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Sports Column: Franchise tag penalizes fans

Few things are as captivating as pure sport. Walk-off home runs, last-second touchdowns and overtime buzzer beaters provide endless fodder for fans and media alike. Nothing satisfies the armchair quarterback's soul like the retelling of yesteryear's gridiron glories.

And nothing is so gut-wrenching as when sport loses its innocence.

Barry Bonds allegedly used steroids to break one of the most hallowed records in baseball. O.J. Simpson was not convicted of murder, but his trial led to lasting racial division.

But often, legal and moral troubles are not required for disillusionment. Sometimes, all you need is stupidity, shortsightedness and/or greed. This is the case with the NFL's franchise tag rule.

The franchise tag dates back to the 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreement, when executives and the NFL Players Association agreed to allow free agency under a bizarre circumstance: a team could restrict an otherwise-free agent from signing with another squad by designating him as a "franchise player."

Here comes the (highly exaggerated) legalese.

Henceforth removing any reference to the ignoble "art" of graffiti, a player is hereby deemed subject to tagification (trust me, it's in President Bush's dictionary) fewer than three separable scenarios.

Firstly, an "exclusive" tag allows a large man in a three-piece suit to require the services of a large man in tights for one year. The aforementioned aristocrat must furnish Tightman with payment amounting 20 percent more than his previous terms of agreement, or the current mean salary of the five highest-paid men in tights that play the same position, whichever provision is least cost-effective. No other aristocrat is permitted to have tea with He Who Has Been Tagged.

Secondly, tagification of the "non-exclusive" variety denotes a similar procedure with several modifications. Whereas "exclusive" Taggéd Ones receive compensation amounting to the average pay that the Tight-tastic Five will receive during the ensuing season, the "non-exclusive" format allows the aristocrat to furnish pay equal to that which the quintet earned during the previous season.

Any of the other walking pocketbooks may carouse with He Who Has Been (non-exclusively) Tagged, but the first aristocrat retains the option to duplicate any offer established. Should another pocketbook successfully court the Taggéd One, he must surrender two successive first-round draft picks to the lord from whom Tightman was acquired.

Yet a third option remains. "Transition" tagification may supplant the above procedures. The transitionally tagged tight-wearer must remain an ally of the original aristocrat if he matches an offer of a wooing party. Compensation is valued at a 20 percent increase or the mean remuneration of the 10 most economically esteemed men in tights at that position.

Ten players have been tagged for next season. Astonishingly (or not), five did not make the Pro Bowl.

Is this what the NFL has come to? Holding on to a grown man like a gold-plated teddy bear? Mind numbing. This ain't no fantasy league, ladies and gentlemen. You can't treat people like timeshares.

Sure, the players are making out - and I don't mean the PG-13 way. They get huge paychecks that often outweigh their on-field impact. The point is this undermines the time-tested practice of business negotiations. If you can't convince a player to stay, don't make him. Find someone better instead.

Did I mention none of this will matter in 10 days when there is no collective bargaining agreement?

- Michael Stainbrook is a sophomore studying journalism and a staff writer for The Post. Send him an e-mail at or follow @ThePostSports.

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