For all the attention on the top talent that might be franchised before the March 5 deadline, a young interior defensive lineman who can muster a pass rush and a solid young tackle who can protect a QB's blind side are two commodities in very short supply. Buzz could be heard at the NFL Scouting Combine about how the increased number of tags would help second-tier free agents like Jones or Brown see better offers.
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Expect plenty of suitors for the 25-year-old Jones, who has seven forced fumbles and 15.5 sacks in four seasons out of Eastern Michigan. Tennessee is much more likely to use the franchise tag on cornerback Cortland Finnegan, if at all. Jones has ties to the Eagles and Rams, who could both use his services.
The Eagles just reworked Cullen Jenkins' deal, but he's older and has battled injury issues. They need to make the playoffs now or heads will roll, and Jones flourished when he played under Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn as a three-technique for the Titans. In Tennessee, Washburn worked under Jeff Fisher, who is entering his first season as Rams coach and needs bite on his defensive line. Gregg Williams, the Rams' new defensive coordinator, is well aware of Jones' prowess as well. And for a rebuilding team, his age is all the more attractive.
St. Louis and Philly won't be the only teams interested either. Maybe Jones gets upward of $9 million a year elsewhere, and there is always the possibility of a short-term deal. Jones could look to hit the market in 2014, with the cap skyrocketing and new TV money kicking in, and still be younger than much of the rest of the market.
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Brown hasn't been the player Arizona expected when it took him fifth overall in 2007. But he has played at a much higher level in recent years and if he hits the market as expected, Brown would be rated by many as the top tackle available. Arizona wants to keep him, but Brown is set to cost more than $17 million against the cap, with a base salary over $8 million. Talks to retain him haven't been fruitful to this point, according to a league source.
There are few other tackles available. Buffalo's Demetrius Bell will do well, but then the market dips to players like Jared Gaither and likely cap casualty Marcus McNeill. Given Brown's massive frame (6-foot-6, 324 pounds) and the fact that he is just 27, I foresee plenty of dollar signs in his future.
Other buzz from the combine
» Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, despite not being able to perform drills yet as he recovers from a broken foot, is clearly the third-best QB in this draft, and everyone I spoke to expects his stock to soar as he gets healthy. If he executes as expected at his March 29 pro day, I believe we will see three quarterbacks taken in the top 10-12 picks of the draft again this year. Tannehill played under Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman in college and even if the Fins land Peyton Manning, I spoke to some executives who believe they would still consider Tannehill. Come April, some team may want to leap Miami in the draft order just to be safe. You'll be hearing this kid's name a ton over the next two months.
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» One position that could be plenty deep in free agency, but not so much in the draft, is safety. If you need one, March -- not April -- is the time to snag him. Few of the college safeties project to make a quick impact, but several teams face difficult decisions at the position. The Raiders want to keep Tyvon Branch and are making an effort to re-sign him. But Oakland is having a hard time getting under the cap and is trying to figure out if safety Michael Huff, with a $4 million roster bonus due, will be back as well. The 49ers could franchise Dashon Goldson (if they don't, he'd be in demand), and if LaRon Landry is not franchised by Washington, sources said it's highly unlikely he would re-sign with the team. Michael Griffin has been up-and-down with the Titans, but he has potential. And with so many defenders to address, can Atlanta keep Thomas DeCoud?
» Continue to hear that Randy Moss will start visiting teams in early March. If he's in the kind of shape he claims, and the financial demands are reasonable, Moss could have multiple teams vying for his services.
» Look for most teams to apply franchise tags right at or near the March 5 deadline. Many teams are still in negotiations with those players and the exact cap totals for 2012 -- and the exact totals for each franchise tag -- may not be released until closer to that deadline. We could see a record number of players get franchised.