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As deadline looms, franchise tag remains option for many teams

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com

March 4 is the deadline for NFL teams to use the franchise tag. Unlike a year ago, however, when a record 21 players were tagged, we're currently stuck on zero. But that could change as the deadline approaches.

Some names who could receive the designation in the next 100 hours, via CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora:

QB Joe Flacco. The Ravens' quarterback played out the final year of his rookie deal and his MVP performance throughout the postseason added millions to any new long-term contract he'll sign. The two sides met at the NFL Combine last week, and negotiations continue, but Flacco will be franchised if there isn't a resolution by Monday.

LT Jake Long, CB Sean Smith. Just a hunch, but the Dolphins seem more likely to tag Smith, one of the league's best young cornerbacks. That said, Long, the former first-overall pick, is the man responsible for protecting Ryan Tannehill's blind side. You can have the best secondary in the galaxy, but it won't much matter if your franchise quarterback spends his Sunday afternoons peeling himself off the turf.

LT Ryan Clady. It's one thing for your young, athletic quarterback to take a few hits. It's something else entirely when the discussion turns to protecting 36-year-old Peyton Manning, he of four neck surgeries and a lost 2011 season. Clady is the second-most valuable offensive player in Denver, and the Broncos' front office won't hesitate to tag him.

LT Branden Albert. The Chiefs are retooling an offense that was dreadful last season. Alex Smith is in as the starting quarterback and protecting him (see a theme here?) will be critical. But should the organization choose to let Albert hit free agency, that could be an indication that they'll use the first overall pick to restock the position with either Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel.

S Jairus Byrd. If the Bills can shore up their issues up front (yes, we know, they paid Mario Williams $100 million -- but you wouldn't have known it watching him last season), ball-hawking safety Byrd could become even more dangerous on the back end.

S Louis Delmas. The Lions have no plans to franchise DE Cliff Avril for a second straight year, and their secondary without Delmas would be an unmitigated disaster.

DE Connor Barwin. It's less likely the Texans will tag Barwin, but he bookends J.J. Watt nicely.

LT Jermon Bushrod. Bushrod and the Saints are expected to begin negotiations on a long-term deal soon, but he could be franchised in the interim.

DE Henry Melton. Like Bushrod and the Saints, Melton and the Bears are looking to prolong their working relationship. Also like Bushrod, if no deal is in place by Monday, he'll likely get tagged.

WR Greg Jennings. Seems like a stretch to think the Packers would fork over $10.4 million to a 29-year-old who has battled injuries in recent seasons, but that's the word on the street. We'll remain skeptical until it actually happens.

Approximate franchise tag numbers:

CB: $10.7 million
DE: $10.9 million
DT: $8.3 million
K/P: $2.9 million
LB: $9.5 million
OL: $9.7 million
QB: $14.6 million
RB: $8.1 million
S: $6.8 million
TE: $5.9 million
WR: $10.4 million

Other key dates:

March 9-11: Clubs are permitted to enter into contract negotiations with certified agents of players who will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the current league year.

March 12: Free agency begins at 4 p.m. ET (all clubs must be under salary cap w/ top 51 players).

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the Pick-6 Podcast on iTunes. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.

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