INDIANAPOLIS -- Our Franchise Focus series last week accounted for the possibility, but I'm not sure if anyone considered it a likely scenario. Namely: Would the Green Bay Packers use their franchise tag on anyone other than tight end Jermichael Finley?
Our clearly-flawed assumption was that the sides wouldn't agree on a long-term contract extension, forcing the Packers to use their tag to retain the 24-year-old tight end. But Wednesday's two-year agreement represented an unexpected compromise from both sides and opened the possibility of using the tag on another player. The two candidates would seem to be quarterback Matt Flynn and center Scott Wells, in that order.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the Packers wouldn't commit to paying Wells a 2012 salary upwards of $8 million, the projected value of the franchise tag for offensive linemen. But we've now learned our lesson about assuming the Packers' likely path this offseason, and it's only fair to point out that the franchise tag sometimes serves as a temporary stop for teams on the way to a long-term agreement.
That's what happened with Ryan Kalil and the Carolina Panthers last summer. The Panthers first tagged Kalil at $10.1 million before the sides agreed in August to a six-year deal worth $49 million, which made him the highest-paid center in the NFL.
The more intriguing scenario, of course, is tagging Flynn and then trading him for a high draft choice in a sign-and-trade deal. That would net the Packers at least an extra second-round draft pick for a player who projects as a starter elsewhere and thus would never have agreed to return as their backup.
The move would temporarily consume about $14 million in 2012 salary cap space, and a trade couldn't be executed until after free agency begins March 13. The Packers would also have to be confident that they will be able to find a trade partner, a tricky proposition given tampering rules in effect through March 12. It's true that NFL teams can rescind franchise tags, but not if the player signs the offer sheet -- which Flynn almost certainly would do to force the trade and ensure he isn't a late arrival to the free agent market.
Those are all reasons why franchising Flynn has seemed unlikely. But we've already had one unlikely occurrence Wednesday, and the Packers are now dealing from a position of strength with Finley now under contract. So stay tuned. I'll be roaming the scouting combine for the next three days. Packers general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy are both scheduled to speak with reporters Friday. We'll see what we turn up.