During the first two days in which teams could use the franchise tag, only one NFL team so far has enacted the one-year tender, as the Miami Dolphins tagged wide receiver Jarvis Landry for the 2018 season.
The two-week window to place a franchise or transition tag on players that are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents closes at 4 p.m. ET on March 6. As the Vikings work through the unique set of circumstances they have at quarterback, with three potential starters set to hit free agency in less than three weeks, the first important decision has to do with the potential use of the franchise tag.
Case Keenum isn’t considered the most likely of candidates across the NFL to receive a franchise tag, but as the Vikings decide whom they want to be their quarterback in 2018, the options start with the player who led them to a 13-3 record and an appearance in the NFC title game. He could end up being the best fit.
Minnesota has used the franchise tag only twice since it was introduced in 1993: once on tight end Jim Kleinsasser in 2003 and again on linebacker Chad Greenway in 2011. The Vikings have never placed the designation on a quarterback.
After Keenum's career year, his modest $2 million contract from 2017 is expected to increase exponentially, but do the Vikings view him as someone worth $20 million or more to run the offense next season?
The franchise-tag window closes six days before teams can enter into negotiations with other teams' free agents, on March 12. If the Vikings place the tag on Keenum between now and March 6, that could end the conversation about going after Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins.
But will it?
Here’s a look at the options the Vikings have as they pertain to Keenum and the franchise tag.
Exclusive franchise tag: This option would immediately take Keenum off the market and lock him into a deal with the Vikings. Minnesota would have to pay Keenum the average of the top five salaries at his position, which is around $23 million for one year, with either the exclusive or non-exclusive franchise tag. The binding nature of the exclusive option, however, makes its projected use appear rather unlikely.
Non-exclusive franchise tag: If the Vikings go this route, Keenum and his agent would be able to negotiate with other teams and try to find a long-term deal. The Vikings would get the first opportunity to match any offer sheet the quarterback receives, and if Keenum and the Vikings decide to part ways, Minnesota would get two first-round picks. Franchising Keenum would allow the Vikings to see if the journeyman quarterback can replicate the success he had in 2017 without having to lock him in to a long-term deal. If Minnesota goes this route for Keenum (whose salary would be a $23 million cap hit in 2018), it could also help the team in an attempt bring back Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford and keep the current core of QBs together. The situation could set up a quarterback competition in training camp and would ensure that the Vikings, who are built to win now rather than later, will have options as they try to make another Super Bowl run.
Transition tag: The cheapest of the three tags would give Keenum the average of the top-10 salaries at his position, which would be around $21 million. The QB can test the market, and if he finds another team willing to fork over big money and a long-term deal, Minnesota again has the first right of refusal or can match his offer sheet. If the Vikings don’t, they don’t get a compensatory pick. Either way, with any of the three tags, the Vikings and Keenum would have until July 16 to work out a multiyear contract.
Tag and trade: The Vikings could choose to utilize the franchise tag on Keenum even if they have the intention of trading him in the near future. If Keenum ends up leaving in free agency without a franchise tag, the highest compensation the Vikings would receive is a third-round pick. They’d also have to sacrifice a 2019 compensatory pick if this happens. The seldom-used tag-and-trade tactic has been thrown out as a possibility with Cousins, despite the challenges it would yield by putting a franchise tag on him for a third straight year.
Other options: Minnesota could end up not going the route of tagging Keenum and could instead opt to work out a long-term deal before he becomes a free agent. The Vikings could also let him test the market after March 14 and decide if any offer sheets he gets are worth trying to match without a franchise tag. The Vikings could also let him walk in free agency, which seems like a risky move unless the Vikings are confident they can land Cousins or another free agent QB they have in mind, or believe Bridgewater or Bradford, despite their knee issues, is their best option for a Super Bowl run in 2018.