The Green Bay Packers face a daunting prospect in free agency next offseason - four of the team’s top six offensive linemen will be free agents next March. Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, David Bakhtiari, and JC Tretter all have expiring contracts, leaving GM Ted Thompson to ponder how to handle the line moving forward.
In Thursday’s Cheese Curds, we discussed this very situation, and reader BmorePackFan suggested that the Packers franchise tag Josh Sitton, an intriguing suggestion. The same question could apply to T.J. Lang, depending on which player you value more, but in either case the tag value should be the same since they both play offensive guard.
Here’s the catch, however: unlike other positions, which are generally divided up thoroughly, the offensive line is considered a single position for the purposes of the Franchise and Transition Tags.
A quick refresher on tag rules:
- Franchise Tag: value of 1-year contract is average of top 5 salaries at the player’s position or 120% of his previous year’s salary
- Transition Tag: value of 1-year contract is the average of top 10 salaries at the player’s position or 120% of his previous year’s salary
Offensive linemen’s contracts are totally skewed towards a single position - left tackles. According to the average annual salaries as reported by Over the Cap, 12 of the top 13 offensive line contracts in the NFL are for left tackles, and the only other one is dependent on what the Raiders do with Kelechi Osemele; he played mostly guard in Baltimore but signed a huge deal with Oakland amid speculation that he might be moved to tackle.
In fact, aside from Osemele, the next-highest-paid guard in the NFL (the Eagles’ Brandon Brooks) is just the 22nd-highest-paid offensive lineman overall, earning $8 million per season. In other words, if you Franchise Tag a guard, he would get a tag value that’s based on the value of the highest paid tackles, not the highest-paid guards.
Here’s a comparison of estimated tag values for all offensive linemen as of their current salaries compared to just guards, using players’ average annual compensation in the calculations. It will not be exact, but it at least gives you a general idea of the difference.
Franchise Tag: $12.42 million
Transition Tag: $11.64 million
Franchise Tag: $8.60 million
Transition Tag: $7.63 million
That’s even including Osemele as a guard - without him, the guard numbers deflate even further.
Looking at the top guard salaries and ignoring Osemele as an outlier, it becomes painfully obvious that an NFL team simply cannot afford to pay a guard upwards of $12 million when the going rate for a top-tier guard is between $7-8 million. Regardless of one’s feelings about a tag, it is simply not an option for Sitton or Lang in 2017.
David Bakhtiari’s situation is a little tricker, because he does indeed play left tackle. With depth now present on the roster in Jason Spriggs, however, it seems unlikely that the Packers would use the tag on Bakhtiari while having a second-round pick waiting in the wings. An attempt to negotiate a lower but long-term deal seems much more likely, and frankly that would probably be more appealing for Bakhtiari himself.
A final note is that the Packers are currently scheduled to have about $25 million of cap space in 2017, using a conservative estimate of a $166 million salary cap. Can they really afford to use between $11-12.5 million of that space on a single lineman? It is possible, but unlikely, especially when there are numerous other players set to become free agents and many other needs to address. You can count on one thing, though - tagging one of the linemen will not be an option that Ted Thompson seriously considers.