2012 NFL Free Agency: Predicting the Player Every Team Will Franchise

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIFebruary 20, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agency: Predicting the Player Every Team Will Franchise

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    NFL teams are able to start placing franchise tags on their free agents on Monday, February 20.

    In some cases, the player winds up with the franchise tag as the final resort the team could turn to in order to keep the player from jumping ship. Perhaps the team tried to negotiate a long-term deal, but the two sides never could work something out that was a win-win, so it opted instead for the franchise tag in the hope that things will work out better next year in negotiations.

    The deadline date to apply the franchise tag is March 5, so there is a 15-day window to figure out the negotiations. Applying a franchise tag doesn't necessarily mean that the athlete in question will be happy about the move. It removes them from the open market, and while they will be very well compensated for the following year they are playing with the tag, it means they are prevented from signing a long-term deal, especially if they get hit with a career-ending injury.

    Today, we are going to study the current class of free agents and try to predict the player that each team will use the franchise tag on. There are some teams that probably won't use the franchise tag this year, and we will attempt to identify any player that could emerge as a surprise move for the franchise tag, if one exists.

Franchise Tag Costs Broken Down by Position

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    Thanks to Will Brinson of CBS Sports for providing the following breakdown on what the franchise tags will cost in 2012 per position and comparing those costs to what the price was in 2011.

    Position 2012 Franchise Tag Value*
    2011 Franchise Tag Value
    $16.1 million $14.4 million
    Running Back
    $7.7 million $9.6 million
    Wide Receiver
    $9.4 million $11.4 million
    Tight End
    $5.4 million $7.3 million
    Offensive Line
    $9.4 million $10.1 million
    Defensive End
    $10.6 million $13 million
    Defensive Tackle
    $7.9 million $12.5 million
    $8.8 million $10.1 million
    $10.6 million $13.5 million
    $6.2 million $8.8 million

    For the rest of the CBS Sports article, you can click on the link here

    As you can see from the chart above, the franchise tags have gone up considerably for quarterbacks, and that is the only position that has seen prices rise from the 2011 franchise tag values. Every other position across the board has seen the prices drop since last year. Don't be surprised if this twist figures into the philosophy of what teams are prepared to do as they attempt to decide who they should apply the tag to.

    Of all the positions that took a drop in price, it appears that defensive tackles took the most significant hit, as they lost $4.6 million in value in one year.

    For a further breakdown of franchise tags, here is the explanation as found on Wikipedia:

    There are two types of franchise tag designations: the exclusive rights franchise tag and non-exclusive rights franchise tag:

    An "exclusive" franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player's position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams.

    A "non-exclusive" franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player's position in the previous year, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams, but if he signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and thus loses the player, is entitled to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

    Correction: As of the new CBA, the franchise tag offer will be the average of the top-paid player at the respective position over the last five seasons. This will actually reduce the amount that a team would need to offer a player.

Arizona Cardinals

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    The Arizona Cardinals don't need to worry about where defensive end Calais Campbell will be playing in the NFL in 2012. Rod Graves, the general manager of the team, said that the team will either work out a long-term deal with Campbell or use the franchise tag on him.

    Clearly the Cardinals prefer to work out a long-term deal first, but if that fails to materialize, the Cardinals won't risk losing Campbell. The franchise tag gives them the insurance that he can't play for another team in 2012.

    As Graves said, per this article from NFL.com, it would not be a major surprise for the Arizona Cardinals to use the franchise tag on defensive end Calais Campbell:

    Calais will be with us, rest assured. ... We will continue to focus on getting a long-term deal in place and it’s a process. But he will be an Arizona Cardinals player this year and we are hoping certainly to extend that to a long-term deal. Conversations are continuing with his agent.

    Campbell's star is rising in Arizona after he completed his best season in 2011. He made 72 tackles, had the most sacks in his career with eight and forced two fumbles.

Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons have some key free agents coming up this year, which include CB Brent Grimes, LB Curtis Lofton, DE John Abraham, C Todd McClure and DE Kroy Biermann.

