Be prepared to hear a certain f-word with great regularity over the next few weeks.
And, no, it's nothing remotely vulgar, although for some of the players designated with this tag it might feel that way. Franchise -- as in franchise tag -- is the word of the hour in the NFL. Beginning Monday teams can start putting the tag on players -- a period that runs through March 5 -- and a majority of teams in the league will do just that.
2012's notable free agents
It's going to be all the rage.
Franchise tags are coming down in cost across the board in this new collective bargaining agreement, as much as 20 percent or more in some cases due to a new formula used to determine their worth. Teams will have every incentive to dole them out. Some players will receive extensions between now and the start of the new league year, March 13, but very few will get done.
There are a bevy of clubs with $20 million or more in cap space, so agents have a significant incentive to at least see what's out there on the open market. And if, as expected, upwards of 20 top players get hit with the franchise tag, then that makes the overall strength of the free-agent class even less top heavy, which could lead to a very robust market for some second-tier guys.
With that in mind, let's take a team-by-team analysis of the options regarding the franchise tag:
Giants: I'd be pretty surprised if the Giants used the tag. Mario Manningham is a nice receiver, but New York has great depth at that position already and is going to have to redo Victor Cruz's contract sooner rather than later. The Giants have some corners whose contracts are up as well, but Terrell Thomas is returning from injury and they took Prince Amukamara in the first round a year ago for a reason.
Cowboys:Anthony Spencer is the only real prospect for the tag, but he has not been the player Dallas thought it was getting when it made him a first-round pick in the 2007 draft. Plenty of potential remains, but is he worth $8.8 million for one season? The Cowboys are sitting on ample cap space, which aids the argument to put the tag on him. Team officials continue to discuss the matter, league sources said, and with limited other outside options on the open market, it's not out of the question Spencer stays put. No doubt Jerry Jones would like to see this draft pick pay more dividends down the road.
Eagles: The Eagles plan to franchise DeSean Jackson, according to league sources, which is a no-brainer. For all of his faults in 2011 and the attitude concerns, he is a flat-out game-breaker when he's right, and Philly isn't in the business of giving assets away. Should the right trade option come along once he's tagged, then the Eagles could do some business in that regard. But this is a front office and coaching staff desperate to get back in the playoffs, and they don't have a lot of vertical threats outside of him.
Redskins: Washington has two options here in tight end Fred Davis and safety LaRon Landry, but team sources have indicated there is a very good chance Davis gets the tag. He's the only playmaker on the offensive roster right now. He has freak-of-nature abilities. But if he tests positive for drugs one more time, he's suspended for a year. And that may be enough to scare off any other teams as well, so maybe you don't need to spend the $5.5-million franchise figure to keep him. Landry's injury woes give the organization big concerns, sources said. If Davis isn't franchised, Texans free agent tight end Joel Dreessen, who knows offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan well, is a serious option to land there.
Packers:Jermichael Finley has suffered through some injuries and the Packers won a Super Bowl without him. He also dropped a fair amount of balls this past season, but with the franchise tag for tight ends a steal at $5.5 million, no way Green Bay lets a young difference-maker like this get away. Finley isn't going to love the idea of being tagged and this could drag out a while, with him not in a rush to sign the tender. But I can't imagine the Packers letting someone with his skill set walk.
Lions: The Lions have cap issues right now and badly need to get Calvin Johnson extended, in large part so they can franchise Cliff Avril. They ideally want Avril signed long-term, but a team source indicated they will franchise him if at all possible. The strength of the defense is the rotation up front, and Avril can get after the quarterback. With the market for pass rushers devoid of much young talent, Avril would be incredibly hot on the open market.
Saints: No way is Drew Brees going anywhere. Contract talks haven't really gone anywhere, either. But with a low $14.4-million tag for quarterbacks, this is a lock. Brees won't be happy if that's what happens. If Brees does get a new deal, then All-Pro guard Carl Nicks would be next man up for the franchise tag, sources said.
Falcons: Two emerging talents on defense are worthy -- linebacker Curtis Lofton and corner Brent Grimes -- but in the end look for Grimes to get the tag. Corners are in short supply, and Atlanta's secondary already is iffy. Grimes is vital for them and another player the team wants to lock up long-term, according to a league source. The corner market is also thin, so Grimes would be a prized asset.
Panthers: Carolina will not be using the franchise tag, according to a team source. And frankly, there isn't a case to really be made for any of their free agents getting one.
Buccaneers: No real candidates here. Tampa extended some key players a year ago and will be looking to fill holes by pilfering other team's rosters.
Harrison: Righting the ship
49ers: A year ago, defensive backs Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson were value free agents, guys the 49ers were able to snap up relatively late and pretty cheaply. Both played a strong role in making the defense elite as the team went 13-3. The safety tag is significantly cheaper than the corner tag, however, at $6.2 million, so I suspect the 49ers go that route and work on keeping Rogers on a longer term coming off his Pro Bowl season.
