2015 Franchise Tag Candidates

Franchise, Transition Tags Due Monday

NFL teams have until 3:00pm central time today to assign the franchise or transition tag to pending free agents, assuring that those players won’t reach the open market next week as unrestricted free agents. Using an exclusive franchise tag on a player ensures that he can’t negotiate with any other suitors, while opting for the non-exclusive franchise tag or the transition tag limits the ability of that player to sign elsewhere, essentially making him a restricted free agent.

Our glossary entry on the subject goes into greater detail on how franchise and transition tags work, but for now, we’re primarily focused on today’s deadline, and determining which players will be tagged by their respective teams. So far, we’ve heard that the following teams are reportedly prepared to use the tag:

  • Broncos: As expected, the Broncos will use their non-exclusive franchise tag on wideout Demaryius Thomas in advance of today’s deadline, assuming the two sides don’t unexpectedly reach a long-term deal at the last minute.
  • Cowboys: Executive VP Stephen Jones informed Dez Bryant‘s camp over the weekend that Dallas intends to use its franchise tag on the star receiver today.
  • Giants: Multiple reports since the franchise tag period opened last month have indicated that New York expects to franchise defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul if no long-term deal has been reached. The non-exclusive tag is expected to be used.

Thomas, Bryant, and Pierre-Paul were three players are identified as very viable candidates to be tagged when I looked into the issue last month. Here are a few more to keep an eye on today as the 3:00pm deadline nears:

While those aren’t the only players who could be tagged this afternoon, the other candidates – including Pernell McPhee, Jason Worilds, and a handful of others – are probably long shots.

2015 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates: Recap

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, most teams won’t 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.

Over the last couple weeks, we’ve been taking a closer look at players who may qualify for a tag in 2015. Here are the results of that series:

Viable candidates:

Other possible candidates:

Extreme long shots:

Candidates by division:

2015 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates: NFC West

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, tackled the North on Wednesday, and looked at the South on Friday. Today, we’ll turn to the West, breaking down the possible franchise and transition tag candidates for the Cardinals, Niners, Seahawks, and Rams:

Arizona Cardinals:

  • Candidates: Antonio Cromartie
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • A handful of Cardinals regulars on the defensive side of the ball are eligible for free agency next month, including defensive tackle Dan Williams, and linebackers Sam Acho and Larry Foote. While I don’t expect all of them to bolt, it’ll be interesting to see if any follow former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to New York, where he’ll coach the Jets. Cromartie is probably the most noteworthy free-agent-to-be on the roster, but even though he had a better year in 2014 than he did in 2013, it’s hard to imagine the cornerback’s $4MM salary jumping up to an eight-digit figure via the franchise tag.

San Francisco 49ers:

  • Candidates: Mike Iupati
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • The 49ers have multiple players who may have been strong candidates to be tagged in past seasons, such as wide receiver Michael Crabtree and running back Frank Gore. Cornerbacks like Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox were also solid for San Francisco in 2014. But Iupati is the only player I can imagine the Niners tagging, and even then it’s an extreme long shot. Franchise tags for offensive lineman aren’t split up by position, so the club would have to pay Iupati, a guard, like a left tackle to tag him, which isn’t realistic — especially when the team has done such a good job building depth on its line.

Seattle Seahawks:

  • Candidates: Byron Maxwell
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • A recent report suggested that Maxwell may be seeking $12-13MM per year on his next deal, and if the Seahawks felt like he could realistically land that sort of contract, the team would have to strongly consider using a tag. However, that figure seems awfully high for a cornerback who is effective, but not in the same class as teammate Richard Sherman. In any case, Seattle doesn’t have a ton of cap flexibility, and still needs to get something done with Russell Wilson as he heads into a contract year. Retaining Maxwell may be a luxury that the team can’t afford, especially at a franchise salary.

St. Louis Rams:

  • Candidates: None
  • Odds of being used: Extremely unlikely
  • Wide receiver Kenny Britt, right tackle Joe Barksdale, and quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Austin Davis are among the notable players who are nearing free agency. None are worth more than fleeting consideration for a franchise or transition tag though.

