Before last season, the New York Jets re-signed three members of their "Core Four" to new contracts, and they have no intention of letting the fourth get away.
To ensure it doesn't happen, the Jets placed the franchise tag on linebacker David Harris, the team confirmed Tuesday.
Of the players given franchise tags by their teams so far, only Manning and Michael Vick received the "exclusive" designation, barring them from talking with other teams, league sources told Mortensen and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. The "non-exclusive" designation, which Harris received, means he can negotiate with other teams but the Jets would have the right to match the offer or receive two first-round picks if he signs elsewhere.
The tag doesn't preclude the Jets from signing Harris, their leading tackler, to a new deal before the season. Because of the labor uncertainty, general manager Mike Tannenbaum said recently that he doesn't expect to negotiate any long-term contracts before March 3, when the current CBA expires.
If Harris doesn't get signed by the start of the season, he will make the franchise tender -- the average salary of the five highest-paid linebackers in the league. In 2010, that figure was $9.6 million -- more than twice what Harris has made in four seasons.
At the time, both sides acknowledged that the rules of the uncapped 2010 year made it difficult to re-sign veterans, especially those who weren't drafted in the first round, and they agreed to revisit the matter after the season. Harris was a second-round pick out of Michigan in 2007.
In many cases, the franchise tag creates ill will between the player and team -- but not in this case.
"This is a procedural move by the Jets," Harris' agent, Brian Mackler, said in a phone interview. "Based on what Mike and coach [Rex] Ryan have said, David is very important to the team. In no way, shape or form will this prevent us from our ultimate goal, which is to get David signed to a long-term deal. My expectation is that will get done once the CBA is done."
Teams were able to begin using the franchise tag Feb. 10, but it's uncertain whether the tag will stand, what with the league's unsettled labor situation.
Harris, 26, probably will end up as the highest-paid linebacker on the Jets, ahead of Bart Scott ($8 million per year) and Calvin Pace ($6.75 million). Although his numbers dipped slightly in 2010, Harris still led the team in tackles (119), and had three sacks and one forced fumble. His value is enhanced because he calls the defensive signals. He was voted team MVP by his peers.
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.