Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers once again failed to agree to a long-term deal, all but guaranteeing this will be the running back's last season in black and yellow. The debate brings up an interesting question—what if players demanded the NFL do away with the franchise tag?
It’s easy from our perch out here in keyboard land to tap out a utopian version of the NFL: one in which players participate in a safer game, are taken care of down the road when they’re older and are happily employed by a group of CEOs who either respect their social and political opinions or are self-aware enough not to shut them out while using the team’s platform to spout their own agenda.
But once you realize this league is like any other ineffective, callous and gummed-up governing body it’s easier to understand why nothing really changes—or maybe slowly gets worse when power consolidates.
However, Monday’s franchise tag deadline brought up an interesting question. Just as Le’Veon Bell was again walking away from the table without a long-term deal (along with Rams safety LaMarcus Joyner and Cowboys sack artist DeMarcus Lawrence), a pair of smart NFL media types started discussing the possibility that, with the next collective bargaining agreement, players insist the league abolish the franchise tag altogether.
Jason Fitzgerald from Over The Cap and Dan Graziano of ESPN went back and forth, though the basics are clear: It will obviously not go away, mostly because this is an issue perceived by most players as something that just affects the top one percent of earners in the NFL. When other critical items are on the bargaining table, worrying about the extra $5 million in Kirk Cousins’s Astrovan doesn’t seem like the right hill to die on.
The optimist’s take is that a few insane, I’m going to get fired anyway, general managers might spend so foolishly on the open market that, with no hard limit on what ascending stars could earn, a better salary for Bell could mean a better salary for everyone that falls into line behind him. Forcing teams to spend more and not string along their best but most at-risk players on a series of one-year deals could be a nice opener for a real discussion about the kinds of things the NFL furnace needs to keep the flame going.
At the least, it would be interesting for someone like Bell to have the forum to reasonably challenge the tag on the grounds that he’s not just a running back. As the NFL becomes less position-specific, this debate will only rage on, especially if backs like Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey live up to their billing as dual-threat backs who are just as critical to the passing game as they are the running game.
Stay tuned for a similar piece around this time next year. Of course, we’ll change the name to Todd Gurley or David Johnson or Ezekiel Elliott or McCaffrey as each deadline goes by. Because, like us out here in keyboard land, the rest of the NFL universe has figured out that it’s simply easier to tap away about what a truly good deal would look like than to actually sit down and hammer one out.
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NOW ON THE MMQB: I take a look at the Le’Veon Bell situation by the numbers … Robert Klemko nails a post-adventure hiking Monday Morning Quarterback … The MMQB Owners’ Guide is LIVE. Where does your team’s owner spend their political money? How did they make it in the first place?
WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: I think Jenny Vrentas’s column on Jameis Winston and the NFL’s domestic violence policy should be read once a week … Andy Benoit attempts to take down college football …
1. Packers president Mark Murphy weighs in on Aaron Rodgers’s contract situation.
2. A wild tale of a Saints lineman who helped save the life of a person whose car fell four stories from a parking garage.
3. Andre Johnson is digging the Texans’ receiving corps.
4. Former Falcons first-rounder Takkarist McKinley is feeling it.
5. Jimbo Fisher still loves Jameis Winston, but…
6. How much did the NFL make in revenue last year? A butt-ton.
7. A PFF preview of the Miami Dolphins as camp approaches.
8. Time to jump into the weeds with Raider position battles.
This newsletter marks my official return from paternity leave. One story from my time away: A few weeks ago, my wife and I were at a restaurant trying to navigate the concept of a date night that also included an unpredictably hungry (but wonderful) infant. In the half hour we spent consoling our bundle of joy and eventually fumbling for a bottle, another couple had picked up our check and only instructed the waiter to tell us that they had three kids of their own and remembered what it was like. They wanted to be gone by the time we heard the news.
I cannot appreciate enough the much-needed reminder that there is still basic, person-to-person good in this world. Kindness for the sake of kindness. It’s what makes this place wonderful. Join me in paying it forward, won’t you?
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