Monday, March 02, 2015

Franchise Tag: Packers Let Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga Test The Free Agent Market

The NFL announced the 2015 salary-cap at $143.28 million and the Green Bay Packers have $33 million available, but they decided not to use the franchise tag ($12+ million for a wide receiver) on Randall Cobb or Bryan Bulaga.
Usually I expect a free agent will walk if GM Ted Thompson hasn't re-signed a free agent by early March. That's what he did with offensive lineman like Daryn Colledge and Scott Wells, and WR Greg Jennings in 2013. But he did sign CB Sam Shields at the start of free agency last year, so I'm not sure what he'll do this time around.

Not paying Cobb $12 million annually makes sense. WR Jordy Nelson's cap charge will be a third of that in 2015 and he won't go over $12 million annually until 2018. The Packers would want to re-sign Cobb to a contract with a smaller cap charge. But a long-term deal might put a lot of strain on their salary cap and they could have as many as six players with a cap charge of more than $10 million by 2017 (depending on if they re-sign Bryan Bulaga). Having a salary cap that's dominated by a few players isn't how GM Ted Thompson has operated in the past.

The good news here is that if they really didn't think they could afford Cobb in a couple years then they probably would have used the franchise tag. Nelson has a bargain cap charge in 2015 ($4.6 million) and they could afford to pay a premium price for Cobb in 2015. Then they wouldn't have to worry about their 2017 cap because Cobb would be gone in a year or two. They aren't going to need $33 million in cap space for their rookie class, and there's no other current free agent that appears to be a target for them. I don't think LB Nick Perry or CB Casey Hayward should expect a big extension from the Packers, but they might be thinking about extending DT Mike Daniels this offseason to use up some of that 2015 cap room.

I don't have a good feeling about them re-signing Bulaga. He would add another big offensive line contract at the top of their salary cap (along with T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton) and his injury history is a concern. He might have been a perfect candidate for the cap to keep him for one more year, but the tag also brings a lot of bad feelings with it.

So I think it's a good thing that they didn't use the franchise tag on Cobb because it means they want to re-sign him long-term. However some bad teams have so much salary cap room available that they might want to consider overpaying for him since he's one of the best free agents on the market. Maybe they'll have wait and see if he receives a crazy offer that they wouldn't think of matching. That danger is real but I expect they're still the favorite to sign him for 2015.

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