Posted July 12, 2012

With franchise tag deadline looming, still a lot in the air

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All eyes will be on Drew Brees as the deadline for long-term deals looms, but he’s not the only player in limbo. (Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated)

The deadline for NFL teams to sign franchise-tagged players to contract extensions rolls in at 4 p.m. ET on Monday. As of Thursday morning, 14 of the 21 players who were originally given the franchise tag this offseason still do not have those long-term deals in place.

In a few cases, that doesn’t set up to be that big a deal as training camps and the preseason loom right around the corner. However, a few superstars are less than pleased with their current situations and could use that angst to justify holdouts into August and beyond.

Here’s the latest on the 21 players given the franchise tag in 2012:

• Cliff Avril (Detroit): The Lions could not get Avril signed to a long-term deal before free agency started, so they used the franchise tag to prevent him from being one of the most coveted defenders on the market. He’ll make $10.6 million in 2012 if the two sides can’t reach a contract agreement — something they’ve been moving closer to, according to Avril. But the clock’s ticking.

• Connor Barth (Tampa Bay): The first of about 213 kickers on this list, Barth signed a four-year, $13.2 million contract with the Buccaneers.

Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City): Barring a surprising turn of events, Bowe will wait until after the July 16 deadline to sign his franchise tender and then force the Chiefs to deal with him possibly hitting free agency again next offseason. Unlike Avril’s situation, there has been no indication that Bowe and the Chiefs are even in the same ballpark.

Chiefs GM Scott Pioli said prior to the draft that the team has no interest in trading Bowe, so the options are going to be fairly limited come Monday night.

Tyvon Branch (Oakland): Branch signed his $6.212 franchise-tag tender, so there’s no danger of a holdout here — players can sit out until as many as 10 games prior to signing the tag tender and still hit free agency the following year, as Vincent Jackson did in 2010. Paul Gutierrez of CSNBayArea.com reported Tuesday that there had been “progress” in talks between the Raiders and their 25-year-old starting safety. How far the two sides have gotten, though, is unclear.

Drew Brees (New Orleans): And here’s your big one …

A mess of an offseason in New Orleans has been made even worse by a contentious battle between Brees and the Saints over a long-term deal. If Brees signs, he’ll likely wind up the highest-paid player in NFL history, especially in light of Peyton Manning’s $19 million-per-year deal in Denver. If Brees has to play under the tag in 2012, he’ll likely sit out camp (a normal response by tagged players in hopes of avoiding injury, since they don’t have extended financial security) — another blow for a reeling franchise.

According to a recent report, Brees and the team are still $10 million apart in guaranteed money on what would wind up being a five-year deal.

Calais Campbell (Arizona): After registering eight sacks last season, Campbell was rewarded with a five-year, $55 million contract that includes $31 million guaranteed.

• Fred Davis (Washington): Davis signed his $5.446 million franchise tender. The Redskins would like to lock him up long-term; Davis might be better off waiting, as the four-game suspension he served late last year for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy would lower his value.

Phil Dawson (Cleveland): Dawson signed his tender for $3.81 million — about $1.15 million over the kicker franchise tag price because Dawson was also Cleveland’s franchise player last season, meaning he gets a 20 percent bump on last year’s tender number. The Browns might hand him a multi-year deal just to lower his bloated cap hit.

• Matt Forte (Chicago): Forte has stated time and again that he wants to stay in Chicago, but the never-ending contract talks might be taking their toll. Forte wants a deal close to the ones LeSean McCoy and Arian Foster recently signed — five years, $45 million and five years, $43.5 million, respectively.

The Bears, however, have hinted that they have concerns about Forte’s health after he missed the last four games of 2011 with a sprained MCL. Forte said he would sign the $7.7 million tender, but he also would probably skip the majority of training camp.

• Dashon Goldson (San Francisco): The 27-year-old Goldson recently summed up his situation: “If I have to play for the tag, I’ll play for the tag. But any guy would love long-term security.”

Goldson has started 46 games for the 49ers since 2009. He would earn $6.2 million in 2012 under the franchise tag, but he wants a deal similar to the one signed by the next guy on this list.

• Michael Griffin (Tennessee): The Titans tagged Griffin, their starting free safety, and let Cortland Finnegan walk. Griffin then inked a five-year, $35 million contract, which set the market for Branch and Goldson.

• Brent Grimes (Atlanta): Grimes signed his one-year, $10.281 million tender just before the Falcons traded for Asante Samuel. As such, Atlanta now has about $23 million committed to Grimes, Samuel and Dunta Robinson this season. The odds are good that Grimes is a free agent come 2013.

• DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia): Plenty of people expected the Eagles to try to trade Jackson after slapping him with a $9.5 million franchise tag. Instead, Philadelphia signed him to a five-year, $47 million contract — but the Eagles can sneak out of that deal in 2014 after Jackson’s $15 million in guarantees are delivered.

• Robert Mathis (Indianapolis): The Colts tagged Mathis, then announced a four-year deal worth $36 million just a few hours later.

Mike Nugent (Cincinnati): Nugent signed his $2.645 million tender, meaning this is another spot where a holdout is not in play. Barth’s deal and that of Matt Prater (who’s up next) could help Nugent and the Bengals figure out a lengthened commitment.

• Matt Prater (Denver): The big-legged Prater earned a four-year, $13 million contract, just shy of Barth’s $13.2 million over the same span.

• Ray Rice (Baltimore): Given how important a cog Rice is in the Baltimore offense (league-best 2,068 yards from scrimmage last season), it’s hard to fathom that he won’t wind up getting a big payday eventually — somewhere at or just above the McCoy/Foster marks.

But Rice appears willing to sit out camp, and possibly beyond, if the Ravens don’t step up. Along with the Brees conundrum, this situation has the most potential to disrupt a playoff contender.

• Josh Scobee (Jacksonville): Scobee hit 92 percent of his field goal attempts last season and somehow scored 93 points despite Jacksonville’s consistent inability to, ya know, pick up first downs. Scobee has not signed his $2.6 million tender and hinted at a camp holdout. Given that he’s a kicker, he has even less leverage than your usual franchise-tag holdout.

• Anthony Spencer (Dallas): Spencer would have been hard-pressed to find a contract to match the $8.8 million he’ll get in 2012 under the franchise tag. A former first-round pick of the Cowboys, Spencer has been wholly underwhelming during his five-year career. That’s probably why the Cowboys have no intention of signing him beyond this coming season.

• Steve Weatherford (New York Giants): One of the unsung heroes of the Super Bowl, Weatherford signed a five-year, $12.75 million deal after becoming just the third punter ever franchise tagged.

• Wes Welker (New England): Welker has signed his $9.5 million tender, but he and the Patriots continue to hammer out the details of a potential long-term contract. The Boston Herald reported that if an agreement is to come this offseason, it likely won’t happen until the eleventh hour on Monday.

The two sides are about $6 million in guaranteed money apart, according to the Boston Globe — Welker wants $21 million there, or about what he’d receive to play 2012 and then 2013 as a franchised player. New England could be in a tricky cap spot come next summer, so the double-tag possibility isn’t a great one. That said, New England also doesn’t appear eager to commit to the 31-year-old Welker for much longer than 2013 or ’14.

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