NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Franchise/Transition Tag

Franchise/transition tag descriptions

February, 17, 2014
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Franchise/transition tags: Ravens

February, 17, 2014
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The Baltimore Ravens have used the franchise tag seven times in their 18-year history. If the Ravens tag someone this offseason -- and the window to do so begins Monday -- it'll be tight end Dennis Pitta.

Pitta
The Ravens finished 29th in offense last season and can't afford to let Joe Flacco's security blanket go elsewhere. Pitta is too valuable in the red zone and on third downs to let him hit free agency. At 28, Pitta is reaching the prime of his career. Before the hip injury last season, he set career highs in catches (61), receiving yards (669) and touchdowns (seven) in 2012. During the Ravens' Super Bowl run, Pitta had touchdowns in three of the team's four postseason games.

Plus, tight end is the thinnest position on the Ravens' roster right now. Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark are also free agents. The only ones signed are Matt Furstenburg and Nathan Overbay, both of whom were on the practice squad last season.

The question with Pitta is how much would it cost the Ravens to tag him. Pitta could make the case that he deserves to be tagged as a wide receiver ($11.5 million) and not as a tight end ($6.7 million) because he primarily lined up in the slot last season. The best-case scenario is for the Ravens to reach a long-term deal before the March 3 deadline to use the tag. Pitta is expected to command a contract worth $4 million to $5 million per season if he reached free agency. If the Ravens franchise Pitta, they'd have until July 15 to negotiate an extension with him.

There has been speculation that the Ravens may use the tag on offensive tackle Eugene Monroe. This is considered unlikely because Monroe isn't worth the projected $11 million tag, and the Ravens don't feel pressure to use it on him. The Ravens believe they have a good chance to retaining Monroe in free agency. If they can't, the Ravens have other options such as signing Michael Oher to be their left tackle (which won't be a popular decision) or moving Kelechi Osemele from left guard to tackle.

It makes more sense for the Ravens to tag Pitta.

Franchise/transition tags: 49ers

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Monday opens the window in which NFL teams can apply the franchise tag to players.

It appears unlikely the San Francisco 49ers will give out any significant tag to a pending free agent. Yes, the 49ers have priority free agents, but there are no natural fits for any of them to be franchised.

Whitner
Boldin
The priority free agents are receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown.

The team definitely wants Boldin, who had one of his best NFL seasons in his only year in San Francisco, to return. He was a vital part of the offense. However, Boldin is 33 and probably has one short-term deal left in his career. There is no chance it will make fiscal sense to give Boldin a one-year franchise tag. He will probably command $5-7 million a season, well short of the receiver franchise tag number.

Brown is not considered a top-flight cornerback and the franchise tag is reserved for the elite at the position.

The franchise tag numbers for safeties will likely be in the $7-8 million range. Whitner signed a three-year, $11.5 million deal in 2011. He is a key part of the defense and the 49ers need him back. If they sense the safety market will be robust, they could decide to use the franchise tag on Whitner. But I'm not sure the market will go that high. I wouldn't say Whitner getting the franchise tag is impossible, but it would be a surprise.

Dawson could have been a candidate to be franchised, but tagging him as such is virtually impossible. Two years ago, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees filed a grievance that spurred the ruling that a player receive a major pay raise when he is franchised for the third time. Dawson was franchised twice by the Browns. Thus, his pay for 2014 will be at the rate of a quarterback if the 49ers use the franchise tag on him. That will not happen.

Franchise/transition tags: Bengals

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CINCINNATI -- Franchise tags played key roles in structuring the Cincinnati Bengals' roster the past two offseasons, but it's doubtful they will factor at all during this one.

For the first time since 2012, expect the Bengals to be inactive in the franchise/transition tag process that begins across the NFL on Monday. Teams are now able to begin labeling upcoming unrestricted free agents with the tags in an effort to keep them around while working on signing them to longer term contracts. If they wish, each team is allowed one franchise-tagged player per season and a transition-tagged player.

