Mailbag: Could Broncos franchise tag and trade Eric Decker?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL's franchise tag deadline is 2:00 p.m. MST Monday. A reader asks why the Broncos aren't placing the franchise tag on Eric Decker with the possibility of trading him.

Brian writes: "Have you seen anything suggesting tagging and trading Eric Decker as an option, as opposed to not using the tag? Denver might not see him worth it financially, but others would give up something for him on a one-year deal or negotiate a long-term deal, no?"

Thanks for your question Brian. The deadline is looming, and there have been no reports or indications that the Broncos will use the franchise tag on Decker. While floating him in trade talks may give the Broncos another out - they can trade the rights for Decker for anything they like, after they place the franchise tag on him - it is just not likely.

First of all, it would cost the Broncos $10.5 million to tag Decker, and they are only estimated to have $19.4 million in space. That's 63% of Denver's space on one player, when they have arguably stronger needs at defensive end, linebacker, and safety.

Even if you tag Decker with the intent to trade him, that $12.3 million is a huge risk. The market in free agency and the draft is such that I don't see anyone giving both Decker a contract and the Broncos a draft pick for his services.

Second, people seem to forget the purpose of the franchise tag. The purpose of the franchise tag is not to just lock down a player for a year, or retain him temporarily with the thought of trading him. The purpose of the franchise tag is to keep the rights of a highly valued player for several months, so negotiations can continue. That's what the Broncos did in 2012 and 2013 with Matt Prater and Ryan Clady respectively: they tagged the players, kept working with them, and ultimately signed each to long-term deals.

That doesn't mean you can't use the franchise tag however you please; it's just not a tool that was designed for this type of tactic. You can use a screwdriver to pound in a nail, it just would have been easier to thread a screw instead.

Let's look at this for a moment longer, though. If the purpose of the tag is to negotiate a long-term deal, the question simply becomes: Is Eric Decker in Denver's long-term plans?

I would argue no. With Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, Chris Harris Jr., Terrance Knighton, and Von Miller all set to become unrestricted free agents in 2015, the Broncos have a lot of tough choices to make. I would place all of those names above Decker's based on each's value and cost, and I think John Elway would too.

It would also be a disservice to Decker. If you don't plan on keeping him, tagging and trading him rips the market out from under him.

It would also be a disservice to Decker. If you don't plan on keeping him, tagging and trading him rips the market out from under him. He can't negotiate for the best deal possible, and he's restricted to the teams who are willing to deal a draft pick, which may be a limited pool. Pretty soon word gets out that the Broncos are playing games with their players. That's a bad reputation for a Broncos team who should want to appear as an attractive market for other potential free agents.

Finally, if you're still not convinced, just remember: the Broncos will likely get compensatory draft picks in 2015 based on their exiting free agents in 2014. I don't see Denver signing as many free agents as they will lose this offseason, so it's very likely the Broncos will be earning compensatory picks next year - for the first time in as long as I can remember.

So the Broncos don't need to offer Eric Decker $12 million to get a draft pick for him. They're likely going to get a draft pick for him anyway. And Decker will get a free agent contract; he'll sign with a team he wants, instead of a team he was dealt to.

As Walter White would say, everybody wins.

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