    According to the article from Will Brinson at CBS Sports, he expects the franchise tag to be used on either Grimes or Lofton. Brinson felt that Brent Grimes should be the player that the Falcons tag because he is more vital to the defense.

    While that may be true, ESPN NFC South blogger Pat Yasinkas says the Falcons may come to the realization that it is too expensive to franchise either Grimes or Lofton. Grimes would cost the Falcons nearly $10.6 million, while Lofton would cost the team $8.8 million with the franchise tag. Another issue is the amount of money the Falcons have invested in corner Dunta Robinson, so their hands are tied to a degree.

    Another reason why the Falcons might not franchise Lofton is that he may become just a two-down player in new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's scheme. You don't want to pay $8.8 million to a guy that is just playing two downs every series.

    Perhaps the dark-horse candidate for the franchise tag is John Abraham, who led the Falcons with 9.5 sacks. But placing a franchise tag on Abraham would not be cheap either.

    When everything is said and done, it would not be a surprise if the Falcons failed to use their franchise tag on anybody in 2012.

Baltimore Ravens

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    You have to wonder why the Baltimore Ravens have yet to make any progress on reaching a deal with free-agent running back Ray Rice. The Ravens seem to be more interested in locking up quarterback Joe Flacco, who is under contract in 2012.

    Are the Ravens willing to lose Rice to another team by not signing him to a long-term deal? According to this story from Pro Football Talk, the Ravens are running the risk that another team could overwhelm Rice with an offer once he becomes a free agent, and the only thing that the Ravens would then get is a first-round draft pick. They would have also lost their running game in the process.

    Part of the reason for concern is that if the Ravens figure they can slap the franchise tag on Rice, he is then looking at a salary in the $7.7 million range. For teams that geared up for 2012 and set aside ample salary-cap dollars to be a player in free agency, they could start throwing numbers at Rice in the $9 million to $10 million range. That is the risk the Ravens are running.

    If the Ravens apply the franchise tag to Rice, they will have until July 15 to work out a long-term extension with him—unless he leaves to sign with another team, of course. Since Rice led the Ravens in both rushing and receiving, why would you ever want to take that risk?

Buffalo Bills

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    If push comes to shove, the Buffalo Bills will not let wide receiver Steve Johnson walk away to play for another team. Johnson is well liked in Buffalo, and the team and Johnson's agent have already began exchanging contract offers.

    While the two sides prefer to work out a long-term deal, the Bills will not hesitate to use the franchise tag on Johnson if that is the last resort.

    CBS Sports Will Brinson said that he spoke to Johnson during the Super Bowl week in Indianapolis about playing under the franchise tag, and Johnson told him he was open to the idea. No doubt that Johnson would be an attractive option if the Bills decided to let him test the open market first.

    Johnson has gained over 1,000 yards in receptions in the last two seasons, the first time in the history of the Bills franchise that a wide receiver has accomplished that feat. Johnson has promised to cool it with the post-touchdown celebrations, so that is just one more reason why the Bills will do whatever it takes to keep him with the team.

Carolina Panthers

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    If the Panthers decide to use the franchise tag during the 2012 offseason, the player that they select is currently a mystery, because there isn't anybody that is on their free-agent list that seems to be a "must-have" player.

    For example, there is an article from SB Nation that suggests that the Panthers don't have any real candidates for the franchise tag this year.

    The article goes on to suggest that LB Dan Connor is a possible candidate for the franchise tag, but he would merely be signed to provide depth to the linebacking unit. Once Jon Beason returns, there is no real starting job available for Connor to return to, so why give franchise tag money to a player that doesn't start for you?

    The Charlotte Observer wrote that free agent DL Antwan Applewhite is a much higher priority for the Panthers. Since Applewhite has some history with head coach Ron Rivera in San Diego, that might be the player that could wind up with the franchise tag if they aren't able to reach a deal prior to the start of the free agency.

    As of now, it appears doubtful that the Panthers use the franchise tag in 2012.

