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.
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