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….
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.