It's may be early in the 2014 NFL offseason, but many of the league's 32 teams have big decisions looming with regard to the marquee players they're considering for the franchise tag.
As NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reports, Monday is the first day teams are able to sign, and since it is Presidents' Day, it's feasible that some deals could get done right away:
ESPN's Andrew Brandt noted how the deadline serves as a catalyst, and that players aren't actually tagged until the end of the two-week window:
Several front offices won't feel the need to utilize the unique franchise label on any player depending on cap flexibility, positional need or what they might be looking for in the upcoming draft. However, there are going to be some big storylines since some of the players likely involved could shake up the league landscape if they don't stay with their current organizations.
In addition to breaking down the top franchise tag situations to monitor and what the designation means, below will be an updated list for every team as decisions are made leading up to the March 3 deadline.
Note: Franchise tag estimated values are courtesy of NFL Media's Albert Breer, per a report by NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal.
What is the Franchise Tag?
The franchise tag is a one-year tender that keeps a player with their current team instead of testing the open market in free agency. This happens when a long-term deal can't be fleshed out or if there aren't any other viable alternatives to simply losing the player without any compensation in return.
NFL Network's Albert Breer reported the money involved for this season:
Each position has a different price, with the importance of the position dictating a higher salary. Thus, quarterback is the highest-paid, but there shouldn't be any signal-callers getting the franchise tag this offseason.
As mentioned above, teams don't have to use the franchise tag on any player, but each team only gets to use it on one player. That can create difficult scenarios, especially when a front office is dealing with a ton of players hitting free agency in the next year or two.
Paying certain other players with long-term contracts can also impact how teams decide to use the franchise tag, and the ones getting the designation may eventually be in line for a big payday themselves. Those are themes defining at least the two biggest storylines of this ordeal.
|Tracking All 32 NFL Teams' 2014 Franchise Tag Situations|
|Team||Player Tagged||Opted Not to Use Tag||Prediction|
|Arizona Cardinals||Jay Feely, K|
|Atlanta Falcons||Won't use|
|Baltimore Ravens||Dennis Pitta, TE|
|Buffalo Bills||Won't use|
|Carolina Panthers||Greg Hardy, DE||Greg Hardy, DE|
|Chicago Bears||Won't use|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Won't use|
|Cleveland Browns||T.J. Ward, SS|
|Dallas Cowboys||Jason Hatcher, DT|
|Denver Broncos||Won't use|
|Detroit Lions||Won't use|
|Green Bay Packers||Won't use|
|Houston Texans||Won't use|
|Indianapolis Colts||Vontae Davis, CB|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Won't use|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Branden Albert, OT|
|Miami Dolphins||Brent Grimes, CB|
|Minnesota Vikings||Jared Allen, DE|
|New England Patriots||Won't use|
|New Orleans Saints||Jimmy Graham, TE||Jimmy Graham, TE|
|New York Giants||Won't use|
|New York Jets||Nick Folk, K||Nick Folk, K|
|Oakland Raiders||Won't use|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Won't use|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Won't use|
|San Diego Chargers||Won't use|
|San Francisco 49ers||Won't use|
|Seattle Seahawks||Won't use|
|St. Louis Rams||Won't use|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Won't use|
|Tennessee Titans||Alterraun Verner, CB|
|Washington Redskins||Brian Orakpo, OLB|
|Source: NFL.com. Predictions are personal opinion.|
The Jimmy Graham Dilemma in New Orleans
As far as the Saints' superstar tight end is concerned, it's not so much of a question as to whether or not he will get tagged by New Orleans, but rather what he will be labeled as.
Since Graham is such a unique player in that his position is listed as tight end but he splits out wide and in the slot very often, an argument can be made that he should be franchise tagged as a receiver. The difference in money between franchise-tagged receivers and tight ends is substantial. Breer estimates an $11.6 million salary figure for wideouts compared to just $6.8 million for a tight end.
It would be ideal for the Saints to ink Graham to a long-term contract extension rather than have to slap the franchise tag on him, but it seems as though negotiations are slow. Graham has publicly taken a neutral position on the wide receiver versus tight end dilemma.
"That's not for me to decide," said Graham, per NOLA.com's Larry Holder. "I'm going to do, and I'm going to play, whatever I'm asked to do. It's that simple."
