Between Feb. 18 and March 4, each NFL team was permitted to use the franchise tag to prevent one player from becoming an unrestricted free agent later in the spring.
Eight tags were used in total, which gave tagging teams a four-and-a-half-month negotiation window in which to sign their tagged players to long-term deals. After that, it's either an automatic one-year contract based on the average of the top-five salaries for whatever position they play, or it's a holdout (and sometimes, ultimately, it's both).
That window will close on Monday at 4 p.m. ET, and none of the eight tagged players have signed long-term deals yet.
Drew Brees signed a long-term deal in the eleventh hour last year.
A lot of these things get done last minute. Last year, when a record 21 players were hit with the tag, five of them signed long-term deals on the July 16 deadline. And ultimately, 12 of the 21 tagged had new contracts. That's a 57 percent cut, which means we should probably expect at least a few new deals between now and Monday afternoon.
But Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports thinks this might simply be a slow year. He tweeted, "In general, expectations seem pretty low that many franchise players will get new deals before Monday's deadline. Little progress overall."
Let's break down the eight scenarios in play.
* Tender amounts via ESPN
Tender (signed): $9.828 million
This situation became cloudy once the Chiefs selected offensive tackle Eric Fisher first overall in April's draft. Albert might not be worth a lot of money long term as a right tackle, and Fisher certainly wouldn't have been worth the top pick in the draft if he remains at right tackle for more than a year or two.
It's really surprising that the Chiefs weren't able to trade Albert earlier in the offseason, but $9.8 million for a talented left tackle for one season isn't terrible. Although ESPN.com's Bill Williamson reported earlier this month that he expected negotiations to pick up between Albert and the Chiefs, I get the feeling the two will roll the dice on the tag this year and see where things stand when the 2014 offseason arrives.
Will Fisher struggle as a rookie? Will Albert begin to wear out as he approaches 30? Why rush when the tag is available again next year and there'll be plenty of time to talk in January and February.
Tender (unsigned): $6.916 million
A "source close to the situation" told Tim Graham of The Buffalo News on Monday that "no contract talks have been scheduled, and there's no understanding between the sides they'll speak any time soon." Considering that Byrd has yet to even sign his one-year tender and thus can hold out until mid-November without penalty, that's a bit troubling.
At 26, Byrd is only entering his prime and is already one of the best safeties in the game. With that in mind, $6.9 million isn't a bad deal for Buffalo. In fact, the Bills would probably owe him more over the first two years of a long-term deal than they would if they were to slap him with the tag twice in a row.
The risk, though, is that he'll hold out, which could have a toxic effect on the locker room. Two of the three safeties that received the franchise tag last year ended up striking long-term deals with their teams, with only Dashon Goldson playing under a tender in San Francisco.
I believe there's still a chance the Bills and Byrd avoid that, but you'd have to believe the odds favor the deadline hitting without a deal.
Tender (unsigned): $9.828 million
Like Byrd, Clady has yet to sign his tender, which means a holdout is a strong possibility if the two sides don't come to terms between now and Monday afternoon. There's no way the Broncos want to flirt with the possibility of losing Peyton Manning's blindside protector, though, so don't be surprised if something comes together this weekend.
A source told Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio on Thursday that there was a "lot of work to be done" to strike an accord, but it appears they've been talking for some time. That's a good sign, because if a wall was hit, they'd have given up by now and we'd be hearing reports like the one regarding Byrd.
If I had to put my money on one franchise player signing by Monday, I'd bet on Clady.
Tender (signed): $11.175 million
The only defensive end to receive the franchise tag looks as though he's going to receive the highest salary in team history in 2013, because all signs indicate that a long-term deal isn't coming Johnson's way.
"It’s going to play out how it plays out," Johnson told Sirius NFL Radio on Tuesday, per Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer. "Play this year and worry about this stuff when the dust settles."
With the tag price that high, you'd have to imagine that Johnson's camp is expecting a hefty long-term payday in place of the tender. And Mike Brown and the thrifty Bengals don't often break the bank like that. That $11.2 million salary won't be easy to swallow, but I think they'd rather make Johnson prove himself before he, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins all hit unrestricted free agency together in 2014.
Tender (signed): $2.977 million
Kickers often get the franchise tag because the cost isn't crippling, and this is the second year in a row in which a punter has been slapped with the tag. Last year, it was Steve Weatherford. He and the Giants only needed a couple extra weeks to agree on a long-term deal, and the tag was gone.
This year, McAfee has signed his tender in Indianapolis, but a long-term contract has yet to be reached. There hasn't been a lot of media chatter about whether the two sides are close, but that probably has a lot to do with the fact McAfee is a punter.
Four of the six kickers/punters who were tagged last year signed long-term deals, and McAfee looks like he wants to stick around in Indy for a while, so we'll buy this.
Tender (signed): $8.450 million
La Canfora reported back in mid-June that there wasn't a "sense of urgency" between the Bears and their talented veteran defensive tackle, but there's been a lot of time for that to change.
Melton told Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune that there's been "chatter" between agent Jordan Woy and the team, but, according to McClure, "nothing that would indicate a deal is imminent."
But keep in mind that the Bears weren't expected to strike a deal with franchise player Matt Forte last year. That happened in the eleventh hour as well, and in this case it would behoove the Bears to get something done to free up cap space and secure a talented 26-year-old defender for many years to come.
Despite the fact there haven't been a lot of positive vibes here, we're leaning in favor of a deal by the deadline.
Tender (signed): $10.627 million*
That asterisk? It's because although Spencer is now a defensive end in the Cowboys' new 4-3 scheme, he was tagged as a linebacker based on the snaps he took last season. As an end, he would have been owed $11.175 million, and that's a factor in the negotiation process.
"They have the right to franchise as a linebacker," Spencer's agent Jordan Woy said back in March, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "But he will be a defensive end. It would be fair to look at contracts of players that play that position."
That'll make things just a tad more difficult for the two sides to agree on something long term, which means there's a very good chance Spencer plays under the tag for the second consecutive season.
In fact, it looks like all hope is already lost. This from ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon:
It appears nearly certain that this will be Spencer’s final season with the Cowboys after a mutual decision to halt talks about a long-term contract extension well in advance of the July 15 deadline for franchise players. The sides made precious little, if any, progress over the last 18 months.
Tender (signed): $8.450 million
To his surprise, the Dolphins haven’t made a multiyear offer to defensive tackle Randy Starks since slapping him with the $8.45 million franchise tag – which happened after Starks rejected a multiyear offer that wasn’t remotely close to his asking price. But we hear Starks, who sat out most of the offseason program, has a good attitude going into camp and won't complain about his contract.
In that same report, it is suggested that the Dolphins might be waiting to decide between Starks and Paul Soliai next spring. Soliai is entering a contract year, but he, too, played under the tag back in 2011.
The Dolphins can afford to pay Starks that $8.5 million salary this season, and he's approaching his 30th birthday, so we'd also be surprised if things turned around at this stage.