Most teams reluctant to use franchise tags; NFC may have one
The number of players getting the franchise tag applied by their teams will be significantly down this year.
As we enter the weekend, only two teams had indicated they would apply a franchise tag on a player this offseason. And by the time the deadline comes Monday afternoon, don't expect that to change all that much.
In fact, if a few players get extensions before that deadline -- which is quite possible -- the number of franchised players will dwindle even further. Consider this: One year after roughly two-thirds of the NFL applied the tag, as it stands now, the only players virtually certain to get tagged are Bears defensive lineman Henry Melton, Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson and Bills safety Jairus Byrd.
Let's take it a step further and eliminate specialists from this conversation -- as there could be a few kickers and punters who get tagged -- and the number of offensive and defensive players tagged could be at record lows.
Given that, let's take a look at the situation on a divisional basis for the nonspecialists who are still under consideration for the tag:
The Redskins and Eagles don't intend to use the tag, and the Cowboys at this point don't plan to put it on Anthony Spencer, sources said, after doing so a year ago. Dallas would love to get Spencer extended before the start of the league year, but that looks less likely by the day. The Giants also do not intend to use it at this point, though they are continuing to see if they can get safety Kenny Phillips extended. I suppose there remains a sliver of a chance he gets tagged at the last minute. But at this point, I'd project this entire division taking a pass.
The Saints do not plan to use it, and tackle Jermon Bushrod will hit the market and expects to move on, sources said. The Falcons will not tag anyone, according to a team source (some had believed they might tag safety William Moore), and Carolina doesn't have a candidate and doesn't have the cap space to use a tag. Tampa Bay defensive lineman Michael Bennett was viewed as a possible candidate for the tag, but team sources said the Bucs will not use the tag. Again, we're probably looking 0-for-4 here, too.
The Bears have indicated they will tag Melton absent a long-term deal. The Packers sent out some smoke screens about possibly tagging receiver Greg Jennings, but league sources said that is highly unlikely. The Lions will not use the tag, according to team sources, and you could have made a case the Vikings would tag right tackle Phil Loadholt, but Minnesota announced Friday that it won't.
There isn't any intrigue here. The 49ers will not use it, sources said (some thought maybe they'd tag safety Dashon Goldson, again), and the Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks do not plan to use it, either.
Finally, we have some real fodder to churn. The Dolphins have told the agents for their bevy of free agents that they don't plan to use the tag ... but not everyone is buying it. Tackle Jake Long, corner Sean Smith and defensive lineman Randy Starks are all possible candidates. I still think the Dolphins would be foolish to be sitting on $50 million in cap space and not to use it to protect their rights to any of their younger players. And by doing so, general manager Jeff Ireland would be thrusting incredible pressure upon himself to deliver huge results in free agency. The Patriots do not intend to use the tag on Wes Welker but could on tackle Sebastian Vollmer. The Bills have told Byrd he will be tagged. This could be the rare division in which multiple players are tagged. The Jets won't use it and can't afford to even if they wanted to.
The Titans are mulling tagging tight end Jared Cook and are trying to get him extended, but this one could get tricky. Cook intends to make the argument that he should be tagged as a receiver, which would cost roughly $11 million, and perhaps that might scare them off. This is one of the more interesting scenarios of the weekend. The Texans will not tag pass rusher Connor Barwin, sources said, though safety Glover Quinn could be a candidate. The Colts and Jags have no nonspecialist candidates.
Joe Flacco's situation with the Ravens has dominated anything franchise-tag related, and those sides will work through the weekend on a five- or-six year deal. If they can't get it done by the deadline, then Flacco gets tagged. The Steelers and Browns do not intend to use the tag, sources said. And though the Bengals don't typically apply it much, Johnson is getting it and would be very hard to replace.
The Broncos have informed left tackle Ryan Clady that he is getting the non-exclusive franchise tag, a league source said. Clady and the team could not agree on a long-term deal, though that still could come in the future as the Broncos badly want to retain him. The Chiefs continue to negotiate with receiver Dwayne Bowe and tackle Branden Albert, sources said. If they can extend one of those players, Kansas City is open to placing the tag on the other. Bowe already played 2012 on the tag. This situation is as fluid as any in the league regarding the tag, and the Chiefs are still working through it. The Chargers do not have a candidate, and the Raiders remain cap strapped.
So, at this point, consider Flacco, Melton, Johnson, Clady and Byrd the only clear-cut franchise-tag players. And I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Melton is the lone player tagged in the NFC and less than a quarter of the league (eight teams or fewer) end up applying it at all.
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