- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Today is the first day teams can use their franchise player designations. They have until March 4 to do so. My prediction right now is that no team in the NFC East will use their franchise player designation this year, and here's a team-by-team look at why:
Dallas Cowboys: Their only real candidate is DE/LB Anthony Spencer, and we have discussed his situation here at length. Since they made him their franchise player last year, the Cowboys would have to pay Spencer more than $12 million if they did that again this year. Considering their current issues with the salary cap, that is impossible. The only way Spencer gets tagged is if, come March 4, he and the team have made enough meaningful progress on a long-term deal that the team is certain it will get done and they tag him to keep him off the market while they dot I's and cross T's. All of that seems extremely unlikely.
New York Giants: Top candidates here include tackle Will Beatty, tight end Martellus Bennett and safety Kenny Phillips. I don't think they're going to tag Bennett or Phillips, even though their positions carry the second-lowest and third-lowest franchise numbers. They like both players, but the Giants tend to see tight ends as interchangeable and they have concerns about the long-term health of Phillips' knee. They'll try to bring both back on team-friendly deals and wish them well if it doesn't work out. Beatty, however, was the 12th-rated tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus in 2012 and turns 28 in a couple of weeks. He's a high priority for the Giants in free agency, and they will work to get a long-term deal done with him in the coming weeks. They're not likely able to pay him the approximately $9.66 million franchise number for tackles, but that thing I talked about with Spencer in the last paragraph is a good description of the way in which the Giants have used the franchise tag in the past. If they're close but not yet there on a long-term deal with Beatty come March 4, they could tag him just to hold onto him while they finish. I doubt he plays under the franchise tag in 2013. And truth be told, it shouldn't be a tough negotiation for the Giants after sticking with Beatty through his early-career injury problems.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles have very few free agents and none of them are essential. I cannot imagine them, for instance, using an approximately $10.7 million franchise tag on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They might bring him back, sure, but they don't have to.
Washington Redskins: The tight end number is low, but they tagged Fred Davis last year, so his number would exceed $7 million -- for a guy coming off a torn Achilles. And as you may have heard, the Redskins are missing $18 million in cap space again this year as a result of the penalties imposed a year ago. A long-term deal with Davis for a lower 2013 base is more likely, and if they can't afford to tag him, how can they afford to tag anyone?