JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tuesday marks the first day that NFL teams can use the franchise or transition tags on their own players. The tags are tools that teams can use to keep their own free-agents-to-be under contract if they fear they won't be able to sign them to long-term contracts.
A team may only use one tag at a time.
If a team uses the exclusive rights franchise tag, they must pay the player an average of the top five highest paid players at his position from the previous season. No other team can negotiate with the player. However, if a team places the non-exclusive rights franchise tag on a player, the player may negotiate with other teams. If another team makes an offer, the team that put the tag on the player may match the offer, or accept two first-round picks in compensation.
The third type of tag, the transition tag, calls for the player to be paid the average of the top 10 salaries at his position. The player can still negotiate with other teams, but if the previous team does not match the offer, they receive no compensation.
So how will the Jaguars handle wide receiver Allen Robinson and cornerback Aaron Colvin?
Robinson is coming off a lost season. He injured his knee in the season opener and did not have the chance to post a turnaround year after a down 2016. In 2015, Robinson caught passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns, but fell to 883 yards and six touchdowns in 2016. Still, he figures to be one of the more sought-after players at his position, should he make it to the free agency period. Considering the Jaguars wide receiver group as a whole, it makes sense that the team would want to retain Robinson. The question of how he will rebound from the injury and his true market value are the variable in the decision. I think the Jaguars will try to sign Robinson to a long-term deal, but if he thinks he can get more money on the open market, don't be surprised if the Jaguars tag him as a non-exclusive rights franchise player.
The case against tagging Robinson is all about the impact on the camp in 2018. If the Jaguars tag him, it will cost around $16 million. According to overthecap.com, the Jaguars began this period with just over $16 million of cap space. That number can change based on roster moves. In the offseason, a team's salary cap is calculated by the top 51 highest paid players on the roster. That could create more cap space if they decide to sign Blake Bortles to a long-term contract, they could, in essence, borrow cap money from the $19.053 he is owed for his fifth-year option. Then again, perhaps the Jaguars aren't ready to commit to Bortles.
One Jaguars player weighed in on both Robinson and Colvin Monday. Jalen Ramsey tweeted that he wants both players to remain with the Jaguars.
Colvin won acclaim from teammates, coaches and opponents in 2017 playing as the Jaguars nickelback. While he was among the league's best at that position, it's likely that some team will want to pay him as a starter, and Colvin should want to listen to those offers. If the Jaguars value him as a starter, they could negotiate a long-term deal for him, but there is a salary cap cost to consider in the future. The Jaguars will have to keep an eye on new contracts for Yannick Ngakoue and Jalen Ramsey, for instance. If both continue to play at a high level, it is likely to be very expensive to keep them on the roster.
While Colvin was an important piece of the Jaguars' defense in 2017, Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars' executive vice president of football operations, and general manager Dave Caldwell must weigh the value of Colvin against the near-future value of Ramsey, Ngakoue and others.
The franchise tag cost of a cornerback in 2017 was $14.2 million. It will be a bit higher than that in 2018. Is Colvin worth it?
Also, remember that if a player is tagged, it is a one-year deal and all of the money in the deal counts against the cap in 2018.
It is in the Jaguars' best interest, if they want a chance to keep both players, to get a long-term deal done with Robinson that frees up some cap room in 2018. Then, I believe their best chance to keep Colvin is to tag him, likely with the non-exclusive rights franchise tag. Then, if a team covets him and the Jaguars don't want to match a big offer, then they can receive a pair of first-round picks. Placing the transition tag on Colvin would mean that the Jaguars would not receive compensation, should they not match another teams' offer.