The New York Jets signed Austin Howard off the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad in 2011, and Howard has been the Jets’ starter at right tackle for each of the last two seasons. Howard was an unknown when the Jets acquired him, but he has developed into a quality player who has solidified the right side of the Jets’ offensive line. Howard has always been a good run blocker, but he has made major strides in pass protection, and you can make a very compelling argument that he was the Jets’ best offensive lineman this season.
Howard is an unrestricted free agent, and the Jets want to bring him back. They have begun negotiations, and at 27 years old Howard is certainly due a long term contract. Right tackles obviously receive smaller contracts than left tackles, and the Jets will be looking to pay Howard something in the range of $3-5 million per year. However, the Jets have a lot of pressure to get a long term deal done because of the value of the franchise tag.
The franchise tag amount does not distinguish between the value of left and right tackles, it only sees a player as a tackle. The tag number for tackles this season is projected to be $11 million, which is a significantly higher figure than the Jets want to pay Howard. If the Jets were to retain Howard on the franchise tag, it would greatly limit their flexibility in other areas they need to improve this offseason.
As much as Howard is the Jets’ best free agent and a player they certainly don’t want to lose, they may not have a choice if they can’t get a long term deal worked out soon. The deadline to use the franchise tag is March 3, and the Jets will be hoping to get a deal done before then. If they are close, they could use the franchise tag to keep Howard under their control until a deal is finalized. However, if they can’t make any significant progress, the Jets may not have any choice other than to let Howard hit the open market. They simply have too many needs to overpay Howard by that much, and the Jets have to hope that their hand isn’t forced.