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The NFC free agents, updated again

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Well, we can’t update the AFC free agents without updating the NFC free agents.

So we’ve updated the NFC free agents.

The free agents for the NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, and NFC West teams are just a click away.

If we missed any, or if you simply want to complain to me directly, send an email.

Free agency opens on March 11 at 4:00 p.m. ET.

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The AFC free agents, updated again

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As free agency approaches, more guys are re-signing and/or getting tagged.

So we’re continuously updating the per-division list of free agents, for your perusal, inspection, or other purposes.

For the AFC, you can click the links and see the looming free agents (with all re-signings noted) for all teams in the AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, and AFC West.

We’ll update as players re-sign; that will happen even faster if you let us know.

Feel free to use that link to email anything else you want to pass along.  As if we needed to mention that.

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What should the other tagged players do?

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Now that Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy has put pen to paper and accepted an offer to make $13.116 million guaranteed in 2014 under the franchise tag, the other tagged players (three franchise, two transition) need to decide what to do about their own situations.

So let’s give some free advice (money-back guarantee) to the remaining five guys who have decisions to make.

The options are simple — sign it now, sign it later, sign it in September.

Browns center Alex Mack:  Sign it now.

The little-used transition tag allows Mack to negotiate with other teams and to sign an offer sheet elsewhere.  If the Browns don’t match, Mack joins the new team.  If the Browns match, he gets that same contract in Cleveland.

But no one will be offering Mack a contract that averages $10 million per year.  So why not take the $10 million guaranteed for 2014 and hit the open market in 2015?

The Browns would have to pay Mack $12 million to use either the franchise or transition tag in 2015.  If they use either tag, Mack should immediately sign it then, too.

He’s a great center, but he’s a center.  The position doesn’t pay eight figures per year.

Once Mack signs his transition tender, it will.

Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds:  Sign it later.

Yes, $9.754 million represents solid one-year compensation for a guy who has made a total of $3.7 million during his four-year career.  But Worilds has a chance to fish for a long-term contract, possibly from a team that can front load a contract in a way the Steelers can’t match.

While the poison pill is dead, a new team with plenty of cap space can use a huge base salary or a gigantic roster bonus for 2014 to put the Steelers in a box.

Worilds should aggressively pursue an offer from another team early in the free-agency period.  If nothing acceptable comes within a week or so, he should take the $9.754 million before the Steelers rescind the tag, which would instantly create $9.754 million in cap space and thrust Worilds onto the market after the big money has been spent.

Jets kicker Nick Folk:  Sign it now.

The franchise player designation seems a little goofy for kickers and punters.  It becomes even goofier when considering the possibility of another team signing a franchise-tagged kicker or punter to an offer sheet and giving up two first-round picks.

Folk should take a page out of the Greg Hardy playbook and sign the franchise tender right now, taking the $3.55 million for 2014 and continuing to negotiate a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline.

For kickers, going year-to-year is easier to justify because the position entails a much lower injury risk.  Next year, Folk can hit the open market or get $4.26 million for another season with the Jets.

Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo:  Sign it later.

Tagged officially as a linebacker, Brian Orakpo may argue he’s actually a defensive end, dusting off the position taken by Terrell Suggs in 2008.  (The Ravens and Suggs eventually worked out a compromise on the value of the tag, and then agreed to a long-term deal the following year.)

Once Orakpo’s status is resolved, he should immediately sign the tender.  Washington’s hesitation to use the tag could later become a decision to rescind it.  If they decide to rescind it in April or May, Orakpo will have a hard time making $11.455 million as a linebacker or $13.116 million as a defensive end for 2014 on the open market.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham:  Sign it in September.

Graham definitely should wait for the threshold question of whether he’s a tight end or a receiver to be resolved before even considering signing the tender.

Even then, he shouldn’t sign it — because someone else could decide to try to make a run at him.  Although few non-quarterbacks would justify a trade of two first-round draft picks, Graham’s availability could persuade a team with a late first-round pick (and likely to have a late first-rounder in 2015) to give it a go.

A coach and/or a G.M. who currently are feeling the heat to win may also consider trying to sign Graham after the 2014 draft, at which time the surrendered picks would come in 2015 and 2016.

The Saints are likely to give Graham the long-term contract he wants before the July 15 deadline for doing a multi-year deal.  If an acceptable agreement isn’t reached, Graham should still wait to sign, skipping training camp and the preseason and showing up as close to the start of the regular season as possible before inking the tender and getting the full amount of the contract with no penalties for holding out, since a guy can’t be fined for holding out if he’s not under contract.

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The 2014 franchise/transition tags

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[Editor's note:  The window has closed on the 2014 use of the franchise tag.  This year, only four players were tagged.  Two received the little-used transition tag.  Here's the entire list, with a quick take on each guy.]

