Panthers likely to franchise tag kicker Graham Gano

Graham Gano is likely staying put.

The Carolina Panthers are more likely to place their franchise tag on Gano, their kicker of six seasons whose four-year contract expired this year, than on guard Andrew Norwell, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Thursday.

The tag number for a kicker hovered around $4.8 million in 2017 and has climbed each year since 2012. Gano averaged a $3.1 million salary under his expired deal.

Teams don't often use their franchise tag on kickers. Gano would be just the fourth kicker to earn the distinction since 2012, when five kickers were handed the tag. Most recently, the Baltimore Ravens tagged two-time All-Pro booter Justin Tucker in 2016; he signed a four-year deal soon after.

The 30-year-old Gano isn't quite an All-Pro, but he is coming off a Pro Bowl season, his first, in which he connected on a league-best 96.7 percent of his field goal attempts.

Regarding Norwell, the standout guard is considered one of the top free agents at any position, and Rapoport reported that Carolina wants to keep him in house. However, the large tag number for offensive linemen ($14-plus million and increasing) is more a reaction to the tackle market than that of the guards. This makes it harder for the Panthers to financially justify locking up Norwell at a tackle's rate.

Norwell earned $2.7 million on a one-year pact in 2017. The highest-paid guard in the league on average is Cleveland's Kevin Zeitler, who signed a record five-year, $60 million deal last year. If Norwell were tagged, he would immediately assume that mantle.

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