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Monday, February 16, 2009

Ray Lewis A cowboy

This year was a disappointment for the Cowboys. At times the Cowboy defense looked like the best defense in the league and at others they looked undisciplined and poorly coached. The Tank Johnson and Adam Jones experiment did not work out as planned. Terrance Newman battled injuries as did Free Safety Roy Williams which left the Cowboy secondary depleted. By the end of the year, it became clear that a few more additions would be needed if this team would be able to compete in a division with so many prolific offenses.

Enter Ray Lewis.

The Baltimore Ravens have 4 key free agents to sign this offseason. Ray Lewis is among them and it looks like the Cowboys are the frontrunners for one of the best linebackers in the league. In fact, according to Michael Lewis on ESPN, he does not believe that the Ravens will be able to sign the charismatic linebacker and expects to see him in Dallas next season. While Ray Lewis is past his prime, he is still one of the best linebackers in the game. He brings experience, consistency and solid leadership which is sorely needed in Dallas. There are still a few holes to fill this offseason and Ray Lewis alone will not be enough, but it is a step in the right direction for this defense.

NFL Franchise Players 2009

The NFL has a unique form of free agency that allows for more parity than many other sports league. Combinedwith the salary cap it allows for the worst team in the league from one year to become a contender the next, like the 2007 (1-15) vs. the 2008 (11-5 and AFC East Champions Miami Dolphins. One feature that makes free agency work is the Franchise Tag.

The franchise tag allows each team to designate one unrestricted free agent as their franchise player. This tag is used on players who are very valuable to the team and would be hard, if not impossible, to replace. There are two types of the franchise tag. "Exclusive" franchise tags are an offer no less than the average of the top 5 salaries of players at that position in the league in April of that same year or a 20% raise, whichever is more. Say for example that a player was paid $10 million last year and the average of the top 5 players in the coming year will be $11.5 million, the player would have to be offered at least $12 million. "Exclusive" tags prevent the player from negotiating with any other team. The "Non-exclusive" tag is an offer of the average of the top 5 players at that position for the last year (this would be the top 5 player salaries from 2008) or a 20% raise, whichever is more. "Non-exclusive" players can negotiate with other team and if they sign an offer, their current team has the right to match or lose the player and get two first round draft picks from the team that the player signed with.

Many teams weigh the advantages and disadvantages of "tagging" a player. It can be very expensive. For example, a "non-exclusive" quarterback this year would cost $14.65 million. Teams sometimes use the tag to keep the player and then try to sign a long term deal. Others will tag a player and then try to negotiate a trade with another team. However, teams only have until February 19th to tag a player this year, so they have to decide soon. As of the writing of this article, only two players have been tagged: Matt Cassel, QB, New England Patriots and Michael Koenen, P, Atlanta Falcons. Last year 12 teams used their tag and here is a look at who each team would franchise and how likely they are to do so.

Arizona Cardinals - Last year they used their tag on Karlos Dansby. They may do so again as they would love to retain his services at a cost of $9.68 million. He wants a long term contract so with a little work, they might be able to lock him up.

Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons have already tagged Michael Koenen as their franchise player at a cost of $2.483 million.

Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens have a lot of talent that will be going on the market and they don't have a lot of cap room ($19 million). Center Jason Brown is a young player who is very talented and it would be hard on the Ravens if they lose him. In addition Terrell Suggs, their franchise player from last year will be a free agent along with Ray Lewis and Bart Scott meaning that their linebackers could be torn apart. Kicker Matt Stover and punter Sam Koch are both invaluable, too. Chances are very good that Suggs will be tagged again at a cost of $10.17 million.

Buffalo Bills - The Bills don't have any big name free agents this year. None of the players who enter free agency as unrestricted free agents will be worth the salary that they would have to shell out for them. Even though they won't use it, the most likely recipient would be Jabari Greer ($9.9) or one of their two centers, Melvin Fowler or Duke Preston ($8.451).

Carolina Panthers - The Panthers used their tag last year on tackle Jordan Gross. He is a free agent again this year, but Carolina's tag almost certainly will go to Julius Peppers, just so they can trade him to another team. Julius has said he wants out of Carolina so he will be tagged and then traded so the Panthers will get some value out of it.

Chicago Bears - The Bears have six free agents this season. Three of them were starters last year. Safety Mike Brown has been plagued by injuries. Tackle John St. Clair will be replaced by last year's number one choice, Chris Williams. Brandon Lloyd was very up and down last season. Overall, their best bet would be franchising Brown for $6.342 million, but with his injury history, they will most likely not use their tag.
Cincinnati Bengals - Last off season, the Bengals used their tag on Stacy Andrews. This year they have a number of free agents they need to address. Stacy will be a free agent again as will kicker Shayne Graham and star receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh. The Bengals would hate to see Housh go, but they don't want to tag him and he doesn't want to be tagged. The best chance at someone getting tagged is Cedric Benson, who had a strong finish to the year, who will cost them $6.62 million.

Cleveland Browns - Cleveland will have to decide if either MLB Andra Davis or safety Sean Jones is worth the tag. They will probably decide that neither player is worth the tag figure that they would demand and try to sign both to long term deals. However, the most worthy player is probably Jones who would cost $6.34 million.

Dallas Cowboys - Ken Hamlin, a strong safety, got the tag from the Cowboys last year. This year they have seven guys who will be free agents. The obvious choice for the tag among the Cowboys free agents is DE Chris Canty. The Cowboys will probably try to lock him up long term as he is a solid young player instead of tagging him to hold him for one year. If they end up giving him the tag, he will cost $8.99 million.

Denver Broncos - The Broncos are not known for using the tag and this year will be no exception. This year they don't have anyone who is probably worth the tag. If they did need to pick one player, MLB Nate Webster would be the best choice, but he isn't worth the $8.3 million.

Detroit Lions - Detroit has 16 guys who played for them last year that might not be coming back. Only one player among those 16 is worth considering and that is kicker Jason Hanson. Rumors out of Detroit are pointing to Hanson being tagged by the end of this week at a cost of $2.48 million.

Green Bay Packers - The Packers tagged defensive tackle Corey Williams last year only weeks before trading him to the Browns. This year they only have one player who merits a second look. Mark Tauscher, their offensive tackle, would be a big loss on their line, but he is probably not worth the $8.45 million he would earn if tagged.

Houston Texans - The Texans have one really big name guy that will be an unrestricted free agent, CB Dunta Robinson. Yes, I know Owen Daniels is a free agent, but he is restricted, so he won't be franchised. The Texans will try to work out a long term deal with Robinson, but if he is not signed by the 19th, they will place the tag on him to keep him around for a while at $9.9 million.