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Uncertainty around franchise tag could create confusion for Logan Mankins and Patriots

02.04.11 at 12:25 am ET
By

Logan Mankins (AP)

The fact that the NFL and the National Football League Players Association are disagreeing about the state of the franchise tag throws another wrinkle into the already complicated situation between the Patriots and Pro Bowl offensive lineman Logan Manikins.

Last week, a league spokesman indicated the franchise tags would remain status quo — that is, starting Feb. 10 and running until Feb. 24, clubs could continue to place the tag on players whose contracts are expiring, even if there is no new collective bargaining agreement in place. But on Thursday, the NFLPA indicated that if there is no new agreement in place between now and the day the old CBA expires — March 3 — such tags would be meaningless.

“Our position is that you can franchise anyone you want, by whatever date you want, but if there is no CBA, the franchise tags will be meaningless,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith told reporters.

“The current CBA provides that ‘each club shall be permitted to designate one of its players who would otherwise be an Unrestricted Free Agent [or Restricted Free Agent] as a Franchise Player each season during the term of this Agreement,’” Smith wrote in a memo to player agents, obtained by ProFootballTalk.com. “The 2011 season is not a ‘season during the term of this Agreement’ so the NFL has no valid basis for claiming the right to franchise players in 2011.”

In response, league spokesman Greg Aiello said via e-mail to The Associated Press: “We are still operating under the current agreement. … Franchise tags are always made before the start of the next league year. This is consistent with past seasons.”

In its current form, the franchise tag allows each team to prevent one of its players from becoming an unrestricted free agent by offering him a one-year contract that’s worth 120 percent of his salary from the season before, or the average of the five highest-paid players at his position, whichever is greater.

However, the players association isn’t thrilled about what the tag has become — in many ways they see it as a way to prevent players from reaching a big payday — and while it isn’t considered chief among the differences between the two sides, it has been a point of contention between the players and the owners in the past.

Mankins and the Patriots aren’t the only team facing uncertainty around the franchise tag, as several big-name players across the league are facing an uncertain future because of the franchise tag situation. Philadelphia’s Michael Vick, Indy’s Peyton Manning, Pittsburgh’s Lamarr Woodley and Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata are all candidates to be franchised under the old system, but could theoretically hit the open market if the tag is eliminated.

When faced with these situations in the past, New England has often used the franchise tag as a hammer in the negotiations, deploying it as a way to prevent the player from hitting the open market as well as keeping the exclusive negotiating window open between themselves and the player. It was used last season on defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who was franchised in February prior to reaching a five-year agreement with the team on March 5. They also did it with kicker Adam Vinatieri in 2002 before reaching an agreement on a three-year contract extension.

If the franchise tag does end up remaining in play, the Patriots would almost certainly franchise Mankins, adding more emotional baggage to a relationship that’s already rocky. While sitting out last year, Mankins bitterly called out the Patriots and owner Robert Kraft for not being true to their word, and engaged in one of the lengthiest contractual disputes in franchise history. He recently indicated he wouldn’t be crazy about being franchised.

If you’re looking for positives, New England could point to last year, when Wilfork was in the same spot as Mankins. The Pro Bowl lineman was clearly upset about the idea of the franchise tag, calling the possibility a “slap in the face” and openly speculating about playing elsewhere. But after the Patriots franchised him, the two sides were able to use the extra time to reach common ground, and the defensive lineman returned to Foxboro to have one of the finest seasons of his career.

But the possible elimination of the franchise tag would likely alter the way the Patriots choose to do business with Mankins and his agent, Frank Bauer. Mankins and Bauer would have greater negotiating power, and there would almost certainly be a greater sense of urgency for New England to get a deal done before Mankins — considered one of the finest and most durable offensive linemen in the league — became available on the open market.

Regardless of what happens, it’s clear that contract talks between the Patriots and Manikins — discussions that were almost assuredly going to be complex to begin with — have just added a whole new level of drama.

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Al Davis, De Maurice Smith, Frank Bauer
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