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham

While some are blaming the looming fight over whether Graham is a receiver for tag purposes on Graham and/or his agent, this fight has been brewing for a couple of years.  The Packers and Jermichael Finley worked out a deal before pulling the pin on a tag-and-grievance situation.  Last year, the Titans didn’t even risk it by opting not to tag tight end Jared Cook, due in large part to the inability of the Management Council to guarantee that the Titans wouldn’t eventually have to pay more than $4.5 million more under the receiver version of the tag.

The question of tight end versus receiver becomes moot if another team signs Graham to an offer sheet.  While highly unlikely, it wouldn’t be completely shocking if a team picking at the bottom of round one this year (and presumably next year) decides to make a run at Graham, in exchange for a pair of first-round picks if the Saints don’t match.

Jets kicker Nick Folk

Those who insist kickers aren’t franchise players forget that five kickers were tagged in 2012.  At $3.55 million for one year, it’s a bargain as franchise tags go.

It’s also less than the going rate of $4 million per year for a high-end kicker.

Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy

With a slew of young, talented players who either are or will soon be eligible for long-term deals, the Panthers have to be careful about their long-term commitments.  For now, they’ll commit $13.116 million to Hardy pending a long-term deal at a lower cap number — or possibly a trade to another team, if the Panthers just can’t find an acceptable middle ground.

Looming over the situation is the six-year, $76 million contract given to defensive end Charles Johnson in 2011.  It’ll be hard to give Hardy a deal with an annual rate of less than Johnson’s $12.67 million.

Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo

They reportedly agonized over whether to tag Orakpo, who missed much of 2012 due to injury but rebounded with a Pro Bowl season in 2013. Orakpo could argue that he’s actually a defensive end and not a linebacker; the difference between the $11.455 million tag for linebackers and the $13.116 million tag for defensive ends is only $1.661 million.

Still, that’s $1.661 million.

Browns center Alex Mack

The transition tag became a little-used device after the 2006 labor deal made the transition tender fully guaranteed if accepted.  For Mack, a center, the prospect of making $10.03 million in 2014 should prompt him to sprint to his agent’s office to sign the tender.

With the franchise tag for offensive linemen only $1.654 million higher and the Browns having $57 million in cap space, they arguably should have just used the franchise tag.

While it’s possible that another team will sign Mack to a contract that more accurately reflects the center market, there’s no reason for Mack to do a long-term deal unless it pays him a lot more than $10.03 million guaranteed.  His best move could be to take the money for 2014 and hit the market next year.

Unless the Browns want to pay him $12 million under the franchise or transition tag in 2015.

Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds

Unlike Mack, Worilds should play this one out.  With the Steelers likely to be pressed up against the cap, another team could sign him to an offer sheet the Steelers can’t match.

They’ll possible be able to match it only if they cut LaMarr Woodley.

Using the transition tag on Worilds buys some time for the Steelers, and gives Worilds a chance to test the market.  If Worilds opts to sign the tender, the Steelers can live with $9.754 million in cap space for Worilds for one year, while negotiating a long-term deal.

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Murphy details Competition Committee’s Indy agenda

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The NFL’s Competition Committee launches into its busiest period of the year every February, with meetings at the Scouting Combine aimed at identifying the potential rule changes to be recommended for owners in March.  Typically, only bits and pieces of the agenda are publicly disclosed, via a smattering or reports based on on-the-record quotes or off-the-record leaks.

Packers CEO Mark Murphy, who joined the Competition Committee in 2012, has made the process easier for everyone.  In his monthly column at Packers.com, Murphy revealed everything the Competition Committee discussed in Indy.

Here’s the full list of the rules considered for potential changes in Indianapolis, according to Murphy:

1.  Chop blocks, roll blocks, downfield cut blocks, and peel-back blocks, which can injure defensive players.

2.  Protections for read-option quarterbacks while in the pocket.

3.  The “hands to the face” penalty, which could expand to encompass quick blows to the head in addition to the current prohibition of pinning the opponent’s head in a sustained manner.

4.  Low hits on defenseless players, specifically receivers while catching a pass.

5.  Taunting and fighting penalties, to ensure players are treating each other with respect.

6.  The point-after touchdown, which could be eliminated.

7.  Playoff expansion, which would add a No. 7 seed in each conference, eliminating the bye for the No. 2 seed in each conference.

8.  The instant replay system, which could be adjusted to mirror the college system (where the replay official makes the decision) or to adopt the NHL’s approach of centralized review.

The Competition Committee has reconvened in Naples, Florida to finalize a list of proposals that will be made to ownership during the league meetings later this month.  Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay typically conducts a media conference call to identify and explain all proposals before the league meetings commence.

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10 things to know about the Jimmy Graham franchise tag

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Now that the Saints have applied the franchise tag to tight end Jimmy Graham, plenty of things can happen over the next four months or so.

Here are 10 things to know about the situation, which could get more and more interesting as time goes by.

1.  The Saints don’t designate the position.

Despite reports suggesting that the Saints would be tagging Graham as a tight end, the Saints simply apply the tag generically.  The NFL Management Council will determine whether to apply the $7.035 million tight end franchise tender or the far more lucrative $12.315 million receiver franchise tender.

