For the second year in a row, the Washington Redskins face an important decision with regards to their ability to place the franchise tag on one of their unrestricted free agents.
Last year, Washington used the tag on tight end Fred Davis who, despite a suspension at the end of the 2011 season, showed the front office enough improvement to warrant the extension. Unfortunately, Davis was underwhelming in 2012 before an Achilles injury ended his year after just seven games.
To add insult to Davis' injury, Logan Paulsen stepped in and performed at a respectable level in his stead. With Paulsen still a viable option for the upcoming season, should the cap-strapped burgundy and gold take a chance with the 27-year-old Davis? Should they even use the franchise tag at all? There are no easy answers.
As it stands, the Redskins have 14 unrestricted free agents on the roster. Lorenzo Alexander, Kory Lichtensteiger, Kedric Golston, Rob Jackson, Cedric Griffin, and Davis are the players in that group who have a realistic shot at the franchise tag or a contract extension. Of those six, either Davis or Jackson are logical choices for a franchise tag, but Jackson's situation is entirely reliant upon Brian Orakpo's recovery from his injury.
So if the Redskins were to use the tag, it stands to reason that Davis would be the choice. He's an injury risk, but he's still young and has an undeniable amount of talent. The connection between Davis and Robert Griffin III could be the next great quarterback/tight end hookup, and another full year of seeing Davis healthy could go a long way towards deciding whether or not to sign him to a long-term extension.
But there is a very large problem standing in the way of the front office. Due to a penalty leveled by the NFL last offseason, the Redskins' salary cap will be around $103 million, some $18 million less than the expected cap for the teams who haven't been penalized.
That means some serious contract restructuring is in order for several players, as well as some untimely roster cuts, due to the fact that the Redskins are already about $4 million over next year's projected cap figure. Those adjustments are made more complicated by the prospective tagging of Davis—and that's what makes the Redskins' decision so tough.
Davis' tag will cost the Redskins around $6.5 million for 2013. That's a very significant chunk of that limited salary cap, and is cause for concern for the front office.
Despite all of this number-crunching, it would be silly for the Redskins to let Davis test the free agent market. He's too talented to simply let go, and he could be a critical part of RGIII's continued development. Logan Paulsen is a good backup, but he can't come close to Davis' combination of size and athleticism. It will be tough and some moves will have to be made, but the Redskins should be able to come up with the money to tag Davis.
Davis himself might not like the idea of sticking around in D.C. on a one-year deal for the second season in a row, but it would probably be a boon for his future. If he hit the market now, he'd get lower offers than previously thought due to the fact that he'll be labeled an injury risk. If he performs well in 2013, the Redskins will reward him with a hefty extension that he'll have earned through solid play and hard work.
There are no easy answers for the Redskins due to their cap situation. But if Washington wants to continue to take steps in the right direction, franchising Davis is important. RGIII's passing numbers in the second half of 2012 were less impressive than the first half, which may indicate the necessity of having Davis on the field. If Davis is still suiting up for the Redskins next year, it will be fun to watch their connection develop.