Chicago Bears

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    The Chicago Bears have not had much success in keeping their star running back Matt Forte happy when it comes to compensation. Now with a change in general managers for the Bears, we will see if Phil Emery can improve relations with Forte since Jerry Angelo failed to work anything out.

    From CBS Sports' Will Brinson, he wrote that Matt Forte makes tremendous sense for the franchise tag. Since Forte is vital to the Bears' plans on offense and a franchise tag on a running back earns only $7.7 million, it would make financial sense to apply the franchise tag.

    However, as we pointed out with Ray Rice in Baltimore, just because you slap somebody with the franchise tag doesn't stop another team from making Forte a better offer. Based on how rocky the relationship has been between Forte and the Bears, a better offer might be all it takes for Forte to jump off the Bears bus and play for somebody else.

    For his part, Forte said that if the Bears are willing to discuss meaningful contract negotiations, he is okay with the concept of the franchise tag. But if that is just a shallow promise and the Bears don't follow up with any dialogue of substance, you are almost guaranteeing that he will jump ship in 2013.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    The Cincinnati Bengals don't have any free agents that seem to be high-priority franchise tag candidates this offseason.

    The closest player that fits that description is safety Reggie Nelson, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Nelson turned in one of his best seasons in years and has increased his value around the league. 

    However, when you consider that Nelson made less than $1 million in 2011, giving him the franchise tag for 2012 guarantees that Nelson would earn $6.2 million, which is a raise that will be sure to raise some eyebrows. Is Nelson worth $6.2 million?

    The Bengals are also considering free-agent kicker Mike Nugent a priority to bring back to the team. It seems like there are a number of kickers that will be getting big multi-year deals in the 2012 offseason.

Cleveland Browns

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    One of the key free-agent players for the Cleveland Browns in the 2012 offseason is the leading tackler on the team, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.

    Jackson was injured for a pretty good section of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. He missed a total of 26 games in those two years, but now he is looking for financial security with a five-year deal.

    The reality of how much time he has missed doesn't justify rewarding him with such a blanket agreement, according to several articles from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. As a direct result, the Browns think it would be smarter to secure him via the franchise tag and see if he can put together another healthy year before any kind of long-term deal is offered.

    If the Browns do place a tag on Jackson, he would cost the team nearly $9 million in 2012. According to the Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot, the team is prepared to put the tag on Jackson. Will he be worth that much money? That is another story for a different day.

Dallas Cowboys

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    The Dallas Cowboys very well might need to use their franchise tag on OLB Anthony Spencer in 2012, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

    The Cowboys had originally thought that they would let Spencer see just how green the grass was around the NFL, but now they are concerned that they might not find a replacement that can do what Spencer does. Applying the franchise tag would limit the number of bids or suitors that would be willing to give up a first-round draft pick for him.

    Whether or not Spencer is worth the $8.8 million that a franchise tag would cost is a good question. By franchising Spencer, the Cowboys can then address other team needs at the draft and can revisit the OLB position in the 2013 offseason.

    That is the logic behind the decision so far, but obviously that is all subject to change.

Denver Broncos

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    The Denver Broncos are just one of the NFL teams that view bringing back their kicker as a high priority. Kicker Matt Prater hit some long-range key field goals for the Broncos in 2011, and the Broncos don't want to lose him in free agency. 

    According to the Denver Post, the Broncos seem to be okay with the idea of paying Prater $2.6 million in 2012, which is what the franchise tag would pay a kicker. Prater earned the money with four game- winning kicks and led the NFL in touchback percentage in the 2011 season.

    The Broncos prefer to sign Prater to a long-term deal, but if they can't, then the franchise tag will have to work.

Detroit Lions

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    The Cliff Avril scenario with the Detroit Lions is one that bears watching, because it has the potential to get interesting or ugly, depending on how negotiations are going.

    The latest update according to the Detroit News is that Avril came into the 2011 season wanting a new deal but was told to step up his play by the team and they would then try to take care of him. Well, due to the current salary-cap predicament that the Lions are in, "taking care of" Avril may prove to be very difficult to do.

