Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Tag you're it

By John McMullen

Philadelphia, PA - Monday's deadline to use the franchise or transition tags on impending veteran NFL free agents resulted in four additions to a list which already included Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd, Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson, Denver left tackle Ryan Clady and Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee.

Miami decided to go all in on defensive tackle Randy Starks, while the Chicago
Bears locked in fellow interior presence Henry Melton. The Dallas Cowboys
limited Anthony Spencer's options for a second straight year, and Kansas City
made the most noise of the day, re-signing possible franchise targets Dwayne
Bowe and Dustin Colquitt, before placing the tag on offensive lineman Branden
Albert.

Under the franchise designation, players will earn the average of the top-five
players at his position in 2013 or 120 percent of his salary from 2012,
whichever is greater. They can all still work out long-term deals, however.
The transition tag, which guarantees the average of the top-10 players at any
position, wasn't used by anyone this time around.

As usual, though, the more interesting aspect of the deadline ended up being
who didn't get tagged, repercussions that gave a little insight in to what
certain teams are thinking as free agency gets set to begin on March 12.

When Miami tagged Starks, it meant that cornerback Sean Smith and left tackle
Jake Long, a former No. 1 overall pick, will likely hit the open market.

Smith seems to be far more highly regarded outside the Miami organization and
it's almost a fait accompli he'll be filing a change of address form by mid-
March. Long, meanwhile, was once regarded as one of the premier players at one
of the game's most important positions, but injury concerns and another
potential huge outlay have the Dolphins contemplating life after Long.

After breaking the bank to re-sign quarterback Joe Flacco, the Super Bowl
champion Baltimore Ravens gave fellow 3-4 defensive teams around the league
reason to lick their chops by passing on the ability to tag pass rushing
outside linebacker Paul Kruger, as well as inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbee,
two big keys in their championship run. Both players are just 27 and the kind
of ascending talent teams will throw big money at in free agency.

The NFC champion San Francisco 49ers decided to let Dashon Goldson hear from
other suitors and while Jim Harbaugh almost certainly wants his Pro Bowl
safety back in the Bay Area, Goldson should command a huge payday, cause for
concern for a player whose greatest attribute is run support, not coverage.

The same mentality evidently infiltrated Atlanta, Houston and North Jersey
where the he Falcons decided to take their chances with the thumping William
Moore, and the Texans let Glover Quin measure his worth. The Giants,
meanwhile, voted against locking up Kenny Phillips.

Clearly, there is a dearth of coverage safeties around the NFL but giving up on
difference makers because they aren't as well-rounded as clubs might like is
probably not the prudent decision moving forward.

The tagging rules actually helped Dallas keep Spencer but hindered Minnesota's
efforts to hang onto right tackle Phil Loadholt as well as Pro bowl fullback
Jerome Felton.

The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Spencer for the second straight year,
guaranteeing him the going rate for an elite outside linebacker even though
new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who is switching the 'Boys from a 3-4
to a 4-3 defensive alignment, has the pass-rushing threat penciled in at
defensive end, a higher-paying position.

The Vikings, meanwhile, couldn't tag important pieces like Loadholt and Felton
because the NFL doesn't differentiate between left and right tackles or
fullbacks and running backs. Guaranteeing Clady-like money for a right tackle
like Loadholt is just not financially viable, and giving running back money to
a lead-isolation option at fullback, even the NFL's best like Felton, is a
non-starter.

The New England Patriots didn't use the franchise tag on any of their
potential free agents, but rumors persist they are close to a deal with slot
receiver Wes Welker. Offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and cornerback Aqib
Talib, however, remain very attractive options for outsiders.

Detroit, which has the No. 5 overall pick in April's NFL draft, decided
against franchising Cliff Avril for a second straight year, something that
would have cost the franchise $12.726 million. Letting Avril walk in the
coming days could signal the Lions are high on at least one of the pass-
rushing options available in the draft, perhaps Georgia star Jarvis Jones or
Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner.

Other players franchised in 2012 who were not tagged again were Atlanta
cornerback Brent Grimes, Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent, Cleveland kicker Phil
Dawson and Washington Redskins tight end Fred Davis. Grimes, Nugent and Davis,
finished the 2012 season on the sidelines, so injuries were a concern.

In Kansas City, the new brain trust of Andy Reid and general manager John
Dorsey was the big winner, locking up one of the best punters in the game --
Colquitt -- before bringing back a top-tier receiving threat -- Bowe -- for new
quarterback Alex Smith.

Those signings also enabled the Chiefs to tag Albert and explore their options
on draft day. Kansas City, which currently has the No. 1 overall pick, could
select Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel and slide Albert inside or snare the
best available defender to pair with solid pass rushers like Tamba Hali and
Justin Houston.
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