The difference amounts to $5.28 million on a one-year deal.

2.  Graham believes he’s a receiver.

If the Management Council gives Graham the designation that meshes with the position he officially plays, Graham and the NFLPA will file an immediate grievance.  The dispute will be resolved by a System Arbitrator, subject to review by the three-member Appeals panel.

3.  The labor deal controls the decision.

Article 10, Section 2(a)(i) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement explains that the tender will be issued for “the position . . . at which the Franchise Player participated in the most plays during the prior League Year.”

A literal application of that language requires a simple counting of the plays in which Graham lined up as a tight end, and the plays during which he lined up as a receiver.  There’s no dispute that Graham lined up in the slot or split wide more times than he lined up next to a tackle.

4.  The Saints’ argument will be rooted in common sense.

The Saints will argue that tight ends routinely line up in various spots, and that since the tight end is the only player that ever lines up next to the tackle, the fact that Graham lined up at least one third of the time next to the tackle makes him a tight end.

The dispute will hinge on whether the System Arbitrator regards a tight end lining up in the slot or splitting wide as participating in the resulting play as a tight end or as a receiver.

5.  The dispute can be resolved at any time.

Even though the Saints have applied the franchise tag to Graham, the Saints and Graham can reach an agreement that resolves the looming dispute, either through a multi-year deal or a one-year agreement that, for example, splits the $5.28 million difference.

The next logical deadline for working out a deal comes before the ruling is issued by the System Arbitrator.  That’s what happened in 2008, when the Ravens designated Terrell Suggs as a linebacker and he argued that he’s actually a defensive end.

By not resolving the issue before applying the tag, the Saints risk Graham deciding to dig in his heels and not reach a compromise, forcing a decision that will result in a $5.28 million swing on a one-year deal.

6.  Graham could argue that the tag should be eliminated.

Even though the Saints didn’t designate a position when applying the franchise tag, Graham and the NFLPA can argue that the NFL’s Management Council gets only one opportunity to select the correct application of the tag — and that the failure to pick the right position invalidates the tag.

If successful, Graham could become a free agent.  While that outcome is highly unlikely, nothing stops Graham from making the argument.

7.  A precedent could be set for other tight ends.

If Graham’s situation results in a decision from the System Arbitrator, the outcome will provide guidance to all other teams and players facing a similar situation in the future.

If Graham and the Saints strike a deal that makes a ruling unnecessary, it would be prudent for the NFL and the NFLPA to clarify the tight end/receiver distinction in the Collective Bargaining Agreement moving forward.  Otherwise, this potential issue will continue to arise.

8.  Graham’s official position would not be changed.

If Graham prevails on his argument that he’s a receiver for franchise tag purposes, his official position wouldn’t change.  He’d continue to be listed as a tight end, he’d continue to attend tight end meetings, and (perhaps most importantly) he’d still be a tight end for fantasy football purposes.

9.  July 15 remains an important date.

Regardless of how the franchise-tag categorization is resolved, the Saints and Graham would have until July 15 to strike a long-term deal.  After July 15, only a one-year deal can be signed.  Which would put Graham on track for becoming a free agent again in 2015.

If Graham wins the grievance and secures designation as a receiver, it won’t matter where he lines up in 2014.  If tagged in 2015, he’d be entitled to a 20-percent raise over the receiver franchise tender.

10.  Graham could choose to go year to year.

Whether Graham wins or loses the looming grievance, he could elect to not do a long-term deal, opting instead to retain the injury risk and play one year at a time.  He’d receive a 20-percent raise in 2015 if tagged again, and then a 44-percent raise in 2016 or the quarterback franchise tender, whichever is greater.

If Graham is deemed to be a receiver for franchise-tag purposes, Graham would be entitled to $14.77 million in 2015 and $21.275 million in 2016.

That’s a three-year haul of $48.357 million.

So, yes, that $5.28 million question can result in all sorts of outcomes, including Graham making more than $45 million more over the next three NFL seasons than the $3.3 million he received in his first four years in the league.

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Franchise tag numbers for 2014 are set

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With the 2014 salary cap determined to be $133 million, the franchise tenders can be calculated.

According to Albert Breer of NFL Network, the various franchise tags are as follows:

Quarterback:  $16.912 million.

Running back:  $9.54 million.

Receiver:  $12.312 million.

Tight end:  $7.035 million.

Offensive line:  $11.654 million.

Defensive end:  $13.116 million.

Defensive tackle:  $9.654 million.

Linebacker:  $11.455 million.

Cornerback:  $11.834 million.

Safety:  $8.433 million.

Kicker/punter:  $3.556 million.

So far, three tags have been applied.  Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy will be entitled to a one-year salary of $13.116 million.  Jets kicker Nick Folk will be eligible for a one-year, $3.556 million deal.

As to Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, he’ll either get $7.035 million as a tight end or $12.312 million as a receiver.