Franchise-tag contracts are designed to keep a player out of free agency on a season-by-season basis. Since the rate of compensation increases 120 percent each year the player is tagged, it's rare for teams to stretch the franchise-tag status across multiple seasons. The Cowboys and Browns were the last teams to have players with a second-year franchise status, signing players to franchise-tag deals in 2011 and 2012.

If the Bengals wanted to, they could do the same this offseason with 2013 franchise player Michael Johnson. But since the defensive end stands to make more than $13 million as a second-year franchise-tagged player in 2014, it's unlikely they would choose that path. The $13.4 million he would be owed next season would dramatically shrink the money pool the Bengals would have to sign other free agents before hitting the cap limit. According to ESPN's Roster Management System, the Bengals are currently sitting about $15 million shy of the cap limit for 2014.

So it's unlikely Johnson gets re-tagged. If he comes back next season, it would most likely be through a longer-term contract that still could end up paying him an annual salary comparable to what it would be if he were franchise-tagged. With that in mind, as much as the Bengals would like to retain the star lineman they drafted in 2009, it's clear he may be on his way out of Cincinnati.

The Bengals could extend franchise-tag status for the first time to offensive tackle Anthony Collins, but that's another unlikely scenario. Instead of paying the longtime backup nearly $10 million next season, they would be better served negotiating a longer-term deal, or also letting him walk to free cap space. Without Johnson and Collins on the books, the Bengals would be able to better negotiate other deals this year and start getting cash cleared in advance of signing 2015's crop of pricey free agents.

Next year's possible franchise-tag candidates include quarterback Andy Dalton, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, defensive tackle Domata Peko, linebackers James Harrison and Rey Maualuga and kicker Mike Nugent -- Cincinnati's 2012 franchise-tagged player -- among others.

Franchise/transition tags: Jets

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The New York Jets haven't utilized the franchise tag since 2011, when they slapped it on linebacker David Harris. At the time, it wasn't used as negotiating leverage; it was merely insurance, keeping Harris off the market as they worked toward a long-term contract. There was little doubt they'd get it done.

This offseason, they're unlikely to use the tag -- unless it's a Harris-type situation. Their top unrestricted free agents are right tackle Austin Howard and placekicker Nick Folk. The Jets would like to retain both, but the projected cost could be prohibitive. The 2013 franchise-tag amounts for an offensive lineman and kicker were $9.8 million and $3 million, respectively -- and those numbers are projected to increase to $11 million and $3.4 million.

The Jets absolutely want to lock up Howard before he hits the open market, and they will work diligently to get that done by March 11, the start of free agency. If they progress toward a deal but can't quite finalize it by March 3 (the tag deadline), it's possible they could use the tag to buy themselves more time. But $11 million is a huge hit, and it's hard to imagine them extending themselves that much. Ultimately, Howard probably will sign a contract in the neighborhood of $4 million to $5 million per year. He made $2 million last season playing for the restricted tender.

Kicking salaries are soaring around the league (at least nine kickers make at least $3 million a year, according to overthecap.com), and Folk is looking to make a big score. He deserves it after his best season. He made only $780,000 last season on a one-year contract (his fourth straight one-year deal), and he's looking for security. Who can blame him? He was the 24th-highest paid kicker in 2013, according to overthecap.com. Traditionally, the Jets are frugal when it comes to kickers and punters. Folk is a "Folk hero," according to Rex Ryan; we'll see if the bosses are willing to pay him like one. The feeling is that Folk is a more likely tag candidate than Howard.

Franchise/transition tags: Falcons

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The franchise tag might have entered into play for the Atlanta Falcons this season had Matt Ryan's contract been an issue.

It isn't.

The quarterback was locked up prior to last season with a five-year, $103.75 million contract extension that included $59 million guaranteed. It kept 2013 from being the final year of his original six-year, $72 million rookie contract ($34.74 million guaranteed).

In others words, it won't be a concern for the Falcons once the first day for designating the franchise tag on a player comes Monday. The last time the Falcons used the franchise tag was on cornerback Brett Grimes in 2012 -- at a one-year price of $10.28 million -- as the two sides were unable to reach a long-term deal. Grimes, who suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury that year, now faces the possibility of being tagged again as the member of the Miami Dolphins.

