2015 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates: NFC South

The deadline for assigning a franchise or transition tag on a 2015 free-agent-to-be is less than a month away, and we’re in the process of taking a look at players who are candidates to be tagged this year. Last week, we examined all four AFC divisions, covering the East, North, South, and West. This week, we’ve shifted our focus to the NFC — we kicked things off on Tuesday with the East and tackled the North on Wednesday. Today, we’ll turn to the South. While there are fewer candidates to be tagged in this division than perhaps any other division in the league, here’s a breakdown of the possible franchise and transition tag candidates for the Falcons, Panthers, Saints, and Buccaneers:

Atlanta Falcons:

  • Candidates: Matt Bryant
  • Odds of being used: Possible
  • There are many Falcons regulars eligible for free agency, but the list isn’t particularly inspiring. Among a group that includes Dwight Lowery, Kroy Biermann, Osi Umenyiora, Corey Peters, Josh Wilson, Robert McClain, Antone Smith, and Jacquizz Rodgers, there are no real candidates for the franchise tag, but Bryant could qualify. He currently falls just outside of the league’s top 10 highest-paid kickers, but he has been a model of consistency for Atlanta in recent years. In his past two seasons with the team, he has missed six total field goals, and five of those came from 50+ yards. The Falcons will want him back, so tagging him could be an option if the two sides don’t work anything out before March 3.

Carolina Panthers:

  • Candidates: None
  • Odds of being used: Extremely unlikely
  • When examining other divisions and other teams, I’ve generally listed players as candidates to be tagged if their teams used a tag on them a year ago. But it’s hard to argue the case for Greg Hardy to get the franchise tag again. A domestic violence charge relegated Hardy to the exempt list all season, and the defensive end may be facing an additional suspension for the 2015 season. There’s no question he’s talented, and if he makes it to the open market, Hardy should draw interest from teams willing to look past his off-field troubles. But Carolina certainly shouldn’t need to commit to another eight-digit salary to bring him back. The club’s only other conceivable candidate is Byron Bell, but that’s only because he played an important position in 2014. Bell’s trial run at left tackle wasn’t a real success story — Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked him 83rd out of 84 qualified tackles.

New Orleans Saints:

  • CandidatesShayne Graham
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • Like the Falcons, the Saints’ top candidate for a tag is their kicker. In New Orleans’ case, however, it’s more of a long shot. Graham performed passably for the team in 2014, but it certainly wasn’t the sort of season that warrants paying the 37-year-old like one of the league’s best kickers. Mark Ingram is another intriguing name among the Saints’ list of free-agents-to-be, but given the cost of the franchise tag for running backs compared to what most backs are actually being paid these days, it wouldn’t make much sense to tag him.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

  • Candidates: None
  • Odds of being used: Extremely unlikely
  • Safety Major Wright and linebacker Mason Foster are perhaps the Buccaneers’ most notable prospective free agents, and neither player was a core player — both guys only played about half the team’s defensive snaps. There’s no viable franchise tag candidate in Tampa Bay.
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