As we approach free agency in just a few short weeks, we’ll start to see more and more players get franchise tagged. The beauty of modern day free agency is that while the allure of an open market is exciting for players looking to get a new contract, teams can protect themselves by strapping a key player into a position where they have to accept a 1 year deal (at a very nice compensation) or give up the negotiating leverage of a wide open market. In that sense, you’re much better off being the second best free agent on a roster as oppose to the best. With that said, here is where each team stands with the possibility of using the franchise tag in 2015:
Arizona Cardinals: none
The Cardinals have limited cap space at just over $5 million and no free agent that is really worth giving up that kind of money to secure. The most significant free agent they have is Antonio Cromartie, but offering him a 1 year deal worth around $13 million (which is approximately what a tagged cornerback would get) seems crazy.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Bryant, K
The Falcons have a nice amount of cap space but there’s not much they categorically have to retain in free agency. Matt Bryant is 39 so if the Falcons can’t agree to a deal prior to free agency hitting, tagging him as protection could make sense. After all, do they really want that much more than a 1 year commitment in a guy that’s about to turn 40? Bryant has been incredibly steady and reliable for Atlanta. The one year figure for a kicker is a manageable ~$4 million, which Bryant is probably worth to them right now to ensure he stays. The ideal scenario is that they sign him to a deal before free agency hits, but a tag could happen otherwise.
Baltimore Ravens: Pernell McPhee, OLB
The Ravens have just under $6 million in cap space so a franchise tag isn’t ideal. The Ravens do have Pernell McPhee, Torrey Smith and Justin Forsett as three players they definitely want to keep, but McPhee is the only one with any shot at being franchised. Still, is McPhee worth a 1 year deal for ~$13 million?
Buffalo Bills: Jerry Hughes, DE
Hughes will make big money if he hits the open market. The Bills want to keep him and they have cap space, so this seems fairly likely to be a tag situation.
Carolina Panthers: none
No way they use it on Greg Hardy again with his limbo status.
Chicago Bears: Stephen Paea, DT
Paea is a possibility and the Bears have cap space. But is he really worth that much for one year? This seems unlikely but not impossible.
Cincinnati Bengals: none
They’ll have lots of cap space to spend on in free agency but there’s no need to franchise tag anyone in their relatively weak free agent class.
Cleveland Browns: none
Brian Hoyer, Jordan Cameron and Jabaal Sheard are notable free agents but none are worthy of the franchise tag.
Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant, WR and DeMarco Murray, RB
The Cowboys have a ton of exiting talent and probably not enough cap space to keep everybody. It’s almost assured they will use the franchise tag on Bryant unless they can get him signed to an extension before free agency. Murray is less likely to be tagged because of Bryant’s current status, but you can’t rule out that possibility either.
Denver Broncos: Demaryius Thomas, WR, Julius Thomas, TE and Terrance Knighton, DT
The Broncos are almost certain to use the franchise tag on someone as well. Like the Cowboys they have loads of very talented players to retain. Wes Welker, who is not viewed as a tag possibility, is another. Demaryius Thomas seems like the most likely candidate which would expose the other players listed to free agency. Depending on how things go this could be a very bad offseason in Denver with a looming decision from Peyton Manning.
Detroit Lions: Ndamukong Suh, DT
If they use it it will definitely be on Suh. If they don’t, he will very likely get the biggest free agent contract of this class.
Green Bay Packers: Randall Cobb, WR and Bryan Bulaga, T
It seems more likely the Packers would tag Cobb than Bulaga, but either is possible. The Packers don’t like to overpend on players but they don’t want to lose either of these guys.
Houston Texans: none
Kareem Jackson is the only player that’s even remotely possible but the Texans won’t tag him.
Indianapolis Colts: none
The Colts could be big spenders in free agency but not on their own free agents.
Jacksonville Jaguars: none
The Jaguars have very little to retain and the most cap space in the NFL. How they go about their offseason should be interesting.
Kansas City Chiefs: Justin Houston, OLB and Rodney Hudson, C
It’s practically a given that Houston will be tagged. If he signs a deal before free agency, though, Hudson is a must keep too.
Miami Dolphins: Jared Odrick, DT
The Dolphins don’t have much cap space and I don’t see this one happening but Odrick is an important player they’d like to keep.
Minnesota Vikings: none
Limited free agent class with not much relative talent.
New England Patriots: Devin McCourty, FS and Stephen Gostkowski, K
The only thing that would prevent a tag to one of these two players is a cap situation. The Patriots are currently $2 million over the cap. Would they really allow both of these guys to test the market, though?
New Orleans Saints: none
The Saints have some work to do to get under the cap (currently $20 million over) and their best free agent is Mark Ingram. They used up their tag credits on Jimmy Graham and Drew Brees so that won’t be happening this year.
New York Jets: none
The Jets have so much cap space maybe they will just tag someone for fun? David Harris maybe. Otherwise, this doesn’t seem necessary.
New York Giants: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE
No one is really sure if the Giants will tag Pierre-Paul or not. We’ll find out soon enough. He was disappointing for a couple of seasons before getting back to career form in his contract year.
Oakland Raiders: Stefen Wisniewski, C
The Raiders have tons of cap money so this makes sense. Centers are aggregated with tackles and guards for the terms of a 1 year franchise tender, though, so that’s a possible sticking point. Do you want to overpay for a center lumped in with tackles in terms of price? The Raiders could, though, because they don’t want to lose Wisniewski and they have the financial flexibility.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Jason Worilds, OLB
The Steelers surprised many by transition tagging Worilds last year. Tagging him again would increase his value by 20%, making it less likely. He did show improvement as a full time starter, though, so it’s possible.
Philadelphia Eagles: Jeremy Maclin, WR
Maclin is ready to make big bucks, be it with the Eagles or someone else.
San Diego Chargers: Brandon Flowers, CB and King Dunlap, T
That’s a lot of money to be spending on Flowers but good cover corners are hard to come by.
San Francisco 49ers: Mike Iupati, G
If he hits the market he’s probably the best offensive lineman out there and he’ll get a really nice deal. The 49ers likely don’t have the cap space to tag him.
Seattle Seahawks: Byron Maxwell, CB
This seems like a real long shot and I expect Maxwell to leave Seattle on a massive contract somewhere.
St. Louis Rams: none
Even if there was a player worth tagging in St. Louis the Rams are not in a financial position to do so.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: none
The Bucs have some guys they’ll want to retain but no one worthy of the tag.
Tennessee Titans: Derrick Morgan, OLB and Brett Kern, P
The Titans have plenty of money so this move could easily happen with either guy. Morgan is mostly likely.
Washington Redskins: Brian Orakpo, DE
This one is a long shot in my opinion. Orakpo should be allowed to test the market and someone may greatly overpay for him.