Here are five players that need to be hit with a Franchise tag next year, because their teams need them.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints – The Saints’ use of Graham, could be classified as a wide receiver. If that is the case, expect Graham to file a grievance to be classified as wide receiver if franchised since franchise tags are determined by the position where the player participated in the most plays during the prior season. Graham would gain tremendous leverage in negotiations by winning an arbitration hearing on his franchise-tag position because there will be close to a $5 million difference between the wide receiver and tight end franchise numbers in 2014.
Greg Hardy, DE, Carolina Panthers – Hardy is a key component of one of the NFL’s best defenses. The Panthers are ranked first in scoring defense and third in total defense. He recently rejected a four-year, $32 million extension. Hardy could have his sights set on a contract similar to the six-year, $76 million deal (including $32 million in guarantees) Charles Johnson, his Carolina defensive end counterpart, received in 2011 to re-sign with the Panthers. It is expected that the Panthers will make another attempt at signing Hardy to a long-term deal before the March 3 franchise-tag deadline.
Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots – The 2008 first-round pick emerged as a shutdown cornerback in his second season with New England. Talib was acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the 2012 trading deadline, on a one-year, $5 million contract (with additional $500,000 in incentives) because his numerous off-the field incidents made teams wary of giving him a long-term deal. Although Talib has been a model citizen since the trade, the Aaron Hernandez ordeal brings the franchise tag into the picture because the Patriots would open themselves up to criticism for making another big financial commitment to a character risk, but it needs to be done.
T.J. Ward, S, Cleveland Browns – The Cleveland Browns need to franchise tag Ward, who was a Pro Bowler this year. I could see either Ward or Mack getting the franchise tag, but the number for a safety is a bit less. At 8 million dollars a year, Ward would be a pretty penny, but if he performs next year the Browns have the option of giving him a long term deal. This way the ensure he was not just a one year wonder.
Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos – The Broncos must decide whether they want to invest heavily in two wide receivers. Decker has produced like a number one wideout but teammate Demaryius Thomas is one of the NFL’s best young wide receivers. Thomas, who is under contract through the 2014 season, should become one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers on his next deal. The Broncos run the risk of another team paying Decker like a primary wide receiver if he becomes a free agent.