The NFL's deadline to franchise players has come and gone, and 21 teams took advantage of the tag. Drew Brees was the biggest fantasy name to be designated, along with Ray Rice and Matt Forte (to name a few). But the tale doesn't end there from a fantasy perspective. In fact, it's the players who weren't tagged that could end up having the biggest effect on positional rankings and draft value.
Here's a look at the most prominent fantasy players who weren't tagged ahead of the free-agent period:
Matt Flynn, QB, Packers: The Packers passed on placing the franchise tag on Flynn, who will now be one of the most coveted quarterbacks in free agency. The best landing spot from a fantasy perspective would be in Miami, where Flynn would be re-united with former offensive coordinator and new head coach Joe Philbin. However, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is reportedly enamored with Peyton Manning and could look to add the future Hall of Famer ahead of a signal-caller who has made two career starts. In that scenario, the Browns could pursue Flynn this offseason.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks: Lynch avoided the franchise tag and signed a four-year, $31 million contract to remain with the Seahawks. The fact that he'll remain a featured back is a positive, but I think Lynch has bust written all over him. He's coming off a career year -- and a contract year -- that saw him post at least one touchdown in a record 11 straight games. That's not likely to happen again. Lynch also has the feel of a player who won't be as motivated now that he's been paid. Maybe I'm wrong, but I wouldn't touch him in the first round of 2012 drafts.
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders: Instead of tagging Bush, the Raiders designated DB Tyvon Branch as their franchise player and will let the veteran runner enter the market. With $26 million guaranteed invested in Darren McFadden, Bush is a virtual lock to be wearing a new uniform in 2012. He would be a terrific fit in Cincinnati, where he'd replace Cedric Benson and be the lead back in a pseudo-committee with Bernard Scott. In that sort of scenario, Bush could be worth as much as a second- or third-round selection in seasonal fantasy leagues next season.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns: The Hillis saga has been an odd one. First he had a breakout 2010 season, then he went on the cover of Madden 2012 and was subsequently cursed in the stat sheets. Next came a rumor that he wanted to retire to join the CIA, which he later denied. Now that the Browns have franchised Phil Dawson, Hillis is free to talk to other teams once free agency starts. If the Browns lose out on the Robert Griffin III sweepstakes and instead land Trent Richardson in April's rookie draft, Hillis' time in Cleveland would be all but over.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Chargers: The Chargers passed on franchising Jackson, a move that would have cost them almost $14 million. The 29-year old will now be the hottest wide receiver on the market, as teams like the 49ers, Bears, Buccaneers, Panthers, Redskins and Vikings will all have some interest in his services. I'd prefer to see him remain in San Diego, if for no other reason than he already has a great rapport with Philip Rivers. But if he goes after the big-time dollars, Jackson's best landing spot could be with Jay Cutler in the Windy City.
Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers: Wallace didn't receive the franchise tag, but he was extended a first-round tender. That gives the Steelers the chance to match any offer and receive a first rounder if the talented wide receiver leaves as a free agent. From a fantasy perspective, the best place for Wallace to land is New England. Imagine the kind of numbers he could post as the main vertical threat in an offense led by Tom Brady? There is also the chance that he remains in Pittsburgh, though reports suggest the team's cap situation will be a real limitation.
Marques Colston, WR, Saints: The Saints franchised Drew Brees, leaving Colston and OG Carl Nicks to become free agents. It will be tough to retain both players based on the potential contracts involved, so don't be shocked if Colston is wearing a new uniform in 2012. While any change in location would hurt his fantasy appeal -- you can't do much better than having Brees under center -- teams like the 49ers, Bears, Redskins and Vikings are all potential suitors. As for Nicks, I expect the Cowboys to make a major run for the talented offensive lineman this offseason.
Stevie Johnson, WR, Bills: Much like Lynch, Johnson avoided the franchise tag by signing a contract with his current team -- the Bills inked him to a five-year, $36.25 million deal with $19.5 million in guaranteed money. The move keeps Johnson in Buffalo throughout his prime seasons and into his early 30s. With no real alternative options in the team's current offense, the Kentucky product will continue to see plenty of targets in the pass attack from the newly-shorn Ryan Fitzpatrick. He'll be worth a middle-round look as a No. 2 fantasy wideout in most 2012 drafts.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Rams: The Rams passed on placing the franchise tag on Lloyd, who could turn into a nice option if the right team comes to the forefront to sign him. To me, that team is the Patriots. Lloyd had the best statistical season of his career in Denver under Josh McDaniels, who now happens to be back as the offensive coordinator in New England. I also think landing Lloyd is more realistic for the P-Men than Wallace, who will have more suitors and cost a first-round pick. If Lloyd does end up with the Patriots, he could be a middle-round steal in drafts.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Colts: Garcon reportedly turned down a five-year, $35 million deal to remain with the Colts and will now hit the open market after the team franchised (and signed) DL Robert Mathis. With Reggie Wayne a long shot to return -- I expect him to follow Peyton Manning -- Garcon would have a No. 1 role all but locked up in Indianapolis. However, it's tough to see a team offering him much more than Steve Johnson received from the Bills. In the scenario that he sticks with the Colts and is the top option for Andrew Luck, Garcon would be a No. 3 fantasy wideout.