Could the Packers Use the Franchise or Transition Tag This Offseason?

The Green Bay Packers head into the 2021 offseason roughly $20 million over the projected salary cap. The Packers have several starters and key players who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents and they may want to try to keep some of them.

One way to do this is to use the franchise tag or transition tag on these players. That means that they will return to the Packers in 2021 on a one-year deal at a specific salary that is determined by the average of the top salaried players at that specific position.

Keeping a player for another year could also buy the Packers some time. With new television and media deals considered a real possibility in the coming year, the salary cap could be increased significantly in 2022 offsetting some of the losses from the pandemic. That would give GM Brian Gutekunst more flexibility to sign players next year to keep the team from losing them in free agency.

The Packers have not used the franchise tag on a player since 2010 when they placed the tag on defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. Pickett never played under the tag because he signed a multi-year extension before the season got under way. He played for the Packers through the end of 2014.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using the franchise or transition tag on a player. It does keep the player in Green Bay for one more season assuming they sign the tender. That also gives management up to one more year to try to reach a long term agreement with the player they tagged.

However, players are often upset about being tagged. It means they lose one year of potential free agency and they play the upcoming season without any long-term deal in place. If they suffer a serious injury, they could lose a lot of money if teams shy away from signing them because their health status is up in the air.

The Packers have two players who would be logical candidates to use the tag on if they can afford it. They are center Corey Linsley and running back Aaron Jones.

Linsley enjoyed his finest season in 2020, earning All Pro honors for the first time in his career. He has been with the Packers since they selected him in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Linsley won the starting center spot in his rookie season and has held it ever since.

The Packers offensive line graded out as one of the best in the NFL in 2020 and Linsley was a major reason for it. He calls the offensive signals for the linemen and was a consistent performer as a run blocker and in pass protection. He was not called for a penalty last season.

Green Bay may not have Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari available at the start of the 2021 season as he recovers from a serious knee injury. After the offensive line performed so well last season and protecting Aaron Rodgers in the pocket is a major key to the Packers offensive success. Keeping Linsley would provide the offensive line with continuity and leadership.

The cost of using the franchise or transition tag for Linsley would not be cheap. Estimates for offensive linemen receiving the franchise designation are between $13 million and $14 million.

Linsley will turn 30 in July and the Packers have been reluctant to sign linemen approaching that age to a new, long-term contract. They have allowed quality interior linemen like T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton to sign elsewhere even though they were still playing at a high level. The fact is most offensive linemen see their bodies start to break down once they are on the wrong side of 30.

Using the franchise tag or transition tag on Linsley would keep him around for one more year and give the Packers an opportunity to sign him to a long-term deal if they want to do explore that option.

The other major candidate for either the franchise tag or the transition tag would be running back Aaron Jones. Jones has put together back-to-back thousand yard rushing seasons and has become a weapon as a receiver as well. Jones has caught 96 passes over the last two seasons combined for 829 yards and five touchdowns.

With both Jones and backup Jamaal Williams scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, the Packers could be facing a major turnover in their backfield personnel. Jones’ speed and his ability to gain yards after the catch make him a great fit in Matt LaFleur’s offensive system.

Jones is also just 26 and is still in his prime. Keeping the former UTEP star for another year and teaming him with A.J. Dillon would give the Packers a strong one-two punch at running back and give the Pack a chance to sign Jones to a new deal if both sides are willing to explore that possibility.

Again, the cost is an issue. Running backs on the franchise tag are estimated to receive between $8 million and $10 million. Most NFL teams are not placing an emphasis on running backs so the Packers may not be looking to spend that kind of money at the position when help is also needed elsewhere.

There is no doubt Jones is a great fit in the Packers offense, but if Dillon is ready to be the primary back, the Pack could draft a complimentary back this year or sign a lower priced free agent and spend the difference on a player like J.J. Watt or at another area of need like cornerback.

It is unlikely the Packers will use the franchise tag this season, but the possibility remains. It is often a way to buy time to sign a player a team doesn’t want to lose in free agency and with the cap situation likely to improve in 2022, this may be an option Gutekunst and company want to consider.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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3 points

Comments (42)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
splitpea1's picture

February 18, 2021 at 12:23 pm

Wow--the franchise tag on Linsley is expensive! Considering we have plenty of versatility on the interior, I don't think we want to do this.

