Starting on Monday, the 2012 season is officially in the rearview as NFL teams can use the franchise tag to ensure that their top unrestricted free agent does not sign elsewhere in 2013. Last season, a record 21 players received the franchise tag, and while that number probably won't be reached this year, expect to see a lot of players get franchised in the coming weeks.
Players who receive the franchise tag are bound to their team for a one-year contract at a set salary that varies by position. Teams can give a total of one player either an exclusive or non-exclusive franchise tag. Players who receive the non-exclusive tag can negotiate with other teams, but the original team is given a chance to match any offer; if it does not match the offer it receives two first-round draft picks as compensation. Those given the exclusive tag cannot talk with other teams.
The name that will most frequently be heard in franchise tag discussions this offseason is Joe Flacco. The Ravens Super Bowl MVP is a free agent and while the two sides are trying to reach a long-term contract, Baltimore won't hesitate to franchise Flacco if they can't reach a deal by the March 4 deadline. The franchise tag value for a quarterback is expected to be approximately $14.6 million.
Flacco may be the biggest name to get the franchise tag, but he certainly won't be the only one. Reports have already come out that the Denver Broncos will use the tag on tackle Ryan Clady if they can't reach a long-term deal and the Tennessee Titans will use the tag on tight end Jared Cook.
Potential franchise tags
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens -- Again, Flacco is a lock to be tagged if the Ravens can't sign him to a long-term deal.
Ryan Clady, OT, Denver Broncos -- John Elway has already said publicly that the Broncos will use the franchise tag on Clady. They would like to reach a long-term deal with the three-time Pro Bowl tackle, but are prepared to give him the $9.7 million salary due to franchised offensive linemen.
Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans -- Despite an up-and-down career, the Titans are prepared to use the tag on Cook. He had 44 receptions for 523 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, but the Titans have the cap room and no other free agents more worthy of a tag. His projected salary would be nearly $6 million for 2013.
Henry Melton, DT, Chicago Bears -- The Bears want to bring Melton back after his first Pro Bowl season in 2012. He would be due $8.3 million with the tag, a worthwhile value if the Bears can reach a long-term deal before next offseason. Chicago is not considering using the tag on free agent linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Jairus Byrd, FS, Buffalo Bills -- Safeties are one of the better values for the franchise tag as the Bills would only have to shell out $6.8 million to keep the All-Pro Byrd in 2013. If Buffalo can sign Byrd to a new contract they may look to use the tag on guard Andy Levitre.
Dashon Goldson, S, San Francisco 49ers -- Goldson was tagged last year and has said he does not want to be tagged again this year, but the Niners should have to cap space to do so. Since he was tagged last year, Goldson would be due $7.45 million if he was tagged this season.
Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals -- Johnson exploded last season with 11.5 sacks, 52 tackles and an interception. Despite their notorious spending habits, the Bengals are expected to use the tag this year and would like to keep Johnson around. As a defensive end, his franchise value would be just under $11 million.
Andre Smith, OT, Cincinnati Bengals -- If the Bengals don't use the tag on Johnson, they will likely use it on Smith, one of the top right tackles in the league.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs -- Bowe was tagged last year and would get $11.4 million if the Chiefs decided to tag him again. The Chiefs would much rather reach a long-term deal with their top receiver, but may use the tag if that cannot be done.
Branden Albert, OT, Kansas City Chiefs -- Even if the Chiefs can't reach a deal with Bowe, they may decide to use the franchise tag on Albert. The Kansas City front office hopes to sign both players to contracts, but expect it to have to use the tag on one of them.
William Moore, S, Atlanta Falcons -- The Falcons have several potential options for their franchise tag, but Moore makes the most sense. Cornerback Brent Grimes would cost nearly twice the price and tackle Sam Baker doesn't rank as high at his position as Moore does coming off his first Pro Bowl.
Sebastian Vollmer, OT, New England Patriots -- The biggest name of the Patriots' free agents is Wes Welker, but New England has already said it will not use the tag on its Pro Bowl receiver, who would be due $11.4 after he was tagged in 2012. Aqib Talib is another option, but Vollmer appears to be the player most predicted to receive the tag.
Sean Smith, CB, Miami Dolphins -- Jake Long is also a free agent, but his tag value of $15 million is too high for a player who looked to be in decline last year. Smith, meanwhile, is becoming one of the better cover corners in the league and would cost $10.7 million.
Phil Loadholt, OT, Minnesota Vikings -- The Vikings have enough money to tag right tackle Loadholt and general manager Rick Spielman has said that he is a top priority. Still, Vikings blog Daily Noresman believes Minnesota could better spend its money elsewhere.
Pat McAfee, P, Indianapolis Colts -- Without any other free agents worthy of a tag, it makes sense for the Colts to keep McAfee at the relatively low franchise value of $2.9 million if they don't sign him to a long-term deal.
Will Beatty, OT, New York Giants -- Beatty had a strong season as the Giants' starting left tackle and was finally able to stay healthy. He could be rewarded with a new contract or possibly get the franchise tag.
Michael Bennett, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- The Bucs have a lot of money, so they could franchise Bennett, who is coming off a nine-sack season.
The Eagles, Lions, and Steelers have all said publicly that they will not use the franchise tag this year. The Cardinals, Panthers, Browns, Cowboys, Packers, Jaguars, Saints, Jets, Raiders, Chargers, and Redskins are all not expected to use their tag due to either cap issues or a lack of players worthy of a tag, but you never know what will happen in the NFL.