The NFL franchise tag period is officially open. From February 20 to March 5, teams can apply the franchise tag -- essentially a one-year guaranteed contract -- to any player. This allows teams to protect the rights of one of their top players who are scheduled to hit free agency.
Here is the cost associated with the franchise tags this year, and here is a list of every team's free agents. There are plenty of players that could receive the franchise tag this year, ranging from one of the league's best quarterbacks (Drew Brees) to a couple of kickers (Matt Prater and Josh Scobee). Some players will receive long term contracts before the franchise tag, so the list of guys who could be tagged is very fluid.
That said, we have an idea of which players are likely to get the franchise tag, and which players could potentially be tagged.
It's A Lock: Players Expected To Receive The Franchise Tag
Patriots: Wes Welker. This is a no-brainer -- of course the Pats will franchise Welker if a long term contract can't be reached. He's clearly part of their future and both sides want to keep him on the Patriots. That's usually the recipe to get a deal done. If the two sides can't reach an agreement, there's little question the Patriots will place the franchise tag on him.
Ravens: Ray Rice. Duh. Rice is the cornerstone of the Ravens' offense, and he's obviously part of their future. This will be a pretty big contract, so I doubt it gets done before March 5. Thus, Rice likely gets the franchise tag. He knows the tag would only be used as a way to buy more time for the more lucrative deal, so this shouldn't be a problem. Expect Rice to be tagged sometime before March 5.
Browns: D'Qwell Jackson. The linebacker will get the tag if they don't work out a new contract. There won't be much drama with this one -- both sides want him to remain in Cleveland.
Broncos: Matt Prater. He had a big year with some clutch kicks. The Broncos want him back, and they'll make sure of that with the franchise tag. Reports out of Denver indicate he's likely to get the tag. The Broncos know they won a couple of games thanks to Prater's leg. He's not going anywhere.
Eagles: DeSean Jackson. He should get the franchise tag. The Eagles aren't sure if he's a long term contract candidate, so it makes plenty of sense to tag him then consider their options. Trading him is reportedly a possibility, too.
Lions: Cliff Avril. He won't be happy with the franchise tag, but he should be prepared to get it. The Lions can't let him leave, and he would break the bank on the open market, so franchising him makes the most sense to give both sides enough time to work out a deal.
Bears: Matt Forte. This has been a no-brainer for quite some time. Not much to say here -- Forte will be tagged.
Saints: Drew Brees. He's not going anywhere. The only question here is whether they lock him before the franchise tag period ends. If that happens, Carl Nicks or Marques Colston are possibilities.
Cardinals: Calais Campbell. The Cardinals GM has already said he's not going anywhere. The real debate is whether he gets a deal before free agency hits. He'll be tagged, if not.
Maybe: Players Who Could Receive The Franchise Tag
Chargers: Vincent Jackson. Previous reports have said the Chargers aren't likely to franchise Jackson, but I don't see the logic in that. The franchise tag for Jackson is high -- about $13.7 million -- but Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith may be in an "all-in" type of year. They need to win this year, and keeping Jackson for 2012 would be a major boost to that effort. It may not make a lot of financial sense, but I think the Chargers should tag Jackson and keep him in San Diego for another year, perhaps even working out a longer deal eventually.
Steelers: Mike Wallace. Interesting situation here with Wallace and the Steelers. He's a restricted free agent, which means the Steelers could place a first-round tender on him. But there are some who think other teams would pounce on Wallace for a first round pick. The Steelers would have the opportunity to match any offer he gets but they're in serious salary cap trouble. So, the franchise tag may make the most sense in order to protect him from other teams -- but can the Steelers afford it? They're restructuring contracts to create space, so Wallace's status is to-be-determined at this point. In the end, though, expect Pittsburgh to hang onto him.
Texans: Arian Foster. Similar situation as Wallace. Foster is a restricted free agent but there's concern he wouldn't be safe with a tender. So the question becomes whether Foster gets the franchise tag or not. I think he probably does just so the Texans can be sure and sleep at night. But things will get interesting if Foster has the first-round tender on him. Another huge free agent for Houston is Mario Williams, but he's just too expensive. The franchise tag would be nearly $22 million for him, and the Texans can't afford that. They'll try their best to work out a deal with him.
