NFL Nation: 2014 NFL Franchise/Transition Tags AFC

Franchise/transition tags: Ravens

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
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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: Bengals

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
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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

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
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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: Chiefs

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
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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.
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

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
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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.

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