AFC North franchise tag notes
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The 4 p.m. ET deadline has officially passed for NFL teams to designate franchise players for the 2009 season. Three teams in the AFC North used the tag this year, which included an interesting move and non-move in the final hours on Thursday.
The non-move involved the Cleveland Browns and their reluctance to put a franchise or transition tag on starting safety Sean Jones, who has 14 interceptions for Cleveland over the past three seasons. Jones had a down year in 2008 but has been one of the team's best defensive players. Yet Cleveland could be looking for a new safety for next year.
The last-minute move came from the Pittsburgh Steelers, who put the franchise tag on Max Starks, according to ESPN's John Clayton. Starks, who began last season second string but finished strong as a starter, will be paid $8.451 million this season unless Pittsburgh negotiates a long-term deal.
For Pittsburgh, this likely means the end of its run with Marvel Smith. The longtime tackle was replaced by Starks during the team's Super Bowl run and is coming off a back injury.
The makeup of the Steelers' offensive line remains a mystery for 2009, but it appears the team has more than eight million reasons to count on Starks to man one of the tackle positions.