As for the Falcons, they have no reason to designate a franchise player this year among a group of impending unrestricted free agents that includes defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters. Some of the others bound for free agency include center Joe Hawley, tight end Chase Coffman and offensive tackle Mike Johnson. Free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. on March 11, although teams are allowed to negotiating with agents of players on other teams on March 9.

Maybe the franchise tag comes into play for the Falcons again if for some reason they can't get top receiver Julio Jones signed to a long-term deal before the 2015 season.

The deadline for designating franchise or transition players is 4 p.m. March 3. Eight players were slapped with the franchise tag last season.

Once a team designates a franchise player, it has until July 15 to work out a long-term extension with that player.

And once again, that shouldn't apply to the Falcons this year.

Franchise/transition tags: Chiefs

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It makes no sense for the Kansas City Chiefs to use the franchise or transition tag on any of their prospective free agents this year. None of those players could be considered essential for the Chiefs next season or beyond. The Chiefs will also be tight to the salary cap and would find it difficult to take on another bloated, one-year salary.

The only potential free agent worthy of the franchise tag is veteran left tackle Branden Albert. He played in 2013 as the franchise player at a one-year salary of almost $10 million, but the Chiefs drafted another tackle, Eric Fisher, with the No. 1 overall pick last year. Fisher started as the right tackle last season and could move over to the left side to replace Albert in 2014. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have in backup Donald Stephenson a player they believe to be good enough to be a starter.

The estimated one-year cost for the Chiefs to retain Albert in 2014 is more than $11 million. Albert, who is a good player, made the Pro Bowl last season for the first time in his six-year NFL career.

But he missed five starts in 2012 because of back spasms and four games in 2013 because of a hyperextended knee. He has played in all 16 games for the Chiefs just once, so his durability is a question.

Fisher wasn’t anyone’s idea of a Pro Bowl tackle last season. He struggled as a rookie on a few occasions to the point he probably deserved to be benched. But the Chiefs believe Fisher has Pro Bowl potential. Another year in their weight program should help him progress as a player next season.

Likewise, Stephenson will never be a Pro Bowler, but he is an adequate player who will cost the Chiefs a little more than $750,000 against their cap next season. There’s isn’t more than $10 million worth of difference between Albert and Stephenson.

Franchise/transition tags: Eagles

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The Philadelphia Eagles don’t have an obvious target for use of the franchise or transition tag, which is mostly a positive thing.

It means they have most of their most important players under negotiated contracts and don’t have to anger anyone by using the tag to keep him from free agency. Using the tag has created bad feelings and problems for the Eagles in the past, most dramatically when they removed the tag from linebacker Jeremiah Trotter after weeks of bitter back-and-forth.

The negative aspect, of course, is that the players most likely to be tagged -- such as Jimmy Graham of the Saints and T.J. Ward of the Browns -- are from the 2010 draft class. The Eagles don’t have star players from that class they are fighting to keep.

Monday is the first day teams can apply franchise and transition tags to players. For an explanation of tags and their ramifications, click here.

Safety Nate Allen and wide receiver Riley Cooper were starters in 2013. The Eagles wouldn’t mind having both back. But they are not likely to want to pay them franchise-tag salaries -- likely to be more than $8 million for one season for safeties and $10 million-plus for wide receivers.

The Eagles took Allen one pick before Cleveland selected Ward. Four years later, the Eagles remain in dire need of safety help. They are apt to be affected more by Ward’s status than Allen’s. If Ward is on the market, the Eagles could be very interested in him. At the very least, he would expand the pool of free-agent safeties.

The Eagles’ first-round pick from 2010, Brandon Graham, still has another year on his rookie contract. Nine of the 10 other 2010 draftees on shorter deals are long gone. The 10th, safety and special-teams guy Kurt Coleman, is certainly not going to be tagged.

The Eagles’ most intriguing decision among their free-agents-to-be concerns wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. The 2009 first-round pick missed the entire 2013 season after tearing his ACL in training camp.

Could the Eagles use the tag to hang on to Maclin and try to work out a more reasonable deal? It’s possible, but not likely.

