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Monday, February 21, 2011
Tag deadline looming for Browns, Bengals

By James Walker
ESPN.com

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have made their first major moves of the 2011 offseason by designating LaMarr Woodley and Haloti Ngata their respective franchise players.

Could the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals be next?

With the franchise deadline looming on Thursday, teams only have a few more days to decide on tagging players. Although the future of the franchise designation remains unclear with labor uncertainty, some teams are protecting themselves by still tagging top players.

Ngata and Woodley were no-brainers. But the choices are much more complex for Cleveland and Cincinnati.

For the Browns, they don't have any obvious free agents to tag. Kicker Phil Dawson and fullback Lawrence Vickers would be two sleepers, but both appear remote. The AFC North has tagged kickers two straight years (Shayne Graham, Jeff Reed) but neither worked, and tagging a fullback would be an even bigger shock.

For the Bengals, cornerback Johnathan Joseph and tailback Cedric Benson are two possibilities. Joseph is the team's biggest free agent. But the tag for cornerbacks could approach approximately $14 million thanks to big-money contracts signed by Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha in recent years. That would be a lot of money for the Bengals to invest for one year, especially since they hope to pay quarterback Carson Palmer $11.5 million in 2011. Benson is a good fit in Cincinnati but the Bengals probably don't anticipate paying him among the top five at his position.

Therefore, expect Ohio's NFL teams to pass on the franchise tag this year.