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GilMartin's picture

February 18, 2021 at 12:36 pm

I agree it's unlikely. With Linsley, the logic would be that they could keep continuity there and not have to sign an older player to a long-term deal. The cost is high and that makes it unlikely. Thanks for the comment, splitpea1.

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Swisch's picture

February 18, 2021 at 05:53 pm

Offensive linemen have high budgets for food.

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Irish_Cheesehead's picture

February 18, 2021 at 12:28 pm

Linsley was actually forced into the starting lineup opening night his rookie season because of injuries. He played well vs Seattle and has been a stud ever since. Would love to see him remain with the Packers any way possible.

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GilMartin's picture

February 18, 2021 at 12:37 pm

I would also love to see Linsley stick. The strong play of the offensive line despite a rash of injuries is overlooked by many when discussing the success of the offense this season. The franchise or transition tags are expensive, but I'd love to find a way to keep our starting center for at least one more year. Thanks for the comment, Irish_Cheesehead.

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Swisch's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:23 pm

Although the consolation of your story is the precedent of an outstanding offensive lineman being found in the fifth round of the draft and ready to contribute significantly right away.

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Coldworld's picture

February 18, 2021 at 12:29 pm

This year in particular is adverse to the use of this tag unless it’s done with a trade lined up. It just stuffs an entire inflated salary into the year we are still 20 million over the cap floor.

I doubt very much that we use the franchise tag to retain anyone this year. Next year might be interesting though, if tag prices decline.

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GilMartin's picture

February 18, 2021 at 12:39 pm

I don't think we use the tag either, Coldworld, but it would be a way to keep either of those players for one more year. I expect the cap will go up in 2022 because the league is expected to sign new TV and streaming deals that would bring in a lot more income and fans will return to the stands next season (hopefully). Thanks for the comment, Coldworld, always good to hear from you.

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Leatherhead's picture

February 18, 2021 at 12:46 pm

You cannot buy what you can’t afford. Don’t they teach that in school anymore?

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GilMartin's picture

February 18, 2021 at 12:50 pm

Sadly, I don't think they do teach it anymore, but that's another issue. If anything, using the tag would keep a player in Green Bay long enough to sign them to a long-term deal with a lower cap hit. I agree with you, they can't afford to sign either player under the tag right now, but they could tag them and then sign to a deal with a lower cap hit which prevents them from leaving in free agency. It's unlikely but possible. Thanks for commenting, Leatherhead and I like the new avatar.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:04 pm

Leatherhead the average credit card debt is $6,194. What people are being taught is how to push out debts into the future. The same thing the Packers will probably do.

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Swisch's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:25 pm

Let's hope the interest rates are much lower in the NFL than the crippling ones for credit cards.

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Leatherhead's picture

February 18, 2021 at 11:45 pm

Future debt has to be paid.

Other than my house and some cars, I haven’t serviced any debt in over 20 years. The borrower is slave to the lender.

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Swisch's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:26 pm

I think it's worth the money to pay Jones or Linsley under the franchise tag, because it only commits the Packers for one year.
Ideally, we would sign these guys to one or two year contracts at a time anyway -- or at least a team opt-out on further seasons.
Both players are getting older for their positions, and both come with concerns about injury.
With the Packers as Super Bowl contenders for this upcoming season, there is a lot to be said for going for one of these two guys with the franchise tag.
It would take advantage of our dwindling number of years with a superstar quarterback in Aaron Rodgers, and give our draft picks and other young players an extra year to mature.
Problem is if the player doesn't want the franchise tag -- and it would seem likely that Jones and Linsley would be resentful, and understandably so.
It's worth an enthusiastic try, though, as far as talking with these guys. Same with J. J. Watt. Express real interest in each of them and see if something can be worked out. The opportunity to play on a top team in the Packers may be a strong point in attracting them.
***
In free agency, I'm intrigued by Patrick Peterson, who has been consistently great and consistently durable during his career. What a defensive backfield we would have with him and Alexander and Amos and Savage!
Another discussion to have is about mid-level guys at cornerback and defensive tackle in free agency who may be good and realistic options, If the draft class is weak at defensive tackle, then we may want to go get a free agent at that position for at least a year or two. Maybe we can afford two players under the radar who are at least solid contributors -- a veteran with a venerable presence, perhaps, and a younger guy who may be ready to break through to a higher level of performance.
Overall, it's tough to make choices on a budget such as the salary cap. However, the Packers have a lot to offer as far as winning, and we needn't be too desperate to sign any given player.
It should be fascinating to see how the front office handles the roster for next season -- providing some interesting discussions for us as fans.

