2015 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates: AFC West

The deadline for assigning a franchise or transition tag on a 2015 free-agent-to-be is a little more than a month away, and we’re in the process of taking a look at players who are candidates to be tagged this year. We examined the AFC East on Tuesday, the AFC North on Wednesday, and the AFC South yesterday, before shifting our focus to the West today. Here’s a breakdown of the franchise and transition tag candidates for the Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, and Chargers:

Denver Broncos:

  • Candidates: Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Terrance Knighton
  • Odds of being used: Likely
  • Even after signing cornerback Chris Harris to a lucrative contract extension earlier this season, the Broncos have a handful of impact players eligible for free agency. Demaryius Thomas is the most likely to be tagged, but if he and the Broncos can quickly reach a long-term agreement, there are other guys who shouldn’t be overlooked. Julius Thomas saw his stock dip a little when he missed time late in the season, but the tight end price tag is modest compared to most positions.

Kansas City Chiefs:

  • Candidates: Justin Houston, Rodney Hudson
  • Odds of being used: Likely
  • Like the Broncos, the Chiefs have a number of contributors eligible for free agency, including tackle Ryan Harris, linebacker Josh Mauga, and defensive back Ron Parker. Houston and Hudson are the two best candidates for a franchise tag though, and of those two, Houston represents the much likelier option. The only question would be whether the NFL’s sack leader would be considered a defensive end or a linebacker for salary purposes — in 2014, the defensive end franchise salary was nearly $2MM higher.

Oakland Raiders:

  • Candidates: Stefen Wisniewski
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • The Raiders should do everything they can to lock up Wisniewski, but the franchise tag will be an absolute last resort. Offensive linemen are all grouped together for franchise purposes, so Oakland would have to commit to a left tackle salary for the center if he’s tagged. While the Browns used the transition tag on Alex Mack last year, Mack is arguably the league’s best center, and for the most part, the position just isn’t worth that kind of investment. I’d expect Wisniewski to land a deal in the neighborhood of $5-7MM per year.

San Diego Chargers:

  • Candidates: King Dunlap, Brandon Flowers
  • Odds of being used: Possible
  • There are bigger names headed to free agency in San Diego, including running back Ryan Mathews and veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney, but Dunlap and Flowers are probably the two free-agents-to-be the Chargers should value most. Dunlap has emerged as an above-average left tackle in recent years, and given the holes elsewhere on the offensive line, his presence would benefit Philip Rivers going forward. As for Flowers, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him as one of the league’s best cornerbacks before injuries slowed him down in the second half. A franchise tag salary would be an overpay for either player, but it’s an option San Diego should at least consider if extensions can’t be agreed upon.
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