The Bills are going to give $15 million to a guy who's had one good year when they already have money (Star Lotulelei) and draft capital (Ed Oliver, Harrison Phillips) invested in the position? Just, no way.
La Canfora's wording was actually stronger than "they could franchise tag him."
After thinking about the idea more and more, it actually makes sense. A lot of sense. In fact, the Bills would probably be smart to franchise tag Phillips, which would cost them $15.5 million on the cap.
In no way am I saying that I think Phillips is a $15.5 million player. He had 9.5 sacks last season, yes. He's a better all around defensive tackle than Star Lotulelei, yes.
However, Phillips struggled in run defense this past season. He's a great penetrator up the middle, but there's a reason he only received a grade of 53.6 from Pro Football Focus and didn't crack their top-100 free agents for this offseason.
The idea of franchise tagging Phillips has nothing to do with the $15.5 million. It has everything to do with it only being for one year. The worst thing I believe the Bills could do is sign Phillips to a multi-year extension. By 2021, the Bills will have to give out new deals to cornerback Tre'Davious White, left tackle Dion Dawkins, linebacker Matt Milano, and even safety Jordan Poyer if they want to keep him around. A multi-year deal for Phillips would stretch into a time period where the Bills have to pay all those guys, and possibly quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds too.
Honestly, it would be better for the Bills to pay Phillips $15.5 million for this season, rather than a three-year deal worth $24 million. It's more money per-year no doubt, but it doesn't threaten their ability to sign their own in the future. It's something that general manager Brandon Beane has talked extensively about doing.
The Bills will likely want to do some other things this offseason, potentially big things. They have the third most cap space in the NFL, going into the spring at just under $82 million in space. Are they really going to use all of that? Even if Beane hadn't been careful managing the cap over the last few years, I'd tell you they're not going to find $82 million worth of free agents and draft picks to come here in one offseason.
Why not use cap space on Phillips that you won't use otherwise?
If Phillips doesn't have the sack totals he had in 2019, great! You didn't give him a long contract.
If Philips does have similar sack totals, great! Now you have more of a sample size if you did want to give him a multi-year extension.
It's a low risk move for the Bills any way you look at it.
If the Bills were able to land wide receiver Amari Cooper, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, running back Derrick Henry, tight end Austin Hooper, and offensive tackle Jack Conklin all in free agency, franchise tagging Phillips probably wouldn't make any sense. I just can't see the Bills spending anywhere near enough money to get to a point where tagging Phillips prevents them from doing something else.
If you can get over the fact that Phillips might be getting more money than he's worth on the tag, it's easy to see that it helps the Bills on the short-term without any long-term risk.
They should absolutely franchise tag Phillips. I'm struggling to see a strong argument against it.