    In a story at KFFL.com, if the Lions place the franchise tag on Avril, he would then be earning $10.6 million in 2012. If you add that amount to the totals that WR Calvin Johnson, QB Matthew Stafford and DT Ndamukong Suh earn, those four players would create a total compensation of $61.6 million, and the total salary cap for the team is going to be around $120 million. If that sounds like a scary scenario, it should be, because it is scary.

    Half of the Lions' salary cap would be tied up with just four players. Don't expect the Lions to be very active in free agency, especially if they decide to put the franchise tag on Avril.

    But we need to add that Avril doesn't have some leverage in negotiations. He would not be happy with the franchise tag because it prevents him from testing the market and making the most that he can for his family. In fact, he would probably hold out if he gets the franchise tag. He isn't willing to give the Lions a hometown discount either, so it appears for now that Avril has the Lions over the barrel.

    Like we said up top, this is one situation that bears further watching. Further complicating things is that the Lions were one of 20 teams to borrow salary-cap money from future seasons last year. There is only so much that the Lions can do in 2012.

Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers believe that the free agent that might cost them the most to re-sign to a long-term deal is tight end Jermichael Finley, so applying the franchise tag to him might be a practical solution.

    While that is a conceivable outcome, Finley's agent has been busy trying to come up with enough evidence to prove that Finley should actually be viewed more as a wide receiver than as a tight end. If he is, then that would have an impact on how much he is compensated.

    What is the difference at stake? Tight ends that receive a franchise tag earn $5.5 million, while a wide receiver earns $9.4 million. That is a significant difference between the two.

    As per an article from Pro Football Weekly, there is enough evidence now that supports Green Bay's claim that Finley is a tight end. It turns out that Finley lined up as a tight end on 54 percent of all snaps. In addition, Finley came up with 767 yards in receiving, which wouldn't even place him among the top 40 wide receivers from 2011. He would have little proof going forward that he should be earning the same money as a top-five or top-10 wide receiver does. 

    Taking it a step forward, if Finley was considered a wide receiver, that might make him too expensive for Green Bay to keep, while if he is allowed to get the franchise tag as a tight end, then he probably will be back in Green Bay in 2012. There doesn't seem to be much discussion about a long-term deal, so 2012 might be the last year that Green Bay and Finley are still together.

    What was helping to confuse the issue were the comments made by head coach Mike McCarthy at his press conference at the end of the season, per this article from Fox Sports Wisconsin:

    He's a tight end, but he also plays the one-receiver situation and the No. 2 slot sometimes and plays in the one slot to the three-man side. ... Those are the type of things when playing in a multiple offense, we treat all the perimeter players the same because it's about matchups.

Houston Texans

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    While the potential franchise tag situations are rather dicey in both Detroit and Green Bay, that isn't the case at all with the Houston Texans.

    That is because on The Big Show on SportsTalk 790 radio in Houston, the rep for Houston restricted free agent Arian Foster told listeners that he and Foster are open to getting the franchise tag from the team.

    If every NFL player had the same attitude as Foster, life would be so much easier for GMs.

    The key here is that since Foster is a restricted free agent, if the Texans gave him a first-round restricted tender, any team could steal him away with a better offer and then surrender a first-round draft pick. Foster has the majority of his career ahead of him, and the Texans would need to brace for offers that teams might still attempt to give him. But at least with the franchise tag applied, it would keep Foster in Houston for 2012.

    If Foster does get a franchise tag, he would then receive $7.7 million in 2012. Not a bad pay raise for a running back that was not drafted coming out of college. Maybe not being drafted has kept Foster humble and appreciate of how things have worked out for him.

    If Texans fans were wondering which player the team would give the franchise tag to, (Mario Williams versus Arian Foster), the economics of the situation imply that it will be Foster. According to a tweet from ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt, the Texans would have to pay Williams $21.99 million if they franchise tagged him. That much money is just plain astronomical and is a dead end. Things are looking better for Foster to stay with the team than they are for Williams to remain.

