Tag:Matt Forte
Posted on: March 2, 2012 9:12 pm
 

Bears use franchise tag on RB Matt Forte

Follow all the latest news with our Franchise Tag Tracker (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Other than the Browns' decision to franchise 37-year-old kicker Phil Dawson, there weren't any real surprises Friday. That didn't change when the Bears tagged running back Matt Forte, who's now in line to make $7.7 million in 2012 under the designation.

The Bears' former second-round pick missed the final month of the season with a knee injury, but the organization had no plans to let him hit free agency. In February, team president Ted Phillips said, "We'd like to (work out a long-term deal). But as (new GM) Phil (Emery) pointed out we obviously will at least consider placing the franchise tag on him. We don't have any intention of letting Matt hit the open market. We'll sit down with him privately, Phil will, and discuss what the plans are prior to the Feb. 20 franchise tag date."

And that's exactly what happened.

Forte's response to Phillips' comments above? "It depends on the motive of (the franchise tag). If they are doing the franchise tag just to get more time in order to negotiate a long-term deal, then I would be OK with it. But if it's just to hold me another year and just, 'Let's throw some money at him right now to keep him quiet,' that's not going to solve anything."

So what happens now? Players can sign their tenders at any point between March 13 and July 16, the deadline for reaching a multi-year extension.

"Matt is an important part of our football team and we chose to utilize the franchise tag to ensure he remains a Bear," general manager Phil Emery said. "We believe in Matt as a player and a person. Our intention is to continue to work to find common ground and keep Matt as a member of the Chicago Bears in 2012 and beyond."

Despite the late-season injury, Forte became the first Bears running back to be named to a Pro Bowl since Neal Anderson in 1991. In four seasons, Forte has rushed for 4,233 yards on 1,014 carries (4.2 YPC) and scored 21 touchdowns. He's a important cog in Chicago's offense because of his versatility as a runner and a pass-catcher.

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 11:09 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 1:19 pm
 

2012 NFL Franchise Tag Tracker

Franchise tags are coming fast and furious for some big names. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Previously I broke down what players we thought would be given the franchise tag (I nailed 11 of the 21; take out the six punters and kickers and that's 11 of 15, which isn't too shabby). You'll see many of them below, as the franchise season has now ended.

Check out our winners and losers from the franchise deadline right here and look below for the franchise tags that were put on players, in chronological order:

Team Player, Position Tag Salary Analysis

DeSean Jackson, WR $9.5 million
Jackson was one of the big names that everyone expected to be tagged. And he was hit with the tag on Thursday. The question is whether or not the Eagles will shop him or look for a long-term deal.

 Brent Grimes, CB $10.4 million
 Although Grimes had a standout 2009 and 2010, his play fell off a bit last year, and Atlanta might be worried about giving him a long-term deal.

Ray Rice, RB $7.7 million
 Rice wants Adrian Peterson money (or, ahem, $100 million), but we think he's worth closer to what DeAngelo Williams makes (five years, $43 million).

 Dashon Goldson, S
$6.2 million

 After having to sign a one-year, $2 million deal for 2012 (after turning down a five-year, $25 million offer), it seems that Goldson might have to wait a little longer before a long-term deal comes his way.

Calais Campbell, DL $10.6 million
Campbell was a top priority for Arizona to keep, and the Cardinals would like to sign him to a long-term deal. For now, though, he'll have to be content with the tag.

 Mike Nugent, K
~$2.6 million
Nugent, 30, converted 87 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2011 and added an impressive 36 touchbacks.

Phil Dawson, K 
$3.8 million

The going rate for franchised kickers is about $2.6 million but Dawson was franchised in 2010 too, so he's set to make $3.8 in '11. Seems like a high price to pay for a 37-year-old who had two kicks blocked and managed just 10 touchbacks. 

Fred Davis, TE 
$5.4 million

Davis missed the final four games of the 2011 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, but he still had a career year: 59 catches, 796 yards and three TDs in 12 games. The thinking: RG3 (or, more generally, QBs not named Rex or John) is going to need somebody to throw to, right?

Tyvon Branch, S 
$6.2 million

The Raiders informed Branch, one of the team's best players last season, that he would likely be tagged and Friday it happened. The move means that RB Michael Bush is headed for free agency.

Matt Forte, RB 
$7.7 million

No surprise here. The two sides couldn't come to an agreement before the season and then Forte went down with a knee injury late in the season.

Drew Brees, QB
$14.4 million
 This move is an utter failure in the negotiations between Brees and the Saints on a long-term deal, but both sides have to be hopeful they can still work out a deal. The problem here is that the team probably will lose guard Carl Nicks with this move.