The period for applying the franchise tag expires on Monday at 4:00 p.m. ET.

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The NFC free agents, updated and reloaded

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Earlier today, we updated and dusted off the list of looming free agents for each of the teams of the AFC.

Now it’s time for the other conference.  The free agents for the NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, and NFC West teams are just a click away.

The same disclaimers apply.  The lists omit players who have been cut, because they instantly become free agents and can sign anywhere.  The lists include free agents who have expressed an intention to retire, since it wouldn’t be the first time a guy who says he plans to retire doesn’t.

Free agency opens on March 11.  We’re currently putting together our top-100 list of all free agents, and we’re plotting out a schedule that ensures 24-hour-per-day coverage during the first few days of the process.

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The AFC free agents, updated and reloaded

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Earlier this month, we cobbled together a full and complete — and accurate, hopefully — list of the free agents who’ll be hitting the market on March 11.

With free agency less than two weeks away, we’ve scoured NFLPA records and other resources to update the list to reflect any and all players who have since signed new contracts with their current teams.  The lists have been updated accordingly.

Click the links and see the looming free agents for all teams in the AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, and AFC West.

We’ll update as players re-sign; it’ll happen even faster if you let us know.

These lists do not include players who have been cut, because they instantly become free agents and can sign anywhere.  More importantly, they don’t count toward the convoluted formula of free-agency gains and losses that will determine the 2015 compensatory draft picks.

The lists do include players who have expressed an intention to retire, since one of the two very important things the football-following world learned from Brett Favre is that there’s a big difference between expressing an intention to retire and actually doing it.

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Press release announcing release of Ted Wells report

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Ted Wells, co-chair of the Litigation Department at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP (“Paul, Weiss”), has released his independent Report to the National Football League concerning allegations of workplace misconduct at the Miami Dolphins. The Report is publicly available at http://www.NFLDolphinsreport.com.

Mr. Wells was retained by Commissioner Roger Goodell on November 6, 2013. The Report is the result of an independent investigation led by Mr. Wells into allegations that the abrupt departure of Dolphins starting offensive lineman Jonathan Martin on October 28, 2013, midway through the season, was the result of persistent bullying and harassment by some of his teammates.

Paul, Weiss has conducted a comprehensive investigation, aided by full cooperation from the NFL, the National Football League Players Association and the Miami Dolphins. Paul, Weiss reviewed thousands of voluntarily produced documents, including text messages, emails and team policies, and completed more than 100 interviews, including interviews of all Dolphins players and coaches, key front office personnel, and the team’s owner and chairman.

Said Mr. Wells: “The Report concludes that three starters on the Dolphins offensive line, Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, engaged in a pattern of harassment directed at not only Jonathan Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman and an assistant trainer. The Report finds that the assistant trainer repeatedly was the object of racial slurs and other racially derogatory language; that the other offensive lineman was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching; and that Martin was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at times ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.”

“The Report rejects any suggestion that Martin manufactured claims of abuse after the fact to cover up an impetuous decision to leave the team. Contemporaneous text messages that Martin sent to his parents and others months before he left the Dolphins—which have never before been made public—corroborate his account that the persistent harassment by his teammates caused him significant emotional distress. The Report concludes that the harassment by Martin’s teammates was a contributing factor in his decision to leave the team, but also finds that Martin’s teammates did not intend to drive Martin from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury,” said Mr. Wells.

“Consistent with my prior practices involving similar investigative reports, it is not my present intention to hold a press conference or comment further about the Report. The Report is thorough and comprehensive, and speaks for itself,” said Mr. Wells.

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Team-by-team look at who could be tagged

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Last year, only eight teams used the franchise tag, down from a record high of 21 the year before.  It was a surprise — until the free-agency market opened and the big money simply wasn’t there.

This year, conflicting opinions exist regarding the amount of money that will flow into the market.  Ultimately, each team must ask itself whether there’s one potential free agent who merits the franchise tender, a one-year guaranteed salary that necessarily becomes the starting point for a multi-year deal that could significantly outpace the overall market for players at that position.

Here’s a look at the potential candidates for the tag in each NFL city, based on the unofficial (but likely close to accurate) list of AFC and NFC free agents we compiled over the weekend.

Arizona Cardinals:  While the Larry Fitzgerald restructuring freed up more than $9 million in cap space, no Cardinals free agent becomes an obvious candidate for the tag — except perhaps for kicker Jay Feely, given the relatively low franchise tender for specialists.

Atlanta Falcons:  The Falcons avoided a Flacco-style tag dilemma with Matt Ryan by signing him last year.  (That possibly doesn’t qualify as good news, given the outcome to the 2013 season.)  There’s no one else worthy of the tag.

