2012 Tennessee Titans franchise tag analysis

Today is the first day NFL teams can apply the franchise tender to their upcoming free agents, but the cost of paying them the greater of 120% of their previous year’s cap figure or the top five average salaries at their position (the current CBA added some complications in how this latter figure is calculated that aren’t worth going into for this post).

Looking at the Titans’ list of impending unrestricted free agents, I believe it is extraordinarily unlikely the Titans would be willing to apply the franchise tag to any of the following players:

LS Ken Amato, WR Donnie Avery, S Jordan Babineaux, DE Dave Ball, FB(RB) Ahmard Hall, DE William Hayes, S Chris Hope, LB Barrett Ruud, OL Jake Scott, LB Tim Shaw, S Anthony Smith

That leaves three players who have at least a theoretical possibility of being given the franchise tag:

Player: defensive end Jason Jones.
Estimated franchise tag amount: $10.6 million.* $10.6 million is the amount of the franchise tender for defensive ends. I’ve seen it estimated that Jones played roughly two-thirds of his snaps at defensive end and one-third of his snaps at defensive tackle. In some cases, players have been given an intermediate tag based on where they played. In that case, Jones’ tender would be roughly $9.7 million.
Analysis: If I made this list on my own without reading anything else, Jones’ name woud have appeared in the listing of players the Titans are extraordinarily unlikely to tag, but I’ve seen Jones mentioned as a franchise tag candidate elsewhere. My belief is the Titans could give Jones a lesser contract than the franchise tag amount, and he’d sign it even if he had to play defensive end. I also believe the Titans could get a defensive end who’s not very good at rushing the passer for a substantially cheaper price than either the franchise tender or any deal Jones would agree to.
Chance of tender: 0.000001 percent.

Player: safety Michael Griffin.
Estimated franchise tag amount: $6.2 million, or the safety tender.
Analysis: In my opinion, franchising Griffin makes a relative amount of sense. $6.2 million is expensive, absolutely, but not excessively so. Remember the Titans paid Chris Hope $6.5 million last year, and Griffin wouldn’t get benched like Hope did. It’s basically attractive because the top four safeties are headed to free agency. With the Titans unable to re-sign Jordan Babineaux before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, franchising Griffin would give the Titans at least some continuity at the position. My belief, however, is that the Titans are looking to move on.
Chance of tender: 10 percent.
Darth Belichick plan: Franchising Griffin, in the belief that he is unlikely to immediately sign the tag. If the Titans then do reach agreement on a deal with Babineaux, the Titans could rescind the tag and Griffin would become an unrestricted free agent. If Babineaux heads elsewhere, the Titans could leave the tender in place and keep Griffin. The downside include (a) being stuck with Griffin at $6.2 million for one year if he does sign the tender even if they are able to retain Babineaux, and (b) potentially angering players, both those on the team and prospective future players.
Chance of Darth Belichick plan: 0.000001 percent.

Player: cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
Estimated franchise tag amount: $10.6 million, or the cornerback tender.
Analysis: Jim Wyatt reported today the Titans and Finnegan are still far apart in their discussions for a new deal for Finnegan. The 2006 seventh-round pick walked out of training camp, reportedly over dissatisfaction with the reported $8 million APY deal the Titans were discussing. Finnegan probably wants a contract at least as large as the 5-year, $48.75 million deal Johnathan Joseph signed with the Texans last offseason. I’ve assumed since the walkout that Finnegan is headed to free agency unless the Titans dramatically raised their estimate of his value. Nothing has happened to change that, and it looks like the franchise tag would be the only way Finnegan remains a Titan in 2012.
Chance of tender: 10 percent. If the Titans thought Finnegan was worth $10.6 million, he’d probably be signed to an extension already.

Really, it’s Finnegan, Griffin, or nobody, and I’m pretty sure nobody it is. If I were running the team, the chance Griffin gets franchise is higher, but I’m trying to make this what I think the Titans will do.

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