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Why 'franchise tag' can be a filthy term for some players to hear

By Tim Graham

What's the big deal with franchise tags?

When a team uses it on a free agent, the player should be honored, right? The franchise tag is a special designation, right?

The player is guaranteed a one-year contract in a league without guaranteed contracts. He'll make an average of the five highest-paid players at his position.

What a bonanza, right?


In an enlightening story at, reporter Joe Buscaglia takes a look at how the franchise tag is interpreted by agents, players and fans. There are nuances to the process. But to many players, the franchise tag is considered an insult.

"Nobody wants to get tagged," said agent C.J. LaBoy, who represents Bills receiver Stevie Johnson and former Bills receiver Donald Jones.

Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd and Denver Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady are this year's last two unsigned franchise players.

They have until 4 p.m. Monday to broker multiyear contracts. If they do not, then they can sign only one-year deals and cannot renegotiate until after the season.

The franchise tag virtually erases a player's free-agent rights.

A team could sign Byrd to an offer sheet, but the franchise mechanism gives the Bills the right to match the offer. If the Bills decline, then they would receive two first-round draft choices as compensation.

That is a prohibitive cost that handcuffs Byrd to the Bills.

"I think players hate the tag," an unidentified agent told Buscaglia. "Let's face it. The teams hold almost all the leverage unless you're an elite player at an elite position. And if you were an elite player at an elite position you would never get franchised, you would have your deal done well before that time came."

Byrd did not welcome the franchise tag. He wanted to become an unrestricted free agent like left guard Andy Levitre did. Byrd wanted to find out what he was worth on the open market.

Without the ability to test the open market, who's to say what Byrd is worth?

Free-agent safety Dashon Goldson signed a four-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a reported $41.25 million and $22 million in guarantees.

But who's to say that's a fair deal? Should Byrd and his agent, Eugene Parker, be tethered to some contract they didn't negotiate or agree to?

As you can see, there are a lot of question marks in this article.

Parker told me recently it's his position Byrd -- a second-round pick who has been selected to two Pro Bowls in four seasons -- has been underpaid for four years, and he doesn't have to sign the franchise tag.

"Under the system, the Bills were allowed to pay Jairus substantially less than a Pro Bowl player at his position makes for four years," Parker said. "The Bills, under the CBA, have the ability to restrict his free agency by making him a one-year offer, which we can accept or not accept.

"He's fulfilled every clause of his contract, and he's played at 15 to 20 percent of what his market value is for a player at his position, and he did it for four years with no complaints.

"Now, it's time. We've got to figure something out."

In an email to Channel 7 sports director Jeff Russo on Thursday, Parker wrote "Nothing appears to be imminent at this time."

The Bills and Byrd want a multiyear deal, but Parker has a reputation for getting as many dollars as he feels his client deserves. Parker won't offer any discounts for the sake of getting a deal signed.

The Bills have shelled out a lot of money in recent years, namely to pass-rusher Mario Williams. They're still licking their wounds over dud deals for players such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Lee Evans, Marcus Stroud, Chris Kelsay and Aaron Maybin. They need to make a Byrd deal they're comfortable with.

A one-year deal, however, could put Byrd's future earnings at risk. As Buscaglia points out, a serious injury in 2013 could jeopardize Byrd's financial well-being.

Bills center Eric Wood, entering the final year of his rookie contract, told Buscaglia he understands Byrd's negative reaction.

"Jairus is obviously one of our best players," Wood told Buscaglia, "and our chances of winning go up dramatically when he's there and we all want to win and we're out there to win.

"But, in the same sense, Jairus has done nothing but take care of business since he got here, so we want Jairus to do what's best for him. You just have to wish him the best and tell him to do what's best for him. Whenever he comes back, if he comes back, we'll all welcome him with open arms."


Eric Wood | Eugene Parker | Jairus Byrd
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |