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NFL teams starting to use their franchise tag

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson celebrates after completing a 13-yard gain which set up the Eagles first touchdown during first quarter Philadelphia Eagles-New York Giants game action in Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field November 21, 2010. UPI/John Anderson

On Thursday night it was DeSean Jackson and Tyvon Branch. On Friday morning it was Brent Grimes. By Monday, it could be Ray Rice, Matt Forte and Cliff Avril.

NFL teams are starting to use their franchise tag, including the Eagles (Jackson), Raiders (Branch) and Falcons (Grimes). Teams can apply the tag to a player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, which binds that player to that team for one year. If it’s not the exclusive version of the tag, a player can sign offer sheets with other teams and if the team that tagged the player doesn’t match that offer, they will be compensated with two first round picks.

Jackson released a statement on Thursday indicating that he’s “honored” that the Eagles perceive him as a franchise player. But if a report by CBSSports.com’s Mike Freeman is accurate, Jackson won’t appreciate how the Eagles view him.

Per Freeman, there’s a debate within the Eagles’ front office about whether the team can trust Jackson with a long-term deal. The 25-year-old receiver often disappeared on the field last season as he complained about his contract situation off it. Jackson has been viewed as an immature player dating back to his days at Cal, so it’s hardly surprising that the Eagles aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to sign him long-term. Freeman also notes that the team remains open to trading Jackson if the right deal were to come along.

As for Grimes, tagging him was a must for a Falcons team that is trying to win a playoff game under the regime of Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff. They’re 0-3 in the playoffs over the past four years and losing Grimes would have made it even more difficult for them to beat pass-happy opponents like the Saints, Packers and Giants. Grimes is easily Atlanta’s best defensive back and is also one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league.

Jackson, Grimes, and the aforementioned Branch won’t be the last players to receive the franchise tag before March 5. An estimated 25 tags will be applied before Monday’s deadline, so don’t be surprised if/when Rice (Ravens), Forte (Bears) and Avril (Lions) are franchised as well. There’s always a possibility that the Texans could apply the tag on free agent defensive end Mario Williams, which would deplete this year’s free agent pool even more than it already is.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Drew Brees can break Dan Marino’s record for passing yards tonight

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees signs caps for fans before his game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana November 6, 2011. REUTERS/Dan Anderson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Considering how much of an impact tonight’s Monday Night Football game between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints will have on the NFC playoff picture, it’s easy to forget that Drew Brees is on the verge of breaking one of Dan Marino’s last major records.

If Brees throws for 305 yards, he’ll break Marino’s record for most passing yards in a single season. Marino accomplished the feat back in 1984 when he also broke the single-season record for most passing touchdowns with 48, which Peyton Manning broke in 2004 when he threw 49 touchdown passes.

If Brees plays as well tonight as he usually does versus Atlanta, then he should have no problem breaking the record in front of a primetime audience. He threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints’ 26-23 victory over the Falcons in mid-November this year, and has thrown for at least 300 yards in four of his previous eight games against Atlanta. That said, he has never thrown for over 300 yards twice in one season versus the Falcons, who are determined not to be the team that allows him to break Marino’s record.

“We don’t want to be the team that he played against when he actually gets the record,” Falcons cornerback Kelvin Hayden said last week. “Mainly, you want to come out with the win, but secondarily we don’t want the record broken on us.”

Unfortunately for he and the Falcons, Hayden will likely watch tonight’s game from the sidelines as he continues to recover from a dislocated toe. But the team hopes to have top corner Brent Grimes back, which would be a huge coup for the Atlanta secondary. Grimes has missed the past three weeks with a knee injury and while he’s officially listed as questionable, he was able to practice this week (albeit on a limited basis).

Brees’ chase of Marino’s record is taking a backseat to the importance of tonight’s game as it pertains to the NFC playoff picture. The Saints are in a battle with the 49ers for the No. 2 seed behind the Packers, while the Falcons are jockeying for position with the Lions for the No. 5 spot. Atlanta could also still win the NFC South if it beats New Orleans and Tampa Bay in its final two games, and if the Saints lose to the Panthers this Sunday.

