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Looking ahead at future Hall of Fame classes

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The seven members of the 2014 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame have received their busts in Canton, Ohio, and now that enshrinement weekend is behind us, let’s look ahead at the players, coaches and contributors who could comprise the next five Hall of Fame classes.

2015

Junior Seau will be eligible for the first time next year, and he’s the one man who looks like a lock for the class of 2015. Seau’s enshrinement will bring up stories about his suicide and questions about whether brain damage on the football field could have led to his depression, but his enshrinement should also be a celebration of one of the greatest linebackers ever to play the game.

Paul Tagliabue, the former commissioner, may be the biggest beneficiary of the Hall of Fame’s new policy of voting on contributors separately from players and coaches. In past Hall of Fame votes, Tagliabue has lost out, but now that he’s no longer competing with players and coaches, there’s a good chance that he’ll be enshrined next year.

Steve Sabol would also be a good choice in 2015, when there will be two Hall of Fame finalists from the separate contributors category. Sabol’s father Ed is already in the Hall of Fame, but both Sabols deserve busts in Canton for building NFL Films.

Kurt Warner is, after Seau, the player with the best chance of being enshrined in his first year of eligibility next year. Some may say Warner’s greatness was too short-lived to merit Hall of Fame induction, but a player with two regular-season MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP award is probably going to end up in Canton.

Orlando Pace protected Warner’s blind side in St. Louis and was one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL for a decade, and he’ll also be eligible for the first time next year.

Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce were the top two receivers on the Greatest Show on Turf, and they both retired after the 2009 season, making them eligible in 2015. (You can be forgiven if you’ve forgotten that Holt was in Jacksonville and Bruce was in San Francisco in 2009.) It would really be something if they were both inducted along with Warner and Pace. That, however, is awfully unlikely. Wide receivers have had a hard time getting into Canton in recent years, and Holt and Bruce may end up competing against each other and therefore hurting each other’s chances in much the same way that Steelers greats John Stallworth and Lynn Swann did for many years.

Jerry Kramer, the great Packers offensive lineman, would be a strong choice as a senior candidate. Next year will be a harder year for seniors to get in, as only one senior finalist will be nominated. But Kramer may be the most deserving senior candidate eligible.

2016

Brett Favre is a sure thing to be inducted in 2016, and the Packers have already begun the process of turning the year before his induction into a long ceremony honoring Favre, who will have his number retired in 2015.

Terrell Owens also becomes eligible in 2016, but he’s a long shot. Owens is second only to Jerry Rice on the all-time receiving yards list and third behind Rice and Randy Moss in receiving touchdowns, but Owens acted like such a jerk, so often, that he’s remembered as much for becoming a disruptive force in the locker room as he is for being a dominant force on the field.

Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former 49ers owner, may benefit from the new contributors category and be enshrined soon. The question is whether Hall of Fame voters will reward DeBartolo for his role in building the great 49ers teams of the 1980s and 1990s, and overlook the circumstances that led DeBartolo to be forced out of the NFL.

Jerome Bettis may finally get his bust in Canton in 2016, as a relatively weak crop of first-year eligible players will make room for those who have previously been passed over.

Will Shields, the great guard for the Chiefs, would also seem likely to benefit from a lack of first-year eligible players, although there have been so many great offensive linemen enshrined in Canton in recent years that it’s hard for any one to gain recognition over all the others.

Marvin Harrison was voted down this year, but he had so many great seasons as a receiver for the Colts that it seems like just a matter of time before he gets in, and 2016 may be the year.

Randy Gradishar and Ken Stabler are a couple of good senior candidates who may be enshrined in 2016, when two seniors will be eligible. (Only one senior is eligible in 2015, 2017 and 2019.)

2017

LaDainian Tomlinson becomes eligible for the first time in 2017, and with 13,684 career rushing yards, Tomlinson looks like a good bet to make it. Only four players have more yards than Tomlinson (Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin) and all four are already in the Hall.

Jason Taylor becomes eligible in 2017 as well, and he has a good case, although he may be joining a crowded field of pass rushers, as we’ll detail momentarily.

Kevin Greene was voted down as a Hall of Fame finalist last year, but with 160 sacks in his career, he seems sure to get in eventually: The only players with more career sacks than Greene were Bruce Smith and Reggie White, two of the greatest players in NFL history. The 2017 class may be the one that finally makes room for Greene.

Charles Haley also might finally get his Hall call in 2017. He’s been voted down five times already, but his contributions to Super Bowl winners in both San Francisco and Dallas should be enough to earn him a bust at some point.

