NFL Nation: 2012 NFL Franchise Players

The Eagles signed running back LeSean McCoy to a five-year, $45 million extension Thursday evening, $20.76 million of which is guaranteed. This continues to provide a framework of the market value for running backs, but this deal might not accelerate the signing of Ravens running back Ray Rice.

Rice
McCoy
The problem is the disparity between the tiers for running backs. McCoy's deal is in line with the second tier like the Texans' Arian Foster (five years, $43.5 million, with $20.75 million guaranteed). But Rice could be shooting for the top tier that includes the Vikings' Adrian Peterson (seven years with $36 million guaranteed) and the Titans' Chris Johnson (six years with $30 million guaranteed).

What will likely get a deal done is finding a middle ground. Rice doesn't belong at the top of the pay scale because he hasn't averaged 13 rushing touchdowns over five seasons like Peterson and he doesn't have a 2,000-yard rushing season on his resume like Johnson.

But, based on the statistics, Rice deserves to get paid more than Foster and McCoy. In his three seasons as the featured back, Rice has produced 5,885 total yards, an average of 1,962 yards per season. That tops the three-year total yards by Foster (4,411) and McCoy (4,241).

That's why a five-year extension with $25 million guaranteed would be a fair deal for Rice.

Rice is currently scheduled to make $7.7 million this season as the Ravens' franchise player. If the sides can't reach a new deal by July 16, Rice will have to play this season under the tag.

He has yet to sign his tender and could skip training camp. Keeping in shape while working out on his own is not a concern for Rice.

"Training is something that I never worried about," Rice told the Carroll County (Md.) Times last weekend. "It's something that you got to want. I actually have the burning to desire to come back, not only for myself, but to come back ready to play. My training has always been part of my routine."

Rice has been training with former Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook.

"Nobody ever had to beat me in the head to get up and work out," Rice said. "Anybody who knows about my workout regimen, I've probably been through two before noon. Training has never been my issues but obviously, the team camaraderie, the lockout and all that stuff, that's the stuff that you kind of miss with the guys. But as far as being ready, I know I'll be ready."
Former Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is expected to bring a Ravens-style defense to Indianapolis. He could be taking some Ravens players along with him, as well.

Ravens free-agent defensive end Cory Redding is engaged with talks with the Colts, and is scheduled to visit Indianapolis tonight, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. This could just be the beginning for Pagano, who might also target linebackers Jarret Johnson and Jameel McClain.

Losing Redding would not be a critical blow to the Ravens, even though the nine-year veteran had his best season in years. Redding finished with 43 tackles and 4.5 sacks.

The Ravens have been prepared to replace Redding with two emerging young prospects in Pernell McPhee and Art Jones.
The NFL has finally informed teams how much franchise players will cost them in 2012.

The numbers are very close to widely reported projections.

Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell and San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson were the only NFC West players hit with franchise tags this year. Each will receive a one-year offer for the values associated with their positions. Those values form the basis for negotiations on long-term agreements. That explains why teams are selective in how they use the tag.

Seattle wants to keep defensive end Red Bryant, but not badly enough to set his value at $10.6 million per season.

The Seahawks are betting that the market will not value a run-stuffing end at that level. Bryant is arguably the team's most important player against the run. He played about two-thirds of the defensive snaps last season, finishing with one sack and two interceptions. Bryant also blocked three field-goal tries and one extra-point attempt. The team values his presence in the locker room as well.

But that $10.6 million average reflects the figure set largely by pass-rushing ends. Campbell, despite playing in a 3-4 scheme, has 21 sacks over the past three seasons. He had eight sacks in 2011, plus 10 passes defensed and three blocked field-goal tries.

The franchise tag made sense for the 49ers as they sought to keep Goldson with the team at least one more season. The one-year rate for safeties is $6.2 million.

The values for cornerbacks (nearly $10.3 million) and wide receivers ($9.5 million) were too steep for NFC West teams' budgets. The 49ers' Carlos Rogers earned Pro Bowl honors at corner, but the team opted against setting his value north of $10 million annually. The St. Louis Rams need all the playmakers they can get, but they weren't willing to bet $9.5 million a year on Brandon Lloyd's ability to produce at a high level consistently in their new offense. Rogers and Lloyd both turn 31 before training camps open.