Patriots:Wes Welker eventually will sign a two- or three-year deal, but in the meantime he will get franchised. The Patriots will not let him walk, league sources said, and the already highly driven Welker will be more motivated than ever coming off his Super Bowl drop. Tom Brady wants Welker around for a long time, and he likely will be in New England until his career ends.
Jets: With New York's defense taking a significant step back in 2011, the Jets can't afford any key defections. To that end, I'd be very surprised if nose tackle Sione Pouha is not tagged. He's a key run stuffer who can penetrate and given his age, going the one-year route makes a lot of sense for New York. They can tag him for about $8 million and if that leads to a longer-term deal, so be it.
Dolphins: Miami's only real candidate would be nose tackle Paul Soliai, but league sources said they do not anticipate that move. Soliai will be a hot commodity on the open market for 3-4 teams, but Miami franchised him a year ago and would have to pay him $15 million for another year. And with the Dolphins perhaps implementing more 4-3 elements under new coordinator Kevin Coyle, that's going to be a tough nut to swallow. The teams have not had any recent contract talks, league sources said.
Bills:Buffalo has exchanged proposals with receiver Stevie Johnson, and though there's nothing imminent, the Bills need all the weapons they can muster. And cap room isn't an issue. Johnson is very much a candidate for the tag if the long-term deal isn't worked out by the March 5 deadline to tag players.
Ravens:Ray Rice isn't going anywhere, and the Ravens are fully prepared to tag him, league sources said. If they do not at least engage in some serious discussions about a long-term deal, however, a league source said Rice is prepared to wait quite some time before signing or reporting. If Baltimore manages to get Rice signed in the coming weeks, then guard Ben Grubbs would be a candidate to get tagged, though Baltimore would have to juggle the cap and release some players to make the $9-million figure work.
Steelers: The Steelers, in a serious cap crunch, face a big-time dilemma here with Mike Wallace, a restricted free agent. If they merely put the first-round tender on him, other teams can present front-loaded offer sheets. But franchising him counts more than $9 million against the cap, and they lack that kind of wiggle room without making some possibly drastic changes. The Steelers worry specifically that top AFC rivals Baltimore and New England, both in need of a vertical receiver, might make a play for Wallace. The internal discussions continue as to how the Steelers handle this, but in the end I believe they protect this asset and find a way to franchise him.
Browns: The team has been in preliminary talks with linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, and they will franchise him if a deal isn't complete, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Both parties hope to get a long-term deal done. He became the anchor of a rapidly improving defense in 2011 with a monster year after injuries ravaged him in prior years.
Texans:Mario Williams has been a dominant player, but to franchise him would blow up the Texans cap. It's not going to happen with him coming off his injury, and the Texans aren't going to have a ton of cap space anyway. Finding a way to work out a new deal with him is a priority, however. The only question will be whether or not to tag restricted free agent Arian Foster. If they use the first-round tag, would a playoff team like New England or Cincinnati, without a prominent running back, make a run at Foster? That's the question the Texans, who have done a great job of keeping their talent and are never shy to spend money to win, are asking now.
Mayock: 2012 draft rankings
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Colts:Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis are getting up there, and with the Colts rebuilding around the first overall pick, it might not make sense to tag either player. League sources said the Colts have not indicated they will do so to either player yet, and both would like to see what the open market has in store. Mathis would likely be the top pass rusher available.
Broncos: Kicker Matt Prater has been among the very best at what he does, altitude or not, and the Broncos are strongly considering tagging him if need be, sources said. For as much as we talked about Tebow Time this season, without Prater's clutch long kicks many of those wins never would have happened.
Chargers: Reports out of San Diego indicated Vincent Jackson would not be franchised for a second time. But as we get closer to the franchise deadline, I have a feeling the $13.7-million figure for Jackson becomes more palatable. This team is under serious pressure to get back to the postseason or coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith are very likely to be out. It nearly happened a few months back. Losing Jackson would be a massive blow, and sources close to the player said they are bracing for the tag.
Chiefs: The Chiefs have two options in cornerback Brandon Carr and receiver Dwayne Bowe. The signing of free agent corner Stanford Routt is being read around the league as a strong indication Carr won't get the tag. A source close to Carr said he does not expect the Chiefs to use it at all, in fact, though the team is sitting on an abundance of cap space. The difference between the franchise tags is negligible, given the massive cap space Kansas City is sitting on (the corner tag is about $1.2 million higher than the receiver tag). The Chiefs badly need weapons on offense and some semblance of a vertical attack, but they may want to explore other options at what could be a deep position on the open market. At this point, it looks like Bowe, or no one at all.