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Franchise tag primer: Predictions for all 32 NFL teams

The NFL calendar never ends; it just changes seasons. Business season has arrived.

Monday marks the first day that teams can place the franchise tag on prospective free agents. Teams have until March 3 in which they can use the designation.

Only eight players were tagged last season after a record 21 players were tagged in 2012. This year, we project 10 players to get the franchise tag. With a lot of help from some tasty insider-y nuggets from NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, our annual franchise tag predictions are below.

(First, some housekeeping: The tag is a one-year, guaranteed contract offer that prevents a player from hitting free agency. The salary is based on the five-year average cap percentage for the tag at each position. Rough estimates for this season's tags are in the table to the right.)

No brainers


Projected 2014 franchise-tag amounts (from NFL Media's Albert Breer)
Position
Salary
Quarterback
$16.2 million
Defensive end
$12.6 million
Wide receiver
$11.6 million
Cornerback
$11.3 million
Offensive lineman
$11.2 million
Linebacker
$11 million
Defensive tackle
$9.2 million
Running back
$9.1 million
Safety
$8.1 million
Tight end
$6.8 million
Kicker/punter
$3.4 million

1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints, tight end: The best free agent this season will never hit the open market. The only question is whether the Saints can sign Graham to a long-term deal before the season.

When Graham is tagged, expect it to be as a tight end despite all his snaps in the slot and out wide as a receiver. And when that happens, fully expect Graham to file a grievance in an effort to get wide receiver money.

2. Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers, defensive end: General manager Dave Gettleman will be paying a lot of money to his bookend pass rushers: Hardy and Charles Johnson. That's a good problem to have.

3. Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins, cornerback: The franchise number for cornerbacks is huge, but Grimes is a top-10 player at his position, and the Dolphins have plenty of cap room. A one-year deal at his age makes some sense, so don't necessarily expect a long-term contract.

Voting yes


These choices aren't quite as obvious, but we predict the players below get a tag.

4. T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns, safety: Ward almost made the "no brainer" category, but it's worth remembering that this is a new Browns regime running the show. They could have different ideas on how to build a defense. One possibility is that coach Mike Pettine could have some interest in his old Bills safety Jairus Byrd. Then again ...

5. Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills, safety: The Bills would have to pay Byrd $8.299 million if they tagged him for a second consecutive season. There is very little chance of a long-term deal here and there will be a lot more drama between Byrd and the Bills if he's tagged again. (Byrd and his camp won't take it well.) Still, it makes little sense for Buffalo to just let Byrd leave.

6. Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens, tight end: Pitta may not truly be a Top 100 NFL player, but he's valuable to the Ravens offense. The tag likely is to be used as a gateway to a bigger contract.

7. Vontae Davis, Indianapolis Colts, cornerback: I anticipate a long-term deal, but let's give Davis the tag for now. (This might be an upset to some.) His 2013 play was a lot more uneven than Pro Football Focus' rankings indicate, but Davis has rare man-coverage skills. Throw in Indianapolis' copious amount of cap room, and he's not going anywhere.

8. Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders, offensive tackle: Defensive end Lamarr Houston is another possibility for the Raiders, but the defensive end tag number is much higher. (And Houston isn't a natural fit for Dennis Allen's system.) It's possible the Raiders could try to save some money and give the transition tag to Veldheer. That would allow them to match any offer sheet Veldheer signs elsewhere.

9. Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks, defensive end: If the Seahawks have to cut Chris Clemons to keep Bennett, they should do it. Bennett's shoulder, which held up in 2013, could be one reason Seattle would be comfortable with a one-year deal. Some teams believed Bennett needed to undergo surgery last offseason.

10. Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins, linebacker: After years of overpaying other teams' free agents, it'd be crazy for the Redskins to let a rare homegrown product get away.

Close, but not quite


The following players should be considered for a tag, but we don't think they'll get one.

1. B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers, defensive tackle: At one point last season, the Packers were willing to pay Raji $8 million per season. But Rapoport swears Green Bay is looking for more athletic linemen and are ready to move on from Raji. (In short, this one is on you Rapsheet!)

2. Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals, defensive end: It's tough to tag a player two consecutive seasons because he gets 120 percent of last year's already high salary. Johnson would be due $13 million, and Rapoport says that's just too much for the Bengals to stomach. Johnson is one of the most underrated defensive ends in the league. He's going to make a killing on the open market, possibly by joining his old defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Minnesota.

3. Nick Folk, New York Jets, kicker: It is so cheap to place the franchise tag on kickers that I wouldn't be surprised to get this one wrong.

4. Henry Melton, Chicago Bears, defensive tackle: He would be an interesting fit with Rod Marinelli in Dallas. Especially if the following player leaves ...

5. Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys, defensive tackle: Hatcher, entering his age-32 season, is coming off a terrific year. He's the type of player Jerry Jones often overpays.

6. Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals, linebacker: Dansby had a resurgent 2013, but let's not get carried away. He's not worth franchise-tag money.

7. Eric Decker, Denver Broncos, wide receiver: The Broncos have too many other guys they need to pay, including Decker's receiving partner Demaryius Thomas. Denver sees Decker as a No. 2 receiver.

8. Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs, offensive tackle: He would cost too much after getting tagged last year, and he hasn't been that reliable on or off the field. The Chiefs need last year's No. 1 pick Eric Fisher to step up.

9 & 10. Everson Griffen and Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings, defensive ends: They are at different stages of their careers, but both pass rushers are intriguing names to watch over the next month. Griffen could re-sign with Minnesota.

11 & 12. Aqib Talib (cornerback) and Julian Edelman (wide receiver), New England Patriots: Talib was the single toughest name to leave off the list of tags above because he's so integral to what the Patriots do. Still, it's a lot more likely he signs a long-term deal to stay rather than getting tagged. Edelman has virtually no chance to be tagged despite his career year. The Patriots just don't value receivers that much, especially ones that spend half their time in the slot.

13. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants, wide receiver: I'm not entirely convinced Nicks' recent troubles will keep his pricetag that low on the open market.

14. Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans, cornerback: The Titans already gave Jason McCourty big long-term money. Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean has reported Verner, a Pro Bowler this season, won't be tagged.

15. Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers, wide receiver: The 49ers want to keep Boldin, but not enough to give him franchise-tag money.

16. Donald Butler, San Diego Chargers, linebacker: The two sides are reportedly working on a contract. If that doesn't work out, it's hard to imagine San Diego allocating $11 million for an inside linebacker.

17. Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers, linebacker: Again, a long-term deal is far more likely. The Steelers couldn't fit Worilds' tag figure on their tight-to-the-cap roster.

18. Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams, guard/offensive tackle: Even listing him here is a stretch.

Teams with no realistic candidates


Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the guys debate Joe Philbin's future in Miami before playing another round of "Win Wess' Toaster."

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