Connor Barth, K
$2.6 million
Barth's reportedly reportedly tagged a year after knocking down 92.7 percent of his field goals for the Bucs. But yes, it's still not usually a good thing when a team has to tag its kicker.

Josh Scobee, K
$2.6 million
Scobee was the biggest point-scorer on an anemic Jags offense in 2011, and knocked down 92 percent of his field goals, making him a solid target for the tag, even if he is a kicker.

Matt Prater, K
$2.6 million
Prater only hit 76 percent of his field goals, but he nailed some long, clutch kicks for Denver. Also, he was worshipped by Jesus in a Saturday Night Live skit. That alone is worth a tag.

Cliff Avril, DE
$10.6 million
Avril would've made a fortune on the free-agent market, but Detroit isn't letting him walk. They tagged him on Monday morning and desperately need to work out an extension.

Michael Griffin, S
$6.2 million
Griffin, not cornerback Cortland Finnegan, got the franchise tag from the Titans on Monday. At $6.2 million, that's quite a nice value for the team.

Anthony Spencer, LB
$8.8 million
The Cowboys tagged Spencer late on Monday even though he hasn't been that productive of a player since being a first-round pick. However, Dallas feels that the market will be tough for pass-rushing linebackers.

Wes Welker, WR
$9.4 million
No surprise here as our Pats Rapid Reporter Greg Bedard reports that Welker got the tag. New England simply can't afford to lose their best wideout.

Dwayne Bowe, WR
$9.4 million
The expectation after the Chiefs signed Stanford Routt was that Bowe would be franchised. The Chiefs announced that he was given the tag on Monday afternoon.

Steve Weatherford, P
$2.5 million
Weatherford became just the third punter to ever receive the franchise tag when the Giants hit him with it on Monday.

Robert Mathis, DE
$10.6 million
The Colts haven't "officially" announced the move, but they've reportedly tagged Mathis and have tentatively agreed to a long-term deal.

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Posted on: February 23, 2012 9:05 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:28 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Running back rankings

Players are willing to get the franchise tag if it means a long-term deal is in their future. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the running backs.

1. Ray Rice

Breakdown: Ray Rice told CBSSports.com back in October that "I think the Ravens are going to do the right thing … with the contract situation, I'll leave it in their hands." As it stands, Rice is a free agent. And it appears that while the Ravens may eventually "do the right thing" and sign him to a long-term contract (though almost certainly nowhere near Adrian Peterson-type money), the short-term plan is to franchise him. At 25, Rice hasn't yet reached his prime, which is all the more reason the Ravens should find a way to keep him in Baltimore for the next five years.

NFL Draft prep
The problem, of course, is that running backs are fungible. We've beaten this dead horse beyond recognition but it's worth repeating: teams can find relatively productive backs for little money. Knowing that, it doesn't make sense to use a non-trivial part of the salary cap to pay running backs, even those well above replacement level. It's why were were adamant last summer that the Titans shouldn't pay Chris Johnson. (They did and he was underwhelming in 2011, rushing for 1,047 yards -- 4.0 YPC -- and four touchdowns.)

That said, Rice isn't your typical back. In addition to his ability to run the ball, he's also a dangerous pass catcher. How dangerous? He led Baltimore in receptions in 2011 (76), was second behind Anquan Boldin in 2010 (63), and first in 2009 (78). For all the talk about Joe Flacco wanting a new deal, the Ravens' offense goes through Rice.

Potential landing spots: Ravens. That's it. If he gets away, Baltimore deserves whatever fate awaits them. Rice fits any system but is especially dangerous when he's utilized. That seems obvious but it's something offensive coordinator Cam Cameron forgot at various points during the 2011 season.

2. Matt Forte

Breakdown: Forte missed the final month of the 2011 season with a knee injury but it won't have any impact on what the Bears think he's worth. They have no plans to let him hit free agency -- earlier this month team president Ted Phillips said, "We'd like to (work out a long-term deal). But as (new GM) Phil (Emery) pointed out we obviously will at least consider placing the franchise tag on him. We don't have any intention of letting Matt hit the open market. We'll sit down with him privately, Phil will, and discuss what the plans are prior to the Feb. 20 franchise tag date."

And while #paydaman was the Twitter meme of the '11 season for Forte, he seems amenable to the franchise tag if it leads somewhere beyond a one-and-done deal.

"It depends on the motive of (the franchise tag)," Forte said a few days after Phillips' comments above. "If they are doing the franchise tag just to get more time in order to negotiate a long-term deal, then I would be OK with it. But if it's just to hold me another year and just, 'Let's throw some money at him right now to keep him quiet,' that's not going to solve anything."

