NEW YORK – The Jets placed the franchise tag on playmaking linebacker David Harris on Tuesday, the first time the team has used the designation since 2006.
Harris, who made a base salary of $550,000 in the final year of his rookie deal, was voted the team MVP by his teammates after having 99 tackles and three sacks in his fourth season.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum recently said re-signing Harris was a priority, and the Jets could still lock him up to a long-term deal once the NFL's uncertain labor situation is cleared up despite placing the franchise tag on him.
By using the tag, the Jets must pay Harris the average of the top five salaries among linebackers. Last year, Harris' position was worth about $9.6 million, meaning he could be in for a payday of $10 million or slightly higher.
The Jets last used the franchise tag five years ago on Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham, who was traded a month later to Atlanta for a first-round draft pick. Harris was the latest NFL player to have the franchise tag placed on him this offseason, joining New England offensive lineman Logan Mankins and Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick.
A person with knowledge of the situation indicated to The Associated Press last week that the Jets were leaning toward using the designation on Harris, who is a valuable signal-caller in the middle of Rex Ryan's aggressive defense. Since being a second-round pick out of Michigan in 2007, Harris has 422 tackles, 15 sacks, five forced fumbles and two interceptions.
He will be the last of the team's "Core Four" players — including Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson — to get a new contract. The other three players received new deals before the season, and Harris acknowledged in August he wouldn't get his until after this season because of constraints due to the collective bargaining agreement.
"It's out of my hands and a lot of other people's hands," Harris said before the season. "That's the rules and you've got to live by them."
Teams were able to start using the franchise label on Feb. 10, but it is still uncertain whether the tag will stand because of the labor situation. Jeff Pash, the NFL's lead labor negotiator, recently said he expected the franchise tag to continue to operate as it has previously. But NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said the 2011 season doesn't fall under the current collective bargaining agreement that expires March 3.
The Jets were busy last offseason by making a series of high-profile signings, cuts and trades on their way to a second straight trip to the AFC championship game. New York will again have several players to address this offseason in addition to Harris, including wide receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.