NFC West: 2013 NFL franchise players

The 2013 deadline for naming franchise players passed Monday without NFC West teams using the mechanism to protect against losing their unrestricted free agents.

Dashon Goldson, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl safety, tweeted his approval.

Teams can begin negotiating with representatives for UFAs from March 9 before the signing period opens March 12.

Goldson, 49ers tight end Delanie Walker and St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola are among the more notable NFC West players scheduled to hit the unrestricted market.

Goldson earned $6.2 million as the 49ers' franchise player last year. The labor agreement would have required the 49ers to increase that by 20 percent to $7.45 million if the team decided to name him its franchise player for a second consecutive season.

Without the franchise tag, Goldson is free to test the market for the second time as a veteran player. Last time, Goldson settled for a one-year, $2 million deal from the 49ers. This time, Goldson, 28, has Pro Bowls on his résumé. Will teams pony up?

The 49ers had the NFL's most expensive defense last season. Giving Goldson a 20 percent raise as a two-time franchise player would have been difficult philosophically in that context. The team was more interested in extending inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman's contract. Bowman signed an extension during the season.

San Francisco would like to retain Goldson and Walker. The tag value for Goldson ($7.45 million) and Walker ($6.066 million) lagged far behind what teams would have to pay franchise players at quarterback ($14.896 million), defensive end ($11.175 million), cornerback ($10.854 million) or wide receiver ($10.537 million). The 49ers' reluctance to tag Goldson and Walker could reflect their acknowledgement that difficult decisions must be made in the interests of long-term planning. Their reluctance also could reflect a line of thought that neither player is worth that much on a per-season basis.

Nothing would stop either Goldson or Walker from re-signing with the 49ers later in the process.

Amendola's situation in St. Louis is one we discussed in detail previously. As the chart shows, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was much more effective on third and fourth downs last season when Amendola was on the field. However, Bradford averaged slightly more yards per pass attempt across all downs when Amendola was off the field. That is not to suggest that the Rams would be better off without Amendola. Rather, it's fair to question whether Amendola would be worth the $10.537 million franchise price as a frequently injured player whose value could be built around third-down situations as a slot receiver.

NFL teams named eight franchise players Monday, down from 21 last season.

The list included Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, Dallas Cowboys defensive end-turned-linebacker Anthony Spencer, Denver Broncos tackle Ryan Clady, Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee, Kansas City Chiefs tackle Branden Albert and Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks.

The Colts' use of the tag for McAfee moves them past Seattle as the team that has used the franchise tag most frequently since the designation became available in 1993. Indianapolis (11), Seattle (10) and Arizona (nine) top that list, according to Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information.
The NFL released 2013 values for franchise players Friday, providing an opportunity for comparison to projected numbers.

The chart shows projected values, actual values and differences totaling $1.7 million in the players' favor.

Teams electing to protect one unrestricted free agent with the franchise tag must offer a one-year deal tied to top salaries for players at the same position. The figure is calculated in relation to the salary cap. For that reason, franchise player values remained unknown until the cap was set at $123.9 million per team.

Teams have until Monday to use the franchise designation. No NFC West team has done so to this point, and it's appearing as though none will. Safety Dashon Goldson and tight end Delanie Walker of the San Francisco 49ers would be the most logical candidates.
NFC West teams have named an NFL-high 20 franchise players since divisional realignment in 2002. There's a chance the division will go without one for only the third time during that 11-year span.

General managers for the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks have recently indicated they weren't planning to use the tag this year.

None of the free agents for Arizona appears to be a candidate.

In San Francisco, where the 49ers have two candidates in Dashon Goldson and Delanie Walker, longtime beat reporter Matt Maiocco says the team is leaning against tagging Goldson for a second successive season.

Walker could still get the tag, but at the very least, there are no clear-cut candidates to become franchise players in San Francisco or anywhere else in the division.

The NFC West last had no franchise players in 2011 and 2006.

Across the NFL, teams have used the tag 116 times since 2002 and 176 times overall to severely limit unrestricted free agents' options.

Franchise players receive one-year offers worth the average of the five previous franchise-player values at the same position, proportional to current salary-cap allotments per team. Those figures have not yet been announced.

Rules allow teams to designate one franchise player for the 2013 season between Feb. 18 and March 4. Any team declining to match an outside offer to a franchise player receives two first-round draft choices originating from the signing team.

Teams can pay a higher premium to take franchise players off the market entirely. That has happened 14 times, including three times by teams currently in the NFC West. San Francisco used this "exclusive" franchise player designation with Julian Peterson in 2004. Seattle used it with Joey Galloway in 2000. Arizona used it with Eric Swann in 1996.

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