10-Pack: NFL players who might, or might not, wear franchise tag

On Thursday, the window for application of the franchise tag slid open. In two weeks, it’ll slam shut. In the interim, teams have the ability to apply the franchise tag to one player who otherwise would be an unrestricted free agent.

So let’s take a look at 10 players who might, or might not, end up wearing the franchise tag at some point between now and Feb. 25.

1. Julius Peppers, Panthers defensive end

The Panthers haven’t spoken to Peppers about signing a long-term deal, but they don’t need to do so if they plan to use the franchise tag on him for a second straight season.

Vince Wilfork, who has only played for the Patriots, was drafted in the first round in 2004.
Vince Wilfork, who has only played for the Patriots, was drafted in the first round in 2004.

As I wrote last night at PFT, the Panthers currently do not plan to do so. Even in an uncapped year, $21.8 million for 16 regular-season games is a price too high to pay for a player who isn’t, hasn’t been, and will never be as good as Reggie White.

Even the transition tag isn’t a viable option for Peppers, since in Peppers’ case the Panthers would still be required to give him a one-year, $21.8 million contract, the value of which would become fully guaranteed the moment Julius puts his John Hancock at the bottom of the page.

2. Vince Wilfork, Patriots defensive tackle

In 2004, Wilfork signed a six-year rookie contract with the Patriots. Now, the contract has expired and Wilfork doesn’t want the team to use the franchise tag to keep him from hitting the open market.

What he wants and what he gets could be two very different things. Indeed, teams have the right to use the franchise tag, and few of the players who ever have been on the wrong side of the restriction ever regarded it as something desirable to have. Though it pays a player handsomely for one season, it keeps him from striking it rich via a long-term deal with an eight-figure signing bonus.

In Wilfork’s case, it’s possible a long-term deal will be reached before the last day for using the tag. If it isn’t, Wilfork can huff and puff all he wants, but he won’t be able to keep the team from doing that which the current labor deal allows it to do.

3. Casey Hampton, Steelers nose tackle

Another guy who wants no part of the franchise tag is Hampton, a nine-year veteran who has nearly eaten his way out of the league on multiple occasions.

But he’s a rare commodity — a large man (6-1, 325) who’s also strong and athletic, and he fills an important role in a 3-4 defense.

For that very reason, the Steelers can’t afford to lose him, even if it means using the franchise tag to keep him in place, against his wishes.

4. Aubrayo Franklin, 49ers nose tackle

Though not as well known as Wilfork or Hampton, Franklin has been every bit as effective lately, and he arguably would be the most hotly pursued of the trio if they each were to hit the open market.

But Franklin won’t. And Franklin has yet to complain about the $7 million one-year salary that goes along with it.

Though it remains to be seen whether the 49ers will ink Franklin to a long-term deal, Franklin apparently will be a member of the team, at least for 2010.

5. Chester Taylor, Vikings running back

Adrian Peterson remains the top tailback in Minnesota, but Chester Taylor more than capably handles third-down duties. He also provides a nice change of pace, especially when Peterson is working through his periodic problems with securing the ball.

But the Vikings need to ask themselves whether it makes sense to pay Taylor more than $8 million for one season when they could draft a guy in the middle rounds who might be able to move the chains.

Then there’s the possibility of using Percy Harvin in the backfield, or finding on the open market a more affordable alternative.

But Taylor remains the best option, and the question is whether the Vikings are willing to pay him accordingly.

6. Shayne Graham, Bengals kicker

The notoriously cheap Bengals could have used the franchise tag in 2009 on Graham, a kicker, or on T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a receiver.

Not surprisingly, they picked the kicker, who received millions less under the one-year franchise tender.

Now, the Bengals have to decide in the wake of Graham’s rough day in the wild-card round against the Jets whether to give him a 20-percent raise under the franchise tag, sign him to a long-term deal, or let him walk.

Given that their decision to dump five-year punter Kyle Larson for fifth-round draft pick Kevin Huber worked out fairly well, don’t be surprised if the Bengals decide to find a much cheaper alternative at an equally fungible position.

