Steve Weatherford was one of the most valuable free agents signed last year by the Giants and the team today all but ensured that the relationship will last more than one season.
The Giants designated Weatherford as their franchise player. The move gives the two sides time to negotiate a long-term contract, though Weatherford is free to negotiate with other teams when the free agency signing period begins on March 13. But according to an NFL release, "if a club extends a Required Tender to a non-exclusive franchise player … the player shall be permitted to negotiate a player contract with any club, except that draft choice compensation of two first round draft selections shall be made in the event he signs with a new club."
That means Weatherford is virtually certain to play for the Super Bowl champion Giants in 2012.
"I'm super excited to know that I will be with the Giants for at least one more season," Weatherford said. "This is a great franchise and a great organization, really the best I've been with. so it's very exciting to know that I will be back. I think the franchise tag is a step that needed to be taken to continue to work together on a long term deal. I want to be with the Giants for a long time and I really think the feeling is mutual, so hopefully something can get worked out long term and I can be a Giant for another four, five or 10 years."
In his first season with the Giants, Weatherford was 14th in the NFL with a 45.7-yard gross average and 13th with a 39.2-yard net average on 82 punts. The 45.7-yard gross average was the second-highest single-season average in Giants history, surpassed only by Don Chandler's 46.-6-yard average in 1969 (minimum 35 punts). Weatherford dropped 25 punts inside the 20-yard line, including five in a victory at New England on Nov. 6.
Weatherford punted 12 times in the Giants' NFC Championship Game victory in San Francisco. He tied David Lee of the Baltimore Colts (in a 1977 AFC Divisional Playoff) for the second-highest total in NFL postseason history. The record of 14 was set by Jets punter – and former Giant – Dave Jennings in a 1986 divisional playoff game. All three games went into overtime. The former Giants postseason record was 11 punts by Brad Maynard against the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV.
Weatherford's 557 punting yards vs. the 49ers easily outdistances the former postseason record of 422, set by Maynard in the Super Bowl 11 years ago.
The league release said the methodology for calculating the required tender for a non-exclusive franchise player has changed. Formerly, such players were tendered a one-year contract for the average of the five largest prior year salaries for players at the position at which the franchise player played the most games during the prior league year, or 120% of his prior year salary, whichever is greater.
Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) of the CBA sets forth the new methodology, known as the "Cap Percentage Average," for calculating the Required Tender for such a player:
The Nonexclusive Franchise Tender shall be a one year NFL Player Contract for (A) the average of the five largest Prior Year Salaries for players at the position . . . at which the Franchise Player participated in the most plays [formerly, "games"] during the prior League Year, which average shall be calculated by: (1) summing the amounts of the Franchise Tags for players at that position for the five preceding League Years; (2) dividing the resulting amount by the sum of the Salary Caps for the five preceding League Years . . . ; and (3) multiplying the resulting percentage by the Salary Cap for the upcoming League Year . . . (the "Cap Percentage Average") . . . ; or (B) 120% of his Prior Year Salary, whichever is greater . . . .
The Giants last used a franchise tag on running back Brandon Jacobs in 2009. Two weeks after the move was announced, Jacobs and the Giants reached an agreement on a new four-year contract.
Weatherford is one of 21 players who received a franchise designation. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is the only "exclusive" franchise player, meaning he is not free to sign with another club. Weatherford is the only punter among the 21 players.
All four NFC East teams selected a franchise player. In addition to Weatherford, Dallas tagged linebacker Anthony Spencer, Philadelphia named wide receiver DeSean Jackson and Washington tagged tight end Fred Davis.
Each club is permitted to designate one franchise player or one transition player among its veteran free agents.
The signing period for franchise players begins at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on March 13 and ends on the Tuesday following the 10th week of the season (November 13).
There are no transition player designations this year.