ProFootballTalk.com recently put out a list of the players on every team who might be candidates for the franchise tag this offseason. For the Raiders, three names were listed, left tackle Jared Veldheer, defensive end Lamarr Houston and defensive tackle Pat Sims.
I am going to knock one name off of the list right away in Sims. While the massive defensive tackle played very well for the Raiders, especially late in the season, the idea of paying him even one year’s salary that is worth top five money is just nonsense. While it would be great for the Raiders to have him back, it would be unwise to pay him such a large sum, especially when there are two other candidates for the tag who make much more sense.
Paying Veldheer that kind of money makes sense considering he is so young, is already playing at a very high level and plays at one of the most important positions in the NFL. Coming off of his rookie contract, Veldheer deserves a big payday and the Raiders have the opportunity to lock him up long-term. Because of this, they should NOT use the tag on him. He is a key piece in the rebuild and the Raiders need to show free agents that pieces like this will receive the franchise’s backing.
Lamarr Houston represents a completely different situation. Houston has proven himself to be a valuable player who excels on run defense and would be a nice piece in the rebuild. However, he is not an elite player and does not deserve a top end contract. The top defensive ends are the ones who can get to the passer. While Houston isn’t exactly a non-factor in the pass rush, he is by no means dominant in that area. His highest sack total came this past season with six sacks on the year.
But, while Houston is not deserving of a big-time contract, he will likely get a much bigger contract on the free agent market than he would from the Raiders. Thus, if the team were to let him test free agency, he is pretty much guaranteed to be playing in colors other than the silver and black in 2014.
As such, he may be worth overpaying for one season while the Raiders rebuild. Losing him would hurt because even though he is not a top five defensive end, he is good player who would fit very nicely as the other bookend to a pass rushing defensive end. The Raiders already have a ton of holes they need to address this offseason and by tagging Houston, they would have one less position to worry about while buying themselves some time to find his replacement.
The franchise tag is a tactical weapon in any general manager’s arsenal, but it needs to be used the right way or it can be more of a detriment than a benefit. Using it on a guy like Veldheer, who you hope to sign to a long-term deal eventually, is a waste of that weapon. The Raiders need to suck it up, pay Veldheer and use the tag where it can be more helpful to the team, on Houston.