ATLANTA - Deciding Wednesday they will not place a franchise or transition tag on Keith Brooking, the Atlanta Falcons extended their deadline to re-sign the Pro Bowl linebacker until Feb. 28.
Doing so means Brooking will become an unrestricted free agent if a new contract isn't completed in eight days. The Falcons faced a 4 p.m. deadline today in which NFL teams could use a "franchise" or "transition" tag on one player to prevent him from leaving as a free agent.
Ray Anderson, a longtime player agent before Falcons owner Arthur Blank hired him to negotiate contracts as Atlanta's chief administrative officer, believes neither Brooking nor the team would benefit from a "tag."
Second, a tag would hinder the Falcons' ability to match offers their restricted free agents might receive from other teams because, according to an agreement between the league and the players' union, Brooking would automatically be assigned a 2003 salary. Based on the average salaries of highest-paid five linebackers in 2002 cap dollars, a tag would guarantee Brooking about $5.6 million.
Anderson spoke Wednesday with Brooking's agent, Pat Dye Jr., but the two sides moved no closer on the value of the first part of a proposed six-year deal. Dye is pleased the team has increased its signing bonus offer to about $10 million - $1 million less than quarterback Michael Vick's franchise-record amount - but wants Brooking to earn higher base salaries in 2003-06.
The Falcons, as most NFL teams do, want to "backload" the deal so higher salaries are due in 2007 and '08. Unlike baseball, most NFL contracts are not guaranteed past the signing bonus.
Today also marks the first day teams are allowed to cut veteran players to get under the 2003 salary cap, projected at $74.8 million, but the Falcons likely will wait to make such moves.
The team hopes to be in the market this year for an impact receiver, pass rusher and defensive back.