Hines Ward was a great wide receiver and a Super Bowl MVP winner, and he’ll be eligible for the first time in 2017. But Ward’s career numbers (1,000 catches for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns) are dwarfed by those of some other recent receivers, and Ward may suffer by comparison.

Brian Dawkins was a nine-time Pro Bowl safety who also becomes eligible in 2017, but he seems unlikely to be selected in his first year of eligibility. Dawkins was a beloved player both on and off the field, and at some point the voters may put him in Canton, but that point probably won’t be until he’s on the ballot for at least a few years.

George Young, the former Giants general manager, is just the kind of person that the new “contributors” category is designed to recognize, and the 2017 class may be the year that the late Young gets his due.

Don Coryell would appear to be a likely choice as a senior candidate some day, and 2017 may be when that day comes. Coryell never won a championship as a coach, but he was such an innovator of the passing game that he’s a significant figure in the history of football.

2018

Ray Lewis will be an easy choice as one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. There’s no room for debate on that.

Randy Moss may leave some room for debate, as his numbers are comparable to those of Terrell Owens, who looks like a long shot. But Moss at his best was such a game-changer that he just feels like exactly the kind of player who belongs in Canton.

Brian Urlacher, who like Lewis and Moss becomes eligible in 2018, has a very good case for enshrinement as well. Although he’ll suffer in comparison to Lewis, there will probably be enough support for Urlacher to get him enshrined in his first year of eligibility.

Steve Hutchinson was a great guard and also becomes eligible in 2018, but he won’t get in on his first year of eligibility. Hutchinson may be a finalist many times, but getting the necessary 80 percent of the vote will be tough.

Tim Brown is a longtime finalist who feels like he accomplished enough in the NFL (usually while serving as the only decent threat in his teams’ passing games) that he should be recognized eventually. The 2018 class may be the year.

Art Modell has been voted down several times, and the opposition to his candidacy is strong from some who say that taking the Browns out of Cleveland was an unforgivable sin. But the new contributors category gives Modell a much better chance, and 2018 could be his year.

Bob Kuechenberg and Cliff Harris are among the best senior candidates who haven’t been selected yet.

2019

Tony Gonzalez becomes eligible for the first time in 2019, and he’s just about a sure thing as one of the greatest tight ends ever to play the game.

Ed Reed also becomes eligible for the first time in 2019, and he also looks like a sure thing as one of the greatest safeties ever to play the game.

Tony Dungy was voted down in his first year of eligibility last year and may be voted down a few more times, but he’s likely to get in eventually, and 2019 could be the year.

Morten Andersen was also voted down this year in his first year as a Hall of Fame finalist, but he also has a good case to make it eventually. Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leader in points scored, would join Jan Stenerud and Ray Guy as the only kicking specialists in the Hall of Fame.

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Report: Washington working on Brian Orakpo return

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The Redskins used the franchise tag on linebacker Brian Orakpo last year to ensure he would remain in Washington for the 2014 season, but it doesn’t look like they’ll go down that road again this time around.

Dianna Marie Russini of NBC Washington reports that the team will not tag Orakpo for the second straight year. That’s not a big surprise with Orakpo recovering from a torn pectoral muscle for the third time in his career.

That injury limited Orakpo to seven games and a half-sack last season, although Russini reports that the team is still interested in bringing Orakpo back. They’re reportedly working on reaching agreement on a deal that Orakpo would sign before hitting the open market next week.

The top of the market for edge rushers will be impacted by franchise tags as Justin Houston has been tagged while Jason Pierre-Paul and Jerry Hughes could join him before Monday afternoon’s deadline. Greg Hardy is the biggest name expected to hit March 10 with the ability to sign anywhere he wants with Orakpo, Brandon Graham and Jason Worilds somewhere behind him on the list.

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Report: Brad Jones visited Titans, visiting Eagles on Monday

Matt Forte, Brad Jones AP

Players who have been released by their teams since the end of the season are free to sign with other teams ahead of the start of free agency next week and linebacker Brad Jones is trying to take advantage of that opportunity.

Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean reports that Jones recently visited with the Titans and is scheduled to meet with the Eagles on Monday. Wyatt adds that other teams have shown interest in Jones, who was released by the Packers in February.

Jones played in 76 games at inside linebacker for the Packers over the last six seasons.

The Eagles currently have Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans (recovering from a torn Achilles) and Emmanuel Acho at the position, so Jones could provide depth while taking on the big role on special teams he played with the Packers. The Titans, who have Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard among others on the depth chart, showed interest in Jones last year before he re-signed with Green Bay.

