Armando Salguero

Neither Kenny Stills nor Andre Branch worth franchise tag, but what about transition tag?

Kenny Stills talks about his touchdown in Dolphins victory over the Bills

Kenny Stills, Miami Dolphins WR, had a big catch in the fourth quarter for a touchdown but also didn't win the competition with a Buffalo Bill's defender for a long pass to him in the third quarter.
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Kenny Stills, Miami Dolphins WR, had a big catch in the fourth quarter for a touchdown but also didn't win the competition with a Buffalo Bill's defender for a long pass to him in the third quarter.

Wednesday is the first day NFL teams can designate any of their pending free agents with either franchise or transition tags so let’s get this out of the way quickly: Neither wide receiver Kenny Stills nor defensive end Andre Branch are candidates to get the franchise tag.

No disrespect, but that tag and the mega-money that it carries is typically reserved for players (and some kickers) of a certain orbit. Von Miller was tagged by Denver two years ago while the New York Giants tagged Jason Pierre-Paul, thinking he still had all his fingers. Eric Berry has been tagged. Muhammad Wilkerson has been tagged.

These are typically foundational players. And with that foundation, teams invest a significant chunk of their projected salary cap.

Although the tender figures are not yet available because they are based on a percentage of the cap for a position or 120 percent of a player’s salary (whichever is highest) this is mostly an approximation exercise at this point. But that exercise can help you understand why the Dolphins aren’t likely to use the franchise tag on either of their two most prominent free agents.

The approximate franchise tag number for a defensive end this year is expected to be between $16.7 and nearly $17 million on a one-year basis. So let’s think ... Is Branch worth that?

He had 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and 12 hurries, which was tied for third on the team in 2016. That’s a nice season for a No. 2 or No. 3 defensive end. It is not Von Milleresque.

The Dolphins will not be franchising Andre Branch.

Kenny Stills, the team’s other high-priority unrestricted free agent this offseason comes closer to the mark of being franchise tag worthy. But he’s still not close enough, frankly.

Stills was the most dynamic receiver on the Dolphins in 2016. He caught only 42 passes but his 17.3 yard per catch average and nine receiving touchdowns led the team. He also brought a certain swag to the offense. Good.

But the approximate franchise tag number for a wide receiver this year is going to be anywhere from $15.5 million to $15.8ish million on a one-year basis. Are the Dolphins going to pay Stills anywhere near that number on an annual average in a long term deal?

Nope.

Good player. But he ain’t $15-million-a-year good.

Indeed, I was told a couple of days back the team wants to keep Stills, but Stills “has to want to stay in Miami,” meaning he will have to give some as well. The team is not going to break the bank because it thinks it can find some comparable players in free agency, perhaps even for a lesser price.

And, of course the team would think that. But I think they mean it. The Dolphins realize they eventually have to pay Jarvis Landry. And DeVante Parker. So they can’t get crazy on Stills and start having the most expensive receiver corps in the AFC East in two years. (Would be nice if Leonte Carroo had promised more than he did his rookie year).

The point is no franchise tag for Kenny Stills.

But, again, NFL teams can today also designate transition tags. And while transition tags only guarantee a team the right of first refusal on any deal that player gets elsewhere, it does make sense in some cases.

The Dolphins used the transition tag on defensive end Olivier Vernon last year and tight end Charles Clay the year before. Both skipped town anyway. The Dolphins did fine without Vernon last year, particularly considering the contract he got. Clay, while a burden to the Bills’ salary cap the last two years, would be a solid piece for the Dolphins to have on their roster.

But I digress.

Andre Branch, Miami Dolphins DE, says they failed to stop the Baltimore Ravens in their victory over the Fins on Dec. 4, 2016.

The transition tag numbers are estimates as well at this stage. Albert Breer at MMQB estimated the transition tag for a wide receiver based on a $168.1 million salary cap would be $13.3 million. The estimate for a defensive end would be $14 million.

And, of course, tagging a player with either the franchise or transition tag immediately counts against that team’s 2017 cap in one lump sum.

So, again, is Stills a $13.3 million cap hit guy? He just might get something south of this number if he hits free agency. He is from the west coast and teams such as San Francisco and perhaps even the, gulp, Los Angeles Chargers are expected to be shopping for wide receivers. (Dear Kenny: San Francisco has no QB and the Chargers have no home).

But if the Dolphins end up paying Stills a deal that borders on $13 million per season that will feel like they didn’t get a good deal for a player that caught 42 passes in his one breakout season.

As for Branch, look, the Dolphins are paying Cameron Wake $6.875 million in 2017 and his cap number is $7.6 million. He remains their best pass rusher. His sack production last season was more than twice the production Branch delivered.

You don’t tender the guy who had half the production twice the money. Talk about a way to make Cameron Wake, who took a pay cut last year, feel weird.

And, I know, there are folks in the media that will be talking about “re-signing your own.” The Dolphins are concerned about this because they understand players monitor this stuff through their agents.

But “re-signing your own” should not be a marching order into a financial ditch.

Me? Andre Branch is a $5.5-$6 million a year player tops. He has averaged almost five sacks a year in his five seasons.

So I’m thinking he can average $1 million per sack.

The transition number estimate of $14 million for a defensive end seems way too steep considering the return is merely the ability to match someone else’s contract when the player goes into free agency.

Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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