Franchise Tag Candidates

Although NFL teams have been free to designate franchise players since last Monday, no player has received the tag yet. In most cases, clubs are likely hoping to reach multiyear agreements with their top free agents before having to resort to the franchise tag, but they don’t have much time left. The deadline for using the 2014 franchise tag is this coming Monday, March 3.

Based on various reports, it sounds like the franchise designation remains a strong possibility for at least a handful of players, assuming they don’t agree to long-term deals. There are also a number of other prospective free agents who are candidates for the tag, but perhaps aren’t quite as likely to receive it. With Monday’s deadline looming, let’s run through those most commonly mentioned names. For a refresher on the specific details of the franchise tag, you can check out our glossary entry.

Strong candidates:

  • Jairus Byrd (S, Bills): The Bills franchised Byrd a year ago, and sound increasingly open to doing so again.
  • Jimmy Graham (TE, Saints): The Saints don’t necessarily want to get the stage where Graham files a grievance over his positional designation (tight end or wide receiver), but there’s no way the team will let him get away. Even earning $11MM+ on a one-year contract, Graham would be a good value.
  • Greg Hardy (DE, Panthers): Like the Saints with Graham, the Panthers don’t have a ton of cap flexibility, but it’s extremely unlikely they’d let one of 2014’s best free agents hit the open market.
  • Brian Orakpo (LB, Redskins): Even after re-signing DeAngelo Hall and Chris Baker, the Redskins have plenty of cap room left to tag Orakpo, though I think a long-term agreement is more likely.
  • Dennis Pitta (TE, Ravens): Pitta finds himself in a similar position to Graham, potentially readying to file a grievance over his position. However, the Ravens may not let it reach that point, agreeing on a compromise that splits the difference between the two positions instead.
  • T.J. Ward (S, Browns): The Browns have made free agent center Alex Mack their top priority, but the franchise price tag for Ward will be much more palatable than for Mack, who would be eligible for the left tackle franchise salary.

Possible candidates:

  • Michael Bennett (DE, Seahawks): While the Seahawks would like to bring Bennett back, it doesn’t sound like the team will use its franchise tag on him.
  • Donald Butler (LB, Chargers): I’d also be surprised if the Chargers franchised Butler, though he represents the club’s most likely candidate.
  • Vontae Davis (CB, Colts): The Colts definitely want Davis back, but the cornerback franchise tag might be a little too pricey for the club, and wouldn’t help create roster flexibility. This predicament applies to many of the other cornerbacks in this section as well.
  • Brent Grimes (CB, Dolphins): Grimes has expressed a desire to work out a multiyear deal rather than being tagged, and it sounds like he and the Dolphins are making progress.
  • Lamarr Houston (DE, Raiders): The Raiders have two potential franchise candidates in this group, and it’s not clear yet which one they’re leaning toward tagging, if the club plans on using it at all.
  • Sam Shields (CB, Packers): GM Ted Thompson didn’t shoot down the possibility of using the franchise tag on Shields last week, but his combine presser was so devoid of real updates that it’s hard to read too much into that. For what it’s worth, negotiations between the two sides are said to be “heating up.”
  • Aqib Talib (CB, Patriots): Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald suggested yesterday that the Pats likely won’t franchise Talib even if they can’t reach a multiyear agreement.
  • Jared Veldheer (OL, Raiders): The Raiders’ other franchise candidate, Veldheer indicated earlier this month that he wouldn’t be happy with the franchise tag, since he’d like more long-term security.
  • Alterraun Verner (CB, Titans): According to Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean, indications are that the Titans won’t franchise Verner, who perhaps falls into the same category as Davis.
  • Donte Whitner (S, 49ers): The price for a franchise safety isn’t exorbitant, but I think the 49ers may be more inclined to pursue a cheaper alternative than to franchise Whitner.

Kickers and punters:

While they aren’t necessarily marquee free agents, kickers and punters are often designated as franchise players when a team has no other viable candidates, if only because the salaries are so modest. Here are a few special teams players who might be candidates this offseason:

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