That’s how general manager Howie Roseman deployed the tag in 2012, the last time the Eagles used it. Roseman tagged wide receiver DeSean Jackson. By mid-March, Roseman had signed Jackson to a new five-year contract.

The difference here is that Maclin is coming off his second ACL surgery. The Eagles or another team might want him on a one-year, prove-it deal, but not at a guaranteed $10-11 million.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When you have one of the least-talented rosters in the NFL, you’re not going to have much use for any of the franchise tags.

That’s the situation the Jaguars are in right now.

The team does have two notable impending free agents -- running back Maurice Jones-Drew and quarterback Chad Henne -- and neither will be given the franchise or transitional tag on Monday, the first day that teams can use those designations.

Jones-Drew
General manager David Caldwell has said several times that Jones-Drew has earned the right to test the market though he’s interested in re-signing the running back. By letting him test the market, Caldwell is risking Jones-Drew not giving the Jaguars a chance to match any offer.

Jones-Drew is after the kind of money that Steven Jackson (three years, $12 million, $4 million guaranteed), Reggie Bush (four years, $16 million, $4 million signing bonus) and Shonn Greene (three years, $10 million, $5 million guaranteed) got when they signed free-agent contracts in 2013.

In each case, the teams overpaid for backs past the midpoint of their careers, but teams usually do overpay for players during free agency. Jones-Drew is at the same point in his career. He’ll be 29 in March and he has significant wear and tear on his body: 2,233 touches (rushes, receptions, kick and punt returns) in eight seasons.

In watching him this past season, he clearly did not look similar to the player who led the NFL in rushing in 2011. He wasn’t as explosive through the hole and wasn’t able to get to the edge and turn the corner as well as he has in the past.

There’s no reason for the Jaguars to use even the transitional tag on Jones-Drew. If he doesn’t re-sign -- and he said at the end of the season it was about the money -- the Jaguars will move forward with Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson, a draft pick or two, and possibly a mid-level free-agent signing of their own.

As far as Henne, Caldwell said he expects to reach out to Henne’s representatives soon to try to work out an extension before Henne’s contract expires in March. It would be ludicrous for the Jaguars to use a franchise tag on Henne because he would have to be paid a salary that averages to the top five (exclusive or non-exclusive tag) or the top 10 (transitional tag) paid QBs in the league.

Franchise/transition tags: Raiders

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The franchise tag, when it comes to the Oakland Raiders, is more of a nuclear option. Sure, general manager Reggie McKenzie carries the "football" around with him, and he's glad to know it's at his disposal, so to speak.

But McKenzie, who will never be confused with Dr. Strangelove, would much rather stay away from it and stick to the bargaining table. Especially with the window for teams to begin slapping the tag on their players beginning today and ending March 3. Free agency begins March 11.

"It's always a possibility, yeah, but I don't like to really go there as my option," McKenzie said last month. "I would like to negotiate a deal. But the franchise, the transition, those tags, the franchise tag is just one of those deals that is made available for you. You don't want to use that as, this is our [only] option. Hopefully we wouldn't need to."

For one thing, it's expensive. For another, the use of it, while making a player very rich for one year, also runs the risk of alienating said player.

Which is why the most likely Raiders player to be so designated, left tackle Jared Veldheer, has already made his objection to such a prospect known -- even if the franchise tag number for an offensive lineman is sure to rise from the $9.828 million of 2013.

"From that [payday] aspect of it, it's definitely an awesome deal," Veldheer told ESPN radio affiliate 95.7 The Game earlier this month. "It would just be nice to have more security in being a Raider for longer than just one year. This is a place that I want to be at for the rest of my career if I could."

The 6-foot-8, 322-pound Veldheer was the Raiders' third-round draft pick in 2010 out of Hillsdale College. He was limited to five games last season after undergoing surgery on his left triceps in training camp, though he looked strong when he returned.

"It's tough when that kind of stuff happens because ... [a one-year tag] goes against everything that's been said about [me], 'We want to make you a cornerstone of the team, build around you,'" Veldheer said. "It doesn't really back up any words with the right action."

The Raiders' only other true franchise tag candidate would seem to be defensive end Lamarr Houston. And that seems just as unlikely.
Karlos Dansby is all too familiar with the franchise tag.

