The Detroit Lions have 14 unrestricted free agents to consider re-signing, but are any of those players worthy of a franchise-tag designation?
To the uninitiated, the franchise tag basically allows a team to lock up an impending free agent with a one-year deal. The catch is the pay raises the average of the five highest-paid players from the previous year at that position.
There are various other rules and designations that govern franchise tags. However, this short description will work for our purposes: A franchise can hold on to its star (or at least very good) player for a high salary, lengthening the amount of time the franchise has to negotiate a long-term deal by one year.
It's a long way off to March 3 (the designation deadline), but we can scratch off 11 of the Lions' free agents, leaving us with three guys who at least warrant a discussion. To add a bit of fun, let's rank them from least to most likeliest to be slapped with the tag.
3. Center Dominic Raiola
Don't laugh. This isn't as absurd as you would believe.
Center Dominic Raiola was the anchor in the middle of a young offensive line. Besides Rob Sims to his immediate left, there were only 336 snaps worth of professional experience at the other three positions.
Yet, Detroit's offensive line was outstanding in 2013.
The line's success had plenty to do with both the leadership and play of Raiola. He made the calls and the blocks, as his awesome 18.6 grade and zero sacks allowed would attest. Even more revealing, his final grade was only 0.3 points behind Jason Kelce, the No. 1 ranked center in 2013.
However, there's little need or value for the franchise tag here.
Raiola is already 35 years old and has expressed a desire to finish his career with the Lions and the players on the current roster. He cut his salary down to $1 million last year and will likely take a hometown discount to stay in Honolulu Blue.
Likelihood: Very Low
2. Defensive End Willie Young
Although the team went 7-9, the Lions weren't short on breakout players in 2013. Guys like tackle LaAdrian Waddle and guard Larry Warford are reshaping the offensive line, and linebacker DeAndre Levy established himself as one of the better outside 4-3 linebackers.
But none of them get to hawk their wares to the highest bidder this spring. Willie Young does.
The fourth-year defensive end posted career highs in tackles (40) and quarterback hurries (48) while tying his previous high of four sacks. In fact, Young had 20 more hurries than Cliff Avril, who was the last tagged Lion.
Young graded out as the 16th-best defensive end, and his numbers belie a good-but-not-elite player. With an estimated payout for defensive ends somewhere around $12 million, Young would have to rely on the adage that contracts pay for a player's potential as opposed to what he's done.
Unfortunately, despite Young's short career, he's already 28 years old. There aren't many teams that will pay a premium for a four-sack defensive end, since his potential is capped by his age.
1. Tight End Brandon Pettigrew
There will be plenty of debate over the next month and a half over the value of maddening tight end Brandon Pettigrew. He can look great at times, making circus catches and blocking like an offensive lineman, but counters with plenty of bonehead moments, from dropped passes to missed blocks.
Some want him back because he's the best dual-threat tight end on the roster and don't trust the not-completely-proven duo of Joseph Fauria and Michael Williams to handle his duties. It's an understandable thought, but general manager Martin Mayhew already has to trim some fat considering the Lions are a little more than $2 million over the cap.
Detroit will open up some cap room once they give Ndamukong Suh a healthy extension, but does Pettigrew deserve a large chunk of that pie? If Detroit opts against losing the 28-year-old tight end who posted career highs of 83 catches and five scores in 2011 and slap him with the tag, he will count for almost $7 million against the cap.
Only four tight ends carried as high of a cap number in 2013. With the need to prudently upgrade at other positions and possible replacements for Pettigrew already on the roster, the value simply isn't there to keep him at such a high salary.
The door isn't shut on the Lions bringing Pettigrew back on a cap-friendly deal. It is closed for any possible free agents desiring the lucrative designation.
All rankings and advanced metrics are courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com, which requires a subscription.
All contract and salary cap details are sourced from spotrac.com.
Brandon Alisoglu has been covering the Detroit Lions for three years. He has been published on Yahoo!, Bleacher Report, CNN and other websites. He also co-hosts a podcast called Lions Central Radio with Nick Kostora that can be found on ITunes, YouTube and Stitcher.
Follow him on Twitter for more football talk.
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