It doesn’t take long for the NFL to hit the reset button after the Super Bowl.
Just 10 days after the Patriots’ stunning 34-28 overtime victory over Atlanta in Super Bowl LI, the business of the NFL for 2017 begins Wednesday with the opening of the window for teams to apply the franchise or transition tags to players prior to the new league year beginning at 4 p.m. on March 9.
For the Browns it opens a critical 14-day window for them to hammer out a contract with receiver Terrelle Pryor or potentially risk facing dire consequences.
If over the next week or so executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and Pryor’s agents – Drew and Jason Rosenhaus – can’t come to terms on a new deal, the Browns will be forced to either let Pryor hit the open market or go with the nuclear option: place the franchise tag on him.
One might say using the phrase ‘nuclear option’ sounds a little dramatic, but maybe it isn’t.
Having to use the franchise tag on Pryor would cost an obscene amount of money – approximately $15.49 million according to the latest tag figures published by ProFootballTalk.com Tuesday night. The actual cost of the tag won’t be determined until the salary cap is set for 2017, which usually comes out a few days before the new league year begins.
Assuming that tag figure holds up and is ultimately what the Browns pay Pryor this season, he would become the highest paid receiver in the game based on annual average. A.J. Green averages $15 million, Julio Jones $14.25 million while Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant get $14 million per season on average.
Pryor was fantastic in his first full season as a receiver that saw him lead the Browns in receptions (77) and yards (1,007). He finished with 3 100-yard receiving games and had 22 more catches and 395 more yards than tight end Gary Barnidge, who finished second on the team in both categories, in 2016.
But let’s be real, Pryor isn’t worth top-5 receiver money and he is not in the same class as Green, Jones, Thomas or Bryant.
At least not yet.
For as good as Pryor was while having to work with a total of 5 different quarterbacks last season, the scary thing is that he is expected to get even better, which is plenty of ammunition for the Rosenhaus brothers to work with in negotiations.
Even if the Browns are forced to use the tag by March 1 at 4 p.m., they buy themselves a secondary window – until 4 p.m. on July 15 – to get a long-term deal done with Pryor but they’d prefer not to take the chance and just get the negotiations resolved as soon as possible.
Pryor has expressed his desire to remain with the Browns on multiple occasions, including the day after they completed a 1-15 campaign.
“Football is a business. And it’s got to make sense for myself,” Pryor said on Jan. 2. “I’d love to play for coach Hue, I loved playing with him this year.”
The Browns spent the least amount of money last season and will have over $100 million in cap space to work with in 2017 so the resources are available, but it is precedent they will worry about.
Luckily for Brown and the Browns, linebacker Jamie Collins’ 4-year, $50 million deal is done so the focus is solely on Pryor and getting him locked up for the years to come.
Either way, Pryor is about to get paid.
The Browns just don’t want to have to fork out over $15 million just to keep him around for one more year. Unless it ends up being a last resort.