Plus, with offensive coordinator Mike Martz gone and Mike Tice named as his replacement, the offense shouldn't require six weeks to find its rhythm. Ideally, a healthy mix of pass and run will keep Cutler upright and the Bears competitive in the NFC North. Forte, clearly, is a big part of that.

Potential landing spots: The Bears have no intentions of letting Forte get away, but like Rice, he'd fit in pretty much any offense. He's a capable pass-catcher and north-south runner.

3. Arian Foster

 Foster wants to stay in Houston '100 percent' (Getty Images)
Breakdown: Foster told CBSSports.com at the Super Bowl that he "100 percent" wants to be back with the Texans and it sounds like the Texans 100 percent want him back.  As of early January, the two sides hadn't made progress on a new contract, and like Forte, Foster doesn't seem averse to the franchise tag if it means a long-term deal is in his future. Unlike Forte, Foster is a restricted free agent, which means the Texans have the option to sign him to a tender offer, which would be much less than the one-year franchise-tag value of $7.7 million.

Could the Texans' offense survive without Foster, the 2010 NFL rushing leader? Yeah, sure. They still have Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Ben Tate. But Foster is only 25, and he's played on an undrafted free agent's salary the last two seasons. He's certainly outperformed his previous deal, now it's up to Foster's agent and the organization to find some middle ground.

Potential landing spots: The Texans. The franchise tag guarantees that other teams won't even get a shot at landing him. That said, he'd fit perfectly in the Redskins' scheme (they run virtually the same offense as the Texans, just with less talented players).

4. Marshawn Lynch

Breakdown: In the wacky world of Pete Carroll, trading a second-rounder for Charlie Whitehurst makes sense. So too does signing Tarvaris Jackson. To Carroll's credit, he said "thanks but no thanks" when his Heisman-winning quarterback during his USC days, Matt Leinart, was dumped by the Cardinals. And he had something to do with bringing Marshawn Lynch to Seattle for a 2011 fourth-rounder and a 2012 fifth-rounder. Lynch carried the Seahawks to a playoff win over the Saints in 2010, and rushed for 12,04 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011.

Lynch was Seattle's most consistent offensive weapon last season (this explains the Peyton Manning scuttlebutt) and earlier this week the word on the street was that the team was in "deep" contract talks with Lynch and would consider using the franchise tag if the two sides couldn't reach an agreement.

We're not sure that's the best use of resources for an offense with plenty of issues. Unlike the Ravens, Bears and Texans -- all teams with top-15 quarterbacks -- the Seahawks might want to take that $7.7 million they'd use on Lynch and address other needs (quarterback, wide receiver, or a couple running backs, for example).

Potential landing spots: Seahawks, Bengals, Jets, Redskins

5. Michael Bush

Breakdown: Darren McFadden played in just seven games last season but the Raiders' rush offense still ranked 11th in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Much of that was due to Michael Bush, who ran for 977 yards (3.8 YPC) and seven touchdowns, and added 418 yards receiving.

Still, despite his '11 success, when training camp begins, McFadden will be atop the depth chart. Running backs-by-committee are en vogue so it's reasonable to think that Bush will get plenty of work but he wants to be a starter (likely because it comes with starter money). And for that reason, the Contra Costa Times' Steve Corkran wrote last week that Bush might prefer the franchise tag to a long-term deal. Corkran pointed out that new general manager Reggie McKenzie has a knack for developing running backs, which could mean that Bush will be elsewhere next season.

Potential landing spots: Bengals (former Raiders coach Hue Jackson is an assistant there), Buccaneers, Redskins

6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Breakdown: ESPN.com's Mike Reiss broke down Green-Ellis' situation nicely last week: "The view from here is that the Patriots would like Green-Ellis to return and have a price in mind. The question then becomes if that price is attractive enough that it sparks Green-Ellis to sign before hitting free agency."

Free agency starts March 13. There will be a glut of running backs on the market and there's no promise that Green-Ellis will get more in free agency than he would from the Pats. It's more likely that New England will offer something less than market value because a) they typically handle the salary cap well, and b) they'll sell it as "we're a winner, if you go elsewhere you'll be in rebuilding mode."

And then there's c): the Pats drafted two running backs last April -- Shane Vereen in Round 2, Stevan Ridley in Round 3 -- and should they not be able to re-sign Green-Ellis they'd have plenty of depth at the position (something they seem oddly incapable of at wide receiver). As always, as long as Tom Brady is on the field, the Patriots will have a good chance to win. It would be nice to have Green-Ellis behind him but New England's offense will survive either way.