Baltimore Ravens:  A year after the Ravens were backed into a $20.1-million-a-year corner by Joe Flacco, who very well may have drawn an unmatchable offer sheet if given the non-exclusive tag, the Ravens have a less expensive decision to make regarding tight end Dennis Pitta.  Apart from any lingering concerns about his hip injury (which his performance late in 2013 should have alleviated), the Ravens risk an argument that Pitta is actually a receiver, driving his tender up by more than $4.5 million.  Another candidate for the tag would be left tackle Eugene Monroe; defensive end Arthur Jones is believed to be an unlikely subject of the franchise tag.

Buffalo Bills:  The Bills used the franchise tag on safety Jairus Byrd in 2014.  He’d be entitled to a 20-percent raise over his $6.916 million franchise-tag salary, which equates to $8.2992 million for 2014.  Which equates to way too much on a one-year deal for a safety.  This year’s tag ultimately could go to kicker Dan Carpenter, given that the tag for specialists is very affordable — and in light of the fact that Carpenter tied a franchise record for field goals made in a season (33), with four coming beyond 50 yards.

Carolina Panthers:  Defensive end Greg Hardy (pictured) has emerged as the most likely candidate for the tag, but cap realities could make it hard to justify the expenditure, with Cam Newton now eligible for a new deal, Luke Kuechly a year away, and then Star Lotulelei a year behind Kuechly.  If Newton won’t push for a big-money deal this offseason, the Panthers could get away with one more year with Hardy.  Beyond 2014, it will be difficult to keep all of the Panthers’ great young players around.

Chicago Bears:  Defensive tackle Henry Melton is recovering from a torn ACL, and he’d be entitled to a 20-percent raise over his $8.45 million franchise-tag salary in 2013.  With quarterback Jay Cutler signed to a long-term deal, there’s really no one else who merits the big payday — especially with Cutler’s 2014 cap number exceeding $20 million.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Defensive end Michael Johnson was tagged last year; there’s no way the Bengals will give him a 20-percent bump for a second franchise-tag season — especially not after paying Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins.  Tackle Anthony Collins could be a candidate for the tag.

Cleveland Browns:  The Browns have one candidate on each side of the ball:  center Alex Mack and safety T.J. Ward.  As to Mack, the challenge comes from the reality that all offensive linemen are lumped into one category for purposes of the tag, which means that the tender is driven by the salaries paid to elite left tackles.  Safeties have their own slot, which would make it a smarter investment to negotiate a long-term deal with Mack based on the market for centers, and to tag Ward.

Dallas Cowboys:  After two straight years with the tag, there’s no way the Cowboys will use it on defensive end Anthony Spencer for a third year.  Under the CBA, the price would skyrocket.  Even if Spencer weren’t recovering from a torn ACL, it wouldn’t make sense for the cap-strapped franchise to tag Spencer again.  With kicker Dan Bailey signed, the Cowboys have said they don’t anticipate using the tag.  (Which means that defensive lineman Jason Hatcher could be walking away.)

Denver Broncos:  Receiver Eric Decker presents the biggest dilemma for the Broncos.  How much of his performance comes from Decker’s abilities, and how much comes from the skills of his quarterback?  And can the Broncos afford to devote more than $10 million to Decker, when quarterback Peyton Manning is making $20 million guaranteed?  Running back Knowshon Moreno likely isn’t a candidate for the tag; dollar-for-dollar, Montee Ball would be a much more prudent investment.

Detroit Lions:  Last month, Lions G.M. Martin Mayhew said he wasn’t sure whether tight end Brandon Pettigrew will be tagged.  Before making a final decision, Mayhew may want to calculate the total snaps in which Pettigrew lined up tight to the tackle, along with the snaps in which he lined up in the slot or split wide.  The final count could be a huge factor in the final determination.  While the Lions have plenty of other free agents, none of them merit the franchise tag.

Green Bay Packers:  Two years ago, the Packers planned to tag tight end Jermichael Finley, with a two-year deal emerging from the anticipated fight over whether he’s a receiver.  Even if he weren’t recovering from neck surgery, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t do it again.  There’s otherwise no one who merits the restriction.

Houston Texans:  None of the names on the list of potential Texans’ free agents screams out for the franchise tag, in large part because the team was 2-14 in 2013.  Running back Ben Tate could be a candidate, if the Texans opt to move on from Arian Foster.  But with plenty of young running backs available in all rounds of the draft (and after the draft ends), the tag should only be used for a truly special talent at the position.  Defensive end Antonio Smith won’t get serious consideration for the tag, primarily because the Texans eventually will be making a gigantic investment in the other guy who plays that specific position for the Texans.

Indianapolis Colts:  Punter Pat McAfee was tagged in 2013.  At a 20-percent increase, he’d be entitled to $3.57 million if the Colts tag him again.  That’s probably too much, given the market and the annual influx of young punters.  (That said, the Colts should still try to re-sign him.)  Other candidates include cornerback Vontae Davis, running back Donald Brown, and kicker Adam Vinatieri, who had one of the best years of his career.  It would be hard to justify plunking down millions for Brown; Davis could be the guy who gets tagged — especially as the Colts try to justify the second-round pick that was sacrificed in 2013 to get him from the Dolphins during training camp in 2012.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  Running back Maurice Jones-Drew could be one of the highest-profile free agents in team history, but age and injuries make it unlikely the Jaguars would plunk down more than $8 million to keep Jones-Drew around for a ninth season.