2011 NFL Week 14 Point Spreads & Odds

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton celebrates after the Panthers score against the Washington Redskins in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 23, 2011. Carolina won 33-20 UPI/Nell Redmond .

Four spreads of note:

Giants +3 @ Cowboys, 8:30PM ET, Sunday
This game is the ultimate crapshoot; it could play out in a variety of different ways, none of which would be surprising. But if you’re looking for value, I almost always go with the underdog when it comes to betting on NFC East teams. When NFC East teams are expected to win against an inferior opponent, for whatever reason they seem to underachieve. Examples of this include the Cowboys’ loss to the Cardinals last week, or their failed cover against the Dolphins and Redskins, respectively, in previous games. The Giants also lost to the Seahawks at home, failed to cover against the Dolphins at home, and lost the Eagles as a 6-point favorite in Week 11. On the flip side, the Giants covered and won against the Eagles (Week 2), Patriots (Week 9) and Packers (Week 13) as underdogs of seven points or more. Granted, New York was also crushed by New Orleans in Week 12 but my point is this: NFC East teams often represent value when they’re the underdog and are good fade material when they’re supposed to win. I don’t have hard data here so take this simple approach with a grain of salt. But again, from a pure value standpoint it sure seems like NFC East teams rise to the challenge when they’re the dog.

Raiders +11 @ Packers, 4:15PM ET
As I’ve written many times on this site: It’s Green Bay and then everyone else. And with how poorly Oakland played last Sunday in Miami, there will be plenty of bettors that look at the spread in this game and lay the 11 points without hesitation. But let’s keep in mind that the Raiders’ backs are against the wall here. They’re now tied with Denver for first place in the AFC West and while they play undefeated Green Bay this Sunday, the Broncos have a very winnable home game against a Jay Cutler and Matt Forte-less Chicago team. Thus, we’re probably going to see Oakland’s best effort. With the amount of injuries that the Raiders accumulated in the past month, it was only a matter of time before they suffered a letdown like they did last weekend against the Dolphins. Thus, I’m thinking they bounce back strong this Sunday and at the very least stay within 10 points of the Pack.

49ers -3.5 @ Cardinals, 4:05PM ET
This is a game you look at and you say, “49ers are only -3.5? Sign me up.” But Arizona proved last Sunday in its win over Dallas that it hasn’t given up on the season despite the fact that the playoffs remain a longshot. The Rams, on the other hand, gave up weeks ago and bettors will probably rush to the window to lay coin on a Niners team that routed St. Louis by 26 points last week. What I’m saying is that this is your classic trap game. Oddsmakers claim that they don’t lay traps for bettors but why is this game only 3.5? San Fran is 10-2 this season while Arizona is 5-7. Even with home field advantage factored in, the line still seems too low. I’m not suggested that the Cards will win outright but something tells me oddsmakers are banking on this being a field goal game either way.

Falcons -3 @ Panthers, 1:00PM ET
I wrote this in my recap of Week 13 and I’ll mention it again seeing as how it relates to this article: I don’t think there’s that wide of a gap between the Falcons and Panthers right now. On paper, Atlanta has better overall talent. But on paper, Atlanta had better overall talent than Houston and it lost 17-10 despite the fact that Andre Johnson suffered another hamstring injury in the second half and T.J. Yates started for the Texans at quarterback. The Falcons will once again be without top cornerback Brent Grimes and nickel back Kelvin Hayden, which means Dominique Franks and Chris Owens will receive plenty of looks this Sunday from Cam Newton. Given the inexperience of Franks and Owens, they become a weakness that Newton may exploit. There’s always value in a home dog and given the injuries the Falcons are currently dealing with on both sides of the ball, I’d give Carolina a long look this Sunday.

2011 NFL Week 14 Odds:

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2011 NFL Week 13 Odds & Point Spreads

Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie celebrates a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the fourth quarter of the NFL NFC Championship football game in Chicago, January 23, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Four odds of note:

Colts –20.5 @ Patriots, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
I about fell over when I first saw the opening line for this game, which was actually New England –21. But the spread makes sense. First of all, the Colts haven’t covered in seven straight weeks so oddsmakers have to push the envelope to see what price bettors will be willing to pay in order to keep fading Indy. Secondly, New England is just two weeks removed from covering a 17-point spread against the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, so oddsmakers realize that bettors are at least willing to lay that number when it comes to wagering on the Pats. But 20.5? For a NFL game? Dear, Barbara.

