Feb. 15 marked the first day that teams could utilize their franchise tag, allowing them to keep players they can't come to a contract agreement with. It also marks the unofficial start of the NFL offseason where money takes over. While not every team will use the franchise tag, it remains an option for anybody struggling to come to terms with a coveted player, or as a negotiation tactic. If need be, these are the players each team should consider using their franchise tag on.
32. San Francisco 49ers- Gerald Hodges Jr.
A 2-14 season means there aren't too many potential players worthy to be franchise tagged, but Hodges was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise atrocious 49er team. He started 12 games and finished with 83 total tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. While these aren't All-Star numbers, Hodges is only 26 and with NaVarro Bowman ending up on IR nearly every season, it's important to keep the talent you have. He wouldn't be worth the $14 million tag, but it's better than letting him go on the open market.
31. Chicago Bears- Alshon Jeffery
Yes, the Bears already tagged him and yes, they've already said they're not going to tag him again. But Jeffery is the best option for the Bears to use the tag on. He is a physical freak at the wideout position who has game-changing ability. With the Bears most likely changing things up at QB, it's important to have as many weapons as possible. Jeffery and Jordan Howard form a formidable tandem that, with the right quarterback, could make for a very dangerous offense. Tag him just for the potential, especially since things can only go up from last year.
30. Cincinnati Bengals- Andrew Whitworth
The big offensive tackle is the best candidate for the franchise tag in Cincy. Keeping Andy Dalton upright was a huge key to their success in 2014 and 2015, and they're looking to get back on track this season. Despite being 35, Whitworth remains one of the best tackles in the game, making an appearance at No. 67 on the NFL's Top 100 Players of 2016 list. He says he wants to stay a Bengal, but in case there's trouble coming to an agreement, Cincinnati should use the tag.
29. Buffalo Bills- Zach Brown
There's an argument to be made that Stephon Gilmore should get franchise tagged, but he didn't play like a Top-5 cornerback last year. Brown absolutely played like a Top-5 linebacker, racking up 150 tackles in his breakout season, second only to Bobby Wagner. Only 27, Brown is a solid piece for a defense that should see a lot of improvement next year under new head coach and former Panthers DC Sean McDermott. If the team can't come to a deal, they should consider locking up the talent they have with the franchise tag.
28. Denver Broncos- Brandon McManus
The Temple product was brought in a few years ago to replace the incumbent Matt Prater, and has been very successful. McManus is in his third year and has shown consistency and improvement from year to year. At only 25, he would be worth the $4.5 million franchise tag if the Broncos can't come to a deal. Good kickers are hard to come by, and not having one can lead to rash decisions (see- Roberto Aguyao). McManus isn't at the top of the league in field goal percentage, but he could be very soon. Denver has to lock him up.
27. Cleveland Browns- Terrelle Pryor Sr.
The former Raiders QB was one of the very few positives in a campaign that saw the Browns narrowly avoid going 0-16 and tying the 2008 Lions as the worst team of all time. Pryor put up 1,000 yards receiving despite a revolving door of quarterbacks due to injury and incompetence. It's honestly remarkable that he wants to stay, but he's expressed public interest in staying with Cleveland for the length of their rebuild. In the unlikely scenario that they don't reach a deal, the Browns will definitely use their franchise tag on one of the two players they want to build around.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Bryan Anger
Punters will never get enough appreciation in this league. The Bucs better cherish their punter while they can. Anger signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay after a four-year stint in Jacksonville, where he was drafted in the third round. Whoever wins the field position battle has a much better chance of winning the game, and a good punter can pin the other team within their own 10. Without many other options, if they can't come to an agreement, they should tag Anger.
25. Arizona Cardinals- Chandler Jones
Arizona's team president has already made it clear that Jones will receive the franchise tag if the team can't come to a deal, so this one is pretty obvious. Arizona had a down year last year, but they could rebound by locking down one of the better young pass rushers in the league, who racked up 11 sacks last year. Jones is a good player who can get 10-15 sacks on a year-to-year basis. He's not a world-breaker like Von Miller, but he is a star.
24. San Diego Chargers- Melvin Ingram
The Chargers' season compltely fell apart early on due to injuries, but Ingram was one of their few healthy and productive players. He has the ability to rush the passer, finishing with 8 sacks, and play the run, with 60 total tackles on the year. Ingram is a talented player who could be an integral part of a scary Chargers defensive line teamed with Joey Bosa. The Chargers have to tag him if they can't come to an agreement, if only because he's one of their five best players on the roster.
23. Kansas City Chiefs- Eric Berry
The star safety is up for free agency this year, and the Chiefs might have to tag him. Berry has said he's not playing under the tag for a second straight year, but he is one of the top safeties in the league and one of the few true game-changers on the defensive side of the ball. He single-handedly won the game against the Falcons last year, and was an excellent defender for a good KC defense. He deserves the $10.8 million tag, though the Chiefs will likely find a way to give him more guaranteed money and keep him happy.
22. Indianapolis Colts- Darius Butler
The Colts have to capitalize on Andrew Luck while they have him, and tagging Butler would be a step in the right direction. Butler got burned a few times last season, but said that he's ready to make the transition to safety. The Colts' defense has been porous over the past few years, and keeping whatever talent they have in the secondary is a priority, even if it means the franchise tag.