Kansas City Chiefs:  Last year, the Chiefs managed to work out a long-term deal with receiver Dwayne Bowe and tag tackle Branden Albert.  The Chiefs then tried — unsuccessfully — to trade Albert.  After the struggles of rookie Eric Fisher at right tackle, the Chiefs may not be ready to entrust the left tackle position to the first overall pick in 2013.  Which could force them to give Albert a 20-percent raise for 2014, or sign him to a long-term deal.

Miami Dolphins:  Defensive tackle Randy Starks got the tag last year, at $8.45 million.  It would cost $10.14 million to tag him again, which means it won’t happen.  It would make more sense to plunk down a little more than that to tag cornerback Brent Grimes, who arrived on a one-year, $5.5 million deal and had a very solid season with the Dolphins.

Minnesota Vikings:  The Vikings surely would love to keep defensive end Jared Allen around, but not at a 20-percent raise over his $17 million cap number for 2013.  Beyond Allen, none of the other free agents are tag-worthy.

New England Patriots:  Cornerback Aqib Talib will have a strong market, if he gets there.  He’ll get there unless the Pats step up with a compelling multi-year offer — or unless the franchise tag is used.  It’s a lot to pay for any non-quarterback, but Talib has become nearly as indispensable to the defense, especially in light of how the team played after he was injured against the Broncos in the AFC title game.

New Orleans SaintsJimmy Graham will be tagged, unless the Saints work out a new contract with him before the deadline for applying the tag.  It’s possible that the two sides will use the uncertainty of the tight end/receiver distinction to carve a middle ground.  Barring that, the Saints will tag Graham as a tight end, Graham will argue that he’s actually a receiver, and a third-party will decide the first-year value of the long-term deal that inevitably will be negotiated in the middle of July.

New York Giants:  The Giants would likely tag receiver Hakeem Nicks only if they believed it would be the precursor to a long-term deal.  Based on his performance in 2013, the money already invested in Victor Cruz, and the potential of Reuben Randle, it makes no sense to make a long-term investment in Nicks.  It’s far more realistic for the Giants to consider tagging linebacker Jon Beason or defensive tackle Linval Joseph.

New York Jets:  Kicker Nick Folk could make the most sense, given the low tag for specialists and the importance of having a reliable kicker.  If the Jets are inclined to spend a lot more than that, underrated right tackle Austin Howard could be a candidate.  Still, few offensive linemen who don’t play left tackle earn that kind of money.

Oakland Raiders:  With nearly $70 million in cap space for 2014, the Raiders could use the tag to keep any of their free agents around.  Left tackle Jared Veldheer is the most likely candidate.  Other options would be defensive end Lamarr Houston (he had a career-high six sacks in 2013) and possibly defensive tackle Pat Sims.

Philadelphia Eagles:  For the second straight year, the Eagles have limited free agents.  The biggest names are at receiver, but with DeSean Jackson already making $10 million in 2014, it’s hard to justify giving more than that to Riley Cooper.  And with Jeremy Maclin recovering from a torn ACL suffered in training camp, it would be foolish to guarantee that much cash and cap space.  Punter Donnie Jones could be an option for the tag, given the low magnitude of the franchise tag for specialists.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  The Steelers opted not to use the tag last year on receiver Mike Wallace.  They most likely won’t use it on receiver Emmanuel Sanders, especially in light of the money previously paid to 2011 and 2013 team MVP Antonio Brown.  On defense, linebacker Jason Worillds could be a candidate, but the Steelers routinely let linebackers walk away via free agency, confident they’ll find a replacement from within.

San Diego Chargers:  It likely will be linebacker Donald Butler or no one for Chargers.  Talks on a new deal began last August; if a deal can’t be worked out, it could be time to tag Butler.

San Francisco 49ers:  The 49ers have several free agents they need to keep.  From receiver Anquan Boldin to cornerback Tarell Brown to safety Donte Whitner, none merit the big dollars payable on a one-year deal.  As to kicker Phil Dawson, for whom coach Jim Harbaugh publicly has lobbied, the franchise tag isn’t an option — unless the 49ers want to pay him quarterback money.  The grievance filed two years ago by Saints quarterback Drew Brees resulted in a determination that franchise tags applied in past years by other teams count toward the total franchise-tag determination.  Because Dawson was tagged twice by the Browns, another tag by any team would result in application of the highest franchise tender for any position.

Seattle Seahawks:  The tag could be applied to defensive end Michael Bennett, but that would more than double the $5 million he received on a one-year deal in 2013.  With cornerback Richard Sherman surely wanting more money now and others surely wanting more soon, the Seahawks may be inclined to let Bennett walk — and to replace him with a veteran who is willing to take less than top market value in order to win a ring.  If not Bennett, the Seahawks could be inclined to tag kicker Steven Hauscka.  Last year, they managed to keep him despite not tagging him; this year, another team will be more likely to pounce.