Potential landing spots: Patriots, Chiefs (Scott Pioli's the GM)

7. Cedric Benson

Breakdown: It's seldom players go to Cincinnati to revitalize careers but Benson isn't your typical NFL running back. The Bears' former No. 4 pick in 2005, he was considered a bust until he joined the Bengals in 2008. He rushed for 1,251 yards in 2009, 1,111 in 2010 and 1,067 last season.

This offseason, the organization has talked about getting backup Bernard Scott more touches next season. Benson, meanwhile, has taken to publicly calling out the Bengals -- not the best negotiating strategy.

“We didn’t stick on what the offense was built on," Benson said during an appearance this week on SiriusXM. "When we had Carson and Chad we kept a strong identity in the run game and we kind of got away from it and didn’t let that part of the offense grow and bit the bullet on it a little bit.”

As for Benson's future in Cincy, we think this comment pretty much says it all: “I’m not sure [where things stand]. We haven’t had any talks about a new deal.”

Last offseason, the organization dumped Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton and made the playoffs. The in-with-the-new personnel philosophy will apparently continue this offseason, too.

Potential landing spots: Benson's skills have diminished to the point that he's probably not worth more than a veteran minimum deal. Given his baggage, it makes more sense for a team looking for running back depth to sign a young player.

8. Peyton Hillis

Cleveland wants to keep Hillis? (Getty Images)
Breakdown: Whether Hillis was a victim of the Madden curse (he thinks he was) or he just got really bad really fast, the fact remains: he cost himself a lot of money in 2011. Hillis was traded from the Broncos to the Browns for Tim Tebow's No. 1 fan, Brady Quinn, and Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010. He played in just 10 games last season, rushing for 587 yards and three scores.

Not good. Not good at all.

There were concerns during the season that Hillis let his impending contract negotiations affect his decision to play. As you might expect, that didn't go over well with teammates or fans. Still, the Browns said last month that they want Hillis back after he "worked his way into the team's good graces" over the final six weeks.

A source tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot that the organization might even consider franchising (!) Hillis if they come to terms with linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. That sounds, well, silly but then again, we're talking about the Browns.

Potential landing spots: Browns, Patriots (where derailed careers get back on track), Broncos (two Tebows, one backfield)

9. Ryan Grant

Breakdown: The team appeared to favor James Starks but he's had trouble staying on the field. In 2011, Grant had 14 starts and rushed 134 times for 559 yards and two touchdowns. Not particularly noteworthy, but then again, he played in Aaron Rodgers' offense. He'll be 30 in December and while he rushed for more than 1,200 yards in 2008 and 2009, an ACL injury sidelined him for all but one game in 2010.

Earlier this month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Rob Reischel wrote that "Packer general manager Ted Thompson won't make a heavy investment in a running back Grant's age… So Grant will test free agency, and he is unlikely to return unless there's little interest on the open market."

Grant seems to understand the situation. "We'll see," he said. "I know I have a lot left. I think I showed that at the end of the year here. Would like to be back . . . but we'll just have to see."

Potential landing spots: Teams looking for running back-by-committee members willing to play for the veteran minimum. Barring injuries, not sure there will be much of a market.

10. Honorable Mention

Unrestricted free agents: Mike Tolbert, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kevin Smith, Thomas Jones

Restricted free agents: LeGarrette Blount, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling

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Posted on: February 14, 2012 9:07 am
Edited on: February 21, 2012 9:59 am
 

What players will get franchise tagged in 2012?

Brees reportedly won't be happy if he gets tagged. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Monday February 20, NFL teams can begin to apply the franchise tag to players. They can do so up until March 5 at 4 p.m. ET. For those that don't know, the franchise tag is a method of keeping players from hitting the open market. Previously, the franchise-tag number was generated by averaging the top-five salaries at a position to determine a number for that position.

This year, the franchise tag value will be a percentage of the overall salary cap figure for the previous five years. As such, NFL.com (the league's official website, making the figures trustworthy, one would hope) the following figures, plus figures from last year that we've included:

Position 2012 Franchise Tag Value*
2011 Franchise Tag Value
Quarterback
$14.4 million $16.1 million
Running Back
$7.7 million $9.6 million
Wide Receiver
$9.4 million $11.4 million
Tight End
$5.4 million $7.3 million
Offensive Line
$9.4 million $10.1 million
Defensive End
$10.6 million $13 million
Defensive Tackle
$7.9 million $12.5 million
Linebacker
$8.8 million $10.1 million
Cornerback
$10.6 million $13.5 million
Safety
$6.2 million $8.8 million

*The only instances this doesn't apply: when a player already made more than the franchise-tag value, or when a player receives the franchise tag for the second-straight year, in which case tagging said player would cost 120 percent of their previous base salary.

