When half of your roster is eligible for free agency, you have a lot of candidates for your franchise player designation. The New York Giants haven't been liberal users of this option in the past, but there are a couple of guys on whom they could use it this year. Monday is the first day teams may designate a player as their franchise player, and March 3 is the last. So the Giants have a couple of weeks left to determine whether they need it this year.
For those unfamiliar, the franchise player designation effectively binds the player to his team on a one-year contract worth either the average of the top five salaries at his position or 120 percent of his prior year's salary, whichever is higher. A team can use it on only one player per year and does not have to use it at all. Teams generally use the designation as a means of holding onto a player with whom they are unable to reach agreement on a long-term contract. When the Giants have used it in the past, it's usually been as a precursor to a long-term deal that's completed shortly after the start of the open free agency period -- i.e., they were close to a deal with the player but unable to finish it before free agency started and they wanted to make sure no one else came in and stole the player away.
So with that in mind, here are three Giants candidates and a brief rundown on the chances they'll receive the franchise player designation.
LB Jon Beason: The Giants loved what they got from Beason in return for the seventh-round pick they sent Carolina to get him, and people familiar with their plans have said they would like to sign him to a new contract before free agency opens. Beason said several times during the season that he liked playing for the Giants and would like to be back, and if they can get him to agree on a contract worth about $4 million per year with some incentives built in, he could be one of the first pieces of offseason business they take care of this year. The linebacker franchise tag could be more than $10 million, and the Giants surely don't want to pay Beason that much in 2014. So if he were tagged it would be because they felt very close to agreeing on a long-term deal at a more reasonable number, and tagging him would be a procedural move.
DT Linval Joseph: This is the player I think they need to make a top priority before free agency opens, but I honestly haven't been able to get a handle on whether the Giants agree or where talks stand between them and Joseph. With defensive tackle contracts at the top of the market going up, Joseph might be able to get $8 million or more per year if he hit the open market, and the franchise number for the position this year should be around $9.1 million. They could carry Joseph at that number and justify it if he continued to perform as he has the past couple of years, but it would merely delay their long-term decision on him by a year. As with Beason, if Joseph is the guy they franchise, you could probably take it as a sign that they're close to a long-term deal with an average annual salary closer to $6 or $7 million.
WR Hakeem Nicks: I don't see it. I think the chances of the Giants bringing back Nicks after his disappointing contract year are incredibly slim, and that he'd only be back if he found no market for his services and came crawling back to them at their price. Which could happen, but isn't likely. The franchise tag for wide receivers will be about $11.5 million, and with a heavy investment already in Victor Cruz and other needs across the roster, it's hard to see them committing that much of their 2014 salary cap to a wide receiver. Nicks would be a candidate for a "prove-it" deal, and the Giants could afford to carry him at that number. But this past year was a "prove-it" year and he didn't catch a single touchdown pass. I think disappointment over the way he performed in 2013 and the Giants' historic tendency to stick to their preset value assessments for free agents make Nicks an unlikely franchise player candidate.