2015 Franchise Tag Candidates: AFC East

One game remains on the NFL’s calendar for the 2014/15 season, but for teams besides the Seahawks and Patriots, the offseason has already begun. And one of the first tasks on most clubs’ offseason to-do list involve the franchise and transition tags. As our list of important offseason dates shows, teams can assign their franchise or transition tag to a player beginning on February 16, and will have until March 2 to make use of one of those tags.

Franchise and transition tags are tools that allow teams to keep free-agents-to-be off the open market. Our glossary entry on the subject goes into greater detail, but essentially, a player receiving either tag can’t sign freely with a rival suitor — the exclusive franchise tag prohibits the player from even negotiating with another team, while the non-exclusive franchise and transition tags ensure that the player must sign an offer sheet, which his previous club would have the opportunity to match.

Franchising a player means tendering him a one-year contract offer — he can accept and sign that offer, or attempt to work out a longer-term arrangement with his club. The salary for the one-year offer is determined using a formula that looks at the highest-paid players at each position, and is often exorbitant. Because it can be tricky to accommodate a franchise or transition salary within the cap restraints, not all teams will make use of the tags this offseason. Last year, for instance, only six clubs took advantage of the opportunity, with four teams using the franchise tag while two others used the transition tag.

Still, most teams around the NFL have one or two players that warrant at least passing consideration for one of the tags. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll take a look around the league, division by division, identifying which players on each of the NFL’s 32 teams might be candidates for the franchise tag in 2015. We’ll start today with the AFC East — let’s dive in….

Buffalo Bills:

  • Candidates: Jerry Hughes
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • Running back C.J. Spiller and safety Da’Norris Searcy are among the free-agents-to-be that the Bills might look to re-sign this winter, but only Hughes is truly a viable candidate for the tag. The pass-rushing specialist has been excellent for Buffalo, recording consecutive seasons of double-digit sacks, but the price for his tag may be simply too high — even if he were considered an outside linebacker rather than a defensive end, Hughes would still likely cost at least $12MM for 2015. That may not be doable for the Bills, considering how much money the team has already invested into its other standout defensive linemen.

Miami Dolphins:

  • Candidates: Charles Clay, Jared Odrick
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • Clay and Odrick are solid players, and the franchise prices for tight ends and defensive tackles aren’t bad relative to many other positions. Still, the Dolphins don’t have a ton of cap space to work with, and committing big money to either Clay or Odrick on a one-year deal isn’t a prudent use of that space. If Miami wants to retain them, both players can probably be locked up for lower per-year salaries.

New England Patriots:

  • Candidates: Devin McCourty, Stephen Gostkowski
  • Odds of being used: Possible
  • The price for a franchised safety is less than $10MM, which certainly isn’t outrageous for McCourty, who has developed into one of the more consistently productive players at his position. Gostkowski, meanwhile, has been one of the league’s most reliable kickers for the last several years, and would cost about $4MM to franchise. Bill Belichick and the Pats are notoriously willing to let players go when their cost outweighs their benefit, but McCourty and Gostkowski are still effective enough that the team will likely at least consider tagging one or the other.

New York Jets:

  • Candidates: David Harris
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • The Jets will certainly have plenty of cap room to work with this offseason, but without an ideal franchise candidate, the team will likely choose to pass on the tag. An inside linebacker, Harris is coming off a deal that paid him $9MM annually, but he just turned 31 and the ILB position has seen its value decrease a little in recent years. Dawan Landry, a top-10 safety in 2014, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), makes for an intriguing under-the-radar candidate, but not a very realistic one.
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