It doesn't take long for the NFL attention to turn from the Super Bowl to free agency and while several big name players are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, few will ultimately reach free agency. Instead, many teams who are unable to come to terms with their top free agent will instead retain their rights by using the franchise tag.
While free agency doesn't begin until March 12, teams can start designating franchise players on February 18. They have until March 4 to tag players and can only use the franchise tag on one player. The cost of the franchise tag varies by position with the price determined by a formula which uses a percentage of the salary cap as well as other factors.
After leading the Ravens to their Super Bowl championship, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is almost certain to be designated with the franchise tag if the two sides haven't reached a deal. Flacco, however is just one of several potential franchise tag candidates. Here is a closer look at a few players who be tagged this year.
Joe Flacco, quarterback, Ravens
Flacco played the best football of his career during Baltimore's run to the Super Bowl, and he will now be rewarded handsomely for it. If Baltimore is unable to sign Flacco to a long-term contract before the deadline they will almost certainly use the franchise tag to keep him. The franchise tag for quarterbacks is currently projected to cost $14.6 million.
Clady has established himself as an elite left tackle and now he is likely to get paid like it. If he hit the open market, Clady may be the most sought after free agent. That, however, is unlikely to happen. If Clady and the Broncos don't agree on a long-term deal, he will likely be designated with the franchise tag to keep him in Denver at least one more season. The projected franchise tag value for an offensive lineman is $9.7 million.
Byrd earned All-Pro honors this season, the second time he's done so in his career. He would be arguably the top defensive free agent, but with no other pending free agents worthy of the high-priced franchise tag, Buffalo could use it on Byrd. Doing so would cost the Bills $6.8 million, which is actually less than the yearly value of some of the top safety contracts.
In his third season, Melton developed into one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL. The 26-year-old earned his first Pro Bowl berth and would have no shortage of suitors on the open market. The franchise tag would cost the Bears a projected $8.3 million, but that may be a small price to pay to keep one of the top defensive lineman in the league.
The Chiefs used the franchise tag on Bowe last season and could do so again this year. If they did, they would have to pay Bowe 120 percent of his 2012 salary which would be close to $11 million. That is actually higher than the projected wide receiver franchise tag value of $10.4 million.
Branden Albert, left tackle, Chiefs
If the Chiefs don't use the franchise tag on Bowe, they may decide to use it on Albert. Even though Albert may not be in Clady's class at left tackle, the Chiefs could still determine it is worth keeping him at the high price rather than attempt to find a comparable replacement.
Andre Smith, right tackle, Bengals
After a shaky start to his career, Smith developed into one of the top right tackles in the NFL. While left tackles are usually the players to receive the big pay days, Smith has also played his way into that discussion. Cincinnati could also decide to use the tag on defensive end Michael Johnson who is also a free agent.
The Patriots used the franchise tag on Welker last season and despite speculation they were phasing him out of the offense, Welker could be a candidate to be tagged again this offseason. Like Bowe, Welker would receive 120 percent of his 2012 salary if he's tagged again.
Sebastian Vollmer, right tackle, Patriots
While Welker is a possibility to receive the franchise tag again, New England could instead decide to use it to retain right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Vollmer has dealt with a back injury throughout his career, but started 15 games this season and is considered to be one of the best right tackles in football.
San Francisco used the franchise tag on Goldson last season and while he's said he doesn't want to be tagged again, the 49ers may decide to do so anyway. The 49ers don't have any other key free agents and can clear plenty of salary cap room by making a few likely moves.
Not likely to be tagged:
The former No. 1 overall pick was once considered to be among the top left tackles in the NFL, but he is coming off a down year which ended with him on injured reserve due to a triceps injury. Long had a high salary last season, which would actually increase his franchise tag value to over $15 million. With the high price and declining production, Miami is unlikely to tag Long.
The 29-year-old Jennings is coming off an injury-plagued season and would cost an estimated $10.4 million if given the franchise tag. Those factors, combined with the plethora of receiving options Green Bay has make it unlikely for the Packers to tag Jennings.
Wallace missed the entire offseason last year while holding out for a long-term contract. He eventually returned, but had a down year in 2012 and the Steelers extended wide receiver Antonio Brown on a long-term deal. Pittsburgh would have to guarantee Wallace more than $10.3 million with the franchise tag, something they appear unlikely to do.