AFC South: 2012 NFL Franchise Players

How the 21 franchise tags from around the NFL affect the teams of the AFC South.

Houston Texans

Salary cap limitations likely mean the Texans are not active in free agency. The market may have shifted on a guy like Reggie Wayne, who could have been attractive with Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson and Wes Welker out of the unrestricted free agent picture.

More significantly, the price defensive end/outside linebacker Mario Williams will be able to attract if he gets to free agency is likely up. The Colts tagged Robert Mathis, the Lions tagged Cliff Avril and the Cardinals tagged Calais Campbell, and they were the next-best pass-rushers for needy teams to target.

Indianapolis Colts

Those three receivers -- Bowe, Jackson and Welker -- disappearing from the market mean that two Colts unrestricted free agents to-be probably fare a bit better. Pierre Garcon has speed and youth to sell and Wayne has veteran wiles and reliability.

The Colts could make another charge at signing Garcon before March 13th, but he may be determined to see what free agency can bring him.

I don’t think they will have much money to spend on free agents, but the offensive line and defensive tackles pools -- their biggest positions of need beyond receiver -- are unchanged.

Jacksonville Jaguars

No one needs a big-time, team-leading wide receiver more than the Jaguars do. I don’t believe they would have been players for Jackson or Welker. But Bowe could have been a guy they were interested in.

Whether or not they will be players for Williams, plan B should have been Mathis. The hit to the potential defensive end market hurts as a big-time pass-rusher is the big defensive need. Cornerback could still be OK with Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan, Kansas City’s Brandon Carr and San Francisco's Carlos Rogers on track to reach free agency.

Tennessee Titans

That San Francisco tagged Dashon Goldson and Oakland franchised Tyvon Branch severely thinned the safety market, which helped prompt Tennessee to tag Michael Griffin. I would have loved to have seen their approach is the two guys from the West Coast were heading for unrestricted free agency.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reported that Mathis would have been a target and general manager Ruston Webster had said a special, pass-rushing defensive end was one position for which the team might have been willing to overpay. He didn’t say overpay by a gigantic degree, however. With a bid for Williams unlikely, who’s the next best rusher now?

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean solidified the presumption that the Titans would likely put the franchise tag on safety Michael Griffin, reporting it will happen.

The team’s first-round pick from 2007 has been inconsistent in five seasons. He may be better than most of the alternatives at a thin position in both free agency and the draft, but a guaranteed one-year salary of $6.2 million qualifies as dangerous to me.

Griffin is a complicated, moody guy. He’s at his best when the players around him are excelling, and tends not to play well when they aren’t playing well. While he got a big contract as a rookie, we have no real idea how he will react to the tag when he surely believes he’s worthy of a long-term deal. In my view, with Chris Hope gone, the Titans lack a strong leader in the secondary.

I question the move. My franchise player needs to be a guy who sets the tone, not a guy who needs the tone set for him. And while $6.2 million is hardly exorbitant, I’ve said I think the Titans could find someone at half that price to produce as Griffin did in 2011. It strikes me as a) settling and b) playing somewhat scared. I won't go so far as to call it panic.

Tennessee stood to lose three of its four starters in the secondary, with Griffin, cornerback Cortland Finnegan and safety Jordan Babineaux all heading for free agency. Indications are the team will quickly sign Babineaux once free agency opens March 13. A rule pertaining to Babineaux’s expiring contract prohibits him being re-signed before the new league year begins.

So while I expect Finnegan to be gone and the Titans to add a safety and a corner for depth, they could well go into the 2012 season with a secondary that looks a lot like last year’s. Cornerback Jason McCourty, Griffin and Babineaux will remain in place. Alterraun Verner will start in Finnegan’s place and the Titans will have a competition to see who takes over Finnegan’s nickel role.

An upgraded pass rush is a priority, and it will help all those guys on the back end.

But the Titans could have been more ambitious and/or creative at safety.

Here’s hoping they get someone in place behind Griffin who’s ready to take over in 2013, when he will be a free agent again.

Assessing WRs who may be free agents

February, 14, 2012
K.C. Joyner breaks down seven free-agents to-be in the coming wide receiver pool Insider in this Insider piece.

I wish he also included two Colts, Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.

The Jaguars had one of the NFL’s two worst groups of receivers in the NFL last season and will definitely be considering free agents at the position. If the Colts don’t keep one or both of their guys, they’ll also have a need.

Here are Joyner’s bottom lines on the seven guys he writes about:

Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City: “Bowe may have stretch vertical limitations, but he should be able to upgrade the short and medium pass game of any team.”

Marques Colston, New Orleans: “Colston has the potential to be the best possession receiver in the NFL, but his productivity could drop off if he joins a team with less creative playcalling than he received with the Saints.”

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia: “There is a reason the Eagles have shown some hesitation in paying him a big contract and why they may be considering either putting a franchise tag on or trading Jackson. He has more big-dollar bust potential than any other wide receiver in this year's field.”

Vincent Jackson, San Diego: “Jackson might be biggest risk-reward wideout in this year's free-agent class.”

Steve Johnson, Buffalo: “Johnson wants to be paid like a true No. 1 wideout but there are too many facets of his game that say he has a production ceiling that doesn't justify that type of expenditure.”

Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis: “Lloyd has the highest volume of notable negatives in this comparison.”

Mario Manningham, NY Giants: “Manningham's postseason performance, age and 2010 numbers show that he may have the most upside of any wideout in this group. Depending on how his postseason is viewed by teams in the free-agent market, he could end up as the best value acquisition wide receiver.”

I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. about the field-stretching speed of those seven plus Wayne and Garcon and what he’d like to see Jacksonville do.

“The Jags might need two of those guys! In terms of field stretchers, which is clearly a need for Jacksonville, Vincent Jackson and DeSean Jackson are way ahead of the rest. And both are excellent in this capacity. I prefer Vincent Jackson overall-bigger. And Mike Mularkey is going to want his receivers to block, which isn’t DeSean Jackson’s game. Manningham should be the cheapest on the list and if they were able to get two, he would be an ideal WR2 -- also with field stretching ability. Although not a burner, Dwayne Bowe could be the best fit. Physical and plays tough. But I bet Bowe is franchised.”

While we linked to a piece earlier today about how Jaguars' GM Gene Smith isn't completely determined to add only choir boys, I think Jackson's attitude might be a turnoff to Smith.