Last offseason, I wrote an analysis of which Titans might be franchise tag candidates. Naturally, after I wrote that, every other starting safety scheduled to hit the market got franchised, and the Titans ended up franchising Michael Griffin and later signing him to a long-term deal. This offseason, I wanted to get the positional analyses done first. While I was in the middle of those, Jim Wyatt reported the Titans were expected to franchise tight end Jared Cook.
Approaching the franchise tag analysis from the same perspective I did last season, there are only two reasonable candidates for the franchise tag: Cook and kicker Rob Bironas. I just wrote about Bironas in my special teams analysis, so I won't rehash that at length here. Suffice it to say he was a below-average kicker in 2012, and the baseline expectation for his 2013 performance should probably be somewhere around average. For purposes of this analysis, it's also worth noting if the Titans wanted to franchise Bironas, his tag amount would not be the $2.977 million figure, but instead be 120% of his 2012 cap number. That 2012 cap number was, I believe, 3.675 million, so his tag amount would be $4.41 million. That would be a very, very large amount to pay a kicker.
As Cook was a non-first-round pick in the final year of his rookie deal, his tag amount is the base tight end figure of $6.066 million. I addressed what I thought of his skills in the tight ends analysis.That post came before Wyatt's report, but it was clear the franchise tag was a possibility. I indicated then, and I still believe, that franchise Jared Cook is not an ideal solution. He's a very, very good vertical seam threat, thanks to excellent straight-line speed, but is not an elite athlete and I would rate him as below average in the other skills involved in being a starter-level tight end in the NFL. Of course, it's possible the Titans think that combination is worth a lot more than I do, and Wyatt's report indicates they do tend to think so.
The one complication in tagging Cook is the argument he's a wide receiver and deserves the wide receiver tag amount instead of the tight end tag amount. What I think of this argument as a pure intellectual proposition doesn't matter unless the Titans and Cook's agent put me in charge of deciding his tag amount. As a practical matter, it's both a big deal and not a big deal. It's a big deal because apparently Cook and/or his agents are claiming it, and they're the people the Titans have to talk to.
On the other hand, it's not a big deal because (a) it doesn't really matter whether Cook signs his tender March 15 or July 15, (b) Cook will be signing his tender eventually, because the Titans control his rights until he accrues another season toward free agency, (c) nobody's giving the Titans two first round picks for Cook, no matter what the tag amount, (d) until Cook signs his tender, the Titans can do whatever they want at tight end and just rescind the tag (my Darth Belichick idea from last offseason), and (e) whether Cook's precise tag amount is $6.066 million or $8.3 million (to pick a number somewhat at random) is not a huge deal, I don't think, in terms of negotiating a long-term extension like that Michael Griffin received last offseason.
Once Cook is franchised, the question then becomes how the Titans will use him more effectively. More on that in a post in the coming days.