Bills: Stevie Johnson. The two sides want to get something done and have reportedly exchanged contract proposals. That's a good start. That said, they're still far enough apart where the franchise tag could very well come into play. Johnson has been led to believe the franchise tag won't be used on him. If they don't reach a contract agreement, I'd think the Bills would use the franchise tag on him to buy some time to work on a multi-year deal.
Jets: Sione Pouha. The big nose tackle doesn't play every down, but he is a key part of the Jets defense. Rex Ryan wants to keep him. There hasn't been an indication as to whether the Jets are likely to tag him, and there are pros and cons behind the move. On the one hand, tagging him makes sense because he's 33 years old and the Jets don't want to commit to a player at that age. On the other hand, it doesn't make sense because $8 million is a lot to pay to a part-time player. I'd predict the Jets end up tagging him, just to be sure he stays.
Titans: Cortland Finnegan. The cornerback market isn't great this year and cover corners are hard to come by. This tells me the Titans should keep Finnegan. But maybe they don't. Maybe they let him walk to the open market where other teams will undoubtedly be interested. There hasn't been an indication from either camp what will happen, but I'll predict Finnegan ends up getting tagged. He's too good to just walk.
Jaguars: Josh Scobee. The franchise tag number on a kicker is a little over two and a half million bucks, which is (relatively) cheap, so expect Jacksonville to use the tag on their kicker. He's a solid kicker who the Jags want to bring back. Jeremy Mincey is a dark-horse candidate for the franchise tag as well.
Colts: Robert Mathis. Reggie Wayne is a free agent, too. Mathis is probably the second best pass rusher available behind Mario Williams. Pass rushers makes gobs and gobs of money, but Mathis is turning 31 this week. Do the rebuilding Colts commit that kinda cash to Mathis? I'm not sure that they do. I think they use the franchise tag on him this year to figure out their plan in the long view. Wayne, at 33 years old, doesn't fit into the Colts' future.
Chiefs: Brandon Carr. Or Dwayne Bowe. The Chiefs have two players worthy of the franchise tag, but there's no indication which way they'll go. Either one could be tagged, and it wouldn't be a surprise. The Chiefs had Stanford Routt in for a visit, which could mean Carr is unlikely to get the tag. Bowe is probably less of a sure-thing when talking about a deal, so my prediction would be Bowe getting the franchise tag.
Redskins: Fred Davis. LaRon Landry is a possibility, too, but both players have concerns when it comes to a long term deal. Davis will be suspended for a year if he tests positive again, and Landry has had major injury issues. Reports out of Washington indicate Davis likely gets the tag at about $5.5 million.
Cowboys: Anthony Spencer. Tough call here, but I think Spencer ends up getting the franchise tag. Dallas has enough cap space to handle the hit, and despite some of Spencer's struggles, he's someone the Cowboys should keep in Dallas.
Packers: Jermichael Finley. You could throw Matt Flynn in there as a possibility as well, but all indications are that he'll be able to test the open market. The franchise tag tender for tight ends is only $5.5 million and Finley is easily worth that amount. Green Bay likely gives Finley the franchise tag.
Falcons: Brent Grimes. Maybe Curtis Lofton here instead, but Grimes is the most likely to receive the tag. Cornerbacks are expensive and the Falcons can keep him in-house while they figure out what kind of deal he's worth.
49ers: Dashon Goldson. Carlos Rogers is a possibility here, too, but the safety tag is a little cheaper. Plus, Rogers has indicated he wants to stay in San Francisco. So, despite the tempting offers Rogers would receive, the 49ers likely choose Goldson for the tag.
Unlikely: Players That Could, But Probably Won't Receive The Franchise Tag
Dolphins: Paul Soliai. They franchised him last year, but I doubt that happens again. His agent has said there aren't any indications that the franchise tag or a deal is coming from the Dolphins' front office. I've seen crazier things but expect Soliai to hit the open market.