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Why Apply the Franchise Tag to David Harris
New York Jets Salary Cap Page

Why Apply the Franchise Tag to David Harris?

Originally I was going to start looking at some of the Jets offseason moves with a look at Braylon Edwards, but due to the breaking news I decided to quickly do something on David Harris. According to multiple sources the New York Jets plan to apply the Franchise tag to Harris in the upcoming weeks. For those of you who do not know what the franchise tag is here are the basics:

1. Application of the tag severely limit's the players ability to negotiate with other teams, essentially stripping the player of his unrestricted status.

2. The contract salary for the Franchise player is the average of the top 5 salary cap amounts from the prior NFL season at his position.

3. The contract of the Franchise player is fully guaranteed for skill, injury, or salary cap termination.

4. The Franchise tag does not mean that a team can not work out a long term contract with the player while he is designated a Franchise player.

Last years contract value for a linebacker was $9.68 million. Based on the great detective work done by Brian McIntyre of Mac's Football Blog, the expected tag in 2011 should be around $10.19 million.

Is that really worth it for the Jets? To get an idea we need to see how the ILB market plays out:

Top ILB/MLB Contracts

Name Years Guarantee Total Value
Patrick Willis 7 29.0 53.5
Bart Scott 6 21.6 48
DeMeco Ryans 6 21.8 48
Brian Urlacher 5 6.0 43.5
Karlos Dansby 5 22.0 42.5
Jonathan Vilma 5 13.5 34
Nick Barnett 5 6.4 32.9

From a per year standpoint a 10.2 million dollar salary represents nearly a 25% increase over the average of the top 5 contracts at the position. It also represents 43% of the average guarantee for the high end contracts. Remember that there is no long term implication of the franchise tag, so if the Jets choose to sign a young talent like Harris to a long term deal in 2012, essentially the team is guaranteeing a player nearly 32 million over the course of the contract rather than the 22 million dollar guarantee the highest end player would receive. I think its safe to conclude that for a young player with a clean history at this position it would not seem to be a wise financial decision to utilize the tag. If cheaper to just be proactive and sign the player.

The other question is just what would be Harris' value? It is not the easiest thing to measure. The primary job of David Harris and others at his position is to make tackles. Sometimes people just blindly look at a number of tackles to value the player, but that is not necessarily fair as it penalizes a player on a good defense that simply does not get as many opportunities. What I am going to try to do is look at Harris compared with some other players in terms of percentage of tackles made for the team. I'll have two categories, one for solo tackles and one for combined tackles. To try to keep things somewhat in perspective we will just look at player who play in 3-4 defensive schemes.

Percentage of Team Tackles

Name % Solo Tackles % Combined Tackles
Patrick Willis 15.13 16.05
Jerod Mayo 12.77 14.76
Ray Lewis 12.66 13.25
Derrick Johnson 11.92 11.50
Paul Posluszny 11.31 11.30
DJ Williams 10.44 11.04
London Fletcher 10.38 11.14
Kevin Burnett 9.79 9.55
Lawrence Timmons 9.64 12.40
Karlos Dansby 9.33 9.47
AJ Hawk 9.05 10.90
David Harris 9.00 10.20

Some of these teams use hybrid schemes more than the Jets do which inflates the totals, but it at least shows somewhat the players value to the scheme itself. This certainly does not mean that Harris is the worst of the group, but it does show that his positional value is nothing outrageous in terms of making plays on the football. It is quite possible that Harris makes a lot more plays near the line whereas someone like Willis is making plays 6 yards down the field.

Now there are certainly other things to look at. There are some players who do factor into pressure packages. There are some who intercept passes. I do think that tackles for loss is an important thing to look at, but I do not have the stats to look at that. If anyone does you can post them or email them to me, but I think when you look at this you have to question whether Harris is deserving of the top of the line price tag on a contract, let along a 1 year deal for over 10 million.

The Jets clearly overpaid for Bart Scott (only 7.7% of solo tackles on the team), but he also has a different role with the team than Harris has. Scott's job is designed to set up tackles and not necessarily make them himself. But as shown with the Darrelle Revis negotiation when attempting to use the Raiders and a contract base, two wrongs do not make a right. Harris is not in the same category as Willis who ended up with a lower yearly total than Dansby and Scott, but will earn a much higher guarantee and likely see much more of the contract than those two players will. You could probably make the case that Harris is about as good as Dansby, but again I believe that will be seen as a bad deal done by a team that had to overpay to get someone in that could bring a different mindset to a team.

Of existing contracts the players that he is going to grade similar to are Jon Vilma, DJ Williams, and Lofa Tatupu. That essentially puts Harris' value between $6 and 6.5 million a season and a guarantee in the $13.5 million range. It is a far cry from Scott money and a far cry from the franchise salary.

So why would the Jets designate Harris a franchise player? I guess there could be a few reasons. The work stoppage is certainly one of them. Harris is probably a guy where it is better to be proactive in getting him to sign a contract, when you still may get a home team discount, than allowing him to test free agency. The normal negotiation window or the Jets would have been now, but with the impending lockout no team is going to sign their own free agents. By the time a new CBA is in effect the league may just jump right into free agency with minimal time to talk exclusively with your own players. By using the tag it more or less keeps those exclusive rights and also sends the message that they want to keep him. It would mean the Jets have no thought of really using the tag as a salary for him next year.

It is also possible that the Jets do not want to make the long term commitment to Harris. Harris is an important part of the team and the head coach has said many times that he wants him here. With the Outside Linebacker position something of a mess now is not the time to also need to fit in another interior linebacker when you know you have a good thing in Harris. It could be that the tag is simply a one year rental for the Jets to say they want to take one more run at it and then start to retool some of the key parts in 2012 rather than 2011. In that case its worth the extra franchise dollars for a one year try and then look for someone better or cheaper in free agency in 2012.

With the landscape of the NFL changing, maybe the Jets also do not want to be the trendsetters with these deals. They already had a bad impact on the linebacker position with the decision to overpay for Scott and Calvin Pace and also signed a bad deal with Bryan Thomas, so maybe they want to sit back and wait. There are a number of “comparables” to Harris that will be a free agent. Derrick Johnson of the Chiefs is a free agent. Kevin Burnett of the Chargers is a free agent. The Steelers Lawrence Timmons will be a free agent in 2012 and could be extended this offseason. AJ Hawk of the Packers is a good possibility to be extended due to his ballooned 2011 salary on the end of his rookie deal. Harris is really much closer to these players than he is to Willis, Ryans, and the other big contracts given to ILB's. Let those teams do the dirty work and then use that as the model for Harris. At worst you get stuck with a bad one year deal rather than overpaying for 6.

It does seem clear that Harris will be a Jet in 2011. The question is will he be a Jet for one season or is he going to be a Jet for many seasons? I have a hard time believing that the Jets have any intention of actually paying him a one year franchise player salary and it the is likely a 75% chance that he does end up on a new contract before the season begins, but it sure seems like there will be many twists and turns along the way before a final decision is made on his long term future with the team.

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