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.

2015 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates: NFC North

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’re shifting our focus to the NFC — we kicked things off on Tuesday with the East and we’ll tackle the North today. Here’s a breakdown of the franchise and transition tag candidates for the Bears, Lions, Packers, and Vikings:

Chicago Bears:

  • Candidates: Stephen Paea
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • The Bears have a ton of pending free agents, but most of them are either non-core players, or longtime contributors who are no longer realistic candidates to be tagged, such as Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs. I don’t expect Chicago to use either of its tags, but if there’s one option out there, it’s probably Paea, whose impressive 2014 campaign may have been overlooked by many due to the defense’s poor overall performance. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded Paea as the league’s 11th-best defensive tackle, marking him down for 47 overall quarterback pressures, a lofty total for an interior lineman — among DTs, only Ndamukong Suh (57) and Kyle Williams (49) had more. It probably won’t take a franchise tag to retain Paea, but he should be a priority for the Bears if they have a spot for him in Vic Fangio‘s new defensive scheme.

Detroit Lions:

  • Candidates: Ndamukong Suh, Matt Prater
  • Odds of being used: Possible
  • You could make a case for Suh as the league’s top free-agent-to-be this offseason, which would normally mean the franchise tag makes a ton of sense. In Suh’s case though, his 2014 salary was so high that the cost of a franchise tag would be astronomical — nearly $27MM. As such, a long-term extension will be the Lions’ preference, but tagging Suh could be a last resort. If the star defender isn’t tagged, Prater may be considered, since he made 87% of his field goals for the club after a shaky debut. Still, considering they picked him up off the scrap heap just a few months ago, the Lions likely won’t have to tag the kicker to bring him back. Nick Fairley and Rashean Mathis are other regulars who may be briefly considered, but neither appears to be a viable option.

Green Bay Packers:

  • Candidates: Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga
  • Odds of being used: Possible
  • Cobb and Bulaga are players Green Bay would almost certainly like to have around for the 2015 season, and the wideout is the stronger candidate for a franchise tag than the offensive lineman. Although Bulaga has developed into a reliable right tackle for the Packers, the position just isn’t one that gets big money — as Over the Cap’s data shows, the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL (Gosder Cherilus) averages just $7MM per year, and a franchise salary would be significantly higher than that. Cobb, on the other hand, is coming off a season in which he recorded 91 receptions, 1,287 receiving yards, and 12 TDs. Those are No. 1 WR numbers, and Cobb is just 24 years old, so the Packers may be willing to pay him like one of the league’s best wideouts for a year while they try to work out a longer-term deal that’s worth a little less annually. Cornerback Tramon Williams is another solid contributor who might warrant fleeting consideration for a tag.

Minnesota Vikings:

  • Candidates: None
  • Odds of being used: Very unlikely
  • Defensive regulars Jasper Brinkley and Tom Johnson are among the club’s contributors eligible for free agency this offseason, but Minnesota doesn’t have a key free agent worth an eight-digit salary for 2015.

2015 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates: NFC East

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’re shifting our focus to the NFC, starting with the East. Here’s a breakdown of the franchise and transition tag candidates for Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington:

Dallas Cowboys:

  • Candidates: Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray
  • Odds of being used: Likely
  • Rolando McClain, another Cowboys free-agent-to-be, might be a viable candidate for a tag at another position, but as an inside linebacker, he’d be subject to the pricier franchise salary assigned to an outside linebacker, making it too expensive to really consider. That leaves Bryant and Murray as possible candidates, and it seems probable that one of the two will receive a tag. Bryant, who will be Dallas’ No. 1 priority in free agency, is the likelier option, but if he and the Cowboys work out a long-term extension within the next few weeks, it would make sense to consider franchising Murray.

