From all appearances, Packers center Scott Wells wants to reach free agency and let the open market determine his value.
All things being equal, he’d probably be happy to return to the Packers, but Wells and his agent, Brian Parker, are not going to be lowballed by any offers.
Before Wells gets away willy nilly in free agency, however, general manager Ted Thompson has one option available to him that might persuade Wells to lower his demands: the transition tag.
So why would the Packers consider placing the transition tag on Wells? Let’s take a look…
The franchise tag pays players an average of the top five players at their position over the average of the past five years. The NFL does not break up offensive linemen by position such as tackle, guard and center. Therefore, the franchise tag number for offensive linemen is quite high when taking into account the big contracts paid to left tackles.
The franchise tag figure for offensive linemen in 2012 is projected to be in the neighborhood of $9.4 million, which is quite high and rather unreasonable for a center.
According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the NFL’s highest-paid centers are Carolina’s Ryan Kalil at $8.2 million, followed by the Jets’ Nick Mangold at $7.7 million and St. Louis’ Jason Brown at $7.5 million.
The transition tag, meanwhile, pays players an average of the top 10 players at their position over an average of the past five years. That figure for offensive linemen is estimated to be around $8.4 million, a more reasonable amount though still quite high for a center.
The risk of offering Wells the transition tag tender is that he just might sign it, and the Packers would automatically be on the hook for the $8.4 million. That, in turn, could limit their ability to sign their other free agents like Jarrett Bush, Ryan Grant and any others they might consider re-signing.
But would it really be all that bad of a scenario if Wells accepted the transition tag for one year? It would make him the highest paid center in the entire league (again, for one year), but to be fair, he has played like one of the best centers in the league the past three seasons.
If such a scenario were to happen, the Packers and Wells would be in the same boat a year from now, with Wells a free agent once again in 2013. The plus side is that one year’s time could allow the Packers to possibly develop a rookie with the hopes that he could replace Wells down the road.
There’s also the possibility that the threat of the transition tag could prompt Wells to lower his asking price and settle on a more reasonable long-term contract.
After all, there’s risk involved in Wells playing under a one-year deal at 31 years old. What if he doesn’t play as well in 2012 as he did the past couple seasons? Or what if he gets injured?
This year might be the only opportunity for Wells to cash in on a big contract, but it’s possible the Packers would consider playing this one card they’ve been hiding up their sleeve in a last-ditch effort to sign him to a manageable contract extension.
Of course, Wells doesn’t have to immediately sign his tender either. He’s allowed to sign with another team, but under the rules of the transition tag, the Packers have one week to match any offer he might get.
If the Packers find the contract he signs to be affordable, they could choose to match it.
On the other hand, if it is more than they are willing to pay, the Packer would have to watch Wells walk away. But is that really any different than letting him go to free agency as an unrestricted free agent? At least with the transition tag, the Packers have the right to match any offer he receives.
Like placing the franchise tag on Matt Flynn, this idea might not come to fruition, but it’s not out of the question either.
And it’s worth mentioning that the Packers can either place the franchise tag on Flynn or the transition tag on Wells, but not both.
The deadline to place either the franchise or transition tag on any player is Monday Mar. 5.