Get ready for some last-minute transactions on Monday.
Teams have had two weeks to use the franchise tag, but none had done so leading into Monday's 4 p.m. ET deadline. Look for that to change dramatically in a flurry of moves.
Only four players were tagged last season after just eight saw the tag in 2013. A record 21 players were tagged in 2012. This year we are likely to be closer to eight -- or less.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport has reported that franchise tags are expected for Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty assuming there isn't a surprising late agreement on a long-term deal, according to sources informed of their situations. Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant will get tagged Monday as well.
Let's take a quick look at the whole group:
(Before we get rolling: 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.)
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys, wide receiver: After contract talks with Bryant broke down during the season, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in December that he wouldn't hesitate to tag the pass-catcher if necessary. That's whats going to happen, while running back DeMarco Murray likely hits free agency. Jones has vowed to keep Bryant in Big D for the rest of his career.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos, wide receiver: NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Broncos are prepared to franchise Thomas if they can't lock him down with a long-term deal. Broncos head honcho John Elway confirmed as much as the NFL Scouting Combine. We don't expect tight end Julius Thomas to be back.
Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs, outside linebacker: Coming off a 22-sack campaign of terror, Houston sits atop the to-do list for Andy Reid's Chiefs. The franchise tag should be a step on the way to a long-term deal.
We vote yes
Devin McCourty, New England Patriots, safety: McCourty is everything Bill Belichick looks for in a Patriot. He's also one of the best at his position and realistically a more pressing concern for New England than Darrelle Revis.
Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants, defensive end: New York would love to figure out a deal for JPP, but it's not likely to be done before the tag deadline. Coach Tom Coughlin has supported JPP publicly after Pierre-Paul rebounded from an off-kilter 2013 to post 12.5 sacks last season.
Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers, wide receiver: Cobb is a major cog in Green Bay's aerial assault, one who hopes to re-sign with the team that drafted him. But paying such a big one-year salary isn't how general manager Ted Thompson usually does things. A long-term deal similar to Victor Cruz's 5-year, $43 million contract is more likely.
Jerry Hughes, Buffalo Bills, defensive end: Hughes wants to re-sign with the Bills and Buffalo is "working hard to hammer out a deal." Still, we don't see the team using $14 million-plus on another pass rusher.
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles, wide receiver: The cash involved in tagging a wideout makes this unlikely. We still believe the Eagles will work out a long-term deal with Maclin, who said last month: "Both sides have made it known what we want to do." We're also ruling out the tag for free-agent pass rusher Brandon Graham. The cost is outrageous.
Frank Gore (running back), Mike Iupati (guard) and Michael Crabtree (wide receiver), San Francisco 49ers: The Niners are interested in re-signing Gore, but the team will never use the $10 million-plus tag on an aging runner. We also agree with CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, who called it "completely unrealistic" to suggest that Crabtree would be tagged. San Francisco's front office feels the same way about Iupati, who would earn the same money as a premier left tackle if franchised. Not happening. Iupati, though, will make a bundle on the open market.
Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers, outside linebacker: Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert suggested at one point that Pittsburgh might use the transition tag on Worilds for the second straight year. That has seemed less likely as the days have worn on, with Worilds expected to test free agency.
Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots, kicker: The possibility of tagging Gostkowski is remote because of McCourty. If the Patriots ink the safety to a long-term deal, though, the affordable tag for kickers -- expected to hover around $3.75 million -- would be an ideal option for Gostkowski. He's got plenty of football left.