INDIANAPOLIS – While the possibility still can’t be entirely ruled out, it’s looking more and more like the Green Bay Packers will not use their franchise tag on backup quarterback Matt Flynn and will allow the unrestricted free agent to depart for a starting opportunity elsewhere.
After the Packers and tight end Jermichael Finley agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal on Wednesday night, it gave the team the opportunity to use the franchise tag on Flynn, who figures to draw interest from the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Seattle Seahawks and others.
The franchise-tag window opened on Monday and remains open until March 5, meaning the Packers have nine days to decide whether to use the tag. Trading begins when the new NFL league year kicks off on March 13.
Tagging Flynn would carry a one-year, $14.5 million guaranteed salary, and the Packers would have to clear enough salary-cap space to accommodate that contract. Such a deal also would pay Flynn over $6 million more than the $8 million base salary starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP, is set to make in 2012.
If Flynn signed the tender and the Packers were unable to trade him, Rodgers would likely go to the team and ask for his contract to be reworked immediately.
Under contract through the 2014 season, Rodgers is expected to get a new deal before his current contract expires. But with wide receiver Greg Jennings, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive lineman B.J. Raji all set to become free agents before the quarterback, it’s believed that the Packers plan to get those players’ new deals done before working on Rodgers’ contract.
In addition, tagging Flynn would violate the spirit of the franchise tag. Tagging a player with the sole intention of trading him, while not technically against league rules, is frowned upon.
“(The Packers) don’t do business that way,” one NFL source said at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Then there’s issue of how a trade would come together. Two league sources said they believed the Packers could get a second-round pick for Flynn, even with the uncertainty surrounding four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning. With the Indianapolis Colts expected to release Manning, a number of teams thought to be interested in Flynn would likely pursue Manning first.
If he isn’t tagged and signs elsewhere, the best the Packers could hope for would be a 2013 compensatory pick. If Flynn signed a substantial deal and then played well for his new team, the highest compensatory pick possible would be at the end of the third round.
While against the NFL’s tampering rules, the Packers could reach a handshake agreement before the new league year. Such conversations are commonplace between teams and free agents – which is why some players sign with new teams the moment free agency opens. But given how much of a stickler Thompson is, that kind of wink-and-nod arrangement is unlikely to happen.
“(Thompson) doesn’t bend the rules,” one NFL team executive said.
That’s not to say that Thompson hasn’t used the franchise tag on a player he subsequently traded. In 2000, when he was the Seattle Seahawks vice president of football operations under coach/GM Mike Holmgren, Thompson engineered the trade that sent franchise-tagged wide receiver Joey Galloway to the Dallas Cowboys for first-round picks in 2000 and 2001. And in 2008 as Packers GM, he placed the franchise tag on defensive tackle Corey Williams, whom he then traded to the Cleveland Browns.
During his media availability at the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine, Thompson steadfastly refused to say what he plans to do with Flynn, replying to one questioner: “I don’t talk specific about any of our guys that may or may not be free agents, and I certainly wouldn’t speculate on what our plans would be.”
But in the Lucas Oil Stadium hallway after his podium session, Thompson acknowledged that the tag can be a tool used in several ways.
“I think it’s part of the collective bargaining agreement. It’s part of the strategies you use in building your team,” Thompson replied when asked how he views the tag. “There’s a lot of uncertainty this time of year. That (tag) can give you a little more certainty. It’s something that if you use it, you use it. But, I think every team and every situation with every team is a little different.”
Asked if Williams was an example of a player who was more valuable as a trade commodity than as a player to keep on the roster, Thompson replied: “It was just the way it worked out in that particular situation. In Seattle, we had a franchise guy (Galloway) that we wound up trading. But I think if you tender someone, it’s a tender. It’s not, ‘Let’s trade you.’”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.