The New York Giants' decision to use their franchise tag on Jason Pierre-Paul probably won't sit well with either him or his agent. Pierre-Paul didn't want it. And if he doesn't end up with a long-term contract, he surely won't be happy.
The decision also tied up a dangerous amount of cap space into one position on the Giants' roster. They currently have $44 million (26 percent) tied up in three-fourths of their defensive line, with the fourth member (Johnathan Hankins) looking to cash in for himself when free agency starts.
Those are two big reasons that suggest their decision to slap the franchise tag on Pierre-Paul looks a bad one.
But it wasn't.
In fact, the Giants really had no other choice.
First, they are hoping to use this tag the way they have in the past under GM Jerry Reese: as a placeholder to buy time for the two sides to negotiate a long-term deal. That's what happened when they used it on running back Brandon Jacobs in 2009 and on punter Steve Weatherford in 2012, and it probably would've happened for Pierre-Paul in 2015 if he hadn't blown part of his hand off in a fireworks accident four months after being tagged.
The Giants want to sign him to a long-term deal by March 9, the day the free-agent signing period opens. Pierre-Paul wants to sign a long-term deal too. While a source said the sides aren't particularly close, there is hope in both camps that the March 9 deadline will spark some movement now that there's real motivation to get it done.
Since a deal hadn't been reached yet, this was the only way to make that happen. The Giants knew that Pierre-Paul was hurting from missing out on the long-term deal that was headed his way in 2015 before his accident, and they knew he was bothered by the one-year deal he had to accept last spring so he could re-prove his worth. They knew he wanted to cash in was willing to test the market to do it.
With the cap expected to rise to $168 million -- more than an 8 percent increase over last year -- plenty of teams were going to be flush with cap space, and more than a few of them would be eyeing Pierre-Paul, possibly the best edge rusher and best defensive lineman on the market (which he probably was even before the Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers and L.A. Chargers used their respective franchise tags on LB Chandler Jones, DT Kawaan Short and LB Melvin Ingram). They knew, as an unrestricted free agent, he really had a shot to equal the five-year, $85 million deal (with $52 million guaranteed) that the Giants gave Olivier Vernon last offseason.
After all, nobody thought Vernon was going to command anywhere near that amount until the Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars opened free agency in a frenzied bidding war. That's what happens in free agency. For the top players on the market, prices always find a way to keep going up.
As expensive as this move was -- the franchise tag eats up nearly half of the cap space the Giants are expected to have when the signing period opens -- it was necessary if the Giants wanted to keep their defense together. And they did.
They believe they have assembled a championship-caliber defense (at great cost) and that the 1-2 pass rushing punch up front of Pierre-Paul and Vernon was a significant part of that. That duo played a huge role for the defense that gave up the second fewest points in the regular season last year. They wanted to make sure the entire unit stayed together, if possible, for what they believe is a 3-4-year championship window that will take them to the likely end of quarterback Eli Manning's career.
Had Pierre-Paul hit the open market, the Giants knew he was likely gone, and that they'd have to replace him with a lesser free agent or with the best pass rusher available with the 23rd pick in the draft. They knew they didn't have anyone on their roster capable of stepping in and becoming anything close to the next Pierre-Paul.
Yes, this move had risks. If a long-term deal isn't done in the next 10 days, that $17 million tag will loom heavy on the books when free agency starts, limiting the Giants' ability to bring back Hankins or to find help at positions of need -- like tight end and offensive line.
But at least they guaranteed they're bringing back one of the best pass rushers on the open market.