The cutoff for NFL teams to sign franchise tagged players to long-term contracts was at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday. Three players -- Hardy, Orakpo and Jason Worilds -- did not sign new deals before the deadline, meaning they're stuck with the franchise tag designation for the 2014 season.
Of course, Graham isn't going to be counting cash alone, as these franchise deals don't exactly pay out the veteran's minimum. Hardy, Orakpo and Worilds will be well-compensated, but it comes with none of the long-term guarantees of a big contract.
The most deserving of a new contract was Hardy, a 2013 Pro Bowl defensive end who entered the offseason as arguably the top free agent on the market. Hardy finished the 2013 season with 59 combined tackles, 15.0 sacks and a forced fumble. It was his best season yet, as he anchored Carolina's defense, which was indisputably one of the top three defenses in the NFL.
But hammering out a new deal hasn't been a simple matter. On one hand, the Panthers obviously want him to stick around, but they have to think about a new deal for quarterback Cam Newton, and Hardy comes with a few off-the-field issues. The biggest is the ongoing trial in which he's facing charges that he beat up his ex-girlfriend.
His trial actually got underway on Tuesday, making a tough situation even tougher. Hardy pleaded not guilty to two counts: communicating threats and assaulting a female. Hardy's tag will pay him $13.1 million over the course of the 2014 season, all guaranteed.
Orakpo is entering his sixth season in the league, and is coming off another impressive year. He put up 60 tackles and 10.0 sacks, with an interception, two passes defensed and a fumble recovery on top of that. Orakpo did everything he needed to coming off an injury that limited him to just two games in 2012, but it wasn't enough to earn him a long-term contract.
It sounds like Washington wants Orakpo to remain with the team for as long as possible, but all reports seem to indicate the two sides are just too far apart when it comes to the specifics of a deal. At this point, Washington is looking at paying Orakpo a healthy chunk -- $11.45 million in 2014 -- which would then increase to almost $14 million if they used the tag again in 2015.
Back in April, Orakpo said that he doesn't have to prove himself to anybody. "I'm already proven in this league," he said, adding that the lack of a new contract doesn't actually suggest he didn't prove himself in 2014. "If it doesn't work out, then it doesn't work out, but I don't have to prove anything to anybody," he said, via Rich Tandler of CSN Washington.
Worilds has been expected to take the next step and be a top-flight pass rusher since Pittsburgh started getting rid of some of the old guard. He put it all together in 2013, with 63 tackles, 8.0 sacks, a pass deflection and two forced fumbles. He was absolutely one of the better pass-rushers in the league last season, and showed a lot that would give Pittsburgh confidence going forward.
Unfortunately, after four seasons in the league, he only has that one stellar year, and it was the contract year. Worilds wants to be paid top-tier pass-rusher money, but the Steelers were hesitant to give it to him on the back of one season in which he didn't make it to double-digit sacks. Seven of those eight sacks game over the team's final eight games of 2013, which is nice to see, but Worilds has struggled in other areas, as noted by Behind The Steel Curtain.
Which Worilds is this? The Worilds who racked up seven sacks in his last eight games, notching 44 tackles in the process? Or is he the one who didn't get a sack in the team's first four games (all losses), getting eight tackles in that time?
The reality is, he's both. He can't ignore his general lack of production in the time he's been given over the last four seasons he's been with the team. The team also can't ignore the fruits of their labor with him over the last eight games.
Worilds will earn $9.75 million for his transition tag.
Six players were originally designated with the franchise or transition tag back back in March. Three of them ended up reaching long-term deals.
Graham and the New Orleans Saints struck an 11th-hour agreement on Tuesday morning: a four-year, $40 million deal that gives him the highest average annual salary among NFL tight ends. Alex Mack and Nick Folk signed multi-year contracts earlier this offseason with the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets.