The NFL was deep into its annual game of tag Friday, with indications it could be a more active game than ever before.
With the deadline for teams to apply the franchise tag to potential free agents fast approaching, several NFL players were "tagged" on Friday, including running back Ray Rice of Baltimore, cornerback Brent Grimes of Atlanta and safety Tyvon Branch of Oakland.
The Eagles on Thursday used the franchise tag on wide receiver DeSean Jackson, with estimates around the league that as many as 25 teams could use the tag this season.
The franchise tag must be applied by Monday at 4:01 p.m. EST.
One reason the tag is being used more this season is the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Under the old CBA, the tag was based on the average salaries of the five highest-paid players at the free agent's position.
Now, it's determined by a formula based on franchise tags for the previous five years. The result is franchise tags are lower, with NFL.com reporting the following figures:
*Quarterback, $14.4 million ($16.1 million in 2011); running back, $7.7 million ($9.6 million in 2011); wide receiver, $9.4 million ($11.4 million in 2011); tight end, $5.4 million ($7.3 million in 2011); offensive line, $9.4 million ($10.1 million in 2011); defensive end, $10.6 million ($13 million in 2011); defensive tackle, $7.9 million ($12.5 million in 2011); linebacker, $8.8 million ($10.1 million in 2011); cornerback, $10.6 million ($13.5 million in 2011); safety, $6.2 million ($8.8 million in 2011); kicker, $2.6 million ($3.2 million in 2011).
Teams can apply one of two "franchise" tags. The first, which is rarely used, is the "non-exclusive" tag, which allows players to test free agency. That tag also requires the signing team give up two first-round draft selections and allows the player's original team to match any offer to the free agent, so players given this tag rarely sign elsewhere.
The other franchise tag is the "exclusive" tag, which carries a higher one-year salary for the franchised player, but prevents the player from testing free agency. The above figures apply to "non-exclusive" free agents.
We'll get into what teams are expected to do in free agency next week, and as the March 13 beginning of free agency draws closer. For today, we'll stick to "tag" news, particularly at the Jaguars' perceived three biggest areas of need – wide receiver, defensive end and cornerback.
A look at the state of the tag around the NFL entering the weekend:
Houston: Has yet to use the tag, though reports are the Texans are considering using it on RB Arian Foster. They are not expected to franchise DE Mario Williams, who is expected to be perhaps the highest-paid player in free agency if he is not re-signed. His tag number would be nearly $22 million, and though both the Texans and Williams have expressed a desire for a long-term deal, the general belief around the NFL is he will become a free agent.
Indianapolis:Has not yet used the tag, though it has been reported the team is close to a re-signing DE Robert Mathis. It appears likely WR Pierre Garcon and WR Reggie Wayne will become free agents.
Jacksonville:Reports indicate the team could tag K Josh Scobee.
Tennessee:Unlikely to use tag. There were conflicting reports early Friday about using the tag on CB Cortland Finnegan, but Paul Kuharsky of espn.com and many others reported by early afternoon that the team wasn't planning to tag Finnegan and that he will become a free agent.
Buffalo:May franchise WR Stevie Johnson. Bills GM Buddy Nix told Bills flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550 this week the team will wait until Monday to make the decision, and that he still hopes a long-term deal can be reached.
Miami:Unlikely to use tag. G Paul Soliai was franchised last season and the team isn't expected to tag him again.
New England:Will franchise WR Wes Welker, according to various reports.
New York Jets:**Unlikely to use tag.
Baltimore:The Ravens on Friday tagged on RB Ray Rice, and released WR Lee Evans and CB Chris Carr. They also reportedly planned to release CB Dominique Foxworth.
Cincinnati:The Bengals have yet to use the tag, though speculation is they could use it on DT Pat Sims.
Cleveland:Has yet to use the tag, but could use it on K Phil Dawson. There was a possibility of using it on LB D'Qwell Jackson until he signed a long-term deal this week.
Pittsburgh:Unlikely to use tag. The Steelers have been releasing players throughout the week to clear cap space, and while there was speculation about using the tag on WR Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh reportedly will extend him a first-round tender. That means to acquire Wallace a team would have to give the Steelers a first-round selection in 2011 and sign Wallace to a front-loaded contract that would be difficult for the cap-challenged Steelers to match.
Denver:The Broncos are expected to tag K Matt Prather if the sides can't agree to a deal by Monday.
Kansas City:The Chiefs have yet to use the tag, but will reportedly use it on WR Dwayne Bowe.
Oakland: Will use the tag on S Tyvon Branch. That means free agent RB Michael Bush likely will sign elsewhere.
San Diego:The Chargers have yet to use the tag, and speculation remains about what they will do with WR Vincent Jackson. They still have the option of the tag, which for Jackson would cost the Chargers $13.7 million because he was also franchised last season. Many around the league believe San Diego will try to re-sign Jackson in free agency, and that he will be the most-pursued player at the position.
*Atlanta: *Placed franchise tag on CB Brent Grimes Friday. Also among the Falcons' free agents are WR Harry Douglas and QB Chris Redman, names to keep in mind considering Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey spent the last four seasons as the Falcons' offensive coordinator.
Carolina: Not expected to use tag.
New Orleans:Likely will franchise QB Drew Brees. The Saints and Brees reportedly are far apart on the first three years of Brees' contract. That means they likely will use the franchise tag on Brees by Monday, according to reports. That means the Saints likely will not have the franchise tag for WR Marques Colston and G Carl Nicks, making it increasingly likely Colston will be a free agent.
Tampa Bay:Could franchise K Connor Barth, according to media reports.
Dallas:Has yet to use tag, though reports are it may be used on LB Anthony Spencer.
New York Giants:Have not used tag, and there are no significant reports they plan to do so. WR Mario Manningham is expected to become a free agent, and CB Terrell Thomas is reportedly close to a deal to re-sign.
Philadelphia:Franchised WR DeSean Jackson, and although the Eagles have the option of trading him, Jeff McLane of Phlly.com reported Friday that is unlikely.
Washington:Has yet to use the tag, though the Washington Post reported Friday they are expected to use it on TE Fred Davis. That means LB London Fletcher and/or S Laron Landry could become free agents.
Chicago:The Bears have yet to use the tag, but reportedly are considering using it on RB Matt Forte.
Detroit:The Lions have yet to use the tag, but reports late this week say they would use it on DE Cliff Avril if the sides don't agree to a long-term deal.
Green Bay:The Packers have not yet used the tag, and reports vary on whether they plan to use it on QB Matt Flynn.
Minnesota: Not expected to use the tag.
Arizona: Likely will use the tag on DE Calais Campbell, according to reports.
San Francisco:Franchised S Dashon Golston on Friday.
Seattle:Likely to use the tag on RB Marshawn Lynch, according to reports.
St. Louis:The Rams are not expected to use the tag, but according to reports Friday, they are talking to WR Brandon Lloyd about a possible long-term extension.