Indianapolis Colts

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    The Indianapolis Colts have a number of key free agents that will be hitting the market this year. Those key free agents are WR Reggie Wayne, DE Robert Mathis, WR Pierre Garcon and OT Ryan Diem.

    Out of the group they are possibly losing, they want to make sure they retain players that will assist them for the next three to four years in their rebuilding effort.

    The two free agents that seem to make the most sense for the franchise tag to me are Pierre Garcon and Robert Mathis. As Will Brinson wrote in his article, since Chuck Pagano is a defensive-minded coach, and he knows the team is rebuilding, it is economically feasible to retain Mathis for a one-year deal with a franchise tag.

    Mathis was speculating on how he would react if he was given the franchise tag when he noted, "The #TAG is an honor but personally if i was tagged now id feel they didn't want me but just have not found my replacement yet."

    As for Garcon, the Colts would ideally like to get him signed to a long-term deal. While Mathis will turn 31 years old next week, Garcon is only 25. Garcon figures to have many more years left than Mathis, so that is why the team wants to pursue Garcon for a long-term deal. But they do not want him testing the free-agent market either. Rather than letting that happen, the Colts could shift their strategy and apply the franchise tag on Garcon if contract talks for a long-term deal aren't going anywhere fast enough.

    Remember that all of the talks with either Garcon and/or Mathis are taking a back seat to a certain quarterback situation. The Colts will have a very interesting offseason in 2012, to be sure.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars' free agents for 2012 aren't really creating many headlines for possible franchise tag situations. To be more accurate, the projection now is that the Jaguars won't be using the franchise tag designation this year at all.

    One player that the team has started to talk to about a long-term deal is kicker Josh Scobee. Out of the Jaguars' priorities, Scobee is apparently at the top of the list, as per a story from the Florida Times-Union. The story went on to state that Scobee is the only player that the Jaguars would consider franchise-tag-worthy.

    It wouldn't surprise me if Jim Brockmire started ranting about an NFL team using a franchise tag on a kicker, but that is another story altogether. If you listen to Rich Eisen podcasts on the NFL Network, then you know what I am referring to.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    While there is speculation as to which free agent the Kansas City Chiefs would be open to applying the franchise tag to, I believe it will be Dwayne Bowe. The Chiefs are in a positive situation in the 2012 offseason because they have the most salary cap room of any NFL team.

    So when it comes down to figuring out who to retain in a Dwayne Bowe versus Brandon Carr scenario, the real answer is does it even matter? The Chiefs have enough cap space that they can easily afford to keep both players. At least that is the assertion of Chiefs beat writer Bob Gretz.

    Other NFL people have offered their opinion on how this shakes out as well. A recent update on Rotoworld mentions that Peter King from Sports Illustrated thinks that Carr gets the long-term deal, while Bowe gets the franchise tag.

    Another way to look at this situation is that Carr is just 25 years old, while Bowe is 27 years old. Bowe had a solid 2011 season despite having Tyler Palko as his quarterback for four games.

    Whatever happens, expect Brandon Carr to be getting a generous offer from the Chiefs, or he will be blown away by a huge offer from the market. Look at the number of teams that want to talk to Stanford Routt if you need any further indication of how valuable corners are right now in the NFL.

Miami Dolphins

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    The Miami Dolphins free-agent list contains players like CB Will Allen, QB Chad Henne, DL Igor Olshansky, DL Phillip Merling, DL Kendall Langford, DL Paul Soliai and OT Vernon Carey.

    Based on where the Dolphins are going with respect to trying to upgrade at quarterback, none of these free agents appear to be worthy of applying the franchise tag to their situation.

    Merling will be a restricted free agent this offseason, so he can be kept by the Dolphins if they use an original pick tender on him. He was drafted by the Dolphins in the second round.

    That is the only Dolphins free agent that requires anything unique or special. The Dolphins are prepared to let players like Henne and Soliai walk away.

