The Carolina Panthers have had an interesting history with the franchise tag in recent years, but that’s not likely to be the case this year.
Mainly, because they’re not expected to use it.
Tuesday is the first day NFL teams can apply the tag to players, a window that closes March 6 – about a week before the start of free agency.
The tag allows teams to prevent a player from becoming a free agent, but forces them to commit to a one-year guaranteed contract determined by the five-year average of the highest-paid players at each position.
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Teams can only tag one player a year. But while Carolina has several key players eligible for free agency, industry experts don’t think it makes financial sense for the Panthers to take on an inflated price tag on any of them for one season.
Left guard Andrew Norwell is the biggest name among the Panthers’ 12 potential free agents.
Norwell, who joined the Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2014, increased his value with an All-Pro season in 2017. Interim general manager Marty Hurney invested heavily at the guard position last summer when he signed Pro Bowler Trai Turner to a four-year, $45 million extension, with $20.5 million guaranteed.
The NFL does not distinguish between tackles and guards/centers when determining the tag value for offensive linemen, which this year is expected to be around $14.3 million.
Teams don’t typically use franchise tags on guards. Former Patriots lineman Logan Mankins was the last guard to be tagged when the Patriots did so in 2011, according to Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who now writes for cbssports.com.
Corry also doesn’t see the Panthers applying the tag to nose tackle Star Lotulelei or kicker Graham Gano, the two other most logical candidates.
Former Panthers GM Dave Gettleman infamously rescinded Josh Norman’s franchise tag in 2016, allowing the Pro Bowl cornerback to become a free agent. Norman signed a five-year, $75 million contract with Washington the same week.
The Panthers tagged defensive tackle Kawann Short last year, but ended up signing Short to a five-year, $80.5 million extension in April.
Lotulelei, the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2013 during Gettleman’s first draft in Charlotte, would cost Carolina around $14.2 million if they tagged him. Given what the Panthers are paying Short, they could allow Lotulelei to walk and give more playing time to Vernon Butler, their first-round pick in 2016.
The Patriots and Ravens used the franchise tags on kickers Stephen Gostkowski and Justin Tucker, respectively, in recent years. But Corry doesn’t believe Gano – despite coming off a career year – is in the same category as Gostkowski and Tucker.
The tag for kickers/punters is expected to be around $5 million.