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Ravens cut Victor Hampton after DWI arrest

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When a good player gets arrested, the player’s team usually releases a statement saying it is aware of the matter but will have no comment while it waits for due process to play out.

When a mediocre player gets arrested, the player’s team usually cuts him.

Victor Hampton has just found that out the hard way.

Hampton, who was arrested for driving while intoxicated over the weekend, has been released by the Ravens. The Ravens’ entire statement was as follows: “The Baltimore Ravens have waived CB Victor Hampton from their roster, general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome announced Monday afternoon.”

Although Hampton faces a potential two-game suspension from the NFL, that’s probably not going to be an issue. Hampton went undrafted in 2014 largely because of off-field concerns, and after failing to get on the field as a rookie, he’s now been arrested again. Hampton has blown enough second chances that it’s hard to see any team giving Hampton another second chance.

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2015 salary cap set at $143.28 million

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers

The 2015 NFL salary cap has been set at $143.28 million.

That won’t come as a surprise to either owners or players, but it wasn’t official until today. The final cap number was set today in conjunction with the deadline for teams to make their decisions on franchise player designations.

That doesn’t mean every team will spend $143.28 million. In fact, according to the NFL Players Association, 31 teams are carrying over some unused cap space from last year. The Rams are the only team that is not carrying over any cap space. Teams also have dead money counting against their 2015 caps from prorated signing bonuses of players who are no longer on the roster, and teams can use accounting tricks to spend more than $143.28 million this year by pushing some of the money they pay players to future years’ caps.

But the cap has been set, and the cap number for every team will be $143.28 million.

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Treasure to trash: Bucs trying to unload Anthony Collins

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When the free agent period opens next week, teams will throw big money at guys they believe to be the answers to all their problems.

And if they’re not, those guys will inevitably be thrown back.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Buccaneers are trying to trade left tackle Anthony Collins, and will cut him if they’re not able to.

That pretty much means they’re going to cut him, as Collins played so poorly last year there won’t be a line of teams eager to take on his contract.

The Bucs signed him to a five-year, $30 million a year ago, hoping he’d shore up a weak offensive line.

Collins was good-not-great for the Bengals, and the Buccaneers clearly overspent out of desperation.

Now, they’re looking elsewhere, and providing a cautionary tale to teams who want to win in March,

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Kendall Langford visiting the defensive tackle-less Lions today

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The Lions have chosen to hold the door open to their free agent defensive tackles, and today, another is walking in.

According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, former Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford is visiting the Lions today.

The Lions have chosen to not use the franchise tag on Ndamukong Suh (which would have hit them for $27 million for one season).

And a year ago, they elected not to pick up the option year on defensive tackle Nick Fairley, which makes him a free agent next week as well.

The Lions can continue to negotiate with both Suh and Fairley, but bringing in Langord’s also a tacit realization that they might be needing to backfill the position soon.

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Franchise and transition tag numbers are in

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Teams should get final numbers soon on the 2015 salary cap, which is expected to come in around $143 million.

And based on that number, the teams that are playing tag by today’s deadline have a better idea of how much it is going to cost them.

Via Albert Breer of the NFL Network, the projections for the franchise tags are in:

Quarterbacks: $18.51 million

Running backs: $10.93 million

Wide receivers: $12.80 million

Tight ends: $8.33 million

Offensive linemen: $12.92 million

Defensive tackles: $11.17 million

Defensive ends: $14.78 million

Linebackers: $13.17 million

Cornerbacks: $13.05 million

Safeties: $9.60 million

Kickers/punters: $4.12 million.

The numbers are also in for the transition tag, which allows the teams to secure the right to match any deal a free agent finds, but offers no compensation if they don’t.

Quarterbacks: $16.12 million

Running backs: $9.02 million

Wide receivers: $10.95 million

Tight ends: $7.057 million

Offensive linemen: $11.08 million

Defensive tackles: $9.30 million

Defensive ends: $11.94 million

Linebackers: $11.04 million

Cornerbacks: $11.06 million

Safeties: $8.25 million

Kickers/punters: $3.71 million.

Those transition numbers also double as the fifth-year option numbers for the top 10 picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The numbers could still bump up a bit if the final cap calculation comes in above $143 million, but those are the numbers teams are working with at the moment.

