NFL Debrief: Franchise tags, Indianapolis vacations and getting through the offseason


The NFL offseason is here, and it's probably your favorite time of year, despite protestations otherwise.

Football, like every other sport really, inspires wonderful tropes. For the last week and a half, columnists, tweeters and anyone in between have taken to the interwebs to bemoan a lonely Sunday without a single snap of football.

We get it. You miss football. I miss football too, but I'm not crazy and lazy enough to fill three column inches whining about it. (This is totally meta though, so it's different ... I think). Nobody wants an 18-game season, despite Roger Goodell's assurances otherwise, and nobody wants 52 weeks of the year filled with the NFL. Not to mention it would be total hell on the players, and by Week 24, you'd be watching Chad Henne match wits with Arizona's seventh quarterback. Like bourbon, you really can have too much of a good thing.

As an editor, I will say that the routine of the regular season does make life easier. There's a rigid schedule during the NFL season, a busy one, and because it's the NFL and national broadcast deals, everyone adheres to it. In the spring, things open up and the news cycle gets rowdy. Three days of radio silence is suddenly broken by a marquee name getting his walking papers as a team starts yet another rebuilding project.

The frenetic pace of the NFL offseason can break your neck if you let it, following each free agent rumor and conversation with draft picks into rabbit holes of futile, fruitless predictions.

We love it, every last 140-character burst of it.

At no other point in the year is it acceptable to keep Adam Schefter's Twitter feed open in its own tab. You know, and care, about your team's new running backs coach for the only time all year. Watching young men run sprints in their underwear in the middle of the day is perfectly normal. Hell, watching the NFL Network on a weekday, without a tinge of embarrassment, isn't all that out of the ordinary in the spring.

It all starts in earnest this week. The two-week window for sticking players with the franchise tag starts Monday. On Thursday, the annual Scouting Combing kicks off in Indianapolis, giving us two months to talk about "intangibles" and 40 times and be totally and completely shocked when April's draft looks nothing like our predictions.

Flacco franchise watch

The biggest name in free agency is Ravens quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. Perhaps you've heard of him. Anything could happen. Remember those rumors of the Cleveland Browns standing by to grab him with an offer sheet? It would be the ultimate revenge fantasy, as has been suggested, but it's mostly just fantasy.

It's hard to see the Ravens letting Flacco walk. Plus, let's not forget the unwritten, unspoken rule of not messing with players that another team has protected with the franchise tag or a restricted free agent tender. The cost of two first-round picks to sign Flacco is rather prohibitive in itself.

Flacco and the Ravens will resume talks this week, according to the Baltimore Sun, which also reports that the Ravens will likely apply the franchise tag if the two sides fail to reach a deal by the March 4 deadline for using it. The question for the Ravens is whether or not to use the exclusive or non-exclusive franchise tag, i.e. whether or not to even allow teams to entertain the idea of making him an offer Baltimore can't refuse. The difference? About $6 million. The exclusive tag would net Flacco a one-year deal worth $20.46 million; the non-exclusive is worth $14.6 million.

Remember, Flacco's agent has said that he expects his client to get a deal on par with the highest paid quarterbacks in the league, which would be about $20 million per season. The version of the franchise tag that the Ravens ultimately use on Flacco, assuming no deal gets done by March 4, should reveal how much the team is willing to pay.

Wes Welker walking?

It's hard to image a Patriots team without Wes Welker, but that's exactly what we could be looking at for 2013. New England is unlikely to use the franchise tag to hang on to the veteran receiver, who turns 32 in May. Doing so would net Welker a one-year deal worth $11.4 million because it would be the second season in a row that he received the tag. That New England didn't see fit to ink Welker to deal after last year should tell you a little something.

The Patriots probably don't need Welker all that much anymore, and certainly not at that cost. If Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels want a younger clone of Welker, there's St. Louis Rams free agent Danny Amendola, who is likely to hit the market, too. Or, New England could eschew the Welker-type all together, preferring instead to find a speedster for the slot or another option to complement their tight ends.

After all, this is the Patriots, a team that once won 12 games with Reche Caldwell as their top receiver.

Combined action

Ah, the annual NFL Scouting Combine. No event in the NFL world, not even preseason football, is as derided for its irrelevancy as Indianapolis' annual underwear exhibition, but it still manages to be the league's second-most credentialed event.

Could it be that Indianapolis in February is the ideal vacation for sportswriters? I wouldn't rule out, to be honest.

Quarterbacks are the biggest story at the Combine this year. The entire class of signal callers has been identified mostly by the fact that none of them are Andrew Luck or RGIII. Pundits debate the first-round worthiness of them all. And unlike years past, the quarterbacks will be going through all of the drills at the Combine, from the 40-yard dash to the throwing drills that their higher profile predecessors have all eschewed for their own pro day events.

USC's Matt Barkley is the one quarterback that will not throw the ball at Lucas Oil Stadium. That has more to do with his medical clearance from a separated shoulder last fall than it does a carefully managed approach to the draft process. We'll see if it makes a difference for Barkley versus guys like Geno Smith or Tyler Wilson.

I'll be at the Combine this week, along with Dan Kadar and Matthew Fairburn of Mocking the Draft and Jason Garrison of Cincy Jungle. Be sure to follow our coverage.

Now, go back to your desk, watching your Twitter feed for NFL news to be irrationally exuberant about.

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