Aside from the asterisked exception above, it's clearly much more cost effective to utilize the franchise tag on a player in 2012 than it was in 2011. Wide receivers like DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston might not be tag candidates at $11.4 million. At $9.4 million, they certainly are.


With all of that in mind, let's look at some possible franchise-tag candidates, in order of likelihood to be tagged.

New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, Marques Colston or Carl Nicks

The Saints are all but guaranteed to use their franchise tag. Brees is a free agent and there is a zero percent chance that they let him walk into free agency. This is an absolute zero; losing Brees would not only be a disaster for the franchise in terms of winning, it would result in riots on Bourbon Street.

Various reports have emerged about where Brees and the Saints stand. (His agent, Tom Condon, is involved in a small contract situation surrounding Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.) As CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman wrote last week, "the road could be rockier than initially thought" when getting Brees a new deal.

If the Saints can't get a deal done by the tag deadline, they will use the tag on Brees and sort out a deal later. If they can negotiate a deal with Brees before then, either Colston or Nicks will likely get tagged. My money's on Nicks, who could be a steal at less than $10 million given his age and his performance on the interior line the last two years.
DeSean might finally catch that money. (Getty Images)

Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson

Reports are already rolling in that Jackson will be tagged and that the team will seek to trade him once they place the tag on Jackson. Philly better be comfortable rolling with D-Jax if they can't find a suitor, though, because the wide receiver is a good bet to swoop in and sign his tender quickly. The $9.4 million represents more than triple what Jackson's made in his entire career thus far, and you can bet he'd like to see some guaranteed money.

Worst case, of course, is that Philly ends up giving its top playmaker one more "contract year" at turning in a big performance before hitting free agency. $9.4 million is a lot to pay for a wideout, but it's better than a) doling out a big contract to someone new and/or a malcontent, or b) letting Jackson walk for nothing in return.

Chicago Bears: Matt Forte

The rumors of Forte getting tagged began long ago as the Bears said they simply won't let him get to free agency. And they can't: Mike Tice replaced Mike Martz, but that could mean Chicago becoming more dependent on Forte's skills as a rusher and pass-catcher.

Forte said he's OK with the franchise tag provided it leads to further contract negotiations. Those appear to be more successful this time around, without Jerry Angelo on the other side of the table. But if Forte struggles early in his return from injury (an MCL sprain) things could get dicey.

Regardless, he's a steal at $7.7 million in 2012.

Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice

Another no-brainer for the team here: Rice is one of the most dynamic backs in football and accounted for a large chunk of the Ravens offense. Rice's league-leading 2,068 yards from scrimmage accounted for 38.2 percent of the Ravens 5,419 yards, to be exact.

Rice lead the team in rushing ... and receptions. The Ravens need him and it's unfathomable that they'd let Rice walk. He probably won't be happy about playing for $7.7 million in 2012 and it seems obvious that Ozzie Newsome would like to lock down a guy who's averaged just shy of 2,000 yards from scrimmage in the three years he's been a starter for the team.
Will Welker's drop hurt his value? (Getty Images)

New England Patriots: Wes Welker

Welker's taken a lot of grief for his now-infamous drop in the Super Bowl. But just because the guy missed one catch doesn't mean we should forget what he's done for the past five years in New England: Welker averaged 111 catches and 1,221 yards per season since arriving from Miami.

Here's where it gets interesting though: Welker will be 31 when 2012 begins. He's considered a "slot" receiver. But he reportedly wants to be paid like an "elite" receiver. (It's, uh, kind of hard to blame him.) Lots of people think Welker wouldn't be as successful without the Patriots system, but how successful would the Patriots be without Welker?

In other words, we might be headed to an old-fashioned standoff, where the Pats use the franchise tag on Welker (it's all but certain they will, mainly to avoid him landing with an AFC East rival), and Welker refusing to play. Our Rapid Reporter Greg Bedard's speculated as much previously, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Welker sit out the first few weeks if the Pats aren't willing to give him a long-term deal.

Washington Redskins: Fred Davis

Davis had a big year in 2011, catching 59 passes for 796 yards in just 12 games (with Rex Grossman and John Beck throwing him the ball). He missed four games when he was suspended under the NFL's substance-abuse policy. But that actually works in Washington's favor here, since they can commit just $5.5 million to Davis without any fear of long-term blowback.