Minnesota Vikings

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    The Minnesota Vikings are another team that doesn't have any free agents that appear to be worthy of applying the franchise tag to. The only possible exception is LB Erin Henderson. Even though the Vikings may not use the tag on Henderson, they could limit his ability to be courted by the rest of the league if they apply the franchise tag to him.

    As per this article from SB Nation, they speculate that Henderson could be the guy that the Vikings use the franchise tag on.

    Rotoworld ran an update on Henderson that referred to him as one of the best run-defending linebackers in 2011, per Pro Football Focus. Henderson is only 25 years old, so trying to lock him up is also another strategy that the Vikings can pursue.

    Visanthe Shiancoe is another free agent for the Vikings, but the Vikings might prefer going to younger tight end Kyle Rudolph, leaving Henderson as the free agent that they might want to apply the franchise tag to.

New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots free agent that the team would use the franchise tag on is Wes Welker. Forget about the drop in the Super Bowl, as Welker is one of the most reliable wide receivers in the entire NFL.

    He is just too important to Tom Brady and the New England offense to let him leave for another team over money.

    Multiple sources have weighed in on this topic, such as Adam Schefter of ESPN, Mike Lombardi of NFL Network and Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe. All three predict that Welker will receive the franchise tag in 2012.

    While a long-term deal is a possibility, the Patriots have other issues that they are contending with. Welker wants to be paid like a top receiver, and the franchise tag allows that to happen automatically.

New Orleans Saints

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    There are so many key free agents who have contracts up this year that realistically we could probably make a case for multiple players with the New Orleans Saints. Pictured on this slide are both Drew Brees and Carl Nicks. While the Saints prefer to lock Brees up with a long-term deal, they have apparently not made much progress with Nicks but do not want to lose him either.

    I think the Saints are going to continue to work on getting Brees to sign a long-term deal, and the Saints will fall back on their franchise tag to prevent Nicks from leaving the Saints.

    According to this blog post from ESPN's Pat Yasinkas, the Saints have at least three free agents that are of enough importance that they could be eligible to be hit with the franchise tag. When Tom Brady and Peyton Manning worked out their new contracts, they were getting $14 million per year. Why would the Saints allow Brees to go to $16 million a year, which is what he would get if they place the franchise tag on him? Surely the Saints can argue that as good as Brees is, he is not better than Brady or Manning.

    So, again with the primary thought being that the Saints will work towards getting a long-term deal with Brees to make sure that he retires in a Saints uniform, the next key player to address in my mind is Carl Nicks. While the Saints could apply the franchise tag to Marques Colston just as well, the point is that the only player that they can't give it to is Brees. Otherwise they could lose both Colston and Nicks in the same offseason. That would be a tough blow for the Saints offense to overcome.

New York Giants

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    With so many teams around the NFL in need of help at wide receiver, it would make more financial sense for New York Giants free agent Mario Manningham to discourage having a franchise tag placed on him. He would prefer to test the free-agent market where he can be signed to a multiple-year deal instead.

    Manningham probably earned a substantial raise with his clutch catches and strong play in the playoffs, noting that he was playing out the final year of his contract. No matter if he returns to the Giants or leaves in free agency, Manningham is assured of getting a better level of compensation in 2012.

    One Giants free agent that is flying under the radar is punter Steve Weatherford. He came up with a huge game in Super Bowl XLVI, as he was able to nail three punts inside the Patriots 10-yard line. The Giants won't want him leaving for another team. Weatherford posted a career-best punting average of 45.7.

    It is possible that the Giants don't use the franchise tag on anyone, but a sleeper candidate for the tag would be Weatherford.

New York Jets

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    The New York Jets only have one high-priority free-agent player to re-sign in 2012, per this article from ESPN New York. That player is NT Sione Pouha.

    To keep their 3-4 defense functioning at a high level, the Jets need to bring Pouha back, who is very strong at stuffing the run game. The Jets don't really have great depth behind Pouha, which increases their need to get a deal done.

    Pouha is now 33 years old, and there are questions about Kenrick Ellis. Pro Football Focus graded Pouha as the best defensive tackle in 2011. That won't be lost on teams around the NFL that are in need of help on the defensive line.

