Before the full frenzy of free agency hits, every NFL team has an important decision to make about the franchise tag.
Each team will need to decide by 4 p.m. on March 1 whether to use the tag on one of its impending free agents. Whether the exclusive tag (player cannot negotiate with other teams) or non-exclusive tag (other teams must provide two first-round draft picks if they sign the player) is employed, the method can serve as protection while a long-term deal is worked out. But teams can also elect to use it as a costly one-year solution on one of their own.
Here's a look at the NFL players most likely to receive the franchise tag in some form in the coming weeks:
1. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos: Dream on, fans and front-office types. The Super Bowl MVP almost assuredly won't be hitting the open market. If the Broncos don't strike a long-term deal with Miller by the end of February, they'll likely turn to the franchise tag as a stopgap solution. Whenever he does sign a long-term deal, Miller's contract should make him one of the highest-paid defensive players in the NFL.
2. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets: Wilkerson has 28.5 sacks in the last three years and is one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. Now the Jets face their critical moment with him after being unable to reach an extension in the last year. Wilkerson, 26, looks to be a piece integral to Todd Bowles' defense. But if the Jets are unwilling to commit, using the franchise tag could at least ensure they won't walk away empty-handed.
3. Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers: Norman had impeccable timing with a breakout season in his contract year. With an emphasis on continuity and few concerns elsewhere in free agency, Carolina surely will look to care of its star cornerback. General manager Dave Gettleman hasn't tipped his hand on his plans for Norman but has said he's "not afraid" of using the franchise tag on players.
4. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears: The passing game should be boosted by Kevin White's debut after a rookie season lost to injury, but Chicago can't afford to scrape by with Marquess Wilson and Eddie Royal as its only other options at receiver. Jeffery's injury history is concerning, and having him play out a season on the tag would be a pricey hit. But losing a player with both impressive production and potential would make for an ugly investment strategy.
5. Cordy Glenn, OT, Buffalo Bills: At just 26, Glenn could spark serious interest for any team seeking an established left tackle. The Bills might not have much cap flexibility, but keeping Glenn should be a priority. Using the franchise tag could help prevent his asking price from exceeding their reach.
6. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs: Safeties aren't always among the most highly pursued free agents, but Earl Thomas' performance for the Seattle Seahawks has shot up demand for players with extensive range. Berry could stand to benefit, as the comeback player of the year is a versatile defender who was a key part of Kansas City's late-season surge. Kansas City has other players hitting free agency, but team chairman Clark Hunt said the Chiefs would "do everything we can" to bring Berry back.
7. Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins: Cousins' compensation might be one of the most interesting story lines in free agency. Turning to the franchise tag doesn't seem like an optimal tactic, as neither side needs to remain in wait-and-see mode after Cousins threw for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first full season as starter. General manager Scot McCloughan has said the franchise tag is an option but noted he prefers to have his starter back on a multiple-year deal.
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