Although free agents cannot be signed by other teams until March 8th, NFL teams can begin placing the Franchise Tag on their own players starting today (Monday, February 20th). The tag must be used between now and March 5th, at which point those not tagged will be free to hit the open market and negotiate with other teams when the feeding frenzy begins.
The Baltimore Ravens are expected to use theFranchise Tag on running back Ray Rice. They could sign him to a new contract before then, but their priority right now is working out a long term deal with quaterback Joe Flacco. The tag on Rice would give the team time to get the rest of the roster in place for 2012 and then allow them a better idea of how to go about retaining the best all-around running back in the NFL.
In the meantime, NFL.com, has gone team-by-team in looking around the league to predict which player will or in some cases, will not be tagged to keep them off of the free agent market.
Some of the players expected to be given the Franchise Tag are those that perhaps the Ravens would consider looking at if they hit the open market. On the other hand, using the tag on Ray Rice would pay him over $7 million in 2012, not too shabby, but if the team does manage to work out a long term deal, the guard Ben Grubbs is probably the next guy on the list that the team might consider tagging.
However, the cost of placing the Franchise Tag on Grubbs will be in the $9 million range, a high price considering they are already paying their other guard, Marshal Yanda, a high salary, which could limit what the team thinks they can afford to do and keep under the cap in order to fill out the remainder of the roster.
The NFL.com story mentions how the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has benefitted the teams and owners, as the formula used to determine the Franchise Tag salaries has resulted in lowering average salaries by as much as 20%. You will see the results in the number of teams utilizing the tag, although they specifically mention that the Ravens AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals, who are one of the teams in the NFL with the most space under the salary cap, rarely if ever use the tag and do not appear to be changing that philosophy in the next two weeks.
See the list of players expected to be tagged at SB Nation.