St. Louis Rams:  Left tackle Jake Long tore an ACL late in the 2013 season, making it important that the Rams keep tackle Rodger Saffold around.  Given the ability of franchise-tagged players to stay away until the eve of the regular season without penalty, it would make the most sense to sign Saffold to a long-term deal, so that he’ll be around for offseason workouts as Long continues to rehab.  If talks on a long-term deal fail, the Rams may have no real alternative to tagging Saffold.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  The Bucs wouldn’t have a new coach and a new G.M. if the roster were stocked with great players.  As a result, none of the impending free agents merit the tag.

Tennessee Titans:  Of all of the team’s potential free agents, only cornerback Alterraun Verner stands out. Safety Bernard Pollard had a solid first year with the team, but not so good that it justifies the franchise tag.

Washington Redskins:  If anyone gets tagged, it’ll be linebacker Brian Orakpo, who rebounded from a lost 2012 season with 10 sacks and a third career Pro Bowl berth.  If the team can’t sign him to a long-term deal, the tag should be a no-brainer.

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The NFC potential free agents

NFC logo

The first weekend without football since Labor Day has ended — and I’ve actually accomplished something.  For a change.

All free agents have been identified and categorized, by division.  Last night, we unveiled the AFC free agents.

Tonight, it’s the NFC — East, North, South, and West.

As players re-sign, we’ll update the list.  (Feel free to give us a nudge if we miss one.)

Free agency begins on March 11. That’s only 30 days away.

So even though the games are concluded for now, football isn’t really over.  Nowadays, it never really is.

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The AFC potential free agents

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It’s the first weekend without football since Labor Day.  So why not start preparing for the looming offseason swap meet known as free agency?

We’ve scoured various Internet resources, relying heavily on NFLPA records, to put together a team-by-team, division-by-division list of free agents.

First up, the AFC.  With a quick click, you’ll see all impending free agents for the AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, and AFC West.

We’ll update as players re-sign, and if you see that we’ve missed one as the re-signings inevitably happen, let us know.

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Pickings are slim at veteran quarterback, as usual

Vick AP

The Seahawks’ total-team dominance notwithstanding, the NFL still consists of franchises that have franchise quarterbacks — and franchises that are looking for franchise quarterbacks.

As a result, true franchise quarterbacks never become available in free agency, barring serious injury questions, like Drew Brees in 2006 and Peyton Manning in 2012.

The quarterbacks who become available in any given year rarely become franchise quarterbacks; few become starters.  Still, every year, quarterbacks are available, via free agency or trade.

Here’s a look at the guys who will most likely be available in 2014, and where they could land.

Michael Vick:  He’s confident he’ll be a starter, and for good reason.  If there’s a coach who believes Mark Sanchez would be the starter of said coach’s team from Day One, there will be a spot for Vick, somewhere.  In Cleveland, Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee, Oakland, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay, Vick would be the starter immediately.  With the Jets, Bills, and Bengals, Vick could give the current starter a run for his starter’s money.  While Vick is far closer to the end of his career than the beginning, he may have one solid year left.

Josh McCown:  A late-career surge in 2013 could make him an attractive option for a team looking for a veteran backup — or for a team that wants someone to mentor a younger player.  In the right situation, he also could be a full-season starter.  Regardless, McCown won offensive player of the week honors in 2013.  None of the other guys on this list can say that.

Matt Cassel:  Cassel didn’t walk away from $3.7 million in Minnesota because he thinks he’ll get less elsewhere.  He’ll make more as the short-term starter in Houston (where he would be reunited with former Pats assistant Bill O’Brien) or as the full-season answer in Oakland.  At worst, Cassel will make slightly more as the veteran backup to an established starter.

Mark Sanchez:  Destined to be cut by the Jets with a $9 million salary for 2014, Sanchez could be an intriguing option for a team that needs a quarterback and that has the supporting cast he never really enjoyed in New York.  Not many first-round busts have had strong second acts, but Sanchez could still develop into a decent starter, in the right situation.

Josh Freeman:  After being run out of Tampa and languishing on the bench in Minnesota, Freeman has become a forgotten man.  At best, he’ll get a chance to prove that he can and will work as hard as a quarterback needs to work in the today’s quarterback-driven NFL.  If he fails, it could be over for Freeman.

Matt Schaub:  With former Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland, some think Schaub will land there if/when he’s cut by the Texans.  With a $10 million salary, it’s likely more “when” than “if” Schaub gets the heave-ho in Houston.  At best, he’ll keep a spot warm somewhere for a rookie, providing protection against the possibility that the newcomer won’t be ready — and a little in-house competition to help get him there.

Kirk Cousins:  Former coach Mike Shanahan showcased Cousins late in 2013, opening the door for a possible trade, even though the Redskins desperately need a competent backup to Robert Griffin III.  Washington could flip its 2012 fourth-rounder into something more this year; the smart move may be to keep Cousins around for one more season.

