Starting on Monday, NFL teams will be able to start marking their territory on impending free agents by using the franchise tag to prevent a particular key player from becoming available on the open market when free agency arrives on March 12. Here's a look at 10 players who could be tagged.
1. Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco: This is an obvious one. And likely an inevitable one, because it doesn't appear as though a long-term deal is imminent and the Ravens can't and won't let their Super Bowl MVP quarterback walk.
2. Cincinnati Bengals OT Andre Smith: The former top-10 pick has finally come into his own as a dominant right tackle. The Bengals can't let him leave after all they've been through with him.
3. Denver Broncos OT Ryan Clady: It seems like they've been talking contract forever, but they may need extra time. Peyton Manning would lose it if they let his stud blind-side protector walk.
4. Buffalo Bills S Jairus Byrd: Byrd was one of the best safeties in the league this past season, especially in coverage. The Bills would be taking a major step backward if they were to let him get away. He'd also be cheaper to tag than guard Andy Levitre.
5. Chicago Bears DT Henry Melton: Melton's breakout year coincided with his contract year in Chicago, and now he'll be a hot commodity if he hits the open market.
6. St. Louis Rams WR Danny Amendola: This is a debatable one, but I don't think the Rams are willing to let Amendola walk after a breakout season.
7. Kansas City Chiefs OT Branden Albert: Kansas City is probably going to have to use the tag on either Albert or Dwayne Bowe, who was tagged last year. It's a new coaching staff this year, though, and I think they'll lean toward the player at the more important position (tackle).
8. Minnesota Vikings OT Phil Loadholt: I'm more sure about left tackles like Clady and Albert than I am about right tackles like Smith and Loadholt, because left tackles are more valuable but the tag price is the same. That said, Loadholt is too good of a run blocker for Minnesota to mess around.
9. San Francisco 49ers S Dashon Goldson: Goldson really doesn't want to get tagged again, but at least it'll mean a raise. I think that if the Niners were willing to tag him last year, they will again this year.
10. Indianapolis Colts P Pat McAfee: Good punters and kickers get tagged like crazy because of the low cost. If they can't get something ironed out between now and early March, there's no reason Indy won't tag its top-of-the-line punter.
Other tag possibilities include Michael Bennett, Fred Davis, Martellus Bennett, Will Beatty, Louis Vasquez, Sebastian Vollmer, Wes Welker, Reggie Bush, Dwight Freeney, Dwayne Bowe, Andy Levitre, Gosder Cherilus, Anthony Spencer, Dwan Edwards, Brent Grimes, William Moore, Rob Bironas and Shane Lechler.