NFL 2012 franchise tag candidates

We have officially hit the start of the NFL's franchise tag period, which runs from February 20 to March 5. Which players around the league are most likely to tagged this offseason?

Yesterday marked the first day NFL teams could place the franchise tag on free agents to be. If tagged by March 5, those players won't be available on the open market, which gives a much clearer picture of free agency, which officially starts March 13.

Traditionally, the franchise tag paid a player the average of the top five salaries at his position. But terms in the new collective bargaining agreement have changed that formula.

Going forward, the franchise tender for each position arises from a formula that takes the value of franchise tags for the last five years, adds them up, divides them by the total value of the salary cap for the last five years, and multiplies the resulting percentage by the salary cap for the current year. Since there was no salary cap in 2010, the number to be used will be the average of the salary cap in 2009 and 2011.

This means that across the board, the 2012 tag salaries are down significantly from 2011, making it more likely teams will be applying the tag.

Here are the 2012 franchise tag salaries by position:

Quarterback: $14.4 million (down from $16.1 million in 2011, $16.4 million in 2010)
Running back: $7.7 million (down from $9.6 million in 2011, $8.2 million in 2010)
Wide receiver: $9.4 million (down from 11.4 million in 2011, $9.5 million in 2010)
Tight end: $5.4 million (down from $7.3 million in 2011, $5.9 million in 2010)
Offensive line: $9.4 million (down from $10.1 million in 2011, $10.7 million in 2010)
Defensive end: $10.6 million (down from $13 million in 2011, $12.4 million in 2010
Defensive tackle: $7.9 million (down from $12.5 million in 2011; it was $7 million in 2010)
Linebacker: $8.8 million (down from $10.1 million in 2011, $9.7 million in 2010)
Cornerback: $10.6 million (down from $13.5 million in 2011; tag was $9.6 million in 2010)
Safety: $6.2 million (down from $8.8 million in 2011, $6.5 million in 2010)

Here are the most likely candidates for 2012 franchise tags:

NFC


TE Fred Davis
Otto Greule Jr./Getty

N.Y. Giants: No legit candidates. Possibly WR Mario Manningham but unlikely.

Washington Redskins: TE Fred Davis or S LaRon Landry. Davis is more likely, as he's the team's only real weapon on offense.

Dallas Cowboys: LB Anthony Spencer. 50/50 at this point.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR DeSean Jackson. Fully expect a holdout.

Chicago Bears: RB Matt Forte. Bears have plenty of room under the cap to spend $7.7 million on Forte next year.

Green Bay Packers: TE Jermichael Finley. Despite his drops, he's too talented to let walk.

Detroit Lions: DE Cliff Avril. Lions have very little room under the cap with which to work. They'll have to do some heavy maneuvering to tag Avril.

Minnesota Vikings: No legit candidates.

New Orleans Saints: QB Drew Brees or G Carl Nicks. If team can extend Brees before deadline, they'll likely tag Nicks.

Atlanta Falcons: CB Brent Grimes. Likely but not for sure. Team still upset about him sitting out playoff game last year. LB Curtis Lofton a possibility if Grimes is let go.

Carolina Panthers: No legit candidates.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: No legit candidates.

San Francisco 49ers: CB Carlos Rogers or S Dashon Goldson. Goldson more likely, as he's younger and safety tag is cheaper than corner tag.

Arizona Cardinals: DE Calais Campbell. Almost 100 percent unless extension is reached.

Seattle Seahawks: RB Marshawn Lynch. The offense revolves around his running ability and, amazingly, he's only 25.

St. Louis Rams: No legit candidates.

AFC


WR Steve Johnson
Elsa/Getty

New England Patriots: WR Wes Welker. They'll likely work out a long-term deal but will tag him if necessary. Tom Brady's favorite target isn't going anywhere.

Miami Dolphins: NT Paul Soliai. He's the only real candidate but the team franchised him last year as well, so his 2011 tag number jumps to $15 million this season. Plus Miami is transitioning to a 4-3 this year. Tag is doubtful.

N.Y. Jets: NT Sione Pouha. A key cog in the club's 3-4 scheme.

Buffalo Bills: WR Steve Johnson. Two sides working on a long-term deal as we speak.

Baltimore Ravens: RB Ray Rice. No chance he hits the open market.

Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Mike Wallace. Steelers have serious cap issues though and may not be able to afford him.

Cincinnati Bengals: No legit candidates.

Cleveland Browns: LB D'Qwell Jackson. Working on a new deal but will tag if necessary.

Indianapolis Colts: DE Robert Mathis or WR Reggie Wayne. Both are over 30 and with a new regime moving in, it's unlikely either will be tagged.

Houston Texans: DE Mario Williams would cost almost $23 million, so that's not happening. RB Arian Foster is a restricted free agent, yet the club may still tag him to prevent another team from giving up a first rounder for one of the best backs in the game.

Jacksonville Jaguars: K Josh Scobee. He's the only real candidate and the Jags are prepared to tag him.

Tennessee Titans: CB Cortland Finnegan. This one is 50/50 but it's likely he'll get the tag.

Denver Broncos: K Matt Prater. His two 50-plus-yard kicks to beat the Bears last season helped earn him the tag.

San Diego Chargers: WR Vincent Jackson. He was tagged last year, so he'd cost $13.7 million this year. It's unlikely but not out of the question.

Oakland Raiders: This team has major cap issues, making the tag almost impossible to use.

Kansas City Chiefs: WR Dwayne Bowe. The club signed CB Stanford Routt yesterday, meaning they'll likely let CB Brandon Carr walk. Bowe then gets the tag.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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