Franchise tag gets heavy use

The Vikings didn't shock anyone and use a franchise tag, but nearly half the teams used the franchise tag to hold onto some of their top players. That doesn't help the overall quality of free agency.

The deadline for franchising players came and went Thursday and a record 14 players were given the franchise designation.

Just about all positions were covered. Matt Cassel was the only QB tagged and no wonder – it will cost $14.65 million. Two running backs – Brandon Jacobs of the Giants and Darren Sproles of the Chargers – were tagged at $6.62 million. Bucs wide receiver Antonio Bryant ($9.98 million), tight end Bo Scaife of the Titans ($4.46 million) and offensive tackle Max Starks ($8.451 million) of the Steelers round out the offensive players hit with the franchise designation.

On the defensive side, Julius Peppers of the Panthers was hit with a tag number of $8.99 million, but that won't apply since he made $13.9 million last year. The linebackers – Terrell Suggs of the Ravens, Karlos Dansby of the Cardinals and Leroy Hill of Seattle – got tagged at a level of $8.3 million, Houston CB Dunta Robinson was slapped with a $9.96 million tag number and St. Louis safety Oshiomogho Atogwe got franchised at $6.34 million.

Even the special teamers weren't immune from the franchise designation. Cincinnati kicker Shayne Graham and Atlanta punter Michael Koenen were franchised at a level of $2.48 million.

Once viewed as a last resort, the franchise tag is now seen as a bargaining chip that teams can use to force trades on star players they would have lost to free agency. Considering that almost half the teams in the league used the franchise tag this year, it seems clear that the tag is no longer a tool of last resort, but a fixture on the NFL landscape.

FRIDAY NOTES

  • Perhaps one of the reasons so many teams used the tag is fear that the collective bargaining agreement will be allowed to expire. If that happens after this season, in 2010 a player would have to have six years of service in the league to be an unrestricted, not the four years under the current agreement.

  • A pair of big signings allowed the Raiders not to use their franchise tag and the Panthers to make sure both of their star free agents didn't get away. Oakland signed CB Nnamdi Asomugha to a three-year, $45 million deal, while Carolina locked down OT Jordan Gross to a six-year, $60 million contract.

  • As expected, the Vikings didn't use their franchise tag. The team hasn't tagged a player since Jim Kleinsasser in 2003.

  • The franchise tag represents the average of the top five salaries at each position. The only Viking who figured into the 2009 franchise figures was Bernard Berrian, whose $9.44 million cap number was third among wide receivers, and Madieu Williams, whose $5.27 cap number was fourth among safeties.


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