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GilMartin's picture

February 18, 2021 at 01:16 pm

Thanks for the comment, Swisch. The idea of using the tag on either Jones or Linsley is a way of going "all in" to try to win while Rodgers still has his window as you mentioned. It may make signing Patrick Peterson or any other potential free agents more difficult, of course, but as you said, these are tough decisions to make. That's why Gute gets the big bucks, I guess.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

February 18, 2021 at 11:59 pm

Perhaps, but it's the wrong way.

Going all-in would be signing Linsley for $1.075M for 2021 (not a nickel more!) and then giving him a guaranteed $21M option bonus in 2022. He'd have cap hits of $1.075M, $8.1M, $17.4M ($14M dead) or so in 2023 and 2024.

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Leatherhead's picture

February 19, 2021 at 11:18 am

Linsley is going to make a lot more than $1 million, and he’d be a fool to think he shouldn’t take a front loaded deal.

I know you hate this idea, but we’re transitioning from Rodgers. We want to make certain we can put a strong offense on the field during the transition. If we draft a starting RT, 4/5 of the post-Rodgers line will in place, maybe all of it.

In 2022, we should be looking at Bakhtiari and this year’s second round pick at tackles, Jenkins at center, Patrick and Turner at guards. That’s blocking regardless of who is in the backfield.

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canadapacker's picture

February 18, 2021 at 01:50 pm

The problem with tagging either of these guys is - who are you going to cut /and or renegotiate to get below the cap. Bak is already done. I think that with Jones agent the great Drew R - he will want his money - and running backs need to get paid - there are only so many Adrian P, and Frank Gores with a long track record - and look what happened to Barkley this season and Freeman signs a big deal and blew his knee and groin and was never the same starting his next season. Linsley - the Oline tag is just way too much. We have a capable center in Jenkins and maybe some other sort of line shuffling if we dont want to play him there. As I have said before this draft needs to be focused on getting some fast linebackers and D back that can hit - if P Peterson comes in for reasonable deal - he would definitely work as he has slowed a bit but has a lot of smarts. And we might need to pick up a running back in the middle rounds to fill our void. I can believe the number of genius's mock draft guys who have us taking a reciever at 29 - but I think that if these guys are correct and there are 6 QBs picked above us we will definitely have some talent coming our way. Edge rushers and Dline please.

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GilMartin's picture

February 18, 2021 at 02:47 pm

No question money is tight and Russ Ball and Gute will have some juggling to do whether they tag either of these players or sign a free agent like Peterson. I agree, Jones is going to want to get paid because he may not have another chance. Should be a very interesting offseason. Thanks for commenting, canadapacker.

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Swisch's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:17 pm

I don't know how creative the Packers can be in finding dollars for salary, but it does seem as though both Jones and Linsley are longshots to be signed in any way.
It's sad to say, but the way these guys do get injured makes it hard to make many long-term deals. Another case in point is Christian McCaffrey.
Then there are players like Peterson in decline, with him coming off a down year or two after so many seasons of excellence -- and while he may come down in salary somewhat, the risk may still be too high for the price.
So maybe the best route is the draft and perhaps one or two middling but meaningful free agents -- and it seems defensive tackle and cornerback are the two most urgent needs.
That could be the fun of it for amateur GMs, and the challenge for real ones -- finding that overlooked younger guy with unappreciated potential, or the affordable aging vet who has more to give than expected.

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Leatherhead's picture

February 19, 2021 at 12:46 pm

, There are so many teams with so much more money than us that we’re not going to be signing outside FAs like Watt or Peterson. We’re not going to be able to sign our own FAs. In fact, right now we’re in a situation where we might have to cut starters to get under the cap.

Any improvements we are going to make in the roster will be made in the draft.

Obviously a starter at CB. An OT, a DL. That’s what we’ll try to get in the top 100. We won’t be getting a WR, QB, OLB, or ILB on the first two days Day 3 will probably include a RB.

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Swisch's picture

February 19, 2021 at 01:42 pm

Your case makes a lot of sense to me, Leatherhead:
The top three picks at CB, OL, and DL who are ready to contribute significantly right away.
Then hoping in the latter rounds to find sleepers who are keepers, including a fast and shifty running back to complement Dillon.

