NFC North: Franchise Tags
The Franchise Tag option hasn’t been used by teams nearly as often in recent seasons as it was in 2011 and 2012, but it remains as a method of retaining top talent — even if it’s just buying time to work out a long-term deal. In many cases the numbers don’t add up or it just doesn’t make sense for one reason or another, but until you’ve had a look through a team’s cap situation and needs, it often not so easy to guess where the tags will be applied. To help with that, we’ll be giving our take in this division-by-division series.
Today’s focus is on the NFC North and their potential tag targets.
Big-name veterans Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are unsigned, but both will be 34-years-old at the start of next season and neither is worth using the franchise tag. Stephen Paea is the best young player set to hit the market after greatly improving during his fourth year in the league, specifically when rushing the passer. The former second-round pick had a 8.7 Pass Rushing Productivity rating, fourth-best among defensive tackles. Paea will likely be the most important re-signing, assuming the Bears feel he will fit well in new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheme.
Another player to keep an eye on is center Brian De La Puente. Bears’ general manager Ryan Pace was the director of pro personnel for New Orleans when De La Puente was brought in and eventually took over the starting job for two and a half years. However, Pace was also there last offseason when the Saints let De La Puente walk. Despite playing only 320 snaps at center, De La Puente finished with the seventh-highest overall grade in 2014 and his 98.2 Pass Blocking Efficiency ranked fourth.
Decision: No Tag
There is no question when it comes to Ndamukong Suh’s talent and ability. He has always been a great pass rusher, but his play against the run has greatly improved over his career. Suh has finished among the top four defensive tackles in overall grade each of the last three years. He was also one of two players to rank in the Top 10 defensive tackles in Run Stop Percentage (sixth) and Pass Rushing Productivity (fifth) in 2014. Detroit would like to retain Suh and have said that they would be financially capable to tag him. They know he is set for a monster deal if he hits free agency, but an estimated $26.8 million franchise tag is too steep to realistically use with Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford already combining for a $38.2 million cap hit in 2015.
Decision: No Tag
Green Bay Packers
The Packers have a few starters set to hit the open market, with Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga as the marquee players. Healthy for the full season, Cobb excelled as the No. 2 wide receiver. His 1,067 receiving yards from the slot led all receivers, and was one of only three to eclipse 700 yards. Cobb’s value to the offense might have shown most with his ability to find open space after plays break down, becoming Aaron Rodgers’ go-to target in those situations.
As for Bulaga, he had his best season since 2011 after suffering season-ending injuries in 2012 and 2013. He finished with the fourth-highest overall grade among right tackles last season and near the top of the league in Pass Blocking Efficiency.
Decision: We’d tag Randall Cobb. Cobb is likely see more demand on the open market and Green Bay stands to lose more without Cobb over Bulaga. In addition, Bulaga’s health remains a bit of a question mark and the Packers have been high on 2013 draft pick JC Tretter who could potentially replace Bulaga. With Green Bay’s cap space, it is not out of the question for them to retain both players.
The Vikings have a small group set to be free agents and most look replaceable, much less worthy of a franchise tag. Veterans Tom Johnson and Joe Berger might be the only players worth pursuing as role players or backups. Johnson performed well in his first season under Mike Zimmer as he consistently generated inside pressure in his limited playing time. Berger played well enough after being thrown into the starting lineup midway through the season. With much of the offensive line returning from injury or otherwise up in the air, Berger’s return in case of another emergency would be a welcome one.
Decision: No Tag
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