NFL Lockout: Not So Fast On The Franchise Tag Thing For Peyton Manning

We wrote recently about the league office informing teams that, on February 10th, they can use to Franchise Tag to retain a player who is a free agent in 2011. This struck us as odd because, well, there's no CBA for the 2011 season. How can a team 'tag' a player for next year when their is no agreement signed for next year?

The NFL responded to that general question by saying that:

But as far as we’re concerned, clubs have the right to tag players, the agreement continues with the same terms and conditions that it has been; it isn’t expiring until March 4 and the window to franchise players is 14 days. From our standpoint, you have every right to franchise players."

So, between February 10th and March 4th (the day the current CBA turns to dust), the NFL is telling teams like the Colts that, unless they can get their free agents under contract for next season, they can use the Franchise Tag on one of them.

Again, that's all nice and good for the teams. What about the players? Well, apparently, they don't agree with the league's interpretation of this whole 'Franchise Tag' thing for 2011. From PFT:

"We have received reports that the NFL is advising clubs that they can place a franchise tag on players whose contracts will expire at the end of the 2010 league year," the Union says in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by PFT.

"The current CBA provides that ‘each club shall be permitted to designate one of its players who would otherwise be an Unrestricted Free Agent [or Restricted Free Agent] as a Franchise Player each season during the term of this Agreement.’ The 2011 season is not a ‘season during the term of this Agreement’ so the NFL has no valid basis for claiming the right to franchise players in 2011.

"If you have had any discussions with clubs about their intent to use the Franchise designation for the 2011 season please contact the NFLPA to discuss this matter. Meanwhile, we will make sure that the rights of any players improperly designated will be protected."

Translation: Players are being told by their union to ignore the Franchise Tag, and when you look at the logic of the situation, it makes sense.

I'm not going to get into a long-winded discussion about the 'unfairness' of Franchise Tags. Players make a butt load of money, guaranteed, when they are tagged. So, when I see players complaining about the tag, I roll my eyes and move on to whatever else is mildly more interesting or entertaining.

Millionaire players complaining about getting millions more to play a game for a living generally makes me want to vomit.

But, in this case, this year, with the uncertain labor situation, Franchise Tagging really doesn't mean anything. The NFLPA knows this, and it is essentially instructing high-value free agents, like Peyton Manning, to ignore Bill Polian when he files his paperwork with the league on February 10th saying Peyton has been 'tagged.'

And, again, logically it makes sense.

The Franchise Tag for the 2011 season is not viable because, right now, there is no 2011 season. The key thing here is will a team, or an owner, side with the NFLPA on this and ignore the league's 'tag edict.' On February 10th, what's to stop, say, Jerry Jones or the-corpse-that-is-Al Davis from making an insane offer to Manning that he simply could not refuse? Yes, the Colts could 'tag' Manning, but Manning and Condon could ignore the tag, saying, 'The season during the term of this Agreement’ so the NFL has no valid basis for claiming the right to franchise players in 2011.

What would the Colts then do? Sue Jones? Sue Davis? Sue Manning? The league? After months of litigation, the answer they could get back from an arbitrator would be 'Well, there was no CBA for 2011. Thus, no tag.'

Now, that example is a tad extreme, but it offers a scenario of what could happen. It should also highlight how the supposed 'Franchise Tag' for 2011 is not something that is going to motivate Peyton Manning and his agent, Tom Condon, to accept the offer the Colts made them back on January 23rd. Peyton clearly thinks he's worth more, and is willing to leverage something to get what he wants. The 'tag' isn't something that's going to motivate him to sign on the dotted line right away.

For me, this latest tit-for-tat between the league and players only strengthens Manning's position. For those making ridiculous claims that Peyton should give the Colts a 'hometown discount,' the bottom line is Manning's contract is that the forefront of a much bigger battle between the players and the old, uber-rich owners who pay them. Manning's contract will become the new 'ceiling' for the players going forward, and that is not something he, his agent, or his union would want him to negotiate down from just to give Jim Irsay (billionaire) a few extra dollars in his pocket.

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