Dansby
The Arizona Cardinals slapped the label on him during for the 2008 and '09 seasons, his last two during his first stint with Arizona. It's highly unlikely he'll be franchised -- either exclusive, non-exclusive or even labeled a transition player -- a third time.

If there was one player the Cardinals were to franchise, however, it'd be Dansby, who resurrected his reputation as one of the top inside linebackers with a career season in 2013. But they won't. They don't need to.

Dansby made $2.25 million last season, a season after bringing home $9 million with the Miami Dolphins. If the Cardinals were to franchise Dansby, he'd earn about $10.8 million in 2014 -- and the Cardinals won't pay that. If they bring him back, it'll most likely be a two- or three-year deal worth about half that.

At $10.8 million, Dansby would be the third highest-paid Cardinal at age 32. It's just not financially feasible for Arizona to commit that much money to him for one season, although, if you ask Dansby, he believes he's worth it.

Among the other free agents, there isn't one player the Cardinals couldn't do without. Most of the valuable free agents are in their late 20s or early 30s, and Arizona won't pay the franchise fee to keep them around.

There are two free agents who are in their mid 20s -- wide receiver Andre Roberts and running back Rashard Mendenhall, but neither would command a franchise tag.

This will be another offseason in which the franchise tag remains on the shelf.
The Detroit Lions removed themselves from the salary cap crunch last week by releasing two of their veterans, Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas, but it still does not mean the team is planning on using its franchise tag this season.

There just isn’t reason to. The team locked up center Dominic Raiola to a one-year deal. It won’t use the tag on defensive end Willie Young. The only player who could conceivably earn the tag is tight end Brandon Pettigrew, but considering the likely price on that will be more than $6 million for one year, it seems unlikely the team would use it.

When general manager Martin Mayhew was asked about the franchise tag at the Senior Bowl, he gave his usual noncommittal answer about potentially using it, saying the team needed to evaluate various things with its unrestricted free agents.

And as good as Pettigrew has been at times in the Detroit system, he is not one of the top five tight ends in the NFL, so he isn’t going to be worth that type of price tag. While the tight end market might not be massive -- Dennis Pitta from Baltimore could be the top option out there -- there are players who could fit what Detroit wants and who would come at a potentially cheaper rate.

One of those is Pettigrew, which is another reason to not tag him. But Dustin Keller is an intriguing free agent if he can return from his knee injury suffered last preseason. Also, Pitta has experience with Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell.

The draft has some intriguing tight end options as well. So those avenues could be the way the team maneuvers when it comes to filling that spot.

Meanwhile, and not to jump too far ahead, but the talk of the franchise tag will likely be much heavier a season from now, especially if defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh does not sign a long-term extension this offseason. Then, this conversation would reach an entirely different category.

Franchise/transition tags: Redskins

February, 17, 2014
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Brian Orakpo will get paid this offseason. If Paul Kruger averaged $8 million a year in a deal with Cleveland last offseason, then Orakpo, who is considered the top outside linebacker available, should eclipse that mark.

The question is, will it be the Redskins who give that money to him? Their coaches talk as though Orakpo will be back, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has called him a top priority. They want to re-sign him, knowing that it will be costly. But life in a 3-4 defensive scheme demands having two linebackers who can rush the passer, and that means spending money at this position.

Orakpo
If the Redskins don’t think they can agree on a long-term deal, then, yes, the franchise tag, which can be used starting Monday, is a strong option. Here are the different types of franchise tags they could use.

The Redskins have used the tag only three previous times since it came to fruition in 1993. Only once has a player they used the tag on actually played for them the following season.

They tagged defensive lineman Sean Gilbert in 1997, causing him to sit out the entire season. They tagged him again in 1998 and that offseason swiped two first-round picks from Carolina in exchange for him. They also used it on corner Champ Bailey in 2004 before trading him to Denver. And they used it on tight end Fred Davis in 2012.

