Coming off of a season ending ACL injury, Kwon Alexander is set for free agency; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should explore using the Franchise Tag on him.
It sounds crazy, especially for a player coming off of an ACL injury, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should use the Franchise Tag on starting middle linebacker Kwon Alexander. Unknown as to whether or not he will return to his usual level of play, many would say is a risk to bring back a player after such a significant injury.
However, it is precisely because of the injury and the concerns that follow that the Bucs should not allow Alexander to hit free agency. The Franchise Tag extends the player on an expiring contract for one season, paying that player the no less than the average of the top ten earners at his position, or 120% of his current contract, whichever is higher. That would leave the Bucs paying Alexander $15 million for his services.
That price seems a bit steep for a team with only around 16.5 million as we speak, but if the team moves on from aging veterans Gerald McCoy, Demar Dotson, and Desean Jackson, that would free up right around $27.5 million in cap space. It may also seem steep for a player who may not return to his old self and may miss time in 2019, but at just 24 years old, Tampa Bay should not let him sign a one-year “prove it” deal elsewhere and simply apply the franchise tag to Alexander, and let him prove his worth in Tampa.
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If Alexander does not return to form after the injury, then the team could negotiate a lesser long-term deal, or let him walk to a different team. The Bucs cannot, however, let him walk to a different team, return to his former self, then leave a massive hole in the middle of the second level of their defense. The only way to prevent this from happening is to keep Alexander from hitting the open market in the first place.
The only hurdle standing in the way of Alexander being tagged by the Bucs is the impending contract status of starting left tackle Donovan Smith. If the team cannot work out a long term deal by 4pm EST on March 5, then the tag needs to be applied to him, even with this mock draft with the Bucs taking a tackle in the first round. This would leave the team in a sticky situation with Alexander of being willing to negotiate long-term, but also settling on a fair price for a backer coming off of an ACL injury.
However, if Donovan Smith and the Bucs can come to an agreement on a contract extension before the March 5 deadline, then Alexander needs to be franchise tagged in order to let him recover and return to Tampa Bay in order to prove his worth for a long term deal. Letting a 24-year-old linebacker who has shown tremendous potential against the run and the pass walk would be a mistake, and whatever drastic measures need to be taken to make that happen should be applied, including the franchise tag and forking over $15 million to Alexander.