So, I get this email this morning from Paul Kuharsky, who's got the Colts and Titans looking for help at safety and was working on this column about how the market could dry up quickly because the franchise-tag number for safeties is going to be so low. Something like $6.8 million, lower than any position but tight end and kicker/punter. Paul wanted to know what I thought the chances were of the New York Giants using their franchise player designation on safety Kenny Phillips.
I don't think they will, and I have a few reasons.
First of all, the Giants don't really use the franchise player designation very often. And when they do, they tend to employ it according to the original spirit of the rule -- as a means of buying themselves extra time to work out a long-term deal on which they're already at work but haven't had time to complete. This is what they did last year with punter Steve Weatherford, who got the franchise tag but soon thereafter had the long-term deal that was in progress at the time of the deadline. The Giants don't have a history of franchising guys just because the number is low, and keeping them around on one-year deals just because they can.
Secondly, as low as that safety number might be, it might not be low enough to make sense for the Giants. They need money to sign free-agent offensive linemen Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe. They are working on long-term deals with star wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, and they'll need money for that. If they franchise any of their free agents, it'll probably be Beatty, since it seems clear that they'll be interested in doing a long-term deal with him anyway. Left tackle is a position of significant importance in Jerry Reese's mind. Safety, likely less so.
In the salary-cap era, teams must establish priorities for places to spend their significant resources. The Giants do this almost religiously. They invest heavily at quarterback and pass-rushing defensive end, and I think the cornerback, left tackle and No. 1 wide receiver positions are also very important to them. They get by at other spots, such as running back and linebacker and safety and tight end (which is why I don't think they'll franchise or bid big to keep Martellus Bennett). At those spots, they decide on numbers they think are justified by the market, replacing players who think those numbers are too low with qualified guys who think they aren't.
In the case of Phillips, I think this could be a mistake. I think Phillips is a do-it-all safety who makes other players on the defense better, and I think the Giants' relative performance at cornerback, linebacker and even among their great defensive linemen the past couple of years was affected by whether Phillips was or was not on the field. I think Phillips is an important player for the Giants and that they should work to keep him.
However, they're not operating in a vacuum. They're paying Antrel Rolle a lot of money. They might have seen enough from Stevie Brown and Will Hill in 2012 to convince themselves they're deep enough (and spending enough) at safety to weather the loss of Phillips. And there is the matter of Phillips' knee, which has been a major problem for him and can't necessarily be counted on to improve in the future. All of these factors likely will lead the Giants to tell Phillips he's welcome back at their price, but that if he'd prefer to try and find more on the open market they will go in a different direction.
So no, I don't think the Giants will franchise Phillips, and I think there's a good chance he'll be available on the market. If he is, I am fairly certain some team will look past the knee issue at the quality of the player and pay him more than the Giants want to pay him. The Giants' best hope of keeping him is if he decides their offer is fair and that the injury problems he had in 2012 are going to keep him from cashing in big in free agency. Unless they feel as though they're closing in on a long-term deal with him when the franchise deadline arrives, I'd be surprised if they tagged him.