The deadline for when teams can designate who will be their franchise and transition players is on February 22. The free agency signing period does not begin until March 2. There is really only one Falcon free agent that has any potential of being designated as such, and that is defensive end Patrick Kerney.
Kerney is clearly the highest profile unrestricted free agent the Falcons have. Morten Andersen, Justin Griffith, and Ashley Lelie are also key Falcons that will be able to test the free agent waters come March, but none are expected to be as enticing to other teams as Kerney will be.
The franchise tender for defensive ends will be $8.644 million this year, which is the average salary of the top five defensive ends. But because Kerney counted roughly $8.84 million against the Falcons 2006 cap, his franchise tender will be higher. The rules stipulate that a player’s tender will be either the designated one which is the average salary for the top five players at his position, or 120% of his previous year’s salary, whichever is higher. Since Kerney’s 2006 salary (in this case, referring to his entire cap hit) exceeded the normal franchise tender, it means that if the Falcons choose to place the franchise tag on Kerney, it will result in approximately a $10.6 million cap charge.
That seems a hefty price to pay for a 30-year old free agent that is recently coming off an injury-marred season. The Falcons have already begun contract discussions with Kerney and his agent, beginning in December. But it is unknown if the dismissal of head coach Jim Mora and defensive line coach Bill Johnson will ultimately play a factor in Kerney’s decision to stay in Atlanta. Mora is now an assistant in Seattle, while Johnson is in Denver. Recent articles from the News Tribune and Denver Post suggest that both teams will be likely suitors for Kerney’s services this off-season.
AsktheCommish.com reports that the Falcons are set to be approximately $11.5 million under the 2007 salary cap of $109 million. Meaning if the Falcons were to tag Kerney, it would essentially nullify much of their cap space.