|Dwayne Bowe gets no deal, hasn't signed his tender, and probably will be elsewhere in 2013. (US Presswire)|
As the days mounted in July, and the deadline for franchised players to sign extensions neared, it became increasingly clear there were not going to be many more contracts completed. Just as the decrease in tag values led to a record number of players getting designated franchise players, so too would the lower salaries result in more teams being OK with the talent playing out 2012 on a one-year deal.
And, with cap projections pretty stagnant for 2013, and the reality that some of these players can and will get tagged again, there seemed to be even less urgency overall. The three non-kickers with the best chances of getting deals done, based on the tenor and pace of negotiations, were Drew Brees, Matt Forte and Tyvon Branch. And those were the first three of the remaining group (along with kicker Josh Scobee, who had some significant leverage) to complete deals. And although Ray Rice and the Ravens weren't that close heading into the weekend, the realities of his position, with longevity concerns, helped spur a deal.
Of all the deals, Brees of course got the record windfall, with his $20 million average on the five-year deal and the $60 million guaranteed setting records (it should be noted that the NFLPA, through winning the grievance on Brees' potential 2013 franchise tag, and through its warning of possible NLRB actions, merits an assist here). As perhaps the best quarterback in the game, however, Brees was in a unique position -- especially post-grievance win and given all of the turmoil of the Saints' offseason.
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The two high-profile running backs both got $8 million averages, showing once again only Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson have been able to break out in terms of setting records at the position. With Joe Flacco in the last year of his deal, and only one tag to go around, the Ravens needed to get something down, and Rice takes the tradeoff of $25 million in the first two years of the deal while Baltimore gets lower salaries as he creeps toward age 30 (which actually should help keep Rice on the roster as the years and grind add on).
The large majority of these franchised players had limited leverage, either due to age, the rigors of their position or in some cases overall depth on the roster around them. For some, this will be a blip on the road, and they'll eventually likely get something done ... but for others it very well could be the beginning of the end, with their current teams especially if certain youngsters continue to perform at such a high rate.
Wes Welker has been a pass-catching machine for the Patriots, but they still have another young tight end who will eventually have to be paid, they have always known when to draw a hard line with veterans and given his age, there wasn't big motivation to do a long-term deal now. A two-year deal down the road makes sense -- I don't see Welker back on the tag next year -- and it might be a case where you take a hometown discount to be on a winner and play with Tom Brady to get it done.
I would be pretty surprised to see Dwayne Bowe back in Kansas City after 2012. The entire offense there could be in for a shakeup, the Chiefs continue to grab young receivers high in the draft and I don't see Bowe in any rush to sign his tender, which won't create great goodwill with Scott Pioli. The sides made progress, but never bridged a considerable gap. As more receivers sign long-term deals, it makes Bowe a more attractive commodity on the free-agent market and this could well be his swan song in Kansas City.
The Lions badly want to keep Cliff Avril. But with emerging young talent in need of big second contracts, and finally having some organizational success, this is foreign terrain to this front office. They know that Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh are just a few years away from possible monster deals, and the one big recent extension, Calvin Johnson's, was virtually dictated by his huge cap number.
Avril played things out with Detroit in 2011 after a breakout 2010, and had a career year with 11½ sacks. He's still only 26, and you get the sense the Lions might be losing their chance to keep him from testing the free-agent waters down the road. If he hits double-digit sack numbers again, look out. We saw what Carolina's Charles Johnson got in free agency last year -- young pass rushers simply don't really hit the market -- and Avril's price could continue to soar. He's another guy very likely to take his time signing that contract tender and miss a good chunk of camp.
The Falcons continue to have a need at secondary and Brent Grimes has been a playmaker for them. But they have been burned on some big corner contracts before and seemed to be OK with having Grimes play it out another season to see where things go. I wouldn't rule them out making a pitch for him after the season.
Even with other franchise safeties like Michael Griffin and Branch getting long-term deals, nothing was ever that close for Dashon Goldson and the 49ers, sources said. A year ago he lingered on the free-agent market and with so many emerging stars on that defense and a new stadium being built, other GMs figured the 49ers might not wade in with a big-money deal for him right now. The Cowboys and linebacker Anthony Spencer were in a similar position, where evaluating the player for another year and seeing where he fits into the long-term salary structure, based on production, was the organizational stance.
Given that if Redskins tight end Fred Davis tests positive for drugs again and he's suspended for a year, he could end up on shorter-term deals for a while, and certainly the franchise tag was the best he was going to do in this market, which is why he didn't delay in signing it.
The lower tags under the new formula in this CBA make it an increasingly effective tool for teams and I expect it to be prevalent again next February. The good news from the player perspective, quarterbacks aside, is that if a team tagged any non-QB three times he would have to be paid at the quarterback number the third year, which effectively limits teams to hitting the same guy more than two years in a row.