Falcons –1.5 @ Texans, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
There’s an unwritten rule when it comes to wagering: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. The Texans are starting T.J. Yates at quarterback against a Falcons team that has won two straight games and is chasing down a playoff berth in the NFC. Why wouldn’t you lay the 1.5 points on Atlanta? All they have to do is win, basically. That said, the Texans knew as soon as Matt Schaub went down for the season that no matter who was playing quarterback, their defense and running game would have to carry them. The Falcons have been inconsistent on offense all season and while their run defense has been stout, they will be tested by the Texans’ excellent rushing attack. Plus, Atlanta could be without two of its top three cornerbacks as Brent Grimes (knee) and Kelvin Hayden (toe) are both expected to miss this Sunday. Beware the trap.

Raiders +2.5 @ Dolphins, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
Speaking of traps, the 3-8 Dolphins are a 2.5-point favorite against the 7-4 Raiders who are battling the Broncos for the AFC West crown? Hello, Oakland and the points! Again, beware the bet that looks too good to be true. Miami’s defense has been a rock over the past couple of weeks and the Fish were one big play/stop away from beating the Cowboys last Thursday. Miami clearly hasn’t given up on the season despite its record and will probably enjoy playing the role of spoiler from here on out.

Chiefs +9 @ Bears, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
Who is going to lay nearly 10 points on a Caleb Hanie-led Chicago team after his performance last Sunday in Oakland? The Chiefs failed to cover as a 17-point underdog two weeks ago in New England but they nearly came from behind and beat the Steelers last Sunday night. I think there’s going to be plenty of Kansas City backers come Sunday, so it’ll be interesting to see if the line moves, and by how much, come Sunday. The Bears are much tougher at home than they are on the road, plus they have Matt Forte, Devin Hester and a (usually) stingy defense. But Hanie radically changes what Mike Martz wants to do on offense and it’s tough envisioning them covering a 9-point spread.

2011 NFL Week 13 Point Spreads

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I’m Just Saying: How bad could Matt Leinart have really been?

Arizona Cardinals starting quarterback Derek Anderson leaves the field after the Cards game with the St. Louis Rams at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ December 5,2010. Anderson was replaced in the second half as the Rams defeated the Cards 19-6. UPI/Art Foxall Photo via Newscom

I’m starting a new column and I’m calling it “I’m Just Saying.” Peter King has a column (Monday Morning Quarterback), so it only makes sense that a well-respected sports blogger like myself has a column as well.

What? I’m not well-respected? Who the hell is Anthony Stalter? Peter King is more established?

What-ev.

- Let’s hold off on the Giants-look-like-Super-Bowl-contenders-again talk after they beat a crap Redskins team. After their effort against the Eagles and Giants over the past few weeks, I’m fully convinced that Oregon could beat the Redskins on a neutral field.

- Hey Josh Freeman, I’d stay away from Brent Grimes the next time Atlanta comes to down. Dude is small but he’s often the most athletic player on the field.

- Lion fans are pissed about the unnecessary roughness penalty on Ndamukong Suh for the forearm shiver that he delivered to Jay Cutler’s back, but riddle me this, Batman: Was the play avoidable? Could Suh have chosen not to go GSP on Cutler and still gotten him down? What I’m asking is: Was it necessary roughness?

- I’m pretty sure I could think of two reasons not to start Brett Favre for every one reason that Leslie Fraizer comes up with. Let’s start with these: His touchdown to interception ratio this year is 10:17 and even after his effort on Sunday, one could make an argument that Ryan Fitzpatrick is better at this point in his career. That’s right – Ryan Fitzpatrick. So why not Tarvaris Jackson, Leslie?

- Is there any reason Marion Barber should get carries for the Cowboys with how good Felix Jones and Tashard Choice looked against the Colts? Sorry, is there any good reason I mean to write.

- You’re lucky the Colts wound up scoring anyway, Eric Foster.

- Hey Peyton: blue shirts, white helmets, my man.

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