7. Karlos Dansby, Cardinals linebacker

The Cardinals like Dansby. They liked him enough in 2008 to use the franchise tag to keep him with the team. They liked him enough in 2009 to use it again. But they probably don’t like him enough to use it a third time.

Under the labor agreement between the NFL and the players union, the third time for the franchise tag is a major charm for the player. The tender increases from the average salary paid in the prior year to the five highest-paid players at the same position to the average salary paid in the prior year to the five highest-paid players in the entire league.

The Cardinals won’t pay Dansby like a quarterback. So either they’ll do a long-term deal with him, or he’ll hit the open market in the uncapped year.

Most likely, it’ll be the latter.

8. Dunta Robinson, Texans cornerback

Robinson wasn’t thrilled with the team’s decision to use the franchise tag on him in 2009, and he likely won’t be happy if he’s tagged for a second straight season.

But the Texans didn’t waver last season, and they likely won’t budge this year.

He voiced his displeasure in 2009 by writing "pay me, Rick" on his cleats, a message to general manager Rick Smith. The team undoubtedly will be paying him again, but not nearly as much as he’d like to receive.

9. Darren Sproles, Chargers running back

With LaDainian Tomlinson all but gone, the Chargers need to keep Sproles around. The question is whether the Chargers want to pay Sproles a year at a time, or whether they’re willing to give him a long-term deal.

If they choose to stick Sproles with a second franchise tag, they’ll face the same problem in 2011 that the Cardinals face now — if there’s a new CBA in 2011 and if it contains the same provision requiring the player to receive quarterback money in year three.

Still, the Chargers can’t let Sproles walk away. Whether he’ll be operating under a one-year arrangement or something more, he’ll be a Charger in 2010.

10. Bo Scaife, Titans tight end

The Titans paid Scaife $4.462 million last year under the franchise tag. It would cost $5.35 million to use it again.

That’s a lot to pay for a guy who caught 45 passes for 440 yards and one touchdown.

With Jared Cook on the roster, it’s likely the Titans will opt not to pay the money. Indeed, Scaife signed his 2009 franchise tender only days after Cook was drafted.

So it would be a surprise if the Titans use it again.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

On Thursday, the window for application of the franchise tag slid open. In two weeks, it’ll slam shut. In the interim, teams have the ability to apply the franchise tag to one player who otherwise would be an unrestricted free agent.

So let’s take a look at 10 players who might, or might not, end up wearing the franchise tag at some point between now and Feb. 25.

1. Julius Peppers, Panthers defensive end

The Panthers haven’t spoken to Peppers about signing a long-term deal, but they don’t need to do so if they plan to use the franchise tag on him for a second straight season.

Vince Wilfork, who has only played for the Patriots, was drafted in the first round in 2004.
Vince Wilfork, who has only played for the Patriots, was drafted in the first round in 2004.

As I wrote last night at PFT, the Panthers currently do not plan to do so. Even in an uncapped year, $21.8 million for 16 regular-season games is a price too high to pay for a player who isn’t, hasn’t been, and will never be as good as Reggie White.

Even the transition tag isn’t a viable option for Peppers, since in Peppers’ case the Panthers would still be required to give him a one-year, $21.8 million contract, the value of which would become fully guaranteed the moment Julius puts his John Hancock at the bottom of the page.

2. Vince Wilfork, Patriots defensive tackle

In 2004, Wilfork signed a six-year rookie contract with the Patriots. Now, the contract has expired and Wilfork doesn’t want the team to use the franchise tag to keep him from hitting the open market.

What he wants and what he gets could be two very different things. Indeed, teams have the right to use the franchise tag, and few of the players who ever have been on the wrong side of the restriction ever regarded it as something desirable to have. Though it pays a player handsomely for one season, it keeps him from striking it rich via a long-term deal with an eight-figure signing bonus.

In Wilfork’s case, it’s possible a long-term deal will be reached before the last day for using the tag. If it isn’t, Wilfork can huff and puff all he wants, but he won’t be able to keep the team from doing that which the current labor deal allows it to do.

3. Casey Hampton, Steelers nose tackle

Another guy who wants no part of the franchise tag is Hampton, a nine-year veteran who has nearly eaten his way out of the league on multiple occasions.

