Bears general manager Phil Emery live chatted with Bears fans yesterday via Bears.com. It wasn’t long before Jay Cutler’s contract status became a topic.
I believe the franchise tag, or better yet, the transition tag are tools on the table the Bears can utilize if needed this offseason. Emery pointed out that reaching a long-term contract with Cutler would be the better option by stating, “The franchise tag for the quarterback position has unique challenges because the average comes out to be such a big portion of your cap and your total money available to spend on other players to acquire to help your team.”
Emery further discussed the implications of the franchise tag by saying, “With the franchise tag being so high for the quarterback position, to use it and not sign the individual to a long-term deal hurts the team because you lose the ability to prorate the amount of guaranteed salary over the length of the contract.”
True, but the NFL is in an entirely different economic climate after the new CBA went into effect after the work stoppage. Salaries for players are actually lower today, and are on par with 2009 levels because the salary cap agreed upon between the NFL and NFLPA was just above $121 million. It would have been even lower if the league did not punish the Redskins and Cowboys, $37 million in the uncapped year for front-loading contracts and stashing money - the Albert Haynesworth deal which caused jumps in franchise figures. So, in order to help out NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith from looking like a complete clown for being taken in that deal, they agreed to bump the salary cap up from $119 million to $121 million and then to $123 million when the NFL found $2 million in unforeseen revenues. So, there you go, the NFL salary cap today is $123 million compared to the $129 million it was in 2009.
What does this mean?
It means the quarterback franchise tag, even with new $100 million quarterback contracts like Joe Flacco, Tony Romo, and Tom Brady’s modest deal is going to be lower. Remember, the franchise tag is based on the five-year average. It will not be the $19 million to $20 million some suggest. It will still be expensive, but more in the $16.5 million range. Either way, the franchise tag is a tool the Bears can and will use if needed as last resort if a long-term contract is not reached with Cutler. For all anyone knows, the Bears may not even want a long-term deal and use the franchise tag for another year of evaluation of Cutler in working with Marc Trestman, coaches, teammates, and where Cutler grows in the offense. Wasn’t it Cutler who stated, “It takes three years”?
How about the Transition Tag?
After talking with former NFL general managers Pat Kirwan (New York Jets) and Bill Kuharich (vice president of the Kansas City Chiefs) on SiriusXM NFL Radio, they believe the transition tag could be the route to go with Cutler. The transition tag is the average of the Top 10 salaries at the player’s position or 120 percent of the previous year’s salary, whichever is greater. Cutler’s 2013 salary is a little over $10 million which would make his new number under the transition tag roughly a little over $12 million in 2014. The great thing about the transition tag is it allows the club the right of first refusal. The club has seven days to match an offer sheet given to the player by another club after his contract expires. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.
Ideally, the transition tag allows the club and player to see what the player is actually worth on the open market before making a decision. It would give Cutler’s agent Bus Cook and Emery good framework for a long-term deal.
There are already other options and leverage in play for Emery. One is the success of Josh McCown, who Emery publicly stated he would like to return, second is Cutler’s health, third is the draft (good class), fourth, is free agency. There will be some interesting quarterbacks available who can play the position at a much cheaper price. We’ll dissect the draft and free agents when the time comes. All will be factored into any tag applied or any long-term deal offered or not offered to Cutler. Emery has options.