Before free agency opens on March 13, teams can begin to work on keeping the one player that they really don't want to let go by applying the franchise tag. The period in which the franchise tag can be applied runs from February 20 to March 5. Previously the franchise tag was calculated by using the average of the five highest paid players at that position but under the new CBA it's a percentage of the salary cap.
So, which players will get the franchise tag? Not every team will use it but here's a team-by-team look at players that could get tagged.
There have already been reports that the Eagles will use the franchise tag on Jackson to keep him in Philadelphia for the 2012 season. If he were to hit the open market, he would certainly be paid by someone and the Eagles aren't willing to let that happen elsewhere. His prospects for a longterm contract with Philly are unknown.
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Like DeSean Jackson and the Eagles, there have been reports that the Cowboys are prepared to use the franchise tag on Spencer to keep him on the field with DeMarcus Ware. Spencer hasn't been the exact player that they hoped he would become when selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft, but he has a ton of talent and the Cowboys are unlikely to let him walk.
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Pass catching tight ends are hard to find in the NFL and Davis played well enough for the Redskins. If Davis goes on the market, he probably won't be coming back to Washington. If the Redskins want to keep him, they will likely use the tag on him.
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The Giants more than likely won't be using the franchise tag this year. Their biggest free agent is wide receiver Mario Manningham but he's not worth the money it would cost. Steve Weatherford, the team's punter is a free agent and after his Super Bowl performance, they'll want to re-sign him. But even then I wouldn't expect him them to tag him in order to do it.
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The biggest priority for the Saints is quarterback Drew Brees. They could use the tag on him but I think they'll secure him to a longterm deal before then. Who they could use the franchise tag on is Nicks, one of the top guards in the league. There's also Marques Colston, who is scheduled to be a free agent. The Saints could use the franchise tag on either player.
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Grimes is by far the team's best player in the secondary and the Falcons won't want him to get away. There are a lot of players the team will need to re-sign, including defensive end John Abraham, and they may not have all the money to re-sign them all to longterm deals. If they focus too much on getting Abraham and linebacker Curtis Lofton signed, they may have to use the tag on Grimes to keep him around.
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There isn't really a player worthy of a franchise tag on the Panthers roster. But since we're naming a player from every team I have to go with Connor. He was the team's third leading tackler and the Panthers probably want him back for at least another season. But is he worth the money the franchise tag would pay? Probably not.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: K Connor Barth
Like other teams, the Bucs don't really have anyone franchise tag-worthy. LeGarrette Blount is an exclusive rights free agent, which means the Bucs own his rights.
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Alex Smith is a free agent and after leading the Niners to the NFC Championship game, he can probably throw a little weight around when negotiating a new contract. He should be priority No. 1 for the Niners but priority No. 2 should be Rogers. They may want to use the tag on him to buy some time to work on signing him next season.
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Campbell is the biggest free agent for the Cardinals this season and there's a good chance that the team uses the franchise tag on him in order to keep him around. They don't want to take a chance on losing Campbell in free agency and the franchise tag is the best way to make sure that doesn't happen.
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Lynch has proven over the last two seasons that he can be one of the league's best running backs. He is the best thing Seattle's offense has going for it right now and the Seahawks don't want to lose him. There are plenty of teams that wouldn't mind shelling out the necessary cash to pick up Lynch so just to make sure the Seahawks may use the franchise tag on him.
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Like a lot of teams, the Rams probably won't use their franchise tag in 2012. However, if they use it, look at Brandon Lloyd. I don't think Lloyd is really worth the money he would get for one year, but the team needs to keep talent on the field for Sam Bradford. Still, I don't think Lloyd gets tagged.
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Finley is one of the league's best pass-catching tight ends and that is a hard thing to come by in the NFL. He is a mis-match nightmare and a real red zone threat. The Packers shouldn't let him get away but if they feel like they won't be able to come to a long-term deal, they could use the franchise tag to keep him in a Packers uniform. Matt Flynn is also scheduled to be a free agent but the Packers are reportedly unlikely to franchise him.
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The Lions, being in a conference with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, need to keep people around who know how to rush the passer. That means they need to keep Cliff Avril in 2012 (and beyond). He's coming off an 11-sack season and there are plenty of teams who would love to have a pass rusher of Avril's ability. The Lions would be smart to apply the tag to make sure he stays in Detroit and then work on a longterm deal.
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Forte is one of the biggest names in free agency in the NFC and the Bears will not let him get away. They're reportedly going to use the franchise tag to keep him in Chicago. Once they do this, they'll work on signing Forte to a multi-year deal in 2012 and beyond.
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The Vikings probably won't use their tag, but if they do it could be on Henderson. He's coming off of two good seasons and he was second on the team in tackles in 2011. He's not necessarily a young guy but the Vikings could use him around again in 2012. They shouldn't have a problem re-signing him without the tag, though.
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