New York Giants:

  • Candidates: Jason Pierre-Paul
  • Odds of being used: Possible
  • Pierre-Paul came on strong in the season’s second half, increasing his overall sack total to 12.5. JPP was having a good year even without the sacks, playing particularly well against the run, but that sack figure is what improved his earning potential as he neared free agency. A former first-round pick, Pierre-Paul only turns 26 this month, and has a chance to be the best pass rusher to reach the open market, depending on what happens with Ndamukong Suh and Justin Houston. That’s a valuable asset to keep around, so if the Giants can’t work out a long-term deal with him, franchising him could be the team’s best course of action.

Philadelphia Eagles:

  • Candidates: Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Graham
  • Odds of being used: Possible
  • Maclin perhaps isn’t in the same tier as top free-agent-to-be wideouts Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas, but he certainly should head up the second tier, along with Randall Cobb. A year ago, Maclin turned down a five-year offer from the Eagles, choosing to bet on himself with a one-year contract that could significantly increase the value of a multiyear deal this offseason. That decision paid off, as the 26-year-old posted career highs in receptions (85), receiving yards (1,318), and touchdowns (10), and now it might be the Eagles that prefer to just stick to one year. If it comes down to having to offer Maclin a five-year, $50MM+ deal or locking him up at the franchise salary for one year, the club may favor the latter. As for Graham, he’s probably not a truly realistic candidate for a tag, since he still hasn’t become more than a part-time player in Philadelphia, but when he sees the field, he has played very well — Pro Football Focus (subscription required) had Graham down for 53 total quarterback pressures this year in just 524 defensive snaps, ranking him as the league’s third-best 3-4 outside linebacker.

Washington:

  • Candidates: Brian Orakpo
  • Odds of being used: Very unlikely
  • As I observed when I discussed the Steelers and Jason Worilds, if a team is willing to tag a player once, and he plays well in the following season, it makes sense to at least consider it again. In Orakpo’s case though, the edge defender was struggling even before a torn pectoral wiped out the second half of his season, recording just 0.5 sacks in his first seven games. 2014 second-round pick Trent Murphy is a younger, cheaper alternative to Orakpo, so more likely than not, Washington will simply let Orakpo walk if he wants a lucrative deal.

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.

2015 Franchise Tag Candidates: AFC South

The deadline for assigning a franchise or transition tag on a 2015 free-agent-to-be is less than five weeks away, and we’re in the process of taking a look at players who are candidates to be tagged this year. On Tuesday, we examined the AFC East, and yesterday, we turned our attention to the AFC North, where the Ravens and the Steelers look like the teams most likely to make use of a tag. Today, we’ll shift our focus south, breaking down the franchise and transition tag candidates for the Texans, Colts, Jaguars, and Titans….

Houston Texans:

  • Candidates: Kareem Jackson
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • Jackson, who has been a starter at cornerback in Houston since being selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, is an underrated asset for the team. Still, a year ago, corners like Vontae Davis, Sam Shields, and Aqib Talib went untagged, so it’s hard to imagine the Texans franchising Jackson. Linebacker Brooks Reed and right tackle Derek Newton are among the other solid contributors Houston should look into re-signing, but like Jackson, neither player is worth an eight-digit salary for 2015.

Indianapolis Colts:

  • Candidates: None
  • Odds of being used: Zero
  • The Colts, like the Texans, have useful players eligible for unrestricted free agency — safety Mike Adams, defensive lineman Cory Redding, and longtime Indianapolis wideout Reggie Wayne will need to sign new contracts if they intend to continue their careers. But none of the team’s top impact players are free-agents-to-be, which is great news for a club with $30MM+ in projected cap room.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

  • Candidates: None
  • Odds of being used: Very unlikely
  • No team projects to have more cap space this offseason than the Jaguars, who could have upwards of $63MM in spending room. That’s one reason we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a franchise tag — the team could easily afford it. However, for the tag to make sense, there needs to be a viable candidate, and it’s hard to find one on Jacksonville’s list of pending free agents. Linebacker Geno Hayes and defensive back Alan Ball are probably the Jags’ best UFA-eligible performers, but both players only appeared in about half the club’s defensive snaps, so it’s hard to make a case for them as franchise tag candidates. And it’s even harder to make a case for players like wideout Cecil Shorts and defensive end Tyson Alualu.