Holder also documented a Fox Sports 1 interview with head coach Sean Payton, who gave his thoughts on the situation and how general manager Mickey Loomis would approach it similar to contract talks with quarterback Drew Brees:
I know that Mickey Loomis...Jimmy Sexton (Graham's agent) and all parties involved are going to work very hard and very diligently, no different than they did with Drew (Brees) on his contract. With that being said, the first thing that comes to my mind with free agency is your own roster. I think often times that gets overlooked. The most challenging part of your job as a coach, and I share that with Mickey or anyone that has been with an organization as long as we have been, going on year nine, is some of the tough decisions that have to be made with regards to your cap with the ability that you possibly can sign Jimmy Graham.
Sigmund Bloom of FootballGuys.com weighed in on what Graham should be demanding from New Orleans, which could actually harm its ability to acquire proven assets in an effort to build a true Super Bowl contender:
Loomis has been strapped for cap space in attempting to maneuver and make room for Graham's long-term contract. He's had to release veterans in defensive end Will Smith, cornerback Jabari Greer and safety Roman Harper, and according to Holder's first report, won't re-sign linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
That still only leaves New Orleans approximately $4 million under the cap at best, so that makes the franchise tag all the more likely.
Will 'The Kraken' Be Unleashed from Carolina?
Defensive end Greg Hardy was a big part of the Panthers' turnaround that saw them win the NFC South this past season, as he registered a whopping 15 sacks. The 26-year-old is a former sixth-round pick and will no doubt be seeking a big payday of sorts, so Carolina must decide whether or not to give it to him.
With that extension looming, it's logical that Hardy will be kept around with the franchise tag. That's something he should embrace, because the money is far better than what Hardy's made in his career to date due to his low draft status.
Head coach Ron Rivera wants Hardy back, per NFL.com's Marc Sessler:
But just because Hardy is tagged doesn't mean he won't be traded by the Panthers, something former agent and CBSSports.com expert Joel Corry believes is a viable possibility:
According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, Carolina has 21 players eligible for free agency this offseason, including Hardy and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. That's a lot of uncertainty, and with the value placed on pass-rushers and how loaded the Panthers' defense is, perhaps a Hardy trade is in the cards.
Hardy expressed optimism about the future regardless of what happens in an interview with NFL.com's Around the League podcast, as reported by Dan Hanzus:
It's a football game. It's a game, so you really can't put too much stock in stressing about something like that. I'm in the best position of my life regardless of what happens, so I definitely believe in letting my agent and my manager and my people handle that and I can focus on football and entertaining you guys.
Working opposite Charles Johnson, Hardy has completed a great pass-rushing duo in Carolina, but the Panthers have linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly to make plays as part of its elite defense. Also, 2013 first-round pick Star Lotulelei is at defensive tackle, and he should only improve—increasing the chances that Hardy gets moved.
It wouldn't make sense for Carolina to allow Hardy to walk away without receiving some value in return, if the ultimate plan is to move him. Regardless of whether or not his future is with his current team, Hardy should get the franchise tag.
Secondary Stars Headline Best of the Rest
Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward just went to his first Pro Bowl this past season, but a reshuffled front office has new GM Ray Farmer at the helm—not to mention a new coaching staff led by Mike Pettine.
Since the latest coach to roam the sidelines in Cleveland is defensive-minded as the previous Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator, it stands to reason that Ward will be kept around for his physical and all-around solid play. The Browns have a ton of cap room and should be aggressive in putting pieces in place to win now.
ESPNCleveland.com's Tony Grossi believes Ward will receive the tag, per his colleague Aaron Goldhammer:
Bills safety Jairus Byrd was franchise tagged last season, but could face that possibility again. As in Hardy's case, it may eventually result in a trade. What would be interesting is if Pettine brought Byrd to Cleveland, paired the top safeties on the market in Ward and Byrd and made one of the best tandems in the NFL.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network noted that Byrd is a likely candidate for the franchise tag:
In any event, safeties cost an estimated $8.1 million according to Breer—the third-lowest of any position. Cornerback ($11.3 million) is the pricier route to go. Tennessee Titans standout Alterraun Verner, New England Patriots star Aqib Talib and even Vontae Davis of the Indianapolis Colts all are candidates for the franchise tag.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, though, there's "no chance" Talib will garner the franchise tag, despite the apparent mutual interest for him to return to Foxboro.
Another franchise tag possibility at cornerback is the Miami Dolphins' Brent Grimes, but he said that the tag is "not what anybody wants," per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
With how pass-happy the league is, teams can't have enough assets in the defensive backfield as long as they're affordable. All those teams will weigh the options and whether or not they have the pieces in place to afford to let them go.