NFL teams are free to start assigning their own free agents with a franchise tag starting on Monday, February 18. The last day to use the franchise tag is March 4. So, every NFL general manager then has eight days after that to begin making offers to agents for the free agents they represent starting on March 12.
Just because a team places a franchise tag on a player, that doesn't prevent them from negotiating a long-term deal with the player. In most cases, reaching a long-term contract is what the team wants to do anyway. The key development is that by removing the player from the free-agent pool, they will more than likely retain that player rather then let them walk away.
The following players stand a reasonable chance to receive a franchise tag. If they don't get one, then they will be in demand in the free-agent market, with several being the subject of a bidding war.
Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco
Based on Flacco's performance in the playoffs, he will be commanding top dollar and will get it. Baltimore will have to either place the tag on him for $14 million or the exclusive tag for $16 million. Long-term deal in the $18-20 million range per year is probably going to be required.
Buffalo Bills S Jairus Byrd
Franchise tag numbers for a safety are $6.798 million, but the Bills prefer to sign Byrd to a longer-term deal. The Bills may need to come in above $7 million for a longer-term deal.
Chicago Bears DT Henry Melton
The Bears don't have that much salary cap space available due to having a number of huge contracts on defense already with Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs. Melton will cost them $8 million to franchise, so this is far from a slam dunk. If he doesn't get a tag, NFL teams will need to come in above $8 million to get him, as Melton believes he is the best defensive tackle in the NFL right now.
Cincinnati Bengals T Andre Smith
Smith is the first of five tackles on this slide. NFL teams know how important tackles are, and they have to take action to protect the better ones in the game. Going rate for a franchise tag tackle is $9.660 million. So, for any team that sees any one of these tackles hitting the open market, they should have at least $9 million in available salary cap space.
As for Smith in free agency, his price range will probably be in the $9-10 million range.
Denver Broncos T Ryan Clady
Clady has the best chance of all five tackles to be franchised. He is Peyton Manning's bodyguard. If Denver lets him test the market, some team would step up over $10 million to steal him from Denver.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe
With Andy Reid now in charge in Kansas City, the last thing he wants to see happen is to bring in a quarterback while the top wide receiver is leaving for greener pastures. Franchise tag money for wide receivers is $10.357 million, and remember that Bowe got the tag in 2012. So, Kansas City would have to pay him 120 percent in 2013. Looks like Bowe will get at least $10 million wherever he plays in 2013.
New England Patriots T Sebastian Vollmer
The Patriots offensive line went through some personnel changes in 2012, and it needs to retain Vollmer to prevent more shuffling in 2013. Tom Brady will lobby to see Vollmer brought back.
New Orleans Saints T Jermon Bushrod
The Saints will have to perform some salary cap surgery to find the space needed to franchise tag Bushrod. If they can't, teams will go after the talented tackle, which would make things less comfortable for Drew Brees. As we stated above, $9-10 million is the going rate for top-tier tackles.
New York Giants T Will Beatty
Beatty is the best offensive lineman that the Giants have, so unless they can convince him to sign a long-term deal, they will have to apply the franchise tag to him. The Giants have been aggressive in clearing up some salary cap room since the Super Bowl, so that bodes well for Beatty staying in New York.
San Diego Chargers G Louis Vasquez
Vasquez is one of the best guards hitting free agency this year (with Andy Levitre of Buffalo being the other), so teams that are in need of improving their interior offensive lines will be curious to see what the Chargers decide. All offensive linemen are lumped together in the franchise tag numbers by position, so putting a tag on Vasquez would cost the Chargers the same $9.660 million that the tackles receive.
San Francisco 49ers S Dashon Goldson
Here is another example of a player who was tagged in 2012 (Dwayne Bowe was the other) who hasn't been signed long-term and whose team might have to apply the franchise tag again to keep him. San Francisco would have to pay Goldson 120 percent of what he got in 2012. The 49ers secondary looked vulnerable in the Super Bowl, so that might prevent teams from throwing out more than $6-7 million to try to lure Goldson away from San Francisco.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DE Michael Bennett
Pro Football Focus ranked him as the No. 7 defensive end in the NFL in 2012 in 4-3 schemes. Since he led the Bucs in sacks last year, Tampa Bay doesn't want to see him leave in free agency. The going rate for a defensive end with the franchise tag is $10.984 million, so if he is allowed to hit free agency, it would take roughly $10 million to sign Bennett.
Tennessee Titans TE Jared Cook
The going rate for a franchise tag tight end in 2013 is $5.962 million. If the Titans don't reach a long-term deal with Cook, then they will likely give him the franchise tag. If negotiations don't go well and he hits the open market, offers would need to start at at least $5 million to get him to sign a deal.
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