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Rick Spielman: Open dialogue with Adrian Peterson has been beneficial

Adrian Peterson, Chris Conte AP

Running back Adrian Peterson wasn’t fully reinstated as a result of Judge David Doty’s decision that the NFL is not permitted to punish Peterson under the conditions of the league’s new personal conduct policy, but he was cleared to have contact with the Vikings while he’s on the commissioner’s exempt list pending the NFL’s appeal of Doty’s ruling.

General Manager Rick Spielman said Monday that the team has been in contact with Peterson since the ruling, but didn’t offer any details about what discussions have gone on. Spielman did say the ability to have “open dialogue” has been “beneficial” and reiterated that the team wants Peterson back for the 2015 season.

“We are able to have communication now with Adrian,” Spielman said, via Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. “We’ll keep all those communications internal. I don’t want to sit here and give you guys a blow-by-blow every day. I think it’s very clearly stated that we want Adrian Peterson back. There’s no question about the talent and he’s a unique talent and he’s under contract with us.”

Peterson didn’t mention anything about his desire to return to the Vikings in the statement he released after Doty’s decision last week, but said in February that he was “still uneasy” about returning to the Vikings after the way they handled his situation during the 2014 season.

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No charges filed against Jarrett Bush after “Big Italian” incident

Packers' Bush reacts after breaking up a pass in their NFL football game against the Vikings in Green Bay Reuters

A week before he’ll become a free agent, Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush got a “get out of jail free” card.

While Bush was booked into the Solano County (Calif.) Jail last night on a charge of disorderly conduct while under the influence, the police have let him go.

Via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, police said this morning that Bush would not be charged with anything, following an incident at a place called Evelyn’s Big Italian Restaurant (some of this stuff you can’t make up).

When police arrived to break up an incident at the bar, they told everyone to leave. Bush didn’t, which led to his being hauled downtown (I don’t know Vacaville well enough to know if it’s actually downtown, but that’s just a cool cop thing to say).

The cops said the 30-year-old Bush was cooperative with police after he was detained, which is usually the best way to avoid more jail time, for what seems to have been a misunderstanding.

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Dwight Freeney says he’ll play this season

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Toward the end of last season, Chargers outside linebacker Dwight Freeney started musing about retirement and said he wasn’t sure if he’d be back in 2015. Now it’s 2015, and Freeney says he’s sure he’ll be back.

“I could retire tomorrow and still be happy with what I’ve done in this league,” Freeney told Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego. “But I think I have a lot in the tank as well. It’s one of those things where I’m going to wait for the right situation to come across the table. Hopefully it’s with the Chargers. If they are not interested, obviously, you have to [test] the free agent market and see what team is interested.”

The question, then, is not whether Freeney wants to play. He does. The question is whether any team wants to pay Freeney this year.

The answer to that question is not clear. Freeney is 35 years old and had just 3.5 sacks last season, and at this point in his career he’s only a part-time player. If he’s going to play, Freeney is going to have to sign a low-paying contract and prove himself in training camp.

After 13 seasons and 111.5 sacks, Freeney is near the end of the line. But he doesn’t think he’s finished just yet.

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Justin Houston situation is about to get very interesting

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The Chiefs finally did what has been expected for months — they’ve applied the franchise tag to linebacker Justin Houston. And as explained over the weekend (when most of you weren’t devoting non-work time to non-work reading of the Internet), it’s much closer to the start of the process than the end of it.

The Chiefs opted for the non-exclusive version of the tag. On one hand, it’s cheaper than the exclusive level of the tag. On the other hand, it allows another team to sign Houston to an offer sheet that, if not matched by the Chiefs, would result in Houston changing hands for a pair of first-round picks.

Per a league source, Houston intends to aggressively pursue an offer sheet from another team, targeting teams that would be giving up a low first-round pick in 2015 and, most likely, a low first-round pick in 2016. Houston also intends to continue to pursue an offer sheet after the draft, when the compensation necessarily will become a first-round pick in 2016 and 2017.

Houston, we’re told, is seriously considering staying away from the Chiefs until the Week 10 deadline for signing the franchise tender. If nothing materializes by then, Houston would sign the tender, finish the season, and hit the market in 2016 — unless the Chiefs plan to tender him again, at a 20-percent raise over the 2015 franchise tender.

That’s a stark change from Houston’s in-season plan to sign the tender right away, gladly accepting the life-transforming $13 million or so for one year of play. That 22-sack season may have been a factor in Houston’s change of plans.

