Tag … Matt Prater’s It

Matt Prater

Matt Prater: the first Broncos franchise player in a dozen years. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / MAXDENVER.COM)

DENVER – Three things to know about the Broncos’ decision to place the franchise tag on kicker Matt Prater:

1. If it seems unfamiliar, there’s a reason …

… and it’s that the Broncos haven’t used the franchise tag on a player in 10 years.

An impasse with kicker Jason Elam left the Broncos with no choice but to use the franchise tag on the then-10-year veteran in order to keep him from hitting the market. While there were hard feelings over the decision, they didn’t prevent the two parties from successfully negotiating a five-year contract in 2003.

Kickers and punters are historically the cheapest players on which to place the franchise tag. Compare that to John Fox’s previous stop, where the Panthers showed no hesitation about franchising left tackle Jordan Gross and defensive end Julius Peppers in consecutive years (2008-09). Gross’s franchise number was $7.45 million; Peppers’s was approximately $18 million.

By comparison, Elam’s franchise tag in 2002 was just $1.24 million and Prater’s is approximately $2.6 million.

2. Value.

Using the franchise-player tag on Matt Prater means that if nothing else, the Broncos will pay him his likely market value had he become a free agent.

A kicker of Prater’s accomplishments, leg strength and experience could reasonably expect to earn between $2.4 and $3 million had he hit the open market. The franchise-player cost for kickers represents reasonable value while the Broncos and Prater attempt to negotiate a long-term deal in the next 12 months, and the alternatives to Prater on the open market are not comparable, especially since Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent, Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee and Tampa Bay’s Connor Barth were among other kickers to receive the franchise tag — and none possess Prater’s leg strength, anyway.

The other franchise-player possibility was defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, which would have meant giving him a one-year salary of around $7.9 million. Although Bunkley flourished as a run-stuffer in 2011, he didn’t record a sack; for a player with that statistical line, $7.9 million a year is too much and the Broncos can likely replicate that production for less money if they lose Bunkley in free agency.

3. Expect it again in the future.

Not for Prater specifically, but for the Broncos as a whole. The franchise tag costs for most positions have dropped this year as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement.

No longer is the franchise-player value calculated by averaging the top five salaries at the position; now the complicated formula involves multiple variables that could result in a massive franchise tag for some players, but reasonable values for others. In most cases, the franchise-player value involves averaging the franchise tags at each position for the last five years.

More than half of the league used the franchise tag this year. Just two years ago, only five teams designated franchise players.

Unless a Bronco has a massive cap figure in the last year of his contract, don’t expect the team to go 10 years before using the franchise tag again.

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About Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason has covered the NFL since 1999, when he worked as an editor on NFL.com when the site was managed by ESPN.com. He worked six seasons (2002-07) covering the Broncos on their official website and two (2008-09) on the Panthers' site. He began MaxDenver.com in 2010 and now contributes to CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and The New York Times.
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