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Franchise tag primer: Miller, Cousins top candidates

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The NFL's offseason has arrived, hopefully sparing us from overwrought takes on Cam Newton's news conference behavior and Beyonce's halftime song selection.

Tuesday marks the first day that teams can place the franchise or transition tag on prospective free agents. March 1 is the deadline for clubs to designate franchise or transition players.

With the recent salary-cap bumps, the number of tags has decreased from a high of 21 in 2012. Just six players have drawn the franchise or transition tags in each of the past two years. With help from NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, our annual franchise tag predictions are below.

No-brainers


Explaining the tag



» The exclusive franchise tag is a one-year tender offer to a player for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player's position, or 120 percent of the player's previous salary, whichever is greater. The player's team has all negotiating rights to the player.

» The non-exclusive franchise tag is a one-year tender offer to a player for an amount no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player's position, or 120 percent of the player's previous salary, whichever is greater. The player can negotiate with other teams. The player's current team has the right to match any offer, or receive two first-round picks as compensation.

» The transition tag is a one-year tender offer to a player for an amount that is the average of the top 10 salaries at the position. It guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may receive from another team. The transition tag can only be used if the franchise tag is not used by a team in that year. Transition tags can be rescinded, but teams that rescind a transition tag cannot use it again until next season.

1. Von Miller, Denver Broncos pass rusher: Coming off one of the best two-game stretches in postseason history, Miller is poised to become the highest-paid defensive player in football. The Broncos' preference, per NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, is to apply the franchise tag, then try to work out a long-term deal.

One twist for Denver is the impact that Miller's tag could have on the future of Brock Osweiler, who is also scheduled to reach free agency. It's better for Osweiler's future to remain on a Super Bowl contender with a coaching staff he knows, but will the two sides find common ground on his price tag as Peyton Manning's successor?

2. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins quarterback: General manager Scot McCloughan said last month that he would rather work out a long-term contract, but acknowledged the franchise tag is an option at a projected $19.6 million. Cousins will be McCloughan's top priority of the offseason after setting Redskins single-season records for passing yards (4,166) and total touchdowns (34), while leading the NFL in completion percentage (69.8) and finishing fifth in passer rating (101.6).

3. Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers cornerback: General manager Dave Gettleman isn't tipping his hand on plans for Norman, but did say he isn't shy about using the franchise tag if necessary. He made a similar move two years ago, slapping Greg Hardy with the franchise tag in what ultimately became the pass rusher's final season in Charlotte. According to projections from NFL Media's Albert Breer, tagging Norman would cost the Panthers roughly $13.7 million. It's not a bad idea for a 28-year-old cornerback coming off an All-Pro campaign.

4. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears wide receiver: The Bears were frustrated by Jeffery's 2015 injuries, but they also understand he's one of the most productive receivers in the league when healthy. General manager Ryan Pace hasn't ruled out the franchise tag and might decide that's the best approach, buying time for a longer contract.

Voting yes


5. Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets defensive end: The Jets are prepared for his departure after drafting Leonard Williams in the first round last year, but NFL teams don't often let difference-makers of Wilkerson's caliber walk out of the building without compensation. Defensive tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison also is poised to reach free agency.

On the heels of his best season, Wilkerson would collect a projected $15.4 million in 2016 if tagged. The sides aren't close to agreement on a new contract, which means the Jets will likely wield the tag in the next two weeks.

The Jets are more likely to reach agreement with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who understands his best opportunity for sustained success is throwing to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker in an offense that plays to his strengths under coordinator Chan Gailey.

6. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills offensive tackle: Glenn might not be a household name, but he has been one of the best, young blindside protectors in the NFL over the past three seasons. General manager Doug Whaley has stated that it's "imperative" to keep Buffalo's offensive line intact for a team that relies on a strong rushing attack.

7. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back: The Bucs have already begun contract talks with Martin, but the 2015 All-Pro remains unsigned. Although Martin has professed his love for Tampa, he also realizes he holds some leverage coming off a career year. The franchise tag for running backs is expected to be $11.5 million, a figure the Buccaneers can afford with plenty of salary-cap space available.

8. Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs safety: The Comeback Player of the Year recaptured pre-cancer form, earning his fourth career Pro Bowl selection on a Chiefs team that closed out the season with 10 consecutive wins. The roster is built to win now, which makes it a priority to keep a player of Berry's caliber. The Chiefs already have ramped up contract talks with Berry, which could free up the franchise tag for Pro Bowl inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, who will turn 34 years old during the 2016 season.

9. Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins defensive end: Prior to midseason of 2015, the franchise tag might have seemed like a stretch for Vernon. The 26-year-old pass rusher closed out the season with a torrid two months, though, racking up an astounding 24 QB hits over the final eight games. Vernon finished with the highest grade among 4-3 defense ends in Pro Football Focus' 2015 ratings, edging out Cameron Jordan and Michael Bennett. If the Dolphins let him reach the open market, he's going to break the bank.

Questionable


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10. Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati Bengals safety: Strong safety George Iloka is also scheduled for free agency, leaving the Bengals in a bind. Nelson is coming off his first Pro Bowl selection after tying for a league-high eight interceptions. Because he turns 33 early in the 2016 season, Cincinnati could reason that he's worth the relatively reasonable $10.6-million franchise tag to keep the secondary intact for one more season.

Unlikely


11. Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks tackle: Seattle's offensive line is in such dire straits that Okung could end up getting overpaid as an inconsistent pass protector. The franchise tag seemed a more viable route before Okung dislocated his shoulder in the season-ending loss to the Panthers. Okung has emailed all 32 clubs to inform them of his impending surgery, which requires a five-month recovery period.

Kickers


Justin Tucker, Greg Zuerlein, Mason Crosby, Phil Dawson, Adam Vinatieri, Josh Brown

Kickers are always decent bets for the franchise tag because the price is so reasonable. Zuerlein has one of the biggest legs in the game. Tucker is money with the game on the line. Crosby has bounced back with three excellent seasons in a row after a shaky 2012 campaign. Dawson and Vinatieri are pictures of reliability. Brown is coming off the best three-year stretch by a kicker in Giants history.

UPDATE: The Ravens used their tag on Tucker.

Punters


Marquette King, Bryan Anger, Jon Ryan, Shane Lechler

King led the league in punts down and finished second in punts inside the 20-yard line. He and Anger are two of the NFL's best young punters while Ryan and Lechler are veteran stalwarts.

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