' future. I'm worried, I'm sure you're worried, hell, the whole damned world should
be worried, but somehow they're not.
See, there's this thing in the NFL called the franchise tag. It essentially allows a team to place the tag on any single player they like and force him to accept a one-year deal. (There are a few other details, but that's the really important part.) The team has to pay dearly for this, of course; the player is automatically guaranteed a salary based on an average of the top five players at his position. Still, it's useful in preventing players from flying the coop as you're trying to put together a run.
Sadly, those teams that are so indifferent to the Rams' needs keep using this nefarious tool to prevent our boys in blue from getting the players they need. Bastards.
The odd thing about the franchise designation this year, of course, is that it's kind of unclear what the tag actually means. After all, if there's no new CBA soon then free agency, free agent contracts, and all related tagging procedures are essentially meaningless. Still, even with that up in the air a player who's been franchised is pretty much off the market in reality.
For the Rams, they don't really have any need to use the franchise tag this offseason. They only have a few potential free agents worth keeping, and none of them should command the kind of price tag a franchise designation. Guys like James Laurinaitis and Chris Long are still under contract, and Mark Clayton, the player the Rams can least afford to lose to free agency, isn't worth a top five wide receiver salary. (That's not to say he isn't a very valuable player, mind you; just that he isn't in that elite category you don't mind paying eight figures a year.)
On the other hand, what the other NFL teams are doing with their franchise tags most definitely does matter, since several of the players being franchised could have been potential targets for the Rams.
The New England Patriots used their franchise tag on Logan Mankins earlier this week, taking the top offensive guard off the market. We all saw how brutal the Rams' interior O-line was in 2010; Mankins would have looked awful good road-grading ahead of Steven Jackson. Then again, as much money as the Rams already have invested in their offensive line (Jason Smith was a number two overall pick, remember, and not cheap; Jason Brown and Josh Bell were both costly free agent pickups), adding Mankins very well may have been a pipe dream to begin with. Still, Mankins could have represented a huge upgrade, and now he won't even hit the free agent market. (By the way, how much does it suck to have as much money sunk in the O-line as the Rams do and still have to watch blitzers come through the A gap all season?)
Of more realistic concern is the fact two of the top wide receivers in this free agent class have both been tagged by their respective teams. Vincent Jackson
, San Diego's
problem child, was franchised on Tuesday. We know the Rams had interest in Jackson last season
, when he was trying to force his way out of the Charger organisation, until the asking price in trade proved to be too high. If he had
been on the free agent market I have to think the Rams would have made a run at him to give Sam Bradford the number one receiver he so sorely needs.
Sidney Rice of the Minnesota Vikings, probably the number two guy on the market this year behind Jackson, would have been another intriguing target for the Rams. Personally, I actually like Rice a little better than VJax (Rice is younger, faster, and doesn't come with quite such a high pain in the ass quotient, though he does have injury concerns), and I think he would have made an ideal weapon for Sam Bradford in Josh McDaniel's pass-heavy offense. Unfortunately, it looks like the Vikings will hit Rice with the transition tag, which, while not as strong as the franchise tag, still gives the team first right of refusal on any offer. Which, of course, basically amounts to the same thing in the end.
There is an interesting side effect to the Vincent Jackson tagging; because San Diego chose to franchise him they may not be able to retain Malcom Floyd, another of their very talented receivers. While Floyd isn't quite the all-around threat VJax is, he's a very good deep-ball receiver, capable of stretching the field vertically. Given the Rams' need in that area, taking a look at Floyd if he hits the market certainly seems like a possibility.
I just wish these teams would show a little more concern for the Rams and what they need before just throwing tags all over the place.
It's unfortunate, really, that the rest of the NFL doesn't seem at all worried about the