2013 NFL Free Agency: Buccaneers could use franchise tag on Michael Bennett

Grant Halverson

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers last used the franchise tag in 2009, when they applied it to Antonio Bryant -- apparently the worst signing in Buccaneer history. That move looked smart at the time, grabbing a relatively young, productive player with an injury issue and some "character" problems (euphemism for "he doesn't agree with coach all the time"). It was a one-year, try-out contract. Turned out that his knee injury was so bad he didn't do much that season, and then never played in the NFL again. But this year, they realistically have the option of using the franchise tag. On Michael Bennett.

More: Two Bucs on the All-Under-25 team | Yes, the Bucs will spend.

I keep saying this, but only because it's important: Michael Bennett is a crucial player to re-sign this offseason, and the Buccaneers easily have the cash to do it. They have the fifth-most cap space in the NFL with $30 million, and can easily add another $12.5 million by releasing Quincy Black and Eric Wright -- something that's exceedingly likely to happen. The Buccaneers should do whatever they can to get him signed for the long term. If there's one thing these past few years have taught Bucs fans it is that you can never have enough good defensive linemen, and Bennett is certainly one of the better ones.

But if the Bucs cannot reach an agreement with Bennett before free agency opens, the franchise tag should be in play. It would be expensive, but it wouldn't be outlandish. With a full franchise tag, Bennett would likely receive around $11 million, while a transition tag would give him around $9 million, per these numbers from NFL.com. The transition tags would allow other teams to negotiate with Bennett, but would give the Bucs the right to match any resulting contract. That would effectively guarantee Bennett's presence in Tampa, because it's highly unlikely a team would be able to give Bennett a contract the Bucs couldn't match -- although there may be contracts they won't be willing to match.

The franchise tag would give the Bucs a little more security, giving them two first-round draft picks if Bennett does sign elsewhere, but it's pretty expensive at around $11 million. That's a lot of money, and a long-term deal is likely to pay Bennett somewhere between $6 and 9 million per year as one of the top defensive ends on the market. Ultimately, Mark Dominik will want to sign Bennett to a long-term deal. But if that turns out to be unrealistic, the franchise tag may give them another option.

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