Draft King Analysis|
February 19, 2012
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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Withdrawal symptoms are kicking in for many hardcore NFL fans, and while the preseason games of August are still many months away, there are plenty of developments to keep track of between now and the start of the 2012 NFL season.
The window opens tomorrow for NFL teams to use either a franchise tag (either exclusive or non-exclusive) or a transition tag. Teams have until 4 p.m. EST on March 5 to tag a player. With poison pills now explicitly banned under the new CBA (after having not been used at all after the Seattle/Minnesota back-and-forth with Steve Hutchinson and Nate Burleson in March 2006), teams know that they'll at least have the chance to evenly match an offer made to a restricted/tagged player.
A major change to the system for restricted free agents was the elimination of the first-and-third round compensation level for restricted free agents, with the new maximum compensation level for a parent team being a first-round selection. For example, Pittsburgh WR Mike Wallace is slated to become a restricted free agent, but the most that Steelers can receive back in compensation is a first-round pick. That means if Wallace is given the highest-level restriction (first-rounder), he signs an offer sheet with another team, and Pittsburgh opts not to match, Wallace's new team will have relinquish its first-round pick to the Steelers. That is a major price to pay, but it's not as severe as giving up a first *and* a third.
It's worth noting that the pick to be given up isn't limited by being high or low in a given round. Let's say the Rams signed Wallace to an offer sheet and the Steelers opted not to match: St. Louis' #2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft would go to Pittsburgh. But if the Patriots did the same thing? Pittsburgh would get the #31 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. This is one of those rare situations in the NFL where a team benefits from a strong finish in the previous year compared with teams that finished with weaker records, though there is also the paradox that the parent team would be less likely to match an offer sheet to get a high first-rounder versus if they would receive a low first-rounder.
I would anticipate teams being more willing than before to use the franchise tag since, under the new CBA, the player in question no longer receives the average of the top five salaries as his position from the previous year. There is a complex formula in place now that determines it, and really you're better off reading this article on NFL.com about how the franchise tag rate by position will be lower than 2011 and, in many cases, lower than 2010.
There is no reason for an NFL team to slap a tag on a player as soon as they can tomorrow, since the franchise/transition tag window will end before the start of free agency on March 13. So don't panic if your favorite team doesn't use it right away on an obvious choice (like DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia or Jermichael Finley in Green Bay) since they might want to keep their options open in negotiating.
The upcoming NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis will provide some answers about the height and weight of various players, particularly those players who didn't take part in any of the three college player all-star games and thus haven't been measured by an unbiased source. Schools do this all the time, fudging a player's height by an inch or tacking on extra to make their players seem bigger/stronger than they might be in reality.
This list reveals the players who the NFL has invited to the combine. There are some underclassmen early entrants who didn't receive an invite to the combine, perhaps most interestingly including talented-but-troubled Kansas State RB Bryce Brown. But 55 of the 65 "early entrants" (as the NFL likes to refer to them) for 2012 did receive invites, and many from that group will be watched very closely in Indianapolis.
For running backs, the combine provides an opportunity to stand out from within a loaded group of running backs. Knile Davis went back to Arkansas, but most of the other top running backs who were eligible to leave school for the NFL opted to do so. With the passing game becoming even more important than before due to rule changes made for player safety reasons, the need to use a high pick on a running back doesn't exist like it once did. So, for guys like Chris Polk and Isaiah Pead and Doug Martin and Lamar Miller, the combine provides an opportunity to show exceptional talent, be it in drills or in 40 yard dash time or in vertical leap ability. Even a small margin of advantage could prove quite valuable at a position with so much talent, perhaps the difference between being a second-round pick versus being a fourth-or-fifth-round pick.