By Tom E. Curran
Beginning Thursday, NFL franchises believe they can use their franchise tags to keep would-be unrestricted free agents from hitting the open market in 2011.
If you've been paying a sliver of attention, you may be wondering what "open market" exists to be hit.
The collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners expires at 11:59 p.m. on March 3 when the 2010 "league year" ends.
But while the league believes it can start applying franchise tags because their window for using them comes before the CBA expires, the NFLPA says, "Whaaaa . . . ? How can you restrict a player from becoming a free agent in a league year that doesn't exist?"
This is the union's viewpoint on it disseminated last week by my old/new partner Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk.com.
Here's the league's vantage point (our buddy Greg Bedard at The Boston Globe had the first confirmation of tag intentions).
What's the pertinence around here? Logan Mankins. After spending 2010 under a restricted free agent tender, the All-Pro left guard still has no long-term deal. Mankins told Karen Guregian of The Boston Herald at the Pro Bowl he believes he's done in New England.
The Patriots have no intention of allowing Mankins to go anywhere. Absent getting a long-term deal done, sources have told me they intend to use the franchise tag on him.
You're wondering what happens if the players are right and the use of the franchise tag is, for lack of a better word, illegal?
Well, where's Mankins going to sign before a new CBA gets done? Nowhere.
And - according to sources close to the negotiations - there currently is no battle over whether or not franchise tags will exist when the new CBA is hammered out. They should be available.
Here's the scenario. The Patriots apply a tag. The NFLPA takes the league to court and a judge says, "Yeah, can't do that. These guys aren't franchised," there will almost certainly be a window prior to free agency that allows players to be franchised and kept off the market, even if it's a compressed 24-hour window.
I'm told the franchise tag just isn't an important enough issue impacting rank-and-file players for the NFLPA to dig in on.