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:
TE Fred Davis
Otto Greule Jr./Getty
N.Y. Giants: No legit candidates. Possibly WR Mario Manningham but unlikely.
Chicago Bears: RB Matt Forte. Bears have plenty of room under the cap to spend $7.7 million on Forte next year.
Minnesota Vikings: No legit candidates.
Carolina Panthers: No legit candidates.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: No legit candidates.
St. Louis Rams: No legit candidates.
WR Steve Johnson
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.
Cincinnati Bengals: No legit candidates.
Cleveland Browns: LB D'Qwell Jackson. Working on a new deal but will tag if necessary.
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.
Oakland Raiders: This team has major cap issues, making the tag almost impossible to use.
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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.