Buffalo Bills: Stevie Johnson

I spoke with Johnson at the Super Bowl and he said he'd be amenable to playing under the franchise tag in 2012. And it's hard to imagine Buffalo letting one of the more talented and underrated receivers in the game simply walk away. Johnson, depending on the market, could be one of the top wide receivers available.

Given the nature of Buffalo's weapons on offense, $9.4 million isn't all that steep for someone who's produced as steadily as Johnson has over the past two seasons. He took a small step back in receptions, yardage and touchdowns in 2011, but part of that can be attributed to the injuries to Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the Bills late-season swoon.

And if he's willing to ditch the penalty-inflicting celebrations? He's worth it.

Bowe's a fan favorite in KC -- for good reason.(Getty Images)

Kansas City Chiefs: Dwayne Bowe or Brandon Carr

This is quite the conundrum for KC: does new coach Romeo Crennel, recently promoted from defensive coordinator, push to keep the 25-year-old defensive back, or does he sit back while the franchise lets Carr walk and hangs onto it's top wideout?

Bowe quietly put together another monster season in 2011, catching nine more balls than he did in 2010 and only three yards less. Granted, he found the end zone 10 times less this past season, but chalk that up to the Chiefs stupid-easy schedule against the pass in 2010. Oh yeah, and because he was catching balls from Tyler Palko for a quarter of the season.

Bowe's a better value at his franchise cost ($1 million less) I suppose, but Carr will be harder to retain in free agency, because of the nature of cornerbacks on the open market.

Atlanta Falcons: Brent Grimes or Curtis Lofton

The Falcons, not so quietly, have a ton of guys up for free agency this year. Grimes, Lofton, defensive ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann and center Todd McLure lead the list. One of Grimes or Lofton surely will get the franchise tag.

For the same reason as listed with the Chiefs, Grimes makes the most sense -- he'll simply be harder to retain in free agency. Lofton would be $2 million cheaper but Grimes is more important to the Falcons defense. A logical move might be to feel out contract negotiations with both players (provided the Falcons want to keep both of them anyway), work out an extension with one as quickly as possible, franchise the other defender and look to cut a deal with them down the road.
It's hard to put a price on Avril's pass rush. (Getty Images)

Detroit Lions: Cliff Avril

Avril's made no bones about the possibility of being franchised, and isn't happy with the notion. But the franchise tag actually doesn't exist simply to keep a guy around for another year without paying him big money. It's to keep a guy around while you work out a long-term contract.

That's what Avril, who will turn 26 in April, wants, and it should be what the Lions want too, given their dependence on a strong pass rush on the defensive end of things. At $10.6 million he would provide nice value. Provided he played the whole season anyway.

Indianapolis Colts: Robert Mathis

Chuck Pagano's a defensive guy, and even though he's coming into a rebuilding project, it's hard to see he and general manager Ryan Grigson passing on a shot to keep a talented pass-rusher like Mathis around for one more year at a reasonable rate.

Mathis probably said it himself over the weekend on Twitter when he noted that "The #TAG is an honor but personally if i was tagged now id feel they didnt want me but just have not found my replacement yet." Prepare to be honored sir.

Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Spencer

According to one report out of Texas, the Cowboys are at least considering franchising Spencer. The logic isn't that the outside linebacker, drafted 26th overall in 2007, is a monster and worth $8.8 million next year. He's not.

But Spencer might be worth holding onto if the Cowboys don't believe they can fill that spot with a reliable enough player through free agency and don't want to force themselves into selecting an outside linebacker early in the draft and forcing him to play.

Giving Spencer that sort of cash at least provides a safety net for Rob Ryan's defense.

Green Bay Packers: Jermichael Finley

Finley's case is a fascinating one. At $5.5 million, the tight end is a no-doubt-about-it franchise tag choice. But what about at $9.4 million? I ask because Finley's reportedly ready to argue that he's actually more of a wide receiver than a tight end, based on the number of snaps he takes from a wide receiver position. (He may want to remove the words "best tight ends in the league" from his website then.)

The Packers don't seem ready to give Finley a long-term deal yet, but they're also not willing to let him go. That tune could change if Finley's awarded the same price as a wide receiver in arbitration.
Wallace's RFA status is a concern. (Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Wallace

Wallace is actually on a restricted free agent, but as Wilson pointed out on Tuesday's podcast, there's been a lot of discussion in Steelers-land about the possibility of using the full-blown franchise tag on Wallace regardless of his status.

