Franchise Tags Coming

Washington struck the first blow of free agency 2004, slapping an early franchise tag on cornerback Champ Bailey -- perhaps a portent of things to come.

Many fans were drooling over the prospect of a half-dozen Pro Bowl caliber cornerbacks being put on the open market in free agency. When the list first came out, VU cautioned that it may not be all it's cracked up to be in the end.

That's because teams can still sign their own free agents before the March 3 opening or can slap a franchise designation on them -- which is exactly what the Redskins did Wednesday with Champ Bailey.

With more than a week remaining until the deadline for applying the franchise tag, the Redskins opted to do it early on Bailey. That means he can't become a restricted free agent and either will have to work out a long-term deal with the 'Skins or accept a one-year, $6.8 million offer -- the average of the top five salaries at his position.

Some believe that cornerback market could take further hits, since similar stances could be made toward Chris McAlister of the Ravens, Charles Woodson of the Raiders, Antoine Winfield of the Bills and Bobby Taylor of the Eagles -- making the free agent crop at CB much less lucrative than originally thought.

* In a follow-up to an earlier story on Bailey being able to broker a deal, one team that has emerged as being very interested are the Lions. While VU doubts the Lions would throw another $30 million away on a cornerback after spending $25 million last year on Dre Bly, Bailey's brother Boss is a linebacker with the Lions and would be an excellent recruiter to get Champ to join the Lions.
* The Vikings filled their final coaching vacancy by hiring Mark Ellis as assistant strength and conditioning coach.
* Vikings tickets will rise 4 percent this year -- the smallest increase since Red McCombs bought the team. The highest ticket price will be $90, while the cheapest will be $27.
* Schools have already begun listing when they will conduct their annual Pro Day festivities for potential draftees to work out for coaches and scouts. Three of interest to the Vikings will be Miami's Pro Day -- as many as six Hurricanes could be first-round picks this year -- on Feb 28, USC (the Vikes are interested in DE Kenechi Udeze) will be March 24 and Ohio State (the Vikes are interested in DE Will Smith and CB Chris Gamble) will be March 12.

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