain?
The choice is either $15.7 million guaranteed or potentially well over $30 million guaranteed. Which is better?
I'm supposed to feel bad for Wilkerson making all of this money?
No, you aren't. Wilkerson stands to make a lot either way. All I am doing is explaining why the tag is not his preferred option.
These factors are why the tag is typically seen as a last resort. Frequently teams use the tag while negotiating a long-term extension with a player as an insurance policy in case talks break down. It extends the window where the team can negotiate exclusively.
It has been somewhat surprising how little reports have indicated Wilkerson and the Jets have been working on an extension. Maybe they have been, and the word just hasn't gotten out. Maybe they will once he is officially tagged. Maybe the two sides will not negotiate at all. Maybe there will be a tag and trade.
The tag is not a good option for anybody. It is simply the least bad option for the team. In most cases, the best case scenario is work out something long-term.