Finally, Houston will consult with the NFLPA to explore the possibility of filing a grievance seeking the defensive end franchise tender, which will be higher than the linebacker tender. Seven years ago, Ravens and Terrell Suggs engaged in a similar fight, with the two sides agreeing to essentially split the difference. For Houston, it could be a bit more challenging because he actually does play a considerable amount of linebacker, dropping into coverage in some passing situations.

Which makes him more versatile, makes his 22 sacks more impressive, and potentially makes him a lot more attractive to a team with a desperate coach and/or G.M. who may not be around to use the future draft picks that would be sacrificed to get Houston now.

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Jacoby Jones slated for visits with Bengals, Titans

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Neither the Bengals nor Titans are expected to use their franchise tag on Monday, leaving them free to work on other matters before the start of the new league year next week.

One thing that’s on tap is a visit with wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones. Jones was released by the Ravens last week, leaving him free to sign with Cincinnati, Tennessee or any other team that’s interested in bringing him on board.

Geoff Hobson of the team’s website reports that Jones is scheduled for a visit with the team. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports the same as well as the visit with the Titans.

Jones had just nine catches for the Ravens last season, but did average 30 yards per kickoff return. That would represent an improvement for each team, although neither team would seem to have a pressing need for Jones’s services on offense given the overall makeup of their receiving groups.

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PFT Live: Panthers/Ravens offseason to-do lists

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Any team that wants to use the franchise tag has until Monday afternoon’s deadline to do so and we’ll take a look at where everything stands during Monday’s edition of PFT Live.

Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston has received the tag and the Lions won’t be using it on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but there’s still decisions to be made on Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant and others. Mike Florio will break them all down during the show.

Florio will also continue our series of offseason to-do lists by looking at the Panthers and Ravens. Neither of those teams are expected to use the tag, although there’s plenty of other things to discuss about both teams.

We also want to hear from PFT Planet. Email questions at any time via the O’Reilly Auto Parts Ask the Pros inbox or get in touch on Twitter at @ProFootballTalk to let us know what’s on your mind.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can listen to all three hours live via the various NBC Sports Radio affiliates, through the links at PFT, or with the NBC Sports Radio app. You can also watch a simulcast of the first hour of the show by clicking right here.

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Rosenhaus: Eagles haven’t asked McCoy to alter contract

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With total compensation of $10.25 million and a cap number of $11.95 million for running back LeSean McCoy, many have believed the Eagles eventually will ask McCoy to reduce his cap number, either by restructuring the contract or by taking less money.

Agent Drew Rosenhaus tells PFT that the team has not yet approached him with a request to do either thing.

The fact that it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  The new league year doesn’t begin for eight days, and pro football is a deadline-driven business.

For the Eagles, the start of the new league year isn’t really a deadline, because the Eagles aren’t pressed against the cap.  They can carry McCoy on the books until the start of the regular season before his $9.75 million salary becomes fully guaranteed and his $250,000 roster bonus begins being earned one game at a time.

For McCoy and any player, it’s better to be on the market sooner than later.  The earlier the player is on the market, he’ll have more options — and likely more money.

As practical matter, if the Eagles are considering giving McCoy an ultimatum, they’ll likely do it before the offseason program begins, since a fluke season-ending injury while working out at the team facility or engaging in OTA sessions will result in the Eagles owing McCoy his full base salary.  That’s what the Eagles did with receiver DeSean Jackson a year ago, cutting him in April after a failed effort to trade him.

So, basically, no news is no news.  For McCoy, it may eventually be good news.  If it’s going to be bad news, the bad news would be a lot better if it came before March 10.

Meanwhile, here’s McCoy’s entertaining visit to PFT Live at the Super Bowl.  Assuming the boss is otherwise not in position to hear the speakers on your computer.

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Gostkowski more likely to be tagged than McCourty

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It figures that a guy who’d have no problem with the franchise tag may not get it.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty said last week he’d welcome the player-friendly $9.6-million-or-so one-year contract that goes with being tagged.  Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski could end up being the guy sporting the franchise tag.

According to Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, a greater likelihood exists that the Patriots will tag their kicker over their top safety.  Casual fans routinely scoff at the notion that a kicker is a “franchise player,” but kickers who get the franchise tag see a much lower one-year contract offer.  For Gostkowski, Reiss estimates that the cash and cap number will be in the range of $4.5 million.

By not tagging McCourty, the Patriots would perhaps set the stage either to pay cornerback Darrelle Revis $20 million to keep him for 2015 (at a cap number of $25 million) or to give Revis a big-money extension.  It’s hard to imagine the Patriots letting McCourty hit the market if they also plan to release Revis before his compensation for 2015 becomes fully guaranteed.

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