If the Redskins decide to tag Orakpo, it would cost them approximately $10.5 million in cap space this year. The benefit is that they could get another year of his services, possibly to see whether his strong finish leads into a bigger season. Of course, if that happens, his price tag would increase in 2015. Still, keep in mind that other players will need to be addressed in the next few years: left tackle Trent Williams, quarterback Robert Griffin III, running back Alfred Morris, receiver Pierre Garcon and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.

The coaches like Orakpo and consider him a good all-around linebacker, and he has been their best pass-rusher -- and in the second half of 2013, he was their best defensive player. Haslett said that the Redskins did not let the outside linebackers -- Orakpo and Kerrigan -- rush with abandon on enough occasions and that they want to turn them loose more this season.

The problem for Orakpo is that he has just one career interception and six forced fumbles in 64 career games. That’s not a lot of game-changing plays. To pay someone more than $10 million per year, you’d like more of those plays. By comparison, in 69 career games, Green Bay’s Clay Matthews has 50 sacks, four interceptions and 10 forced fumbles. His contract will average around $13 million over the next five years if he plays to the end of his deal.

So paying Orakpo somewhere between Kruger and Matthews would be acceptable. Considering the Redskins could have approximately $30 million in cap space, they likely won’t let Orakpo get away unless they have a good alternative. Losing him would weaken an important spot in a 3-4 defense. They might not have to use the franchise tag, but it’s a legitimate tool to keep him around.
Monday is the first day teams can use the franchise or transition tags, which means absolutely nothing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But that's a good thing.

Franchise and transition tags are reserved for use on prominent players who can't agree to a long-term contract. They result in a high salary that is guaranteed for just one year, and that often plays havoc with a team's cap.

That's not a problem for the Bucs because they don't have any potential free agents who are worthy of their franchise tag or the transition tag. Tampa Bay's list of free agents is headed by the likes of special teams captain Adam Hayward, fullback Erik Lorig and wide receiver Tiquan Underwood. The Bucs will want to re-sign some of their own free agents, but only at a reasonable price.

Say what you want to about former general manager Mark Dominik's tenure, but he left the Bucs in pretty good shape in a lot of ways. There was a time when it looked as if the franchise tag could be a big factor in 2014.

That was back when Josh Freeman was the quarterback. Freeman's contract ran through the end of the 2013 season, which was supposed to be a make-or-break year. But Freeman's career fell apart in spectacular fashion early in the season and the Bucs were forced to cut him in October.

The downside was the Bucs parted ways with a guy they once thought could be a franchise quarterback. But the upside is that the Bucs don't have to pay big money to Mike Glennon, who entered the league as a third-round draft pick.

Franchise/transition tags: Seahawks

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The Seattle Seahawks have three top-priority free agents they want to keep: defensive end Michael Bennett, receiver Golden Tate and kicker Steven Hauschka.

But considering where the team is headed with it salary-cap issues one year from now, it appears unlikely Seattle would use a franchise tag on any of them.

There are three possible franchise designations -- exclusive tender, non-exclusive tender and transition player. All three are explained here.

The Seahawks know a day of reckoning is coming after next season when the contracts are up for cornerback Richard Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas, and quarterback Russell Wilson is eligible to renegotiate his original contract.

That’s going to cost $35 million to $40 million to keep all three of them. A franchise designation could make sense next year for Sherman or Thomas.

But for now, the cost is just too steep for Bennett or Tate. Bennett would receive a raise of almost $8 million, going from $4.8 million to $12.6 million. Tate’s salary would be an astronomical increase from $880,000 against the salary cap to $11.6 million.

That’s just too steep a price to pay for a team that has to plan ahead for the enormous salary issues coming soon.

However, a franchise tag for Hauschka isn’t completely out of the question. It would cost the Seahawks a comparatively low $3 million, moving Hauschka from $620,000 to $3.6 million.

It may seem a little far-fetched to use the franchise tag on a kicker, but the Seahawks have done it before. General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll opted to use it on kicker Olindo Mare in 2010, but they haven’t used it since.

Hauschka was one of the best kickers in the league last season, missing only two attempts, and one of those was blocked. He also improved his distance on kickoffs with touchbacks on 52 percent on those kicks.

Nevertheless, it’s more likely the Seahawks will try to sign Hauschka to a multiyear deal than use the franchise tag.

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