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Monday, February 20, 2012
It's franchise-tag season

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Earlier this month, we took a look at possible franchise-tag scenarios in the AFC West. The franchise-tag assignment period starts Monday and runs through March 5. Free agency starts March 13.

Let’s review where each division team stands:

Denver Broncos: The Broncos will likely tag either kicker Matt Prater or defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley. Denver wants both players back and it has plenty of room under the salary cap to make that happen one way or the other.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs will likely franchise either receiver Dwayne Bowe or cornerback Brandon Carr. If they sign former Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt, they will likely franchise Bowe. The Chiefs have $62 million in cap space and should be able to do what they want in free agency. The only way Kansas City will lose Carr or Bowe is if it doesn't franchise them and the player gets an offer on the open market the Chiefs deem too ridiculous to match.

Oakland Raiders: This is another interesting situation. The Raiders’ top two free agents are running back Michael Bush and safety Tyvon Branch. There have been reports that the Raiders may opt to franchise Branch (although they’d rather sign him to a long-term deal) and leave Bush unprotected because Branch is a starter. One reason they might nevertheless use the tag on Bush is because he backs up Darren McFadden, who has a history of injury. Tagging Bush could also be a sign Oakland would be open to trading McFadden to recoup lost draft picks. If Bush gets on the open market, he will very likely leave because he'll get starter’s money. The Raiders – who have greater needs on defense than on offense – still have to get under the salary cap, so franchising either player would not be ideal.

San Diego Chargers: Receiver Vincent Jackson might be the Chargers' top candidate for the franchise tag, though they are not expected to use it on him. Rather, San Diego may allow Jackson to go to free agency and try to keep him that way. Still, some close to the situation would not be shocked if Jackson is indeed franchised. The Chargers have a lot to do in free agency – both in-house and in filling needs from the outside – so locking up Jackson with a long-term deal would be the ideal plan.