Franchising Franklin Was a Must For 49ers

The 49ers' off-season officially got off to a positive start Tuesday afternoon as the team made a move as predictable as it was necessary, placing a non-exclusive franchise tag on nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. What does that mean, you ask?

Well, for starters, it means a big bump in pay for Franklin, who certainly deserves it coming off a second straight season where he not only kept interior linemen off inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes, but also made a number of plays on his own, despite being double-teamed on practically every snap.

Franklin just completed a three year deal where he earned six million dollars total, but now, under the franchise tag, if he and the 49ers cannot reach a long term agreement, then he will effectively sign a one year deal where he will earn the average of the top five salaries at his position, which is slated to be $7.003 million dollars for the 2010 season.

However, because San Francisco chose to use only the non-exclusive tag on Franklin, other teams are free to negotiate with him and offer him a contract. All the tag guarantees the 49ers is the right to match any offer, and two compensatory first round picks should they decide to let him go. In fact, several reports suggest that the 49ers would be willing to part with Franklin for just one first round pick, but for now that's just speculation.

The important news here is that the 49ers have made sure that they won't lose Franklin for nothing and also they've ensured themselves the ability to keep Franklin if they indeed deem him irreplaceable.

"Aubrayo has proven to be a valuable contributor to our defense and we are looking forward to having him on our team going forward," said 49ers General Manager Scot McCloughan, adding, "Although a contract extension has not been completed at this time, we will continue to have discussions with Aubrayo and his agent."

Indeed Franklin was a big reason (literally) that the 49ers run defense ranked sixth in the league last season, allowing only 97 rushing yards per game and only 3.6 yards per carry. Franklin isn't a behemoth like some of his contemporaries, yet he has a knack for swallowing up multiple blockers without getting pushed backward, and can be counted on, a couple times per game, to knife through and stop opposing ball carries cold in the backfield.

There are areas of concern, though, with the ex-Tennessee Volunteer. For one, Franklin will already be 30-years old by the time the 2010 season starts. For another, he's strictly a two down player in the 49ers defense and their front office may very well be wary of giving a huge long term contract to such a player. Finally, there has to be the nagging suspicion that Franklin kicked up his play a notch because he was in a "contract year." That's not to disparage his character or motivation, but too many players have put up huge numbers in this situation and then sagged back to their previous levels once they got their money to discount the possibility of such a scenario happening with Franklin as well.

That's why, ultimately, the one-year franchise tender makes so much sense to me in regards to the 49ers nose tackle. The exorbitant cost of having to surrender two first round picks will keep potential suitors of Franklin at bay and will, for all intensive purposes, give the 49ers exclusive rights in negotiating with him. If McCloughan and company decide his contract demands are too excessive, then they can simply choose to let Franklin prove he's worth the money by repeating last season's performance again in 2010.

While Franklin played very well the majority of the season, he did tail off somewhat during the last third of the season. He'll need to show a bit more stamina and consistency if he wants to be regarded as (and paid like) a star.

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