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.

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NFL Free Agency Update: Forte, Wallace and V-Jax

Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (R) is brought down by San Diego Chargers’ Steve Gregory (L) in the first half of their NFL football game in Chicago, Illinois, November 20, 2011. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Bears set to open contract talks with Forte
NFL Network’s Albert Breer reports that the Bears will open contract talks with free agent running back Matt Forte in Indianapolis this weekend. Head coach Lovie Smith believes that signing Forte is “only a matter of time” for the Bears, but the franchise tag remains very much in play.

Seahawks to tag Lynch if no long-term deal is reached
Seattle general manager John Schneider stated that running back Marshawn Lynch would receive the franchise tag if the two sides can’t reach a long-term deal before the March 5 franchise deadline. Schneider remains optimistic that a four-year deal can be reached, however.

V-Jax expected to stay with San Diego?
In somewhat surprising news, NFL Network’s Jason LaCanfora reports that “people close to” free agent receiver Vincent Jackson are convinced he’ll be franchised despite contrary reports. The two sides haven’t made much progress when it comes to a long-term deal but it seemed as if the Chargers were willing to let him test the market instead of tagging him. At the end of the day, the Bolts are, and should be worried about trying to replace Jackson’s production. Norv Turner’s vertical passing game would take a hit if the Chargers had to rely on an aging Antonio Gates to carry the load.

Franchise tag still a possibility for Wallace
Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said on Thursday that the Steelers will extend a first-round tender to restricted free agent receiver Mike Wallace and that the franchise tag remains a possibility. The Steelers clearly want their No. 1 receiver back but they have limited cap space and Wallace is due for a huge pay raise. His contract situation will be one of the more intriguing storylines this spring.

Falcons willing to let Abraham test the market
John Abraham was the Falcons’ lone pass rusher last season but he turns 34 in May and still wants to be paid like one of the best defensive ends in the game. With a slew of other free agents that also need contracts, the Falcons are apparently willing to allow Abraham to test the market. If that’s the case, then Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff has a huge task on his hands in trying to beef up the Falcons’ pass rushing situation for the 2012 season.

Five breakout wide receiver candidates for the 2010 NFL season

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 14:  Dwayne Bowe #82 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates a touchdown for a 14-0 lead over the San Diego Chargers during the second quarter on December 14, 2008 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  The Chiefs lost 22-21.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

I hate writing intros and I don’t think many people read them anyway. There’s a good chance you’re not even reading this write now, so let’s just get on with it.

(Side Note: This list isn’t directed at fantasy football readers. If owners want to apply this information for fantasy purposes, please, be my guest. But I encourage you to check out my TSR partner John Paulsen’s work if you’re looking specifically for fantasy-related content. Just do so after you read this piece………..you’re not even reading this, are you?)

1. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs
I’m going to start off with a somewhat obvious candidate in Bowe based on offseason reports (he’s also already shown that he can be productive). But make a mental note (seriously, write it down) that I’ve been high on the former LSU product ever since his performance in the 2007 Sugar Bowl against Note Dame (even though he was arguably outperformed by Early Doucet). After spending a grueling offseason participating in Larry Fitzgerald’s football camp, Bowe is reportedly down to 210 pounds after showing up to camp last year at 240. After spending most of preseason in Todd Haley’s doghouse last year, Bowe is now running with the Chiefs’ first-team offense this summer. At 6’2 and 210 pounds, the problem with Bowe has never been about size or physical tools. His issues have always lied within his work ethic, or lack thereof. But if he’s focused, he could have a tremendous year in Haley’s offense and could go from a promising player to a Pro Bowler in one season.

2. Johnny Knox, Bears
As John wrote in his breakdown of sleeper fantasy receivers last week, it’s hard to pick out just one Bear receiver that could break out this season. That’s because in Mike Martz’s offense, they all could break out. But I’m going with Knox over returner-turned-receiver Devin Hester, whom some believe will be Chicago’s biggest breakout player. Knox has reportedly been targeted more than any receiver in Bears’ camp so far this offseason and he’s the perfect fit for Martz’s up-temp offense. That’s because he not only has elite speed, but he’s also a sound route-runner and he’s already drawing comparisons to Torry Holt in terms of how his game translates in Martz’s offense. Assuming Jay Cutler targets him in the regular season as much as he has so far in training camp, a 1,000-yard season is well within Knox’s reach.

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One and done: Cowboys cut Pacman Jones

The Pacman Jones experiment in Dallas has come to end after just one season, as the Cowboy released the cornerback on Wednesday.

The Cowboys traded for Jones despite the cornerback’s suspension for the 2007 season after multiple off-field incidents while with the Titans. He was given another chance and cleared to play in 2008 by commissioner Roger Goodell.

But on Oct. 7, Jones got into a scuffle with a bodyguard who was part of a team-employed security detail. A week later, Goodell suspended the cornerback indefinitely, which eventually turned into a six-week suspension. Jones missed a seventh game later in the season with an injury.

The 25-year-old Jones spent part of his time away from football taking part in an alcohol rehabilitation program.

Kind of funny that when the Cowboys desperately need cornerbacks to make a playoff push late in the year, owner Jerry Jones did everything in his power to get Pacman reinstated again after his most recent f-up. And now he’s promptly shoving him out the door.

Despite Pacman netting zero interceptions and just a 4.5-yard average on punt returns, I think Jones got everything he needed out of the delinquent one. He got a rodeo clown for his circus (i.e. HBO’s “Hard Knocks”) and a warm body when the Cowboys were hurting with injuries late in the year.

Parcells staying with Dolphins in 2009, or so they say

Despite rumors that he could potentially return to the sidelines next season, Bill Parcells is apparently staying in the Miami Dolphins’ front office for 2009.

Bill ParcellsWayne Huizenga may have left Dolphin Stadium as majority owner of the Dolphins for the last time this afternoon, but before exiting he revealed some news Miami fans will likely welcome.
Huizenga said Bill Parcells is coming back next year.

“Bill is going to stay,” Huizenga said. “He told me the day before yesterday he was going to stay.”

I also spoke with incoming owner Stephen Ross who indicated he expects Parcells to stay.

That’s all well and good, but there’s still no guarantee that Parcells will stay. This is the same man who has revoked his commitment to the Atlanta Falcons twice (once as a coach and once as a GM) and essentially had a deal in place to become the Jets head coach while he was coaching the Patriots in the 1996 Super Bowl. The guy does whatever he wants and can be as fickle as Brett Favre in the offseason.

He should stay in Miami because he’s done an absolutely amazing job with the Dolphins this season. But I’ll believe that he’s staying when I see his ass in the Fins’ skybox next season.

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