I’m not sure why it took so long to hit me. Prompted by Scott’s article on the breakdown of contract talks between the Redskins and Brandon Scherff, I finally realized that the 5th year option available for first round draft picks is, in effect, a “franchise tag,” and that by extending him last year, we should be thinking of 2019 as his first year under the tag.
As I have detailed elsewhere, Scherff’s 5th year option will pay him $12.525M in 2019. That salary - an increase of $5.75M over his 2018 compensation - was derived in the exact same way transition tag amounts are calculated, by taking the average of the top ten salaries at the position (offensive line). The “franchise tag” for the position (which include tackles, who tend to be paid considerably more than guards), is composed of the top five salaries, and is $14.077M in 2019.
Curiously, the tag for OL dropped from 2018 to 2019, from $14.271M to $14.077M, but as a rule, it has otherwise increased about $750k per year since 2013. Assuming that level of escalation then, the offensive linemen franchise tag for 2020 is likely to be around $14.8M - $15M. If we believe someone would pay that amount for Brandon - and I do - then that number effectively becomes the starting point for his salary negotiations, whether anyone else happens to think he “deserves” that much or not (I tend to think he doesn’t).
So What Are Our Options?
Our options really come down to whether or not we want to take a long view of the situation, or a short term view. I lean heavily toward the long view, but let’s explore the short term view first.
In terms of the 2019 season, there is no question that this is a better team with Brandon on it, than off of it. Without Scherff, there would likely need to be a serious re-shuffling of the interior offensive line, potentially moving Chase Roullier to right guard, Casey Dunn to center, and some combination of Martin/Piersbacher/Flowers at left guard. It would be - politely - less than ideal. But, keeping him could also be nothing more than a one year rental, depending on our long range options.
Option 1: Let Brandon Walk After 2019
This is the least complicated option. We’ll call it, in effect, the “Kirk Cousins’ Option.” It would involve Scherff playing out his fifth year option, entering free agency, and signing on, likely for a ton of money, with another team. That option almost certainly nets us a 2021 third round comp pick (assuming we don’t go on a free agent spending spree that neutralizes it). That would take a little of the sting off, but it would also likely mean we would have to draft his replacement in 2020, and our high level draft capital is already looking thin at the moment.
Option 2: Franchise Brandon In 2020
If we’re willing to franchise Brandon in 2020, paying him around $15M/year, we should just pull the trigger on that deal now. He’s still fairly young, and guard salaries are unlikely to start dropping anytime soon. I wouldn’t choose to overpay him, but if there is a commitment to keeping him on the team, this is the most responsible option. Keep in mind though, this would immediately put his AAV $1.8M over the already disgruntled Trent Williams, likely adding fuel to that fire.
Option 3: Trade Him Now
In retrospect (and to some of us, at the time), the right thing to have done with the Kirk Cousins’ situation, would have been to trade him to a partner like the San Francisco 49ers before his second franchise tag for a first or second round 2018 draft pick. In the scheme of things, Kirk’s last season in DC didn’t mean anything, and wasn’t worth anything more than a third round compensatory pick the year after he left. That was a tremendous loss of value.
If there is not a commitment to “overpay” Brandon now, we should be seeking to optimize his value and accelerate the strategy to replace him. The way to do that is to shop him for draft capital that could be used to fill his position in 2020. I have no trouble believing that Brandon could bring a 2020 second rounder (with the potential of a 2020 first rounder).
Such a move would put us in a pinch now, but would provide several potential benefits: 1) It would make it absolutely clear to Trent Williams (and others on the team), that the team is committed to fiscal discipline, and - frankly - protecting its own ability to compensate other members of the team fairly; 2) It would provide the team with sufficiently high draft capital to replace Scherff next year; 3) It would save the team $10M+ annually over the 4-year life of the contract of the rookie drafted to replace Scherff.
As is so often the case in life, and the NFL, we’re faced with a series of less than desirable choices as a result of exercising less forethought than we probably should have.
Realistically, the team almost certainly would have had more leverage to sign Scherff long term after year three of his rookie deal ala Carson Wentz. Howie Roseman seems to have figured this one out sooner than most others, but we should learn from it now. If I had to guess - notwithstanding any major changes in the new CBA - I suspect this becomes the new model for top young players moving forward.
That option is off the table now, however, and, as I see it, we really only have two choices: Continue to keep thinking short term, or plan for the future.
Which Option Would You Prefer?
This poll is closed
Option 1: Let Brandon walk after 2019
Option 2a: Franchise Brandon in 2020
Option 2b: "Overpay" Brandon now ($15M+/AAV)
Option 3: Trade him now