NFL Free agency begins on March 13, meaning teams across the league have been putting the franchise tag, with careful thought or without it, on their prize and prime free agents, with Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints (busy with other troubles) leading the free agents class of 2012 being the most notable name on the tag list.
New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees
The Saints had plenty of time to franchise tag Brees, over six months to be exact, but with doing so are likely to lose Marques Colston (80 receptions, 1143 yards, 8 TD) and/or Carl Nicks (2x All-Pro Guard). The Saints were going to negotiate a deal with the top free agent on the market anyway, right? Still, it looks like the Saints might have bigger problems than just how they structure their payroll for 2012. Brees, it has been reported, is furious about the tag.
Chicago Bears – Matt Forte
Forte, 26, had a very good season in 2011 before getting injured, with 997 yards and 3 TD. Forte was already the focus of contract problems during the previous off season, and while giving him a long and rich deal to keep him happy would have been nice, running backs are always a concern as their ability takes a huge nosedive, especially after injuries.
Baltimore Ravens – Ray Rice
Again, tagging backs is smart. Rice might be the best all-purpose running back in the league, with over 2000 yards from scrimmage last season and 15 touchdowns scored, but getting deals done with the likes of Ben Grubbs (Pro Bowl Guard) and LaDarius Webb seemed just as important. Tagging the back is always the smart move, no matter how good he is.
No less than five kickers have been franchised by their teams so far this off-season, even guys as inconsistent as Mike Nugent from the Bengals. Matt Prater from the Denver Broncos, Phil Dawson from the Cleveland Browns, Connor Barth from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Josh Scobee from the Tennessee Titans. The New York Giants’ punter, Steve Weatherford, also got the franchise tag.
Dashon Goldson of the San Francisco 49ers made the Pro Bowl for the first time last season. Both Goldson and Carlos Rogers were incredible for the 49ers, but Goldson seemed like the more important player to prevent hitting the open market. Rogers, at 30, will probably be the best cornerback in free agency. The Raiders tagged Tyvon Branch, while leaving Michael Bush, who ran for nearly 1000 yards in place of the injured Darren McFadden, to hit free agency. The Titans also tagged their safety, Michael Griffin, who despite his two time Pro Bowl selections is as inconsistent as you get.
The Arizona Cardinals went with 25 year old Defensive Lineman Calais Campbell, although a non-exclusive tag was used. The Colts went for Robert Mathis while got for the double with their veteran defensive linemen, keeping him and Dwight Freeney on the team. Next big decision? Peyton Manning.
The Dallas Cowboys tagged Anthony Spencer, the expected move for them, only the third player to be tagged by the franchise. Despite recording six sacks, his ability to bring out consistent pressure on quarterbacks has been questionable. The Atlanta Falcons kept a fantastic cornerback who’s eyeing big money, Brent Grimes while the Detroit Lions tagged Cliff Avril, who doesn’t have the public profile of Suh, but might be just as good if not better.
The Rest (So far…), Aka Receiving Crew
Dwyane Bowe, Wide Receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs. DeSean Jackson, Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles. Wes Welker, New England Patriots. Fred Davis, Tight End, Washington Redskins.