How Franchise Tag Winners Will Impact Teams' Super Bowl Odds
Ray Rice, Drew Brees and Matt Forte will play vital roles on teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations in 2012, and their recent long-term signings will allow their clubs to breathe easier this season.
Forte and Rice had to sweat out contract negotiations with their respective teams until deadline day, while Drew Brees and Tyvon Branch inked their deals a few days before they would have been forced to play under the one-year franchise tag.
DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles was signed to a long-term contract all the way back in March.
What do the multi-year contracts of the former franchise-tagged players turned financially-secure stars mean for each club's odds to advance to NFL's title game?
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We know how close the Ravens were to upsetting the New England Patriots in last year's AFC Championship game and advancing to the Super Bowl, so they're appropriately a top contender to make the big game this season.
While it's unlikely Rice, the team's unquestioned offensive heartbeat, would have sat out during the regular season and lost game checks, the team is in a much better situation with the 2011 yards-from-scrimmage leader locked up long-term.
With his contract dispute behind him, the nimble running back can solely focus on the task at hand, which is getting over that final hurdle and representing the AFC in the Super Bowl this season.
The Rice signing doesn't drastically improve the chances Baltimore wins the AFC, but it certainly solidifies their spot as one of the most complete teams in football.
New Orleans Saints
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The Saints, had they not dealt with the harsh—but deserved—penalties from the despicable bounty program, would have once again been a NFC favorite in 2012.
Without their head coach and starting middle linebacker for the entire upcoming year, expectations have been lowered.
If they didn't come to a long-term agreement with record-breaking quarterback Drew Brees, New Orleans would have one cataclysmic season awaiting.
But they did conjure up great news with Brees' multi-year deal, and although they've endured a far from conventional offseason, they still boast one of the most dynamic offenses in football.
There's no telling if Brees was ready to hold out, but he would have been deservedly unsettled had he not reached a multi-year deal with the franchise he has resurrected over the last five years.
Brees' contract shines a glimmer of hope on the Saints 2012 outlook, and undoubtedly helps their chances to make a somewhat surprising run to the Super Bowl.
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In an attempt to rebound from one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory, the Philadelphia Eagles had to make a decision on their talented, yet polarizing wideout DeSean Jackson.
After briefly hitting him with the franchise tag this offseason, the team decided to ink him to a multi-year contract. Thus ending his contract frustrations and allowing the occasionally distracted wideout to focus on football.
With Jackson, an established weapon, blossoming receiver Jeremy Maclin, All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, the dangerous yet oft-injured quarterback Michael Vick and a revamped defense, the Eagles seem to have a better chance to make more noise in the NFC in Year 2 with the "Dream Team" label.
Jackson's deal greatly improves the team's chances to reach the Super Bowl because, when focused, he's one of the most electrifying playmakers in football.
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The Bears were well on their way to the postseason before Matt Forte and Jay Cutler were sidelined with season-ending injuries in 2011.
Forte's been severely underpaid over the last two seasons, especially when realizing his true value to Chicago's production.
In 12 games last year, Forte had accumulated 1,487 yards from scrimmage with four touchdowns.
The team is bound to be more versatile with newly-acquired Brandon Marshall out wide, but a locked-up Forte is a major positive for a darkhorse Chicago team that mustn't be slept on in the NFC in 2012.
Forte would have played this season under the franchise tag, but making one of your best players happy is never a bad thing when attempting to reach the Super Bowl.
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The Raiders aren't even prohibitive favorites in their own division in 2012, but as we've seen over the last few years, the AFC West is the one of the most unpredictable divisions in football.
Branch is a fine safety, a sure tackler who's sound in coverage, too.
He's had over 100 tackles in each of the last three seasons, and has quietly become one of the better safeties in the NFL.
His multi-year deal is obviously encouraging for the Raiders, but it doesn't do much of anything in terms of boosting Oakland's already sparse Super Bowl chances.