But he’s a rare commodity — a large man (6-1, 325) who’s also strong and athletic, and he fills an important role in a 3-4 defense.

For that very reason, the Steelers can’t afford to lose him, even if it means using the franchise tag to keep him in place, against his wishes.

4. Aubrayo Franklin, 49ers nose tackle

Though not as well known as Wilfork or Hampton, Franklin has been every bit as effective lately, and he arguably would be the most hotly pursued of the trio if they each were to hit the open market.

But Franklin won’t. And Franklin has yet to complain about the $7 million one-year salary that goes along with it.

Though it remains to be seen whether the 49ers will ink Franklin to a long-term deal, Franklin apparently will be a member of the team, at least for 2010.

5. Chester Taylor, Vikings running back

Adrian Peterson remains the top tailback in Minnesota, but Chester Taylor more than capably handles third-down duties. He also provides a nice change of pace, especially when Peterson is working through his periodic problems with securing the ball.

But the Vikings need to ask themselves whether it makes sense to pay Taylor more than $8 million for one season when they could draft a guy in the middle rounds who might be able to move the chains.

Then there’s the possibility of using Percy Harvin in the backfield, or finding on the open market a more affordable alternative.

But Taylor remains the best option, and the question is whether the Vikings are willing to pay him accordingly.

6. Shayne Graham, Bengals kicker

The notoriously cheap Bengals could have used the franchise tag in 2009 on Graham, a kicker, or on T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a receiver.

Not surprisingly, they picked the kicker, who received millions less under the one-year franchise tender.

Now, the Bengals have to decide in the wake of Graham’s rough day in the wild-card round against the Jets whether to give him a 20-percent raise under the franchise tag, sign him to a long-term deal, or let him walk.

Given that their decision to dump five-year punter Kyle Larson for fifth-round draft pick Kevin Huber worked out fairly well, don’t be surprised if the Bengals decide to find a much cheaper alternative at an equally fungible position.

7. Karlos Dansby, Cardinals linebacker

The Cardinals like Dansby. They liked him enough in 2008 to use the franchise tag to keep him with the team. They liked him enough in 2009 to use it again. But they probably don’t like him enough to use it a third time.

Under the labor agreement between the NFL and the players union, the third time for the franchise tag is a major charm for the player. The tender increases from the average salary paid in the prior year to the five highest-paid players at the same position to the average salary paid in the prior year to the five highest-paid players in the entire league.

The Cardinals won’t pay Dansby like a quarterback. So either they’ll do a long-term deal with him, or he’ll hit the open market in the uncapped year.

Most likely, it’ll be the latter.

8. Dunta Robinson, Texans cornerback

Robinson wasn’t thrilled with the team’s decision to use the franchise tag on him in 2009, and he likely won’t be happy if he’s tagged for a second straight season.

But the Texans didn’t waver last season, and they likely won’t budge this year.

He voiced his displeasure in 2009 by writing "pay me, Rick" on his cleats, a message to general manager Rick Smith. The team undoubtedly will be paying him again, but not nearly as much as he’d like to receive.

9. Darren Sproles, Chargers running back

With LaDainian Tomlinson all but gone, the Chargers need to keep Sproles around. The question is whether the Chargers want to pay Sproles a year at a time, or whether they’re willing to give him a long-term deal.

If they choose to stick Sproles with a second franchise tag, they’ll face the same problem in 2011 that the Cardinals face now — if there’s a new CBA in 2011 and if it contains the same provision requiring the player to receive quarterback money in year three.

Still, the Chargers can’t let Sproles walk away. Whether he’ll be operating under a one-year arrangement or something more, he’ll be a Charger in 2010.

10. Bo Scaife, Titans tight end

The Titans paid Scaife $4.462 million last year under the franchise tag. It would cost $5.35 million to use it again.

That’s a lot to pay for a guy who caught 45 passes for 440 yards and one touchdown.

With Jared Cook on the roster, it’s likely the Titans will opt not to pay the money. Indeed, Scaife signed his 2009 franchise tender only days after Cook was drafted.

So it would be a surprise if the Titans use it again.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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