The Indianapolis Colts made the rare -- but not necessarily crazy -- decision to protect their punter from hitting the free-agent market by using the franchise tag on Pat McAfee, according to Mike Garafolo of USA Today.
He isn't the first punter to receive the franchise tag: last year, the New York Giants retained Steve Weatherford from their Super Bowl-winning squad via franchise tag, and he was preceded by the Falcons' Michael Koenen in 2009 and the Panthers' Todd Sauerbrun in 2003.
By giving a player the franchise tag, a team basically says it thinks a player deserves to be paid among the top five players at the position. McAfee is certainly on the borderline for deserving that distinction, booting a career-high 48.2 yards per kick -- the fourth-best in the league among qualifying punters. He's slightly more valuable than some punters in that he also handles kickoffs. All that makes McAfee, who has been with the Colts since being drafted in the seventh round in 2009, deserving of the $2.7 million franchised punters are in line to earn. However, when you factor in punt returns and touchbacks, McAfee was just 15th in the league with a net average of 40.3 yards.
Perhaps what this really says is that the Colts didn't really have any other free agents worth retaining. Colts blog Stampede Blue might agree: when breaking down the 15 unrestricted free agents on the team's roster in January, author Brad Wells listed McAfee first among players to be retained. When asked about his free agency, McAfee said he wanted to be a Colt "forever," so perhaps it's not a bad fit.