Should The Bengals Have Used The Franchise Tag On Reggie Nelson Instead?

On Friday the Cincinnati Bengals announced that they are slapping the franchise tag on place-kicker Mike Nugent, now on the books for a projected salary between $2.6 million and $2.7 million, all guaranteed, if the two sides fail to agree on a long-term deal. Though it solidifies the team's need to have a place-kicker, many aren't behind the idea of using this year's franchise tag on a kicker. I mean he's a place kicker, they're a dime-a-dozen. It's not like a place kicker has that much influence on the outcome of games, right? (we have a poll after the jump)

Despite that many questioned why the Bengals didn't use their tag on safety Reggie Nelson. Let's look at the numbers. Nelson started every game as the free safety, finished third on the team with eight passes defensed, recorded two quarterback sacks, two forced fumbles and four interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks generated a 73.9 passer rating when targeting players that Nelson covered, even though those same receivers caught 65.7 percent of the 35 passes they were targeted. All the while he finished third on the team with 85 total tackles (per NFL.com).

According to NFL.com, the projected franchise number for a safety is roughly $6.2 million, over a $5 million increase from Nelson's base salary in 2011. Additionally the $6.2 million would become Nelson's cap hit, compared to $1.6 million last year. That would be a significant increase based on one season, despite the fact that Reggie Nelson has struggled throughout much of his career before arriving to Cincinnati.

Tackles INT Comp. % Yrds Avg. YAC TD QB Rating
2011 85 4 65.7 316 13.7 138 2 73.9
2010 65 2 45.0 146 16.2 53 0 30.4
2009 70 0 87.0 586 14.7 202 4 147.7
2008 54 2 69.6 330 20.6 146 2 104.9

That being said Nelson did have a career-year on a defense that ranked seventh in the NFL last year. Though he wasn't the reason for Cincinnati's tremendous defensive effort, he was as much a contributor as anyone. A one-year deal worth $6.2 million would seem manageable for a starter; especially on a team with a relatively low payroll and a reported $60 million under the salary cap that was originally expected to be within the $120 million neighborhood. Additionally the franchise tag is for one season, so there's no roll over into 2013. Harmless, as one would suggest.

So we doubt the reason behind Nugent being franchise had less to do with just money, as it did the justification of Nelson's overall history relative to salary, compounded by a growing comfort level with the team's younger safeties in waiting, such as Taylor Mays and Robert Sands. Sure Nelson had a tremendous season in 2011 and head coach Marvin Lewis has already said he's love to get Nelson signed long-term. But is Nelson comparable as one of the best safeties in the NFL, dictated by the league's complicated formula paying franchise players at their respective position? Maybe. Maybe not.

Either way unless an extension gets done in the next ten days, Nelson will enter free agency as an unrestricted free agent on March 13. And if he's expecting a huge contract, which is possible considering we haven't heard one way or the other, then the chance that Nelson leaves Cincinnati increases.

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