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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.