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splitpea1's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:35 pm

Not enough money for all of this, but maybe a CB. I'm hoping we can draft players that are a little more ready to contribute this time instead of high-ceiling types that have to be brought along ever so slowly, and most importantly, get them in there! For the most part right now, I'm for building with youth and the players we have instead of quick fixes (unless it's an affordable, limited-downside opportunity). We don't have a bad defense; we just need to fix a couple of holes with quality young players.

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Swisch's picture

February 18, 2021 at 05:41 pm

I'm more and more convinced that the Packers have to draft guys in the early rounds who are ready to play significant snaps right away, and to start in their second season.
Otherwise, by the time these guys develop into important roles with the team, they're ready to move on as free agents.
Now maybe you take some guys who are more or less projects in later rounds -- but even then we have Jones as an example of a 5th-rounder who really came through in the second part of his four-year rookie contract -- and now has become unaffordable.
If MVS becomes a star next season, we'd have to figure out how to pay him and Davante.
These GMs do really have their hands full juggling all of the considerations that go into making up a roster under the cap.

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NitschkeFan's picture

February 18, 2021 at 01:30 pm

Thanks for the article and the numbers Gil. In a normal cap year I think it would make sense to keep an aging player for one more "prime" season. But this year it seems very unlikely. Too bad as I know we all would like to see both players remain Packers.

Too bad the NFL doesn't have a mechanism for teams to retain some of their own players (ie players they draft and develop). Some exemption as a reward for being good at drafting (and developing) rather than poaching other teams players. A variation on the NBA's "Bird rights".

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GilMartin's picture

February 18, 2021 at 02:49 pm

Thanks for the kind words NitschkeFan. I would love to see some "Bird Rule" type thing in the NFL but it's not there and won't be this offseason for sure. I agree, most fans want to see one or both of these guys stay, but I don't think it's going to be all that realistic. Thanks for commenting.

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flackcatcher's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:07 pm

Actually, there are owners who are pushing for something like the NBA does. The problem is the twofold. 1) Agents. Getting the big guns aboard would be tough. 2) Playing Life. An NFL player time in the league is about 5 years max. While we have seen science and better health extend that, for most it's a short career. While the "Bird rights" rules would be for the 10%, what does the league do for the rest. Agents and players will want to be paid too. Still, the league needs to figure out how to stabilize the salary structure, so it does not fall so heavily on the backs of the league's players.

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Swisch's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:54 pm

One way could be to raise the salaries for players on their rookie contracts, and add pay based on incentives such as the amount of snaps with regard to their positions on the field.
The other side would be to limit salaries for the quarterbacks and other high-salary positions.
They'd still make a lot, but maybe $20 million would be the max salary for a quarterback.
I know quarterbacks get the ratings and rake in the team earnings, but they're not much good without their teammates. They may not even stay healthy enough to be on the field.
***
As non-partisan commentary, it seems the common laborer needs to be greater appreciated in America, including the matter of monetary compensation.
As in football, we can still reward talent and tenacity with higher rewards. It doesn't have to anything close to equal; but then again, the pay gaps shouldn't be so obscenely huge.
Ultimately, we all need each other for a healthy society, and a healthy sports league. While there are some merits to following the market, people shouldn't be ruled by impersonal forces -- especially quasi-scientific ones that are fickle as far as predictability. We need the human touch,
So let there be more of a middle-class emphasis in the NFL rather than a great divide; let's have a greater sense of fairness for all players.
Our superstar players -- with their keen sense of social justice ;-) -- should gladly appreciate that charity starts at home, and with your teammates.

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stockholder's picture

February 18, 2021 at 01:31 pm

I see Arron Rodgers reworking his contract. Just For Linsley! Bad back and all. If the tag goes down as expected. Tag him. But - I say they sign him. One way or the other. (Thanks to Rodgers.) Jones is another number. Another reason. Anything is possible. But he's done in GB.

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GilMartin's picture

February 18, 2021 at 02:50 pm

I would love to see the Packers find a way to keep Linsley and, yes, I think A-Rod will rework his deal to help the team this offseason. Going to be interesting, no doubt. Thanks for the comment, stockholder

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Minniman's picture

February 18, 2021 at 02:46 pm

Re the point that there’s a new TV rights deal due the season after next (2022):

To me this is a massive point and one that really frames how the Packers approach this years signings. It was also posted about by the likes of TGR et al here during this season (when the topic came up).

