Like Many Teams, Packers Figure To Play Tag

Last year set a record, and this year, more teams are expected to use the franchise tag. Plus much more in this national notebook by Len Pasquarelli.

In an informal survey of league decision-makers, a majority believed that there will be more franchise tags used than the record 14 designations of a year ago.

Teams can begin assigning the marker on Monday and the Green Bay Packers figure to be one of those teams who will use the tag, either on tight end Jermichael Finley or center Scott Wells.

A major reason why is the cost of the franchise tag was reduced in the new CBA. According to, the franchise tags for a tight end are expected to fall from $7.3 million to $5.4 million. For an offensive lineman, it's expected to fall from $10.1 million to $9.4 million.

In 2011, Finley caught 55 passes for 767 yards and eight touchdowns — all among franchise best marks for tight ends in Green Bay. His touchdown count ranked third among tight ends. However, his 12 tight ends were far and away the most among tight ends, according to counts kept by Pro Football Focus. His catch percentage of 60.4 percent ranked 25th at the position, and his 4.4 yards after the catch per reception ranked 21st, according to PFF.

"Jermichael probably brings a lot of criticism on himself because of his personality, but the man I work with, he has a great work ethic," coach Mike McCarthy said at the end of the season. "There's no one more into the practice on a daily basis than Jermichael. He wants to be a great player and thinks he's going to be a great player. With his talent level, that's half the battle. I look for him to continuing to develop and establishing himself definitely as one of the (best) tight ends, Pro Bowl tight ends, in this league."

McCarthy made an equally spirited case for keeping Wells, as well.

"He's a heck of a football player. I make no bones about it, I told Scott I hope we're working together again next year. He's going into free agency, and we'll see what happens. But Scott Wells has been a very valuable member of our football team, I think he's done an excellent job the last couple years. I would say he's clearly the best lineman we've had this year, as far as performance. It's nice to see him being recognized as a Pro Bowl center. I hope we can get it worked out."

— Bill Huber

Player safety

One of the less-publicized elements of next week's Scouting Combine is the early-week session that involves players, members of the Competition Committee and commissioner Roger Goodell.

Next week, the committee and Goodell will, committee chairman Rich McKay said, stress the improvements in safety and the role that was played by the move of the kickoff to the 35-yard line in reducing concussions. Goodell will again emphasize the initiative to better monitor concussions and head injuries.

For their part, though, players will discuss what they still feel is an inconsistency in some calls on the field, the definition of a "defenseless" player, and cut-block rules.

As noted several times here in past months, there is some feeling among players that the NFL needs to enhance guidelines protecting defensive players and running backs.

Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy was named to the Competition Committee this week and will be part of those talks.

Manning-Colts bickering

In the back-and-forth banter between Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay and recovering quarterback Peyton Manning, far too much of which has been public, there has been considerable speculation about the financial extent of their talks. Unless one is a fly on the wall, or has the pair's cell phones tapped, it's difficult to get an accurate read on the scope and substance of discussions.

But one person close to the talks, while characterizing them as "casual" and "friendly but pointed," told The Sports Xchange this week that there have been some numbers floated. Not necessarily to Manning, but to his representatives. The same person suggested that next week, when agent Tom Condon will be in Indianapolis for the combine workouts, will be "key but not definitive" on a decision about Manning's future. The Colts, of course, owe Manning a $28 million option bonus to trigger the remainder of his contract. Absent the payment, he will become a free agent.

Ravens-Flacco contract talks

As first reported by The Baltimore Sun, and subsequently confirmed by various media outlets, Ravens officials and agent Joe Linta will huddle at the combine next week to begin discussions about a contract extension for quarterback Joe Flacco.

But while Linta has publicly contended that a top-five contact is apt for Flacco, based on the 44 victories in his first four seasons, the Ravens' starting point is more like the top 10.

No one from the team will contest that Flacco performed big-time in the club's division-round loss at New England this season — that he essentially outplayed Brady in the game, and delivered what should have been the winning pass to wide receiver Lee Evans, who dropped the ball — but there remains in the front office some "show me" remnants among the Baltimore decision-makers.

There is reason to believe that a ground work can be started that rewards Flacco as an elite player, but falls short of a top five status.

Speaking of quarterbacks ...

Expect 49ers officials to sit down with agent Tom Condon in Indianapolis to discuss an extension for quarterback Alex Smith. The talks are expected to center more around the length of a proposed contract than the money involved. As noted here in the past, the 49ers, with Colin Kaepernick in the plans at some point, prefer a shorter deal, more in the area of three seasons than of five.

And speaking of the 49ers, at least two teams have ordered up defensive cut-ups of the San Francisco unit and will use them as teaching tools for their teams in terms of improved tackling.

Lloyd to the Patriots?

No conspiracy-theory tampering stories, please, but there is as much fire as smoke, insiders suggest, to the connect-the-dot stories linking St. Louis pending free agent wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to New England.

Lloyd feels strongly that new Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — his onetime head coach in Denver and former offensive coordinator with the Rams — is the man who basically resurrected his flagging NFL career and understands his skills-set better than anyone else.

And while his review of the New England tight-end oriented offense is anything but complete, McDaniels has already decided the Pats require a deep threat to stretch the field. Resurgent over the past two seasons, Lloyd has averaged 16.4 yards per reception in that stretch. In fact, even when he wasn't putting up big numbers — just twice in his first seven seasons did Lloyd post 40 or more catches, and he had fewer than 25 grabs in four years — he could always run deep, as evidenced by a career mark of 15.4 yards per reception.

Not since Randy Moss departed have the Patriots had a wideout capable of catching at least 50 passes per year and averaging 14-15 yards per grab. Over the past two seasons, New England wide receivers have ranked in the lower quadrant of the NFL in yards per catch.

Draft banter

— Still no official word yet on whether top-rated quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will participate in passing drills at the combine next week, but most scouts expect both to bypass them.

— There seems to be no threat that likely top five draft pick Justin Blackmon will make an agent change, but some family people close to the standout Oklahoma State wide receiver have urged him to perhaps add a family friend to a negotiating team led by big-time agent Todd France.

— Arguably one of the worst teams in the league at camouflaging its first-round intentions is Cincinnati, so many scouts pretty much assume the Bengals will choose a cornerback and running back with their two selections in the opening round.

— Offensive tackle will again be a much-watched position at the combine, as it has been in recent seasons. But several scouts this week emphasized the growing importance of the guard spot, basically in terms of both power running and pass-blocking, and said it will draw plenty of interest in Indianapolis, as well.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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