Here's some hypothetical logic: the Steelers use the non-exclusive tag on Wallace, the Patriots, with two first-round picks in the coming draft, negotiate a deal with Wallace and force the Steelers to match said deal or take one of the picks from the Pats. The pick isn't that high and Wallace is a stud, so Pittsburgh, who wants to lock down Wallace anyway, would be letting the Pats (or whomever) negotiate for them.

Lest you think this is silly, look no further than a guy we already talked about: Welker. The Patriots obtained him via trade, but only after the Dolphins used the restricted tag on Welker. After they did, the Pats negotiated with Welker to work in a provision in his contract that would include a monster bonus if he played X games in the state of Florida (AKA "a poison pill"). The Dolphins caved and simply dealt Welker to the Pats instead of trying to play chicken.

The downside is that the Steelers would be forced to paying $7 million extra in 2012 for their No. 1 wideout. The upside is not getting poison-pilled by an AFC rival who'll then hijack the Steelers for the deep threat they need. Hypothetically speaking of course.

Oakland Raiders: Michael Bush

The idea of paying Bush more than Darren McFadden's been bandied about, and it makes sense given Run-DMC's injury history. It doesn't make sense when you consider that new GM Reggie McKenzie would suddenly have a ton of money committed to two running backs. But here's an idea: tag Bush, trade McFadden and then give Bush a new contract. You keep him off the market, you recoup some of those Carson Palmer draft picks and you keep the back best suited for Greg Knapp's zone-rushing attack.

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Posted on: February 9, 2012 5:23 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2012 6:10 pm
 

Victor Cruz: 'I deserve to be paid more money'

CruzBy Josh Katzowitz

In real-life standards, making $490,000 is a pretty decent salary. In the world of pro football, it’s more like a “meh” financial reward, almost the definition of entry-level pay. For an outgoing wide receiver who was virtually unknown before this season and then exploded with an 82-catch, 1,536-yard, nine-touchdown performance and became known as the guy who salsa dances after he scores, it’s an outrage.

Well, not really an outrage, but after his glorious season that ended with a touchdown catch in the Giants Super Bowl XLVI win against the Patriots, Victor Cruz  -- who made $450,000 in 2011 -- would like a substantial raise for 2012.

“I think I was paid, you know, relative to where I came in this year and, you know, I came in as a free agent so that’s the salary I was on, so I don’t feel like I was underpaid,” Cruz told the men at Pro Football Talk. “I mean, I feel like after my performance this year, you know, I feel like I deserve to be paid more money at this point.  But that’s something I’ll let my agents and those people take care of and I’ll just go out there and play the game.”

I don’t think many people would disagree that Cruz deserves more money after his 2011 performance, but remember, he signed a three-year $1.2 million contract after he went unselected in the 2010 draft. He missed all of last season with an injury, so it's not like Cruz has put together multiple seasons of consistency.

NFL Offseason Begins
Also, you have to remember the players who had breakout seasons and demanded more money from their teams and never got it. Players like Sidney Rice, Matt Forte and DeSean Jackson. Just because Cruz had one wonderful season, that doesn’t mean the Giants have to give him a bigger raise than they’d already planned. And considering New York has a powerful receiving corps, is Cruz holding out in training camp really going to scare the Giants into tearing up his old contract and giving him a new one? I’d guess no.

But in other Cruz news, it’s also been reported that he signed with the powerful IMG agency after the Super Bowl. That won’t increase his ability to barter for a new deal with the Giants, because IMG was hired to work on his marketing and endorsement campaigns (I see either a marketing campaign for Tostitos salsa or for Fred Astaire Dance Studios, though considering Cruz turned down “Dancing with the Stars,” he might like to go less mainstream).

However, adding IMG means Cruz most likely will make more money this year. And if that money doesn’t come from the Giants, Cruz might have to be OK with that.

In even more Cruz news, he weighed in on the laughable “Rob Gronkowski was dancing with his shirt off after the Patriots lost” controversy. Cruz, it seems, disagrees with the spirit of what Gronkowski was doing.

“I would have been in my room, watching TV, soaking in the moment,” Cruz told PFT. “It’s not every day you make it to a Super Bowl, man. . . . Some guys play 15, 16 years in this league and don’t make it the Super Bowl. Or even the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. . . . I probably wouldn’t have been partying too much after that.”

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Posted on: February 7, 2012 4:40 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2012 4:42 pm
 

Forte OK with franchise tag if it leads somewhere

M. Forte said he'd be OK with a franchise tag if it leads to a long-term deal. (Getty Images)
By Josh Katzowitz

The Bears, despite their somewhat contentious relationship with Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte during the past season, have made clear they don’t plan on letting him test free agency. That’s what team president/CEO Ted Phillips said recently, claiming new general manager Phil Emery would work with Forte on a possible agreement to a long-term deal or would franchise-tag him to keep him in Chicago.