If every team has to get under 180M this coming year and the year after that number becomes (Circa) 203M - and let’s face it here, fans weren’t in the stands but viewership was still high, so the deal isn’t going to be weak - then every team gets a further 23M in cap space in 2022....... FA players are going to get $$$ PAID in 2022 with virtually every team having an extra $23M in spending money.

Soooo, my take is avoid the franchise tag and try and extend and (somewhat) backload contracts for at least some of the players mentioned above.

There’s 2-3 legit years of Rodgers left and he needs proven pieces around him. The packers are in a salary cap bind this coming year and every team is going to have cash in 2022 - this is the time AND circumstance when backloaded contracts make sense for the Packers..... not ‘1 year rental’ franchise tags.

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GilMartin's picture

February 18, 2021 at 02:53 pm

If the players agree to backload, it makes sense. The tag is often used as a way to keep the player in town and give the team more time to work out a long-term deal, so that also remains a possibility even before the coming season starts so they never actually play under the tag. We'll see if the Packers give Rodgers all they can in his final few years of opportunity. Thanks for the comment, minniman.

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Minniman's picture

February 18, 2021 at 05:34 pm

Great point Gil - it takes 2 to tango.

No one can deny that the 2020
Packers were darn close to being legit contenders (I personally do but giving some leeway here)

Scanning the league there are maybe 5 teams that fit that category.

Linsley’s already had a contract extension so could be swayed to chase a ring.

Jones is good, but he’s also in a complimentary scheme. He could walk and be wasted like Bell.

They should call megatron and Rivers and Joe Thomas before walking and ask how retirement feels having toiled on crap teams! The packers are an attractive option

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dobber's picture

February 18, 2021 at 02:59 pm

News is out that the league has raised the cap FLOOR to $180M, which is good news for the cap based on recent doom and gloom reports.

https://www.profootballrumors.com/2021/02/nfl-raises-salary-cap-floor

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flackcatcher's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:16 pm

That was expected. Below that and there would have been a real bloodletting throughout the NFL. Even with next year's Cap bounce, (if it happens) it's going to tough for teams like Green Gay. More like the calm before the storm.

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Guam's picture

February 18, 2021 at 05:29 pm

That is good news! The cap maximum might well be $190 million or more if the minimum is $180 million. The Packers will likely still be over the cap but it will be much more manageable.

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Swisch's picture

February 18, 2021 at 04:09 pm

Sad to say, players like Jones and Linsley may only have one or two years left as top performers.
They're the victims of bad timing unless the league somehow allows for higher salaries this season based on expected earnings in future seasons. Perhaps the next few years could be averaged out.
Of course, if the players want to reap the rewards, they may not want to continue to insult the fans who are the real source of their earnings.
We're not perfect, but we're not a bunch of racist rubes, either.
Attract us to your causes, don't attack us.
Average Americans -- from whence the fans of football come -- are a kind and generous people.

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Doug_In_Sandpoint's picture

February 18, 2021 at 03:14 pm

This year I think you could make the argument that the franchise tag is a player-friendly move. The one year contract with no injury protection is a real bummer, but free-agents signing with any other team this year is likely subject to the lowered salary cap (meaning possibly less funds for the long term contract). By taking the one-year contract at a very high annual income, it puts them back on the market in a higher cap environment the following year.

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Swisch's picture

February 18, 2021 at 05:51 pm

Perhaps the NFL could have some sort of voluntary insurance policy offered to franchise players whereby they'd receive a total of $10 million dollars going forward if they suffered a career-ending injury.
It could be payed out with $1 million right away, and then about $250,000 per year over the next 30 years.
Most of us would jump at that kind of financial security.

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Coldworld's picture

February 18, 2021 at 06:26 pm

They can take that out themselves. Those on a franchise tag can afford it, though I take your point that I’d be asking were I on the union negotiating team.

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Starrbrite's picture

February 19, 2021 at 12:57 am

I say we take Colin Cowherd’s advice and take the kids on a vacation we can’t necessarily afford. Let’s sign Watt and/or Peterson.

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PatrickGB's picture

February 19, 2021 at 09:53 am

Kinda like poker. Going all in has it’s price. We came close but did not have the winning hand. It’s time to fold and wait until the next hand. Draft and develop this year.

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