Oakland Raiders

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    The Oakland Raiders witnessed in the 2011 season how valuable Michael Bush is to their team. When both Bush and Darren McFadden are healthy and playing, Bush can come in to pick up the key, tough yards in the red zone or on short down-and-distance situations.

    Bush can also come in and give McFadden a blow to keep him fresher throughout a game and fresher for the season. If McFadden gets hurt again, which has to be a reasonable concern for the Raiders given his track record, Bush also has the ability to step in and be the feature back. That is something that is not very easy to replace.

    From an article by Will Brinson of CBS Sports, the Raiders have kicked around the idea of paying Bush more than McFadden due to the reliability and health issues.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Several months ago, it would have been classified as a "long shot" for the Philadelphia Eagles to even consider the thought of applying the franchise tag on wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson was more or less thought of as a "cancer" on the team, and the prevailing thought was that the Eagles were prepared to let Jackson walk.

    But that was then, and this is now. Since then, cooler heads have prevailed. Jackson is the player that the Eagles will not hesitate to apply the franchise tag to if they can't reach a multiple-year deal with him first. That doesn't prevent the Eagles from doing a sign-and-trade deal once they have his signature on the deal.

    Could that be what the Eagles are privately thinking? They say all the right things to make Jackson think they want him back, and as soon as he signs a new deal, they turn around and trade him away for some draft picks.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a tricky situation regarding restricted free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace. On an update from Rotoworld that analyzes a tweet from Adam Schefter of ESPN, there is only a 50/50 chance that the Steelers are going to be able to keep Wallace.

    The biggest culprit in that the Steelers are almost $11 million over the salary cap. They are trying to restructure as many deals as they can, but there is only so much they can do. If a team makes an offer to Wallace that the Steelers can't match (poison pill offers have been outlawed in the latest CBA deal, so this would boil down to salary-cap issues), then that new team will be stronger and the Steelers will be clearly weaker.

    That logic suggests that teams will aggressively go after Wallace, and since he is only a restricted free agent, there is only so much the Steelers can do to keep him. If that happens the Steelers would get a first-round draft pick as compensation, but that won't replace Wallace's production. Could the Ravens be that team?

    Another way to think about it is like this: Would the Ravens like to hurt the Steelers if they could, and would Wallace be a good return for surrendering their No. 29 overall pick in the first round? The answer to both of those questions would appear to be yes.

    So the Steelers need to be able to remove enough salaries from their roster or free up enough cap space to pay Wallace the $9.6 million it would cost to make him the franchise tag player. Those are the issues coming into the start of free agency.

San Diego Chargers

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    The San Diego Chargers' 16 free agents are Stephen Cooper, Patrick Crayton, Na’il Diggs, Jared Gaither, Antonio Garay, Steve Gregory, Nick Hardwick, Tommie Harris, Jacob Hester, Vincent Jackson, Randy McMichael, Tony Moll, Scott Mruczkowski, Paul Oliver, Bob Sanders and Mike Tolbert.

    The Chargers have roughly $9 million to $10 million in cap space to work with, which really isn't that much, especially when you consider how much signing only half of their free agents from the list above would cost the team.

    As per this article from Chargers Gab, if the Chargers were to apply the franchise tag on Vincent Jackson, that would increase his $11.424 million salary from 2011 an additional 20 percent, which comes out to $13.709 million. Given the cap space the team has and all of the other free agents to deal with, you can see the dilemma that the Chargers are in.

    From almost every source I have been able to research, it is widely believed that the Chargers will not use their franchise tag on any player in the 2012 offseason.

San Francisco 49ers

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    The San Francisco 49ers free agents most likely to be considered for the franchise tag come down to quarterback Alex Smith and safety Dashon Goldson. These players are the top two priorities for the 49ers, so which player will get the franchise tag and which one will get a long-term deal?

    My educated guess is that the 49ers will want to lock up Alex Smith based on his strong 2011 season and know that he will be part of their quarterback solution for the immediate future. If they are able to do that, then it makes it easier to take care of Goldson by just giving him the franchise tag.