The fine print: One-year salaries for franchise players become guaranteed upon signing. Franchise players rarely attract attention in free agency, because any suitor would have to part with two first-round draft choices if the players' current teams declined their right to match outside offers. Franchise players must sit out the 2012 season if they do not sign between Tuesday and Nov. 13. Unsigned franchise players become unrestricted free agents if their teams withdraw the tag.
Although not everything can be read accurately from Twitter, New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker seemed genuine in his response to receiving the franchise tag.

On Monday evening, just hours after Welker was tagged, he tweeted, "Glad that I will be a Patriot in 2012 and hopefully '13,'14,'15,'16,'17,'18........"

This is a good sign. Many wonder if Welker will hold out and skip offseason activities if a contract extension isn't reached. It is clear that Welker, 31, would prefer long-term security.

Welker's tag is slated for $9.4 million in 2012. The Patriots and Welker will continue to negotiate, but there is no guarantee an extension will be reached.

Still, these are good, early vibes from Welker. He says he's happy to be in New England this year and remains hopeful that it will be for longer. The next step is to see if Welker signs the tag and eventually shows up to New England's offseason workout program.
Minutes before the deadline, the Kansas City Chiefs did what was long expected of them: they placed the franchise tag on receiver Dwayne Bowe.

"Today was the league’s deadline to designate a franchise player and we felt it was in the best interest of the Kansas City Chiefs to place the tag on Dwayne," Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli said in a statement released by the team.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Feb. 25 that Bowe will be franchised. Here were my thoughts on that report.

There was little chance the Chiefs, who are in excellent salary-cap position, would allow Bowe to hit the open market. Expect the Chiefs to try to sign Bowe to a long-term deal by the July 15 deadline. If Bowe is not given a long-term deal, he will be set to be an unrestricted free agent again next year.

Pioli has done a good job of keeping the Chiefs’ best players and has gotten off to a good start in free agency. The Chiefs have already secured Bowe and former Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt. He was signed two weeks ago.

The Chiefs’ top unrestricted free agent is cornerback Brandon Carr. There is little chance he will return. Expect Dallas to be among the teams to make a big push for Carr.

In a move that was expected weeks ago, the New England Patriots finally beat the 4 p.m. ET deadline Monday to put the franchise tag on leading receiver Wes Welker. He is scheduled to earn about $9.4 million next season if a contract extension cannot be reached.

But where exactly will Welker and the Patriots go from here?

It is yet to be determined if Welker’s tag will stick next season. But reports indicate the Patriots are not close to reaching a long-term agreement with their best receiver. The franchise tag allows both sides plenty of time to continue to negotiate.

I can see both sides to keeping the tag or giving Welker an extension.

On one end, Welker is extremely productive, a hard worker and an overachiever. He defines many of the characteristics the Patriots look for in a player. Considering this, keeping Welker for three more years shouldn’t be a bad thing, right? It would also free up salary-cap space to chase other big free agents.

But on the other end, Welker will be 31 in May. He’s coming off his best statistical year with 122 receptions for 1,569 yards. But the Patriots are probably asking, can Welker continue that kind of production next season and beyond? Giving Welker a contract worth $9-10 million per season until his mid 30s may not be in the Patriots’ best interest.

The best thing about the franchise tag is both sides will have until the late summer to work this out. The Welker-Patriots offseason story is far from finished. But the tag at least guarantees the Patriots' best receiver will remain in New England in 2012.

NFL franchise deadline looms

March, 5, 2012
3/05/12
1:45
PM ET
There will be significant AFC West franchise tag clarity in the coming hours.

The deadline is at 4 p.m. ET for teams to decide to put the franchise tag on a player. Giving a player the franchise tag all but guarantees he will be with that team in the 2012 season. Here's a quick recap of where each team is at heading to the deadline.

