There's been a lot of talk in a lot of different threads over the last week about what to do with Owen Daniels. My thoughts on it have evolved as the discussion has gone along and (more importantly) as I've really tried to wrap my brain around the various scenarios. It's these scenarios that keep getting lost in the proverbial shuffle as all of the discussions in the comments -- and I'm guilty of this, too, to an extent -- keep boiling down to "tag him" versus "trade him." That's far from covering every possible scenario. Let's review. First, let's review the impact of having a new CBA versus not having one and thus being uncapped in 2010.
- If a new CBA is reached and implemented in time for the 2010 season, it is probably safe to assume that the years required for free agency, both restricted and unrestricted, will remain the same. In that case, Daniels would be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) who could either be signed or tagged as a franchise player or transition player.
- If a new CBA is NOT reached and the year is uncapped, we revert back to the old rule and, based on years of service, Daniels will be a restricted free agent (RFA). In that situation, he could be signed to a new deal, slapped with a franchise or transition tag (teams are going to have one franchise and one transition tag to use in this situation), OR tendered a one-year offer.
Now, what would each of those options entail?
We sign him to a long-term deal.
Pro: Daniels is happy and is no longer a question mark. He is locked up for (probably) 6 years if you want to keep him that long and, since there are not guaranteed contracts, you can always cut ties sooner if you have to.
Con: We have no idea if he's going to comeback as Owen Daniels or Dunta Daniels. Based upon 2009 salaries for TEs, he is probably going to get a deal that will have a cap number around $6M (minimum), which is the most expensive of these options. If he doesn't come back 100% and you have to cut ties too soon, we are probably looking at a sizeable cap hit. If there is no CBA, and thus no cap, you are gambling to a certain extent that a new CBA will not adversely impact contracts signed after the end of 2009 (though that is probably a safe assumption).
We slap a franchise tag on him.
[Author's note: Franchise tags may be either exclusive or non-exclusive. In the former, the team applying the tag is the only team the player may sign with and the tendered offer must be the average of the top 5 salaries for his position calculated as of the close of the 2010 free agency signing period. In the latter, the tender offer is the average of the top five salaries at the player's position calculated based on 2009 salaries and the player is free to negotiate with another team as if he were an UFA. However, it will cost another team TWO first-round picks to sign the player. Thus, in practice, the non-exclusive tag is almost always used.]
Pro: You give Daniels a year at roughly $4.88M (if unexclusive, or likely closer to $5.3M if exclusive) to prove he's worth a longer deal. If he is, you've saved the difference between what a new contract would have paid him in 2010 and what the applied tag paid him. Once the tender is signed, you create a situation like Matt Cassell's wherein you can still pull off a trade if you want to. (More on that in a bit.)
Con: You risk having a Julius Peppers situation where the franchise tender is unsigned until the July deadline, which prevents any other teams from inquiring with the Texans about obtaining Daniels. (Daniels could talk to other teams, assuming it was a non-exclusive franchise tender, but the only talks would be "hey, you wanna give the Texans two first-rounders for me? No? Ok.") You also risk, if Owen really wanted to stick it to the team, that he would not sign until the absolute last minute, the Tuesday after week 10. In terms of being able to trade Daniels, if that is your goal, you create a whole bunch of extra hoops to jump through in the form of multiple negotiations between multiple parties before anything can get done.
We slap a transition tag on him.
[Normally, a team has an either/or choice between f-tag and t-tag. However, in 2010, there will be one of each available to teams. T-tags require a team to tender an offer in the amount of the average of the top 10 salaries at the player's position from 2009 or a 20% raise over his 2009 salary, whichever is greater. A team that t-tags a player retains right of first refusal on any deal the player may negotiate with another team, i.e. if a t-tagged player reaches an agreement with another team, his original team must either match the deal or let him walk.]
Pro: Cheaper than a franchise tag. You are able to see what Daniels is actually worth on the open market and then simply match that number if you agree with it.
Con: If he reaches an agreement with another team that you feel is too costly, you get nothing in return for letting him walk. There's an implication associated with t-tags that the team doesn't feel the player is worth the money of an f-tag, which is never good for morale or your long term chance of signing the player.
Assuming 2010 is uncapped and Daniels a RFA, you use the tender offer rules for RFAs
[For restricted free agents, a team may tender an offer at a predetermined level. The player is free to negotiate with any other teams, but any team signing him to a contract owes specific compensation in the form of draft picks with the rounds for those picks tied to the level of the tender offer. For 2009, the levels and corresponding picks were $1.01M (right of first refusal), higher of $1.01M or 110% of player's 2009 salary (right of first refusal and draft pick from same round where player was originally drafted), higher of $1.545M or 110% of player's 2009 salary (r.f.r. and second-round pick), higher of $2.198M or 110% (r.f.r. and first-round pick), higher of $2.792 or 110% (r.f.r. and first- and third-round picks). In Daniels' case, the options would pretty much be limited to the first or last level as the dollar amounts for each would always be the 110% figure.]
Pro: Cheaper than either tag or a new contract. Establishes a pricetag for any team interested in acquiring him sans negotiation with Houston. If it becomes necessary to f-tag Daniels for the following season, most likely makes that f-tag number lower than it would be with back-to-back f-tags. If he signs the tender, he becomes tradeable just like any of the other scenarios.
Con: Daniels unlikely to be thrilled with getting less money simply because of a loophole in the 2010 rules. Not likely that anyone is going to give up a first- and third-round draft pick for a tight end, especially one coming off an injury. Taking advantage of the change in FA rules seems like the most likely option to make Daniels refuse to sign a long-term deal. He'll probably complain about it on Facebook.
OK...now, assuming we don't sign him to a long-term contract, which of those options makes the most sense (and why)? I think that depends entirely on the ultimate goal the team has vis-a-vis Daniels. Here's what I mean: if the goal is to trade him because you think Dreessen/Casey/one of the seven TEs you take in the next draft can give you the same (or similar) production and you want to use Daniels' value to fill other holes, I think you use the RFA tender rules. This is because (a) it gives you that 1% chance that someone signs him and you get 1/3 picks, which, let's be honest, is WAY more than he (or pretty much any TE) is worth; and (b) if no one takes the offer, you can still shop him while only being on the hook for the least money possible if you can't find a buyer (plus also keeping your f-tag cost for 2011 down).
On the other hand, if you are not interested in moving Daniels because you really think he's top-5 TE material and integral to the future success of this team, I think you tag him with an exclusive franchise tag so that he earns a little more than he would have under the non-exclusive and so he can't sign with any other team. That's a move that says, "look, we are committed to having you as a Texan, but we have to make sure you're healthy. We're giving you as much cash as we can under the circumstances. Show us you're healthy and we'll start working with you on a long-term deal that will pay you exactly what you deserve as soon as we're allowed to."
All of which is to say, while the two options come down to "keep him" or "trade him," I think you have to choose a different path from the jump depending on your option. It makes no sense to me to non-exclusive f-tag him, have him sign, and then shop him.
SIDE NOTE: Because, if you've read this far, I figure you'll read more. In the negotiations for the new CBA, there has been some talk (though not much) of trying to find a way to make it easier for teams to keep their stars instead of losing them to the bigger name teams. I have a solution -- the hometown discount. If they are serious about this, then I propose having any subsequent contract signed by a player with the team who drafted him only count 80% of its value against the team's cap. Thoughts?