Panthers reportedly 'more likely' to tag their kicker instead of top offensive lineman

The franchise tag period is always an adventure with the Carolina Panthers and 2018 might be no different, as the Panthers are reportedly considering the tag on kicker Graham Gano and not guard Andrew Norwell, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media. 

This is odd because, when you look at the Panthers, you don't think "man, they really need a kicker to protect Cam Newton and establish the run game with physical blocking on the interior across from Trai Turner." In fact, that sentence is usually reserved for "All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell." It just sounds better that way. 

But, per Rapoport, the Panthers are flinching at paying the price for Norwell, who will get the generic offensive line tag dollar amount instead of a guard-specific dollar amount. 

This is not false: when you look at the top guard salaries in the league, you're talking about $10 to $12 million per year. Paying Norwell more than $14 million would put him pretty far north of the average value for the position.

However, you could also point out that guards are much closer to kickers in actual value than they have been for years. We might see Quenton Nelson go as the first offensive lineman off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft, which shows how important guards are, and Zach Martin is about to blow the roof off the sucker when he negotiates a new deal with the Cowboys after his rookie contract. He's gonna get something in the range of $14 million. 

So if the Panthers want to keep Norwell, why would they not tag him now? That doesn't require they pay him $14 million per year over the life of his contract. It just means they owe him $14 million guaranteed for a single year and he will be starting a base level of $30.8 million guaranteed ($14 million + 120 percent next year on a tag of $16.8 million) when negotiating a new deal for the Panthers. 

That's right in line with what Kevin Zeitler got from the Browns as an unrestricted free agent last year, so we're not even talking about a ton of inflation. It's just the going rate for a guard in free agency. 

Norwell is 26 years old, just made the All-Pro team, would be locked up for his prime and would help to protect the franchise quarterback while also providing a mauler in the run game. 

Instead the Panthers want to tag kicker Graham Gano, who is 30 years old and also, you know, a kicker. Gano's coming off an incredible season, hitting on 96.7 percent of his field goals, which led the league. But he also made less than 80 percent of his field goals the year before. Kicking is a fluid situation and even the best kickers can be wildly inconsistent. In fact, the Panthers had two good kickers once upon a time, before they let the Chiefs steal away rookie Harrison Butker

Gano will be an unrestricted free agent -- the Panthers tagging him would cost them something in the range of $5 million on a one-year, fully guaranteed deal. It's not a horrible hit and they could probably negotiate something new with him to keep him locked up if they want. But couldn't they do that anyway? And what's more likely, that the Panthers can let Gano walk and sign him back, or that the Panthers can let Norwell walk and sign him back (or sign him before the league year begins)? Clearly the former. 

Which is why it makes no sense to let one of the top offensive players on the entire roster, a roster that is Super Bowl worthy but one that needs all the offensive help it can get, walk at the expense of using a one-year loophole on a kicker. 

On the other hand, it would fit right in with the Panthers usage in the past. They tagged a punter, Todd Sauerbraun, and then signed him to a long-term deal. They tagged current defensive end Julius Peppers, who they drafted, only to see him actually leave for free agency later. They tagged defensive end Greg Hardy, who would play a single game for them before going on the commissioner's exempt list because of domestic violence issues. They tagged Josh Norman and then later rescinded the tag, letting Norman leave in free agency.

Tagging a kicker instead of an All-Pro offensive lineman fits in real nice, Clark.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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