Denver: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Broncos will place the tag on kicker Matt Prater. That is no surprise. The Broncos and Prater have been talking about a long-term contract for some time. They can continue to work on a deal until July 15. Because three other kickers were given the tag, there is a strong chance both the Broncos and the Prater were reluctant to set the market for kickers. Whatever happens, expect the Broncos to figure out a plan to keep Prater in Denver for the long-term. With Prater getting tagged, defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley is now Denver’s top player headed to free agency.

Kansas City: Schefter reported Feb. 25 that the Chiefs would place the tag on receiver Dwayne Bowe if a long-term deal isn’t reached. The Chiefs have kept their plans close to the vest. Perhaps Bowe will sign a new deal or perhaps the Chiefs will pull a stunner and place the tag on cornerback Brandon Carr. I think the odds are the Chiefs tag Bowe.

Oakland: The Raiders got a jump on the process by tagging safety Tyvon Branch on Thursday. The team decided to tag Branch over running back Michael Bush, because Branch is a starter and the team has a bigger need in the secondary than at running back. Bush should be popular on the open market.

San Diego: Receiver Vincent Jackson is hours away from being one of the biggest prizes on the open market. There is a remote chance the Chargers tag Jackson. But the team would rather save the franchise money and take its chances in signing Jackson on the open market.
We've known the market for the NFL's top running backs for some time. The Minnesota Vikings guaranteed Adrian Peterson $36 million as part of a seven-year deal last summer, and the Tennessee Titans awarded Chris Johnson $30 million in a six-year extension.

Forte
Forte
Now we have a decent idea of how NFL teams value the next tier of running backs. The Seattle Seahawks signed Marshawn Lynch to a four-year deal Sunday night that includes $17 or $18 million in guarantees, and hours later the Houston Texans agreed on a five-year deal with Arian Foster. Terms of that deal haven't been reported yet, but it's reasonable to assume it falls between Lynch's deal and the five-year contract the Carolina Panthers gave DeAngelo Williams last summer; Williams' deal included $21 million in guarantees.

Why are we hashing through that information? Because it should help solidify the market for Matt Forte, whom the Chicago Bears made their franchise player last Friday.

If a dispute remains, it's this: What tier does Forte belong in? Did Forte's multi-faceted performance in 2011, in which he amassed 1,487 all-purpose yards in 12 games, make him one of the NFL's top backs? Or should he be paid closer to the range of Williams, Lynch and/or Foster?

The market has formed well enough for the sides to reach a long-term agreement, which would allow the Bears to rescind the franchise tag. But that's only if they can agree on Forte's standing among his peers. As always, your thoughts are welcome.
The Dallas Cowboys haven't made it official yet, but the sense is that they will designate outside linebacker Anthony Spencer as their franchise player today. That's the sense Spencer has, at least, according to what he told The Dallas Morning News:
Spencer
Anthony Spencer has mixed emotions over what will happen Monday afternoon.

The outside linebacker wants to stay with the Cowboys. But he'd prefer to do so with a long-term contract rather than the franchise tag the club is expected to use to prevent him from hitting the open market.

"It looks like they are going to put the tag on me,'' Spencer said. "That's a good thing and a bad thing.

"It's good because it shows how much they think of me. But you don't want to be playing on a one-year contract. You want a longer deal and the security that gives your family.

"But hey, I understand. It's a business.''

As David Moore points out in his story, the Cowboys have only used the franchise player designation twice under Jerry Jones, and both times they agreed with the player on a long-term deal before the start of that season. It's certainly possible they will do the same with Spencer. Heck, it's possible they'll do that with Spencer today, before the franchise deadline. But Spencer's an interesting and somewhat unique case, and it's not an open-and-shut deal for the Cowboys to lock him up long term.

Spencer is good against the run and in pass coverage, but he's not the pass-rusher the Cowboys would like to have at the outside linebacker spot opposite DeMarcus Ware. The man playing in that spot should be able to get to quarterbacks -- especially given the extra attention Ware draws from blockers. But Spencer is a disappointment as a pass-rusher, and his sack numbers aren't what the Cowboys hoped they would be at this point in his career.

