Another in a daily series on NFC North players who are candidates to receive their team's franchise tag. The window for tagging players opens Monday and closes March 5.
As we've moved through the Franchise Focus series, several of you have asked whether the Green Bay Packers could pull off a surprise -- or at least make a move counter to the prevailing (media) sentiment. It was only two years ago, after all, that they surprised many by using their tag on defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, who ultimately signed a four-year contract worth about $25 million.
We've already discussed the Packers' likeliest target for a franchise tag: Tight end Jermichael Finley. But two other prominent players are approaching free agency as well: Center Scott Wells and quarterback Matt Flynn. Let's briefly hit on why there hasn't been much discussion about franchising either player.
All offensive linemen are assigned the same franchise tag number, even though contract values differ significantly between tackles, guards and centers. It's not unheard of for a team to franchise a center -- the Carolina Panthers did it with Ryan Kalil last year -- but it means they would be guaranteed the same kind of one-year salary as, say, a left tackle. In 2012, Brian McIntyre projects the franchise tag for offensive linemen to be around $9.5 million, via Football Outsiders.
The Packers currently have an estimated $10 million in salary cap room and could squeeze in Wells at that number if necessary. Wells earned his first Pro Bowl berth last season, but the Packers probably don't need to commit that kind of money to keep him. Kalil, considered the NFL's top center, ultimately signed a seven-year contract that averaged $7 million per season and included $28 million in guarantees.
Finding common ground on a reasonable long-term deal is the likeliest tool for retaining Wells. As for Flynn, the Packers probably need to accept his departure via free agency and accept a 2013 compensatory draft pick as a result.
It's conceivable for the Packers to franchise Flynn and then trade him to another team. It's a tempting scenario considering the possibility of getting a high draft choice in return. But even if temporary, that move would consume $14 million of the Packers' salary cap and, more importantly, eliminate the possibility using the tag on Finley or even Wells. In short, that's why it's unlikely -- but not impossible -- that the Packers will pull off a franchise tag surprise.