Fourteen players received the franchise tag in 2011. That set an NFL record, and my guess is that another record will be set this year.
Let’s take a look at what players are likely to get the tag this year, and what players are on the bubble. You will not find a more complete franchise tag primer on the internet, possibly because no one is more bored than me without football in my life.
It would be stunning if these players don’t receive the franchise tag, barring a long-term contract beforehand. Tags can be applied on Monday, Feb. 20. The deadline for applying the tag is March 5, more than a week before free agency starts.
Each team can use one franchise tag. It allows teams to retain a potential unrestricted free agent with a one-year contract offer. The contract is for the average of the five largest prior year’s salaries at their position. For example, the running back tag this year is expected to be around $8 million — the average of the top five running backs last year.
1. Ray Rice, Ravens running back
Guard Ben Grubbs is a nice player, but Rice fuels the entire Ravens offense. This is an easy call. Rice could remain unsigned for much of the offseason before reaching a long-term agreement.
2. Calais Campbell, Cardinals defensive end
Campbell picked up Ray Horton’s 3-4 defense faster than his celebrated (and effective) teammate Darnell Dockett. Campbell is only 25-years-old and will be difficult to sign long term. His representation knows his value.
3. Matt Forte, Bears running back
The saga continues. Forte won’t like it, but paying elite running backs on a year-by-year basis makes financial sense for NFL teams. It minimizes the risk.
4. Jermichael Finley, Packers tight end
Multiple reports in Green Bay indicate that quarterback Matt Flynn is not an option for the tag. Let’s trust them. Finley is a perfect tag candidate because he’s young, wildly talented, and the Packers probably aren’t quite sold yet that Finley deserves elite long-term money.
5. Drew Brees, Saints quarterback
Yeah, you might want to hold on to this guy. Brees has all sorts of leverage because the Saints would love to wrap up his deal before March 5 so they can use the tag on receiver Marques Colston or guard Carl Nicks.
Ultimately, it’s hard to rush a deal this big. If the Saints do sign Brees long-term, Nicks seems more likely to get a tag. Colston might be easier to sign long-term.
6. DeSean Jackson, Eagles wide receiver
The Eagles reportedly will try to tag and trade Jackson. Big playmakers are hard to find, so there should be plenty of interest. Then again, Andy Reid may not be eager to deal his best deep threat before a “win-or-else” season.”
7. Fred Davis, Redskins tight end
Davis is the most explosive player on Washington’s offense. He’s also one joint away from a year-long suspension. This is an easy choice; the Redskins need weapons.
8. Brent Grimes, Falcons cornerback
Grimes is an above-average starting cornerback in his prime. It makes no sense to just let a guy like that walk away. (Unless you are the Bengals, circa 2011.)
Initially, I thought the team might seriously consider tagging linebacker Curtis Lofton. But Grimes is the far better choice and will be tough to get signed to a long extension.