The two-week window for NFL teams to utilize the franchise tag opens today and with 17 pending unrestricted free agents, the Raiders are seeming prime candidates to use it.
While the advantage to using the tag is that it makes it cheaper for a team to keep a player off the open market by "tagging" him, it generally comes with a fairly hefty salary cap number. And the cost-conscious Raiders, who were one of a record 21 teams to use the franchise tag last year, would no doubt rather sign a player to a more cap-friendly longer term deal. It's what they did after tagging strong safety Tyvon Branch last year.
Per our corporate cousins at Pro Football Talk, the franchise tag is "no longer based on the five highest-paid players at the position but on a far more convoluted (and club friendly) formula."
With that in mind, a look at five potential Raiders franchise tag candidates, with the expected price of each tag, per NFL.com…
Punter Shane Lechler
While every sign points to the Raiders moving on from the 13-year veteran, six-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler who made $3.8 million last season with a cap number of $4.9 million, and going forward with the significantly cheaper Marquette King ($405,000 base salary in 2013), there's a sense Oakland could slap the tag on Shane Lechler to keep him around for just one more year. Especially since the franchise tag for kickers and punters figures to be a relative cheap $2.9 million. One problem: per PFT, Lechler would be entitled a 120 percent raise over his most recent cap number, meaning if Lechler were to be tagged, his cap number for 2013 would jump to $5.88 million. And that's twice the amount of the base tag for a position more a luxury than a necessity for a rebuilding franchise. Hard to see it.
Linebacker Philip Wheeler
A revelation as the team's top defender in his first year in Oakland as a free-agent signing, he also played for a relative pittance with a $700,000 base salary and a cap number of just under $1.005 million. And while Wheeler is due a nice raise, the franchise tag number for linebackers this year is expected to be $9.455 million. That's a pretty steep raise, especially if the Raiders could work out something more cap friendly…and keep Wheeler happy at the same time.
Defensive tackle Desmond Bryant
The undrafted Ivy Leaguer came into his own in the second half of the season, when he replaced Richard Seymour. And with Seymour gone and Tommy Kelly a prime cut candidate, the Raiders would do well to keep Desmond Bryant in the fold, yes? Bryant had a base salary of $1.927 million in 2012, with a cap number just under $1.932 million. The franchise tag number for defensive tackles? Try $8.306 million. Surely the Raiders can retain him for less, no? He did tie for the team lead with four sacks.
Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy
While "regressed" might be too harsh a word to describe his play last season, Matt Shaughnessy did not have his expected breakout year, either, a year after season-ending shoulder surgery. His strength is against the run and he was often taken off the field in passing situations with the team needing a pass rusher. His base salary was $1.26 million and his cap number was just over $1.478 million in 2012. The franchise tag number of $10.984 million for defensive ends seems way too rich for what Shaughnessy brought last year.
Tight end Brandon Myers
He had a breakout year as Carson Palmer's security blanket and Brandon Myers showed soft hands and improved his blocking. And after making $615,000 last year, with a salary cap number of $642,400, he is due a raise (it is not known if an escalator in his contract kicked up his salary to $1.308 million). But with the franchise tag for tight ends at $5.962, that seems a big jump as well. Especially if, in the new offense, the Raiders feel they can get similar results from David Ausberry ($555,000 base salary in 2013) and/or Richard Gordon (also $555,000).