Green Bay Packers Free Agents: Who Is in Play for the Franchise Tag?

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Green Bay Packers Free Agents: Who Is in Play for the Franchise Tag?
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Should the Green Bay Packers use their franchise tag on cornerback Sam Shields?

The Green Bay Packers have a bevy of free-agent decisions looming this offseason. They have a total of 19 unrestricted and restricted free agents to decide on.

However, of those 19 players, only a handful should be in play for the franchise tag. What the franchise tag ultimately does for a team is allow them another year to decide whether a long-term deal is the right choice.

The downside of using the franchise tag on a player is that the cost can be rather high. The team also takes the full hit of the franchise tag towards their 2014 salary cap. Former agent Joel Corry of CBSSports.com broke down the projected cost for each position this upcoming offseason.

We'll use his numbers to decide which free agents of the Packers could actually be in play for the franchise tag.

 

Sam Shields

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Age: 26

Position: Cornerback

Estimated Tag Amount: $11.3 million

Shields is coming off one of his finest seasons as a member for the Packers in 2013. Sure, there were definitely some low points for Shields, but the good certainly outweighed the bad.

There are two main reasons why Shields should be in play for Green Bay's franchise tag.

For starters, Shields proved this season that he can successfully slow down the opposing team's No. 1 receiver. He held A.J. Green, one of the premier receivers in the league, to only four receptions, 46 yards and a touchdown. Four weeks later he shutdown Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns and kept him to just two receptions and 21 yards.

Secondly, the Packers absolutely need to bring Shields back. Whether that is with the franchise tag or a long-term deal doesn't change the fact that Shields needs to be a part of the 2014 roster. 

Both of these reasons makes Shields a potential candidate for the franchise tag.

 

Probability: Unlikely

The reason this move is unlikely is because of the $11.3 million that it would cost Green Bay to franchise tag Shields. There is no doubt that they could come to a long-term deal with Shields that would likely be much cheaper overall for the 2014 season and moving forward.

 

Jermichael Finley

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Age: 27

Position: Tight End

Estimated Tag Amount: $6.7 million

There may not be a more difficult player to figure out in the NFL this offseason than Finley.

The biggest cause for concern, obviously, is his severe and season-ending injury that he suffered this year. Any neck injury is a dangerous one, but the whole situation surrounding Finley's was especially frightening. 

Before his injury, however, Finley was on pace for a career year. In the six games he played, Finley recorded 25 receptions, 300 yards and three touchdowns. If you stretch those numbers out for a whole season, Finley would have had 67 receptions, 800 yards and eight touchdowns.

Simply put, Finley was beginning to live up to expectations before getting injured and deserves some consideration for the franchise tag this offseason.

 

Probability: Unlikely*

The asterisk above for unlikely is because the decision to franchise tag Finley all depends on his health.

If Finley is 100 percent healthy, and that's a big if, using the franchise tag on him might be the best decision. The Packers would be able to get him relatively cheap for a year and could then see whether the hot start to his 2013 season was a fluke or actual improvement.

However, right now it would be highly unlikely that Finley gets the franchise tag from Green Bay.

 

James Jones

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

2014 Age: 30

Position: Wide Receiver

Estimated Tag Amount: $11.5 million

While Jones wasn't necessarily bad this past season, he certainly wasn't as productive as he was during the 2012 season. In fact, Jones had the worst season of any receiver on the Packers' roster according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

What makes Jones an important piece of the puzzle in Green Bay offensively is his sure hands and knack for making big plays. Jones only dropped three passes in 93 targets this past season and is only a year removed from recording an extremely impressive 14 touchdowns.

However, Jones is also the oldest receiver of the Packers' top receivers. He's not necessarily over-the-hill, but age will definitely play a factor in Jones' future in Green Bay.

There is no doubt that Jones is a talented receiver, but he'll be 30 years old during the 2014 season and could simply cost too much for the Packers to use the franchise tag on.

 

Probability: Unlikely

Jones took a step back this season and it simply doesn't make financial sense to pay Jones over $11 million for one season. Either the Packers offer him a deal for a handful of years or they move on from Jones because they're pleased with their current crop of receivers.

The latter is more likely due to the emergence of Jarrett Boykin this season and the star power of both Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson. If Green Bay can get great value on a three- or-four-year deal for Jones, that would be the way to go, but using the franchise tag on him is quite unlikely.

 

Conclusion

While there are a handful of other players the Packers definitely need to bring back in 2014 (center Evan Dietrich-Smith and defensive end Johnny Jolly), the cost for their specific positions is way too high for them to be truly considered as an option for the franchise tag.

Should the Packers use the franchise tag this year?

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Instead, the Packers are likely to not use their franchise tag this year. When you think about it, it simply doesn't make any sense. Of the three most likely players above, Shields should be signed to a long-term deal, Finley is way too risky and Jones is a little too old to spend that type of money on.

The better decision for Green Bay would be to sign the players they need to and use the rest of their salary cap to re-structure current contracts on the team and bring in some key free agents to boost a handful of positions on the roster.

Don't be surprised if the Packers join the majority of the rest of the league and decide to not franchise tag anyone this year.

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