    If the 49ers can't work out a long-term deal with Smith, they are not anywhere close to being ready to start Colin Kaepernick, so they would then apply the franchise tag to Smith in that scenario. 

    As far as Goldson goes, the San Francisco Chronicle thinks he could get hit with the franchise tag or a long-term deal just as likely. Goldson is in his prime years since he is just 27 years old and just made his first Pro Bowl team.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Seattle Seahawks fans have become sold on Marshawn Lynch ever since he came over in the trade from the Buffalo Bills. The memorable playoff touchdown run that Lynch made through most, if not all, of the Saints defense will go down as one of the most famous plays in Seahawks history.

    Since the fans love his running style, imagine the public outcry if the Seahawks let him leave to play for another team. The Seahawks are too smart to let that happen. They will slap a franchise tag on Lynch before they ever run the risk of losing him to some other team.

    Lynch is 25 years old and managed to set career bests in 2011, including carries (285), rushing yards (1,204), yards per carry average (4.22) and touchdowns (13). Based on those results, Lynch will want a long-term deal, and if his asking price isn't reasonable, the Seahawks will turn around and give him the franchise tag.

    From this article by the Seattle Times, it seems that this is a good year to give running backs the franchise tag since the franchise tag price for running backs has been heading south for the past two years. The price has dropped from $9.6 million to $8.2 million to $7.7 million in the past two years. As the Seattle Times points out, the franchise tag makes more sense than the Carolina Panthers handing DeAngelo Williams $43 million for a five-year deal.

St. Louis Rams

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    St. Louis Rams free-agent wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was originally thought to be following Josh McDaniels to New England to join the Patriots in 2012. But Lloyd hired Tom Condon to be his agent, and that doesn't bode well for the Patriots' chances to sign him.

    In addition, the Patriots are going to need to spend serious dollars on Wes Welker, so they might not have much room to add a strong veteran performer like Lloyd.

    So if Lloyd doesn't join the Patriots, what are the chances that he could come back to play in St. Louis? What are the chances that the Rams use the franchise tag to retain him?

    As things stand now, the most common view is that the Rams don't have any player that they will use the franchise tag on. While that seems to be the way that things are headed, if the Rams do use the tag it would be on Lloyd.

Tampa Bay Bucs

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    The Tampa Bay Bucs are another team that don't seem to have any free agents that are worth attaching the franchise tag to.

    If you are looking for a player that could be a surprise franchise tag candidate, that would probably be kicker Connor Barth. If it seems unusual that a team would franchise a kicker, that speaks volumes about some of the missing talent level on the Bucs team.

    Barth had a solid season with two field goals of at least 50 yards and only missed two field-goal attempts all year.

    Barth is a free agent, so don't be surprised if his strong leg draws some offers from teams around the league, hence the potential for a franchise tag.

Tennessee Titans

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    Tennessee Titans free agents in the 2012 offseason include CB Cortland Finnegan, DL Jason Jones, DL William Hayes, LB Barrett Ruud, S Michael Griffin and S Chris Hope.

    When the season ended, the early train of thought was that the Titans were considering placing the franchise tag on Cortland Finnegan. But as time has passed, it's speculated that the Titans aren't interested in paying the kind of money that Finnegan feels he needs to see.

    Given that update, that leaves the Titans with no real candidates for the franchise tag. They will be an active player in free agency; it is just that they don't have that many free agents of their own to worry about in 2012.

Washington Redskins

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    The Washington Redskins are a team that does have a good candidate in mind for the franchise tag. That would be their leading receiver, free-agent tight end Fred Davis.

    From Jason La Canfora of NFL Network, he expects the Redskins to use the franchise tag on Davis. La Canfora used to cover the Redskins as one of their beat reporters, so he has a good handle for what is going on with the team.

    The Redskins have quite a bit of salary-cap space this year, and giving the franchise tag to Davis would only cost the team $5.5 million. That is why this is a no-brainer kind of move.