Nonetheless, unless they're going to get into the Mario Williams market -- a market that's likely to result in Williams being the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history -- there are very few options at pass-rusher for the Cowboys in free agency, and it's hard to find one who'd represent a clear upgrade over Spencer. They could cut him loose and take their chances that they can find a pass-rusher in the draft or turn up a discarded potential gem the way the Jets did last year with Aaron Maybin. But they appear to have decided to hedge their bets and hold onto Spencer.

The question is: For how long? Locking up Spencer would seem to be equivalent to rewarding mediocrity, as several of our ESPNDallas.com writers have pointed out. Franchising him and letting him have one more year to bring the sack numbers up isn't a bad idea on its face, but it's going to cost them $8.8 million guaranteed to do that, and unless they do a long-term deal that lowers his 2012 number, that could hurt them against the cap as they hunt for the cornerbacks, safeties and guards they need.

It's a thorny situation, but it appears as though the Cowboys have decided the good with Spencer outweighs the disappointment, especially in light of other options. It's a tough business decision, and it's not likely to play well with the fans, but franchising Spencer right now is the right thing to do.

2012 NFL franchise tags

March, 3, 2012
3/03/12
7:38
PM ET
These NFL players will be staying with their respective teams after recently receiving franchise tags.

Bears place tag on Matt Forte

March, 2, 2012
3/02/12
10:02
PM ET
The Chicago Bears announced on Friday that they applied the franchise designation to running back Matt Forte as the sides continue to work on a long-term contract.

Teams could apply the tag from Feb. 20 through Mar. 5 at 4 p.m. ET as a method of preventing players from exploring the open market. The designation means Forte will play the 2012 season for a base salary of $7.7 million. But it's believed the team applied the tag to buy it more time to come to an accord with Forte on a long-term agreement.

For Michael C. Wright's full story on ESPNChicago.com, click here.
The Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns are the first teams this year to use the franchise tag on kickers, and they were both right in doing so. Putting the tag on the Bengals' Mike Nugent and the Browns' Phil Dawson represent the best value for both teams.

The Bengals could have used it on safety Reggie Nelson ($6.2 million), and the Browns could have done the same with running back Peyton Hillis ($7.7 million). In both cases, it would have been overspending because neither are among the top 10 at their position.

Nugent was the league's most accurate kicker until late in the season when he missed four field goals over the final three games. He finished eighth in the NFL in accuracy (86.8 percent) and 15th in touchbacks (36). So, the price of the tag (it's been estimated between $2.6 million and $3.1 million for this season) isn't too costly considering Nugent's effectiveness.

Dawson was the logical choice after the Browns reached a long-term deal with middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. This was the only way the Browns were keeping the most consistent offensive weapon from last season. Dawson converted 24-of-29 field goal attempts, and two of those misses were the result of bad snaps. He also hit seven field goals of 50 yards or longer, and no one in the NFL had more from that distance in 2011.

The franchise tag is a little higher for Dawson because he was given the designation last year. The Browns will pay him $3.3 million in base salary, which is 120 percent his 2011 franchise tag number of $3.1 million.

These are not outrageous figures when you look at the landscape of kicker salaries these days. Here are some of the kickers who are making at least $2.7 million this season: St. Louis' Josh Brown ($2.7 million), Indianapolis' Adam Vinatieri ($2.7 million), Chicago's Robbie Gould ($2.8 million), Tennessee's Rob Bironas ($2.85 million) and San Francisco's David Akers ($3 million).

Having a strong kicker is essential in the AFC North because of the challenging weather late in the season and the stinginess of the defenses (all four AFC North defenses finished in the top 10 in fewest points allowed). The Bengals and the Browns made sure they have one by using the franchise tag today.
A reminder as NFL teams name franchise players: Teams can withdraw the designations if players decide against signing the corresponding one-year offers.

That came to mind Friday upon reading Matt Maiocco's report suggesting Dashon Goldson had no immediate plans to sign the San Francisco 49ers' one-year franchise offer worth an estimated $6.2 million.

Teams rarely withdraw franchise designations, but plans can change. Leroy Hill found out the hard way back in 2009, when the Seattle Seahawks used a first-round choice for Aaron Curry, then withdrew an $8.3 million franchise offer from Hill, who was suddenly scrambling as a free agent after the draft.