Tennessee Titans:

  • Candidates: Derrick Morgan, Brett Kern
  • Odds of being used: Possible, but unlikely
  • The Titans have a number of starters eligible for free agency, including Morgan, Kern, Michael Roos, and Ryan Succop. And like the Jaguars, they project to be among the top five teams this offseason in terms of cap space, giving them the flexibility to use the franchise tag if needed. Roos may be headed for retirement, and tagging either of the two special-teamers – punter Kern and kicker Succop – would likely be a last resort. That’s especially true of Succop, who had a down year in 2014. Morgan is the club’s strongest candidate. He has thrived in recent years as an edge rusher in 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, and despite modest sack totals, he recorded 49 total quarterback pressures last year and ranked among the league’s top 10 3-4 outside linebackers, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Those perennially average sack numbers, along with a perception that he hasn’t lived up to his first-round billing, should keep Morgan’s price down enough that the Titans won’t have to tag him, but he and Kern (a top-10 punter, per PFF) are the most viable options in Tennessee.

2015 Franchise Tag Candidates: AFC North

The deadline for assigning a franchise or transition tag on a 2015 free-agent-to-be is less than five weeks away, and we’re in the process of taking a look at players who are candidates to be tagged this year. On Tuesday, we examined the AFC East, identifying the Patriots, with safety Devin McCourty and kicker Stephen Gostkowski eligible for free agency, as the most likely team to make use a tag. Today, we’ll shift our focus north, breaking down the franchise and transition tag candidates for the Ravens, Bengals, Browns, and Steelers….

Baltimore Ravens:

  • Candidates: Pernell McPhee, Torrey Smith
  • Odds of being used: Possible
  • McPhee and Smith are both solid contributors, with McPhee in particular providing plenty of value to the Ravens in 2014 — Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him as the league’s second-best 3-4 outside linebacker, behind sack leader Justin Houston. Still, McPhee was only a part-time player, appearing in just 540 defensive snaps, barely over half of what Houston played. For that reason, he may not be the most viable candidate for a tag, but he shouldn’t be ruled out. Smith, on the other hand, can probably be dismissed as an option — his production took a step backward in 2014 after the arrival of Steve Smith, and his 49 receptions and 767 yards were career lows. Kicker Justin Tucker would be a strong candidate if he were eligible for unrestricted free agency rather than restricted.

Cincinnati Bengals:

  • Candidates: None
  • Odds of being used: Zero
  • A few recognizable names, such as Jermaine Gresham and Mike Nugent, are scheduled to hit the open market for the Bengals, but none of the club’s prospective free agents are core players that absolutely must be retained.

Cleveland Browns:

  • Candidates: Brian Hoyer, Jordan Cameron
  • Odds of being used: Unlikely
  • At different points in 2014, the idea of using a tag on Hoyer or Cameron looked entirely reasonable, but both players’ stocks dropped toward the end of the season. If Hoyer is brought back, it would likely be to compete for a starting job, which isn’t worth a franchise salary that could exceed $18MM. The tight end tag will be worth less than half that, but after an injury-plagued and ineffective 2014 campaign, Cameron will almost certainly have to settle for a more modest deal.

Pittsburgh Steelers:

  • Candidates: Jason Worilds
  • Odds of being used: Possible
  • The Steelers used the transition tag on Worilds a year ago, and in his first season as a full-time starter in 2014, he was arguably just as good or better, so it’s absolutely within the realm of reason that the team would do it again. Still, tagging a player for a second time means that his salary will increase by at least 20% (in Worilds’ case, that means a raise to at least $11.705MM), and the Steelers have a handful of other contracts to address this offseason, including a potential extension for Ben Roethlisberger. I do expect Pittsburgh to make every effort to retain Worilds, but the club may push a little harder for a long-term deal this time around, which would increase cap flexibility and the ability to spend elsewhere this winter.

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.