In what appears to be one of the deeper NFL free-agent classes in recent memory, there are quite a few players who seem likely to remain with their current squads. While some of them will be able to work out a long-term deal, others will have to settle for a franchise tag.
Players aren't always thrilled with being franchised as it doesn't give them the security of a long contract, but it does allow them to be paid like an elite player for a season. Not every team is going to be able to work out a fair extension, so the franchise tag is the best way to keep a player and buy more time to negotiate.
Here are three players who are likely to be slapped with the tag this offseason.
WR Stevie Johnson (BUF)
This past season wide receiver Stevie Johnson became the first player in Buffalo Bills history to produce back-to-back years of 1,000 or more receiving yards. The former seventh-round draft pick is the only true threat in Buffalo's passing game, but the two sides haven't been able to reach a contract agreement. There doesn't seem to be a resolution on the horizon, so franchising Johnson would be a logical move.
Perhaps Johnson isn't completely deserving of being paid like a top-10 receiver, but he isn't too far off and the compensation would only last for one season. The Bills have a ton of cap space, so such a short-term commitment wouldn't hurt them in the least. Johnson has been bashed for his undisciplined antics on the field, but there has never been an issue off the field and he seems like a stand-up guy, so the Bills figure to want him back for next season at least.
Which player is most likely to receive the franchise tag this offseason?
DL Calais Campbell (ARZ)
At 6'8" and 300 lbs, Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell is a rare athlete. Not only does he have the size and strength to succeed in run defense, but he also has the agility and fluidity to rush the passer effectively. Campbell is averaging seven sacks over the past three seasons, and while that may not seem worthy of a franchise tag, he is more complete than most pass rushers in the league.
Campbell added 72 tackles last season, which is an extremely tough number for a defensive end to reach. He even excels on special teams as he has blocked multiple field goals over the course of his career. Campbell is just 25 years old and still improving, so franchising him for the time being seems like a good plan. The Cards would be smart to ultimately lock him up, but tagging him now gives them a better chance of doing that in the future.
RB Matt Forte (CHI)
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte has been quite vocal about his desire for a long-term contract, but for whatever reason the Bears have been unwilling to take a leap of faith. The knee injury that forced Forte to miss the final four games of the 2011 season may be a bit disconcerting, but the Bears were non-committal long before that. Even if the Bears don't want to sign Forte to a big contract, they can't function without him, so the franchise tag seems probable.
Forte did it all for the Bears last season as he was just three yards shy of 1,000 on the ground and had 52 grabs for 490 yards through the air in just 12 games. The Bears have long been about playing great defense and running the ball on offense, so Forte is a key piece to the puzzle. The organization has to understand how tough it would be to replace him, so franchising him gives the Bears' brass a chance to mull things over for another year.