We all saw what happened to Goldson last offseason. He found nothing palatable in free agency, then re-signed with the 49ers for one year and $2 million. The lockout made for unusual circumstances. Goldson might find the market more favorable this year.

But I see no advantage for Goldson in withholding his signature. Any team signing him to an offer would face losing two first-round draft choices if the 49ers declined to match. Teams simply do not trade two first-round choices for the right to pay good safeties.

Signing the franchise offer makes the money guaranteed. Not signing the offer means it could disappear if circumstances changed.

Goldson has a Pro Bowl on his resume, so he is more accomplished than Seattle's Hill was back in 2009. But neither was a player the team absolutely had to keep. The Seahawks, like the 49ers now, had more options than the player.

The 49ers appear unlikely to withdraw the tag, but they will get by just fine this offseason with or without Goldson under contract. Goldson has more at stake.

I see less reason for Arizona's Calais Campbell to sign the Cardinals' franchise offer, which has been projected to be around $10.6 million. There is virtually no chance the Cardinals would withdraw the tag, and if they did, Campbell would command big money from teams hungry for young defensive linemen of his caliber.

In Seattle, meanwhile, the Seahawks are expected to use the franchise designation on Marshawn Lynch if a long-term deal remains elusive. The deadline for naming franchise players is Monday.
The San Francisco 49ers have announced their decision to name safety Dashon Goldson their franchise player in 2012.

This had to be an easy move for the team.

Goldson earned Pro Bowl honors for the first time last season. The 49ers drafted him in 2007. That combination -- acclaimed and home-grown -- makes Goldson a candidate for a long-term deal. But the franchise tag's deflated value for safeties removed any urgency for the 49ers to get a deal done now.

Projections have called for safeties to receive one-year offers worth $6.2 million as franchise players. However, the league has not yet announced the exact value. An agent I spoke with Friday said he expected projected franchise values to fall slightly once the NFL puts out official salary-cap figures for 2012.

The value for safeties will fall significantly from $8.8 million last year. The drop reflects changes in how the NFL and its players calculate tag values, as determined through collective bargaining.

Running back is another position valued less this year, with the projected one-year tag worth $7.7 million. That relatively affordable number, up from $6.323 million for Shaun Alexander seven years ago, puts pressure on Seattle's Marshawn Lynch to get a long-term deal done.

Teams generally aren't rushing out to pay running backs, anyway. In this case, the Seahawks could name Lynch their franchise player for 2012 and even 2013, then move on with a younger player at the position. For Lynch, the goal becomes commanding more guaranteed money than he would receive as a two-time franchise player.

Arizona's Calais Campbell is another candidate for the tag among NFC West players. The Cardinals have said they'll keep their young defensive end one way or another. Franchising him would set Campbell's one-year value somewhere in the $10.6 million range. Kent Somers expects that to happen Friday.

Thoughts on plan to tag Dwayne Bowe

February, 25, 2012
2/25/12
8:49
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS – As we thought, don’t expect to see Dwayne Bowe playing anywhere but in Kansas City in 2012.

Bowe
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the Chiefs plan to give Bowe the franchise tag if the two sides cannot come to an agreement on a long-term deal. The deadline to give a player the franchise tag is March 5. The receiver franchise tag is $9.5 million.

It has been expected that Bowe would be given the franchise tag once the Chiefs signed former Oakland cornerback Stanford Routt on Monday. Kansas City's other high-profile free agent is cornerback Brandon Carr. The Chiefs have repeatedly said they want him back, but it is unlikely he will return and it doesn't make sense for Kansas City to give Carr the franchise tag.

So, instead of having Bowe and Carr, the Chiefs will likely have Bowe and Routt.

Even if Bowe is franchised, expect the Chiefs to try to extend his contract at some point in the next year. If not, he’ll be eligible to be a free agent again next year.

The decision to franchise Bowe also affects San Diego. Receiver Vincent Jackson is a free agent and he is not expected to be given the franchise tag. The Chargers want to re-sign him, but he is expected to go to the open market first. With Bowe out of the way, the market for Jackson will get even more competitive.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFL SCOREBOARD

Sunday, 2/2
WEEKLY LEADERS