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The Most Expensive Game of Tag: Jets’ John Abraham, You’re “It”

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This Tuesday the New York Jets slapped the franchise tag on star defensive end John Abraham. This is the second year in a row that the Jets have used their franchise tag on Abraham as a way to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Teams have until February 23 to announce their franchise and transition players. Abraham is the first to be franchised for the 2006 season, but more will come in the next two days. According to, Abraham is upset at twice being franchised without the offer of a long term deal. This decision came even after Abraham participated in all 16 games this season and registered a total of 10.5 sacks.

While its not entirely shocking news that the Jets franchised Abraham, it speaks volumes on how the Jets plan on dealing with their astronomical cap figure. The Jets are reportedly 26 million over the salary cap for the coming year and will have to vehemently restructure in order to get under for the coming season.

The Jets have already started to make cuts by restructuring aging running back Curtis Martin’s deal. They have also cut star cornerback Ty Law, injured quarterback Jay Fiedler, fullback Jerald Sowell, and offensive lineman Jason Fabini. In recent news the Jets also approached oft-injury plagued quarterback Chad Pennington to reduce his contract in an attempt to ameliorate some of his cap-eating $15 million total for the upcoming season.

So what does the off-season hold for Abraham? With his franchise value of $8.33 million (an average of the top five player’s salaries at the position) for the 2006 season Abraham could become yet another cap casualty for the Jets. He could also become another in a long line of franchised players who eventually get traded in order to keep them from escaping into the comfortable confines of unrestricted free agency.

This would guarantee that the team would gain something in compensation for the franchised player. But the franchise tag might be used sparingly this season. With the uncertainty of the new collective bargaining agreement and the possibility of an uncapped year in 2007 teams are less likely to base salaries on the top five elite contracts for a position. This is likely to produce very few franchise tags and even less transition tags by the February 23 deadline.

Those who do get tagged — like John Abraham — have to look cautiously at the intentions of their general mangers, since there is no guarantee that the tag will lead to a contract. For now, players will have to sit on and watch as they get traded or kept from free agency. Or who knows, they might try holding out. Thus is the life and career of players who get tagged.

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