So why are those designations sitting in the Patriots’ back pocket? Easy — The transition tag is obsolete, and has been for four years.
Steve Hutchinson’s situation in 2006 set the stage for all this. As a transition-tagged free agent, Hutchinson signed a seven-year, $49 million offer sheet with the Vikings that was to become fully guaranteed if he wasn’t the highest paid offensive lineman on the team. That “poison pill” kept Seattle from matching, because the Seahawks had Walter Jones on their roster. And Seattle retaliated by inking Viking RFA Nate Burleson to an offer sheet loaded with tough-to-reach incentives that became guaranteed money if he played five or more games in a season in the state of Minnesota.
Since then, only one player — Steelers tackle Max Starks — has gotten the transition tag, and he wound up signing his tender. But it wasn’t the last time a “poison pill” held sway in a negotiation. In fact, the Patriots had plans drawn up to use one to poach then-RFA Wes Welker from Miami in 2007, before Robert Kraft decided to handle the matter above board and negotiate a trade with the Dolphins by tossing a seventh-round pick on top of the accorded second-rounder for the player.
The fallout from all this is twofold. Thanks to the Hutchinson/Burleson dustup between the Seahawks and Vikings, the transition tag holds no sway, since there’s no draft-pick compensation to deter teams from pursuing others’ players. And thanks to the Welker deal, teams are being much more careful about their tender offers, because if a team really wants a player and is willing to yield said pick, it’s pretty easy to make it impossible for that player’s original team to match an offer sheet.