Matt Flynn:  While it’s unlikely that anyone will install Flynn as the starter (again) only to bench him (again), he has shown he can still play, when needed (again).  The Packers would be wise to keep him around.  If not the Packers, then a team that runs a similar system should sign him to serve as an insurance policy against an injury to the starter.

Jason Campbell:  Still under contract with the Browns for another year, Campbell could be cut loose by the latest new regime.  He played competently in 2013 for the overmatched Browns, continuing an understated career that makes him a viable presence on any depth chart — if the Browns choose not to keep him around.

Brandon Weeden:  Speaking of the Browns, their 2012 first-rounder could be on the way out, and it’s unlikely anyone else would make him a starter.  Still, every team needs backups, and Weeden surely will find a spot, somewhere.

Chad Henne:  The Jaguars would like to keep him around, and for good reason.  With limited weapons, Henne did well in 2013.  Though not a sexy name by any means, Henne could be a solid backup.  And he can still play, when needed.

Shaun Hill:  Forgotten because he hasn’t played much in the last three seasons, the 34-year-old Hill did very well in extended action in 2010, when Matthew Stafford was injured.  Hill also had respectable stretches with the 49ers.  If the Lions don’t re-sign Hill, someone will want to bring him in to serve as a solid No. 2 option.

Kellen Clemens:  After Sam Bradford tore an ACL, most thought the Rams would lose in convincing and ugly fashion, week in and week out.  But the tough, gritty Clemens overachieved, going 4-5 as a starter and engineering upsets over the Colts, Bears, and Saints.  While he may not be a starter, he still has a future in the NFL.

Tavaris Jackson:  Few quarterbacks can match the experiences of Tarvaris Jackson.  The much-hyped second-round pick in 2006 took the Vikings to the playoffs in 2008, lost his job to Brett Favre in 2009, lost it to him again in 2010, and then bounced around the league before winning a Super Bowl as the backup to Russell Wilson.  In a league without enough good quarterbacks to go around, Jackson can hold his own when he gets chances to play — even though he hasn’t gotten many in the past few years.

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NFC South potential free agents

[Editor's note:  This list of potential free agents is based on a variety of online resources, including the NFLPA's official list of impending free agents.  Free agency begins on March 11.  The players listed below could re-sign at any time with their current teams.  If any listed below already have and we've failed to update the list accordingly, let us know.]

Atlanta Falcons:  DT Jonathan Babineaux, TE Chase Coffman, WR Kevin Cone (exclusive rights), CB Dominique Franks, LB Omar Gaither, OL Joe Hawley, DT Peria Jerry, DT Mike Johnson, OT Sean Locklear, CB Robert McClain (restricted), DT Corey Peters (re-signed), OT Jeremy Trueblood.

Carolina Panthers:  QB Derek Anderson, OT Byron Bell (restricted), TE Richie Brockel (restricted; re-signed), C Jeff Byers (exclusive rights), OT Bruce Campbell, QB Jimmy Clausen, DT Colin Cole, LB Dan Connor, CB James Dockery (restricted), CB Drayton Florence, K Graham Gano (re-signed), WR Ted Ginn, Jr., OT Jordan Gross, G Geoff Hangartner, DE Greg Hardy (franchise tag), TE Ben Hartsock, WR Domenik Hixon, WR Brandon LaFell, S Quentin Mikell, S Mike Mitchell, CB Captain Munnerlyn, LB Jordan Senn, G Chris Scott (exclusive rights), G Travelle Wharton, G Garry Williams (re-signed_, LB Jason Williams.

New Orleans Saints: OT Charles Brown, S Rafael Bush (restricted), DE Kenyon Coleman, FB Jed Collins (restricted), DE Keyunta Dawson (re-signed), C Brian de la Puente, TE Jimmy Graham (franchise tag), K Shayne Graham (re-signed), LB Parys Haralson, OT Bryce Harris (exclusive rights; re-signed)), LB Will Herring, LB Ramon Humber, S Malcolm Jenkins, DE Tom Johnson (restricted), WR Robert Meachem, QB Luke McCown, WR Joseph Morgan (restricted), OT Zach Strief, LB Jonathan Vilma, CB Trevin Wade (exclusive rights; re-signed).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  CB Michael Adams, TE Kyle Adams (restricted), TE Nate Byham, LB Jonathan Casillas, CB Deveron Carr (exclusive rights), LB Jacob Cutrera, LS Andrew Economos, DT Gary Gibson, CB Danny Gorrer, LB Adam Hayward, FB Spencer Larsen, C Ted Larsen, RB Brian Leonard, K Rian Lindell, FB Erik Lorig, G Jamon Meredith, QB Dan Orlovsky, WR Eric Page (exclusive rights), RB Bobby Rainey (exclusive rights), DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, WR Tiquan Underwood, LB Dekoda Watson.

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