The Panthers are leaning toward placing their franchise tag on kicker Graham Gano rather than guard Andrew Norwell, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). This is a shift from a report on Monday from Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer that said the team was unlikely to use its franchise tag.
The franchise tag for kickers and punters is expected to be in the $5MM range. Gano, 30, was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season, connecting on 29 of 30 field goals. There is a precedent for placing the franchise tag on a kicker, as the Ravens and Justin Tucker, as well as Stephen Gostkowski and the Patriots, have done so in recent years. Gano has a career 81.8% success rate through 257 field goal attempts.
Norwell was selected as an All-Pro for the first time last season and the offensive lineman franchise tag is expected to be $14.3MM. Rapoport went on to note (Twitter link) that Norwell is set to be one of the top free agents, regardless of position, but the Panthers are in a tough spot because the offensive lineman franchise tag is meant to apply to tackles. The Patriots were the last team to place a franchise tag on a guard, using it on Logan Mankins in 2011. Norwell has started all 16 games the last two seasons at left guard for the Panthers, who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2014.
Also serving as a potential franchise tag candidate for the Panthers is defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, though Person noted in his story that the team may elect to give more playing time to 2016 first-round pick Vernon Butler at defensive tackle.
The window for teams to use their franchise tags began Tuesday and ends on March 6, a week before free agency opens.