Forte has been on record saying that he didn’t want to be tagged, noting in November that “If they think by just slapping the franchise tag on me that’s going to silence anything, they’re sadly mistaken.”

Forte apparently has changed his mind.

That’s the impression he gave ESPN 1000 in Chicago during a recent interview when he said he’d be fine with a franchise tag if it led him to that elusive long-term deal.

Forte's future
"It depends on the motive of (the franchise tag)," Forte said Thursday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show.” "If they are doing the franchise tag just to get more time in order to negotiate a long-term deal, then I would be OK with it. But if it's just to hold me another year and just, 'Let's throw some money at him right now to keep him quiet,' that's not going to solve anything."

OK, so he’s beginning to waver on the tag issue. But Forte -- who sprained his MCL late in the season after complaining earlier in the year that the Bears were grinding him to a pulp without paying him what he’s worth -- isn’t going to forget the idea of signing an extended contract.

"I would expect (a new GM) to affect (the talks) positively," Forte said. "Hopefully, if we don't reach a deal by the time the franchise tag has to be placed, if they do franchise me, it's in order to get a deal done."

And if not, I’m sure we won’t hear the end of Forte’s disillusionment.

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Posted on: February 1, 2012 7:03 pm
 

Bears don't plan to let Matt Forte get away

ForteBy Josh Katzowitz

The Bears recently hired Phil Emery to take over for former general manager Jerry Angelo, but the decision on whether to bring back running back Matt Forte or to let him walk in free agency apparently has already been made.

That’s because team president/CEO Ted Phillips said Forte isn’t going anywhere.

"We'd like to (work out a long-term deal)," Phillips said on ESPN 1000, via ESPN Chicago. "But as Phil pointed out we obviously will at least consider placing the franchise tag on him. We don't have any intention of letting Matt hit the open market. We'll sit down with him privately, Phil will, and discuss what the plans are prior to the Feb. 20 franchise tag date."

That leaves about three weeks that the Bears can work out a long-term deal with Forte.

Forte, though, has made it quite clear that he believes he deserves an extended contract. The Bears might be hesitant because they have proof of what can happen if a star running back gets those huge contracts (cough, cough, Chris Johnson).

While Forte had a Pro Bowl season, rushing for 997 yards in 12 games, he obviously wasn’t pleased with his situation. Which he made quite clear in November.

"The running back position is the most physically demanding on the field," Forte said. "Everyone acknowledges that. So to continue to give me the touches I’ve had since my rookie year but not award me a long-term contract sends the message that you’re OK grinding me into a pulp."

Making matters worse, Forte sprained his MCL in December and said he wouldn’t return to the team unless he was 100 percent (the team, then, placed him on the IR list). But after he was cleared by team doctors, Forte played in last Sunday’s Pro Bowl, and it seemed as if his decision to do so was a big “Screw you" to the Bears (that’s how I took it, anyway).

And while Forte will make good money for his one year of service if he’s franchise-tagged, he most likely won’t be happy it.

"If they think by just slapping the franchise tag on me that’s going to silence anything, they’re sadly mistaken," he said in November. "That’s not going to cure everything. It’s not a solution, I would say."

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Posted on: January 19, 2012 4:29 pm
 

Bears say Forte can play in Pro Bowl; should he?

ForteBy Josh Katzowitz

OK, see if this makes sense.

Bears running back Matt Forte was placed on injured reserve this season after injuring his knee on Dec. 3, and already obviously displeased with the way Chicago hadn’t given him the contract extension he so dearly wanted, he said he wouldn’t return to play unless he was 100 percent.

“I'm not going to rush to get back on the field and play while I'm hurt, because (if) you're not at 100 percent you may injure it even more if you do that,” Forte said then.

Right, that’s fine. Smart even. If the Bears won’t pay him what he feels he deserves, there’s no sense in Forte possibly hurting himself again if he’s not completely healthy.

But Thursday the Bears announced Forte had passed his physical and had cleared him to play in the Pro Bowl. It sounds like that’s exactly what Forte will do.

And all I can think is: why? Why would he risk getting injured again as he moves into free agency?  Yeah, the Bears very well could place the franchise tag on him, but I’m betting they won’t if he tears his ACL during the game (hey, Robert Edwards effectively ended his career during that week of celebration).

Is he, as one Twitter follower suggested, simply flipping the bird to the Bears? If that’s the case, it seems like an awfully big risk for a few minutes of pleasure. Not sure I understand.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com