Head coach Bruce Arians (left), general manager Steve Keim (right) and Co. must decide if any free agent is worthy of the franchise tag.
The Arizona Cardinals have a slew of free agents to tend to this offseason—20 in total. They have little space under the cap with which to work, so giving someone the franchise tag appears difficult as of now.
The franchise tag is intended to give a free agent the team wants to keep the incentive to stick around by signing them to a one-year deal worth gobs of cash—all guaranteed. The amount paid is determined by position and similarity to the salaries of the top five players at each position.
|Defensive end||$12.6 million|
|Wide receiver||$11.6 million|
|Offensive lineman||$11.2 million|
|Defensive tackle||$9.2 million|
|Running back||$9.1 million|
|Tight end||$6.8 million|
Albert Breer, NFL.com
Teams can only tag unrestricted free agents, so Arizona’s four restricted free agents—TE Jake Ballard, OLB Marcus Benard, RB Alfonso Smith and DE Ronald Talley—cannot be tagged.
Sixteen others are in play, however, and it would make sense to tag a few of them.
The Cardinals' salary-cap situation likely will not afford them the opportunity to use the franchise tag this offseason. According to Spotrac.com, they have a hair over $6 million in cap space as of the date of this article, which is enough to pay incoming 2014 draft picks and no one else.
At least a few current contracts must be reworked before a decision such as the franchise tag can be made.
At any rate, these players have a chance to be tagged by Arizona should the cash be freed in time.
Eric Winston, Right Tackle
Eight-year veteran Eric Winston struggled early, allowing seven sacks over the first 10 games of the season. However, he buckled down and kept quarterback Carson Palmer clean over the team's final six games, allowing 13 total pressures over that time.
A franchise tag for Winston would cost the team roughly $11.2 million, which is hefty considering he made $2 million with the Cardinals in 2013 and $3 million in 2012 with the Kansas City Chiefs.
He is worth keeping around because of his leadership and veteran presence in the locker room, so this could be done to ensure he’s around while a multi-year deal is worked out.
Dave Zastudil, Punter
Dave Zastudil led the NFL in punts downed inside the opposition's 20-yard line (37) for the second straight season. He is 35 and made $1.575 million last year, so the $3.4 million cap hit for a franchise tag isn’t as outrageous as it would be for players at other positions.
As one of the best punters in the NFL, he has earned the bump in pay. At his age, though, a long-term contract is likely out of the question. It’s a perfect fit for both parties.
With the tag salaries being as high as they are and the caliber of players the Cardinals have the option of tagging, the only other player who makes any lick of sense to use the tag on is tight end Jim Dray.
His $6.8 million salary would be a significant raise from his $642,000 salary in 2013, but he played well this season and was an important part of an offense that improved from dead last in total yards to 12th and from 31st in points to 16th.
Coming into the year, Dray had seven receptions for 87 yards (12.4 yards per catch) and no touchdowns in three seasons. He had 26 receptions for 215 yards (8.3 YPC) and two touchdowns in 2013.
Those stats are not top-five-worthy, but as with Winston, a franchise tag here could be a time-passer while Dray’s people work out a long-term deal with general manager Steve Keim. He may not fill stat sheets like top tight ends, but he’s a solid blocker and can convert a key third down for his team.
The fact that he has dropped one pass in four years is also promising. His career drop rate of 2.2 percent is comparable to that of Larry Fitzgerald, who has a 2.0 drop rate since Dray came into the league in 2010.
Fitzgerald’s DR is on a much grander scale, but it’s impressive for Dray nonetheless.
Based on current numbers, the Cardinals will not use the franchise tag. They did not use it last offseason either, but not using the tag is still a new thing for them. According to ESPN.com's Mike Sando in Feb. 2013, only the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts had used the franchise tag more than Arizona had.
Things could change between now and early March when the 2014 league year officially begins, but don’t expect a tagged player in Cardinal red next fall.