In Tuesday's post on the potential cost of re-signing free-agent defensive tackle Linval Joseph, we addressed the manner in which the New York Giants traditionally have and have not used the franchise player designation. In summary, they don't tend to use it to freeze a player in place on a one-year deal because they're not ready to make a long-term commitment to him. They prefer to use it for its originally designed purpose -- to keep a player off the market while they finish the final details of a longer-term deal with him.
However, I wonder if wide receiver Hakeem Nicks could challenge that philosophy this year. Nicks is an unrestricted free agent who's coming off his most disappointing healthy season, having played 15 of 16 games and failed to catch a touchdown pass. He was a source of obvious frustration to the coaching staff as the year went along, and multiple people within the organization have publicly cited substandard play by the team's outside receivers as a key reason the offense couldn't get on track. Add in Tuesday's hire of West Coast offense disciple Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator, and you wonder if the outside receiver will remain a high-priority position, especially with a significant amount of money already committed to slot receiver Victor Cruz.
But Nicks is also a former first-round pick of the Giants and a player who helped them win a Super Bowl just two seasons ago. He has shown an ability to thrive as a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. The Giants have seen the best of Nicks as well as the worst, and if they believe that he's capable of returning to top form (he just turned 26 on Tuesday), they could decide they want him back.
If they do, it's unlikely they'll be willing to offer Nicks a long-term deal after the season he just had. Which means he'll want to test the market and trade on his name and past success to score as large a deal as possible. If he makes it to the open market, the Giants aren't likely to compete with other teams to sign him. But if they decide they want him back and they believe 2013 was an aberration, they could certainly franchise him and keep him from ever hitting the market.
There are problems with this strategy, not the least of which is that it could result in an unhappy player who causes the same problems in his 2014 contract year as he did in his 2013 contract year. The Giants have seen what Nicks is like with free agency hanging over his head, and it wasn't pretty. Franchising him and not extending him beyond 2014 could conceivably bring about a repeat of his performance from this past season. Another problem is cost, as the franchise number for wide receivers is likely to exceed $11 million this year. Nicks isn't worth that money based on his 2013 performance, and while the Giants do have cap room they also have many other needs on which to spend it.
Some will suggest that the Giants franchise Nicks and then try to trade him, perhaps for a second-round or third-round pick to a team that gets shut out of the Eric Decker market, needs a big-time threat at wide receiver and still views Nicks as one. But such deals are rare and difficult to pull off, and if the Giants franchised Nicks with that plan in mind and were unable to deal him, they'd be stuck with a player they don't necessarily want at a cost that makes it difficult for them to make their budget.
If they don't tag Nicks and let him sign elsewhere, it's possible the Giants would get a compensatory draft pick for him in 2015, but that depends on who else they lose and who they sign in free agency this year.
In the end, franchising Nicks makes sense for the Giants only if they believe he will play better in 2014 than he did in 2013, which means he'd have to somehow convince them that the contract issue wasn't part of his problem. Since he hinted strongly at every possible opportunity that it was, it would be hard to believe him. You never know how these things will work out, and it's possible that the Giants will be more desperate than we expect and give Nicks a longer-term deal. It's possible the deal Nicks seeks won't be out there for him and he'll agree to stay for a smaller or shorter-term deal. But the most likely scenario to me is that a team other than the Giants decides they like him and are willing to bring him in based on his reputation, age, physical talent and past achievements. And if that happens, the Giants will wish him well and look somewhere else for wide receiver help, if they haven't already.