Franchise tags leave only scraps

With 14 players franchised, plus some late signings, many top players were locked up before free agency.

An NFL-record 14 teams used their franchise tag, turning a weak free agent class into one of the weakest in NFL history.

"Terrible," is what one NFL front-office person described it.

The franchise list is headlined by Carolina's Julius Peppers, who will earn more than $1 million per game if he plays the season under the franchise tag.

If, for example, the Packers attempted to sign Peppers away from the Panthers, Carolina would have a chance to match Green Bay's offer. If the Panthers were to decide not to match the offer, the Packers would have to give up two first-round picks. That hasn't been done since 2000, when Dallas signed Joey Galloway away from Tampa Bay.

Throw in the signings of All-Pro left tackle Jordan Gross (Carolina) and All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (Oakland), and the list of quality players gets even shorter. The top name available is Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Baltimore's inside linebackers, Ray Lewis and Bart Scott, are available, as is Ravens center Jason Brown. Also available is Cincinnati receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Including in-season signings like Dallas receiver Roy Williams, eight of Scout.com's preseason top 12 free agents either were signed or franchised.

Packer Report will take a more in-depth look at what's left of this free agent class during its reporting from the NFL Scouting Combine this week.

Here's the franchise list:

QB Matt Cassel, New England ($14.65 million)

RB Darren Sproles, San Diego ($6.62 million)

RB Brandon Jacobs, N.Y. Giants ($6.62 million)

WR Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay

TE Bo Scaife, Tennessee ($4.46 million)

OT Max Starks, Pittsburgh ($8.45 million)

DE Julius Peppers, Carolina ($16.68 million)

OLB Terrell Suggs, Baltimore ($10.2 million)

LB Karlos Dansby, Arizona ($9.7 million)

LB Leroy Hill, Seattle ($8.3 million)

CB Dunta Robinson, Houston ($9.96 million)

S O.J. Atogwe, St. Louis ($6.34 million)

K Shayne Graham, Cincinnati ($2.48 million)

P Michael Koenen, Atlanta ($2.48 million)

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com.

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