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Franchise tag primer: Predictions for all 32 NFL teams
Players like Charles Woodson and Ahmad Bradshaw might disagree, but the NFL offseason truly begins this week. We have the week-long rumorfest known as the NFL Scouting Combine starting Saturday, not to mention the start of franchise tag season.
Monday was the first day that NFL teams can apply the franchise tag on prospective free agents. Teams have two weeks -- until March 4 -- to franchise tag a player.
A record 21 teams used the tag last year. Let's forecast how we think the next two weeks will go:
The players we fully expect to stay put.
1. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens quarterback: There's no way the Ravens will let another team bid on Flacco. Barring a deal in the next two weeks, Flacco should get the highest "exclusive rights" franchise tag (translation: Cleveland Browns fans shouldn't waste their time with front-loaded contract fantasies).
2. Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills safety: The Bills dumped three veteran defensive players in part so they could afford to keep Byrd around. If a long-term deal is reached early enough, the Bills could use the tag instead on guard Andy Levitre. Either way, Byrd isn't going anywhere.
3. Henry Melton, Chicago Bears defensive tackle: You know it's a new era in Chicago when Melton is a must-keep player, while veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher isn't under consideration for the franchise tag. Melton fits into what new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker wants to accomplish.
4. Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos offensive tackle: Broncos executive John Elway already confirmed Clady will get the tag if the team can't reach a long-term deal with him. He should eventually become one of the highest-paid tackles in football.
5. Dashon Goldson, San Francisco 49ers: Coach Jim Harbaugh said the 49ers should "reward" Goldson with a long-term deal. That might come eventually, but we expect the tag to come first (Goldson was also tagged last year).
The tougher calls
We expect these players to also get tagged, but they aren't slam dunks.
6. William Moore, Atlanta Falcons safety: The Falcons could consider tagging offensive tackle Sam Baker or even cornerback Brent Grimes again, but Moore makes the most sense because of his talent level and the relatively low franchise number for safeties.
7. Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end: The Bengals appear likely to use their tag. The question is whether Johnson or right tackle Andre Smith will get it. Both players are coming off career years and would make huge dollars on the open market. Johnson looks like the smarter bet.
8. Glover Quin, Houston Texans safety: The low franchise number for safeties ($6.798 million) helps Houston here. Defensive end Connor Barwin could be a consideration, but he's coming off a miserable season. Quinn is more valuable and tougher to replace.
9. Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts punter: The Colts don't have any other great options and McAfee is one of the best at his position in the NFL.
10. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver: The new regime in Kansas City is trying to get Bowe and offensive tackle Branden Albert signed to long-term deals. If the Chiefs sign one, they can tag the other. Bowe would get $11.4 million as a franchise player because he was also tagged last year.
11. Sean Smith, Miami Dolphins cornerback: Smith is easily Miami's best cover cornerback. It would be way too expensive to tag offensive tackle Jake Long, who already appears to be in decline. Smith is an ascending player and is worth an expensive one-year gamble.
12. Phil Loadholt, Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle: Paying a bruising right tackle big bucks is a luxury, but it's one the Vikings can afford this year. General manager Rick Spielman has made Loadholdt a priority for the team.
13. Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots offensive tackle: The Patriots have three decent options for the tag, but wide receiver Wes Welker is unlikely to get it. The money appears too big for cornerback Aqib Talib. That leaves Vollmer, who is coming off an excellent season.
14. Will Beatty, New York Giants offensive tackle: Notice a trend here? Teams are not going to let young starting tackles hit the market. Beatty picked a great time for a career year after struggling with back issues. A long-term deal is even more likely than the tag (and yes, he's more likely to get tagged than safety Kenny Phillips).
15. Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams wide receiver: It would be tough for the Rams to swallow the nearly $10-million tag for Amendola, but they can't be in the habit of letting good offensive players walk away. The tag actually makes more sense than a long-term deal.
16. Jared Cook, Tennessee Titans tight end: Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reported the team is likely to use the tag on Cook, who has been alternately brilliant and erratic throughout his career. It's a little bit of a surprise because the team struggled to get Cook the ball last year.
17. Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks kicker: It's a great sign for the Seahawks that they don't have any truly top-shelf talent that could leave.
Not quite worth it
Players that could get considered for the franchise tag, but don't make the cut.
Anthony Spencer, Dallas Cowboys linebacker: Spencer is coming off an underrated season, but it doesn't make sense to tag him again considering the Cowboys' salary-cap situation and a new defense.
Cliff Avril and Louis Delmas, Detroit Lions defensive end and safety: General manager Martin Mayhew indicated he didn't anticipate using the franchise tag this year. They don't have the cap space to tag Avril for a second straight year. Delmas, meanwhile, just isn't reliable enough.
Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers wide receiver: I could make a strong argument why Jennings would be worth it, but general manager Ted Thompson wouldn't listen. The Packers are rolling with the young(er) guys in 2013.
Dustin Keller, New York Jets tight end: He could be a nice free-agent value this year coming off an injury-plagued season.
Desmond Bryant and Philip Wheeler, Oakland Raiders defensive tackle and linebacker: Both are good players, but they're players that general manager Reggie McKenzie can live without.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Philadelphia Eagles cornerback: A boom-or-bust free agent.
Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans Saints tackle: Not as good as his Pro Bowl nods indicate. The Saints could live without him if necessary.
Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver: The Steelers don't have the cap room to keep Wallace. Even if they did, they would spend the money on cornerback Keenan Lewis (the Steelers have publicly said they won't use the tag).
Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle: He will get some attention because of his nine sacks and versatility. The Bucs have so much cap room that a tag here wouldn't be a total shock.
Fred Davis, Washington Redskins tight end: Davis will be a nice "buy-low" candidate coming off a torn Achilles tendon.
Teams with no realistic tag candidates
Just in case you thought we forgot about your team
Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Diego Chargers.