Offense: Who’s worth the franchise?

Franchise tags were in plentiful supply but rare demand last year. That might be the case again on offense in March 2015.

In March, NFL teams used the franchise or transition tag on only six players and the situation might not be that different in 2015. More and more, teams seem to be looking for a contract extension with their valued star players before they are even done with their contract year.

Sometimes the negotiations take a little longer and force the teams to use the one-year guaranteed franchise tag – either for insurance while they continue to work on a longer deal or simply to buy another year without the commitment required for a long-term deal.

Interestingly, only one of those six franchise or transition tags in 2014 came on offense, with Jimmy Graham hoping to get the higher designation for wide receivers but receiving the tight end designation before signing a four-year, $40 million contract prior to signing his franchise-tag contract.

Recently, CBSSports.com reported that several salary cap experts project the 2015 cap to be between $141 million and $144 million – a jump of about $10 million from the $133 million in 2014 – and that means that franchise tag projections can start to be guesstimated.

Using a $142 million cap, here are CBS’s franchise tag estimates for the offensive positions, and we add some of the best players at the position who are in a contract year.

Just like last year, it’s looking like tight end could be the best position on offense to apply the tag.

ESTIMATED FRANCHISE AMOUNTS


Quarterbacks: $18.38 million
The Arizona CardinalsCarson Palmer has now returned from a nerve injury in his shoulder and has a 100.5 rating, but he has started only two games, the first and the most recent, because of the injury. He has a contract that can void after the season, and if the Cardinals’ success continues, it’s a good bet he will be seeking more than the $8 million annual average he has. His agent, David Dunn, reportedly said this week that contract extension negotiations have already begun.

Other than Palmer, it’s mainly a mess a backups and starters likely not franchise-worthy scheduled for free agency next year: Brian Hoyer, Jake Locker, Michael Vick, Matt Hasselbeck, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Matt Moore, Mark Sanchez and Matt Flynn among the potential pickings.

Offensive linemen: $12.83 million
The offensive linemen – tackles, guards and centers – all get lumped into one franchise designation, meaning the less valued guards and centers rarely even get consideration for the tag because the price of tackles drives up the value of the tag.

The Titans’ Michael Roos averaged $7.2 million on his current contract but is now on injured reserve with a knee injury and his career might be over. The Chargers’ Nick Hardwick averaged $4.4 million, but he is also on injured reserve with a neck injury that may take him out of the NFL altogether, too. The Packers’ Bryan Bulaga averaged $2.6 million but isn’t worth a tag. The Broncos Orlando Franklin ($1.089 million) was moved to guard but isn’t elite yet. And a ton (literally) of other players that are making under $1 million stand no chance at being given the franchise tag.

The Seahawks’ James Carpenter is coming off his rookie contract averaging $1.9 million and NFL greybeard centers like Roberto Garza ($1.5 average) and Dominic Raiola ($1.5 million) are on the decline.

In short, all the elite offensive linemen are under contract through at least next year, making a franchise designation there unlikely.

Wide receivers: $12.71 million
Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas are the big names here. Bryant has averaged only $2.3 million on his contract, but he’s due for a big payday.

The Broncos’ Thomas only averaged $2.8 million in his contract with $3.27 million in 2014, but he could be worthy of a franchise look. He already has 31 catches for 491 yards.

The Eagles’ Jeremy Maclin had a cap number of $5.5 million in 2014 and has 27 catches for 445 yards to date, 12th in the league.

The Packers might have gotten the best value in 2014 for the 2015 free-agent wide receivers with Randall Cobb, who averaged $802,000 on his rookie deal. He already has seven touchdowns but only one game with 100 yards through six games, and the Packers don’t usually dish out big contracts beyond their elite quarterbacks. If Cobb wants to stay with Aaron Rodgers, he will have to accept something averaging less than the franchise-tag money.

The 49ers’ Michael Crabtree is already averaging $5.3 million over the course of his six-year deal, but he only has 295 yards to date.

On the second tier that won’t be sniffing franchise-tag status: Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks, Wes Welker, Niles Paul, Kenny Britt and Brandon Lloyd.

Running backs: $10.85 million
DeMarco Murray is making quite the contract-year statement. He is not only the NFL’s leading rusher so far, he is on pace to exceed 2,000 yards while averaging over 26 carries a game. If he can stay healthy, he might be worth of the franchise number that is inflated because of Adrian Peterson’s $14 million salary to push up the average of the top backs. The transition tag is also a possibility, but contract extension talks have already begun, so a tag would be the last resort.

After that, it seems unlikely any other back would be seriously considered for the franchise tag. The other top backs scheduled for free agency next year are Frank Gore, Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno and Stevan Ridley

Tight ends: $8.27 million
Jimmy Graham pushed the envelope with his four-year, $40 million contract that averages about $1.75 million more per year than the projected franchise number for 2015.

Only one tight end scheduled for free agency in 2015 even seems close to worth the franchise tag number and that’s Julius Thomas, who the Broncos have on a steal of a contract averaging $420,000 a year. His rookie deal is in its last season. But will the Broncos even come close to letting him reach free agency? That wouldn’t seem wise.

The Browns’ Jordan Cameron is at the end of his rookie contract that averaged $630,000, but he got off to a slow start this season. Dealing with a shoulder injury that limited him in September, he had a breakout game last week with three catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. If that’s closer to the norm, a big contract could be in his future, but it likely won’t reach the level of franchise-tag numbers.

No other tight end comes close to being worth the franchise number when weighed next to Graham’s value and production.

Elite quarterbacks rarely make it to the market and there aren’t a lot of offensive players in a contract year that seem worthy of the franchise tag. Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and DeMarco Murray might be the exceptions if they don’t reach extensions in the coming months, but don’t expect a handful of franchise tags dealt out on offense in March.



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