Top Candidates for NFL Franchise Tags

Chris Trapasso@ChrisTrapassoAnalyst IFebruary 12, 2013

Top Candidates for NFL Franchise Tags

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    NFL players want long-term financial stability more than anything else. 

    That's why most of them prefer not to be hit with the franchise tag, a distinction that means they'll make the average of the salaries of the highest-paid players at their position, but only on a one-year deal. 

    Which players are the top franchise-tag candidates in 2013?

Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens

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    QB Franchise Tag: $14.64 million  

    Exclusive Franchise Tag: Close to $20 million

    Joe Flacco has plenty of leverage after a sparkling four-game playoff run that culminated in winning the Super Bowl and its MVP. 

    Now, Flacco and his agent Joe Linta have set high monetary goals for the quarterback's next contract. 

    According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, $20 million per year is Flacco's "magic number," which he'll reportedly sacrifice guaranteed money to get.

    While a long-term deal seems unlikely at this juncture, the Ravens could use the exclusive franchise tag that would be more expensive than the regular franchise tag but would guarantee Flacco is the Ravens' quarterback in 2013.

Ryan Clady, LT, Denver Broncos

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    OL Franchise Tag: $9.66 million

    Regardless of how it happens, Ryan Clady will be the Denver Broncos' starting left tackle at the beginning of the 2013 season. 

    Jason Peters ($10.4 million) and Joe Thomas ($10 million) have the highest base salaries among left tackles in the game, but at the ripe age of 26, one has to expect that Broncos management would love to sign Clady to a multi-year contract. Right now, that seems more likely than a franchise tag. 

    Clady is one of the most sound pass-blocking left tackles in football. He's a gifted athlete with fine technique, and Denver knows how important he is with Peyton Manning under center. 

Henry Melton, DL, Chicago Bears

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    DT Franchise Tag: $8.31 million

    Henry Melton has emerged as a dominating interior defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears over the last two seasons. 

    He has totaled 13 sacks since 2011, and ProFootballFocus (subscription required) has ranked him as a top-seven pass-rushing defensive tackle during that span. 

    According to ESPN's John Clayton, the Bears have a decent amount of cap space in 2013 and shouldn't have much problem locking up Melton long-term. 

Jairus Byrd, S, Buffalo Bills

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    Safety Franchise Tag: $6.79 million

    The Buffalo Bills have two major offseason priorities—re-signing Andy Levitre and Jairus Byrd, the latter being one of the most complete safeties in the game.

    But the reason why Byrd is the more likely franchise-tag candidate is obvious: The safety position is cheaper than the offensive line position. Just in terms of franchise tags, it's almost $3 million cheaper.

    Buffalo released veterans Nick Barnett and George Wilson, presumably to make room for a tag for Byrd and a new contract for Levitre. 

Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots

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    CB Franchise Tag: $10.67 million

    The New England Patriots took a chance on Aqib Talib, trading for him late in the 2012 season, and he showcased good lockdown cornerback skills before leaving with an injury in the AFC title game. 

    The franchise tag would be relatively expensive, but it would give the Patriots more time to evaluate whether or not Talib is the true No. 1 corner they've been coveting for quite some time. 

    Talib is 27 years old, so he theoretically has plenty of good football in front of him.

Sebastian Vollmer, OL, New England Patriots

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    OL Franchise Tag: $9.66 million

    Sebastian Vollmer is one of the premier right tackles in football. He's an ideal athlete to block edge-rushers and is nearly as devastating when run-blocking. 

    He played in 15 games for the Patriots in 2012, and New England certainly knows the importance of keeping Tom Brady upright. 

    However, the Patriots do have considerable cap room, so they could work out a long-term deal before the franchise tag is needed. 

Dashon Goldson, S, San Francisco 49ers

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    Safety Franchise Tag: $6.79 million

    Dashon Goldson was the San Francisco 49ers' franchise player, so if the team decides to franchise him in 2013, they'd owe him 120 percent of his 2012 salary, which means he'd make $7.45 million next season. 

    Goldson allowed some big plays during the playoffs, but ProFootballFocus (subscription required) ranked him as the 10th-best coverage safety in the NFL this season. 

    When asked for his thoughts about being franchised for two straight years (via, Goldson replied with the following: "Nah. I’m not for that. I’m really not. It would be surprising if they was to do that again."

    Without any major free agents who need to be re-signed, Goldson could be hit with the tag in 2013. 

Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs

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    OL Franchise Tag: $9.66 million

    Branden Albert played 12 games in 2012, and he has developed into one of the game's elite left tackles, especially when it comes to pass-blocking. 

    However, he has battled weight problems and dealt with back spasms in 2012. 

    There's a chance the Kansas City Chiefs simply cut ties with Albert and look to draft Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, but there's also a chance new head coach Andy Reid doesn't want to lose his current franchise left tackle. The team's front office would keep him around via the franchise tag. 

Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

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    WR Franchise Tag: $10.36 million

    Which player do the Kansas City Chiefs value more, Branden Albert or Dwayne Bowe? 

    Who is the bigger priority? 

    Because Bowe was franchised in 2012, the Chiefs would owe him 120 percent of last year's salary, which would give him close to $11 million in 2013. 

    With around $16.1 million in cap space, a figure that could inflate after cuts, the Chiefs could certainly afford Bowe as the team's franchise player again.

    Bowe is a traditional No. 1 receiver; a big target who can line up on the perimeter and often beat the opposition's No. 1 cornerback. 

    The offensive-minded Andy Reid would likely love to keep him in Kansas City. 

Brandon Myers, TE, Oakland Raiders

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    TE Franchise Tag: $5.96 million

    The Oakland Raiders don't have much extra money, but that could change if they release players like Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. 

    Brandon Myers emerged as a solid, chain-moving tight end in 2012, but he wouldn't be placed into the "elite" distinction. 

    However, the Raiders don't have many star players, and the tight end franchise-tag figure isn't expensive. In fact, it's the least expensive tag outside of the kicker/punter position. 

Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals

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    DE Franchise Tag: $10.98 million

    Michael Johnson came into his own in 2012, totaling 11.5 sacks in his fourth professional season. 

    He just turned 26 and is loaded with athleticism. 

    With the tag figure being so expensive, it's much more likely that the Bengals, a team with an abundance of cap room, work out a long-term deal for this underrated defensive end. 

Andre Smith, OL, Cincinnati Bengals

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    OL Franchise Tag: $9.66 million

    Andre Smith didn't work out at left tackle, but he has become one of the NFL's most well-rounded right tackles. 

    ProFootballFocus (subscription required) gave him a positive rating above 10 as a pass-blocker and run-blocker. He's the only right tackle who earned those grades. 

    The Bengals had trouble working out a long-term deal when they drafted Smith out of Alabama, so that could play into the negotiating of his second contract. 

    He is the most likely franchise-tag candidate on the Bengals.