Pete Dougherty analysis: GM Ted Thompson not likely to put franchise tag on QB Matt Flynn

Mar. 3, 2012

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With the franchise-tag deadline drawing near, it’s looking like General Manager Ted Thompson is not going to place the Green Bay Packers’ franchise tag on backup quarterback Matt Flynn.

Thompson’s thinking appears to be that the risk of getting stuck with paying a backup quarterback the franchise tender of $14.4 million isn’t worth the possible reward of trading Flynn for a draft pick higher than the likely third-round compensatory selection he’ll get by letting Flynn leave in free agency.

One high-ranking NFL executive said late last week that he wouldn’t use the tag if he were Thompson unless he had a trade set up in advance, and that after observing Thompson the past several years predicted there’s little chance the Packers’ GM would, either.

The deadline for applying the franchise tag is Monday at 3 p.m. CDT, and there are no indications Thompson and Flynn are anywhere near working out a trade and contract with another team.

“I’d be shocked if he did,” the executive said of Thompson tagging Flynn. “If you don’t have a deal set up, that’s a lot of money for a backup quarterback.”

The NFL has not informed teams what the salary cap will be in 2012 but it’s estimated it won’t be much higher than the $120 million it was last season. The Packers currently have committed $120.7 million to the cap but can carry over about $6 million in unused cap room from last season, so they won’t have to do anything to get under the cap when the league year begins March 13 if things stand as they are.

If they tag Flynn, though, they would have to make room for his $14.4 million tender, at least for a brief time, on March 13. That would require personnel moves, such as releasing players and restructuring contracts, before 3 p.m. March 13.

One factor working against the Packers tagging Flynn is that the team in best position to know him and needing a quarterback appears to be out of the running for now. The Miami Dolphins’ new coach, Joe Philbin, was the Packers’ offensive coordinator for Flynn’s four seasons with the team, and the Dolphins are in the market for a new starter.

However, an NFL source said it’s an open secret in the league that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is planning to revive interest in his team by signing Peyton Manning, who is expected to be released by the Indianapolis Colts before the start of the league year. That precludes the Dolphins from doing a deal for Flynn, at least until Manning has a new team.

There doesn’t seem to be much doubt in NFL circles that some team will want Flynn as its quarterback. But he’s started only two NFL games, which makes it riskier to grade him as a potential franchise quarterback than when Matt Cassel started 15 games for the New England Patriots in 2008 and then was tagged and traded to Kansas City the following offseason.

Teams probably are less inclined to absorb a potential double whammy by paying a big contract and trading a high draft pick for a quarterback with a shorter resume, especially now that the new collective bargaining agreement has made it cheaper to sign high draft picks. Houston did fine trading for Matt Schaub in 2007 after he’d made two starts in three seasons with Atlanta, but fresh in everyone’s mind in the NFL is Arizona busting when it traded for Kevin Kolb last year after he’d started five games in 2010.

“I think somebody would make (Flynn) their starting quarterback, sure,” the front-office executive said. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk (Thompson) is going to get a deal for him. You have to have that set up ahead of time. If he has that set up, great.”

The problem is, without a prearranged trade and contract, the Packers would lose trade leverage as soon as they tagged Flynn. Interested teams would know it would be a financial disaster for the Packers to keep him at a guaranteed salary of $14.4 million, so if only one team showed strong interest, it could offer a seventh-round pick knowing the Packers would have to take it.

The teams most in need of a starting quarterback are Miami, Cleveland, Seattle and Washington. Other teams that might consider adding legitimate competition for the starting job include Denver, Arizona and San Francisco.

Assuming Indianapolis releases Manning and drafts Andrew Luck with the first pick overall, then at least three teams will be able to get their quarterback from the pool of Manning; Robert Griffin III, who’s expected to be the No. 2 pick overall; and Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, who looks like a surefire first-round prospect. At least two other quarterbacks, Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, probably are late first-round or second-round prospects.

The Packers will have to make salary-cap saving moves by March 13 only if they tag Flynn, but they figure to make decisions on two veteran favorites soon regardless: left tackle Chad Clifton and receiver Donald Driver.

Clifton had surgery on his back this offseason and might have played his last game for the Packers. The team could offer him a pay cut for insurance at left tackle — Marshall Newhouse is the presumptive starter going into the offseason, and Derek Sherrod is coming back from breaking both bones in his lower leg last December. But Clifton’s age (35) and injury history suggest he might have trouble making it through another season even as a backup, and the Packers can clear about $5.5 million from their cap by releasing him.

Driver’s return also is in doubt. He’s publicly offered to take a pay cut from the $4.8 million he’s scheduled to make this season, but the Packers have six receivers they like on their roster and have to decide whether keeping Driver, even at a reduced cost, will hinder their progress. Driver turned 37 last month.

The Packers will be looking for dynamic Randall Cobb to take on a larger role in his second season, and their top four receivers, barring a trade, figure to be Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Cobb and James Jones. The Packers also had two receivers on their practice squad who might have promising futures, Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel. The Packers liked both enough to give them substantial raises to the NFL minimum when teams tried to sign them to their 53-man roster late last season. and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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