21. Ronald Leary
The offensive line was the engine that drove the machine last year in Dallas, and they should do anything they can to keep the crew together. Even while missing La'el Collins for the majority of the year, the Cowboys had the league's best offensive line by a wide margin yet again. If they can't get a deal done with Leary, they should tag him. Continuity is one of the most important aspects of the offensive line, and getting Leary back will go a long way.
20. Miami Dolphins- Kenny Stills
The Dolphins hit their stride last year before Ryan Tannehill got hurt, and Stills was a big part of that. He caught 9 touchdowns and was an excellent deep-threat complement to the short-game artistry of Jarvis Landry. It seemed like Miami had finally found something good last year, and they should do what they can to keep the team together, even at the high price of $14.5 million.
19. Philadelphia Eagles- Bennie Logan
Logan was a big contributor to a surprisingly-stout front seven in Philly last season, and his contract is up. While his statline isn't eye-popping, his absence was notable in the middle of the season, when Logan missed a few games and the defense was noticeably worse. He wants to stay, but if the Eagles can't get it done, they should franchise him. Washington is rumored to be interested, and he can't go to another NFC East team.
18. Atlanta Falcons- Taylor Gabriel
It may seem extreme for a team with so many offensive weapons to tag one of their lesser pieces, but Gabriel is an electric playmaker who, at 25, could complete the dangerous trio of Jones, Sanu, and Gabriel. He'll be looking for a big payday, and the Falcons need every piece they can to make up for Kyle Shanahan's absence and redeem themselves in the Super Bowl.
17. New York Giants- Jason Pierre-Paul
The longtime Giants pass rusher is hitting free agency, and the Giants shouldn't let him get there. They need a threat across from Oliver Vernon to make up a good defensive line, and JPP's absence was notable in the playoffs. Despite missing a couple fingers, the Giants won't find someone better in free agency. Tag the man.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars- Jonathon Cyprien
Cyprien had a nice season in an otherwise forgettable season for the Jaguars. He was the back end of a secondary that will be improving by the year with stud cornerback Jalen Ramsey making waves during his rookie year. The Jaguars have a lot of cap space but not too many good free agent defenseive backs to choose from, and they would be better off retaining their homegrown talent.
15. New York Jets- Geno Smith
OK, the Jets ARE NOT going to franchise Smith, but they legit have no one else they would even consider using it on. The only thing worse than having no one to re-sign is having a terrible QB situation, and Geno isn't the answer. But he could be a stopgap in a year where there are very few other attractive quarterback options. You'll hear Belichick cackling from his dark tower in Foxborough if the Jets actually tag Geno, but if no other quarterback options present themselves...
14. Detroit Lions- Larry Warford
The Lions suffered a rash of injuries late in the year that derailed any chance of a deep playoff run, but the most significant was the bumps and bruises to Matt Stafford. In that vein, the Lions should be doing everything they can to protect him, and Warford might leave in free agency. While Warford certainly wasn't the best offensive lineman last year, he's young and experienced, and could hold down the fort while the Lions find another replacement. He's worth the franchise tag if Stafford can stay upright. He's the key to the Lion's playoff hopes.
13. Green Bay Packers- T.J. Lang
Lang was a part of another excellent year for Green Bay's offensive line, and they should do whatever they can to keep it intact. Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers, and he relies a lot on his offensive line to hold up their end and allow him to scamper around while defenders slip and fall around him. The Packers haven't reached out to him yet, but they should do so. Time is running out, and Lang is worth the franchise tag.
12. Carolina Panthers- Kawaan Short
Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei formed one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the NFL last year, and the Panthers should try to keep it together and rebound from a disappointing year. Short was a large part of the shutdown defense that reached the Super Bowl only two years ago, and while GM Dave Gettleman is notably stingy about retaining defensive talent (Josh Norman), he should extend the tag here. Short is a true talent.
11. New England Patriots- Dont'a Hightower
The defensive MVP last season for the Pats is looking for a big payday, and he deserves it. Will the Patriots give it to him is the real question. They haven't used a franchise tag since they tagged Stephen Gostkowski in 2015, but tagging Hightower would be a bit more expensive; a franchise tag would result in a $14 million salary for the Bama product.
10. Oakland Raiders- Latavius Murray
The Raiders were one leg injury away from potential playoff glory last year, and Latavius Murray was a part of that. With Derek Carr returning from his broken leg, they need every offensive piece they can get to take the load off him, and Murray will help out substantially. He's no star running back, but for the weight he can carry while Carr gets back to speed, he's worth the franchise tag.
9. Los Angeles Rams- Kenny Britt
While they almost certainly won't do this, Britt is the best bet for a Rams franchise tag. He just came off a 1,000-yard season, and second-year QB Jared Goff is looking to skip the sophomore slump. He needs all the weapons he can get, and Britt is consistent, even if he is 29. Keep Britt in LA.
8. Baltimore Ravens- Brandon Williams
The Ravens long have had an eye for defensive talent, and hearing them talk about Williams, it sounds like they think they found another diamond in the rough. Williams is a huge run-stuffer who can eat up space like few others, and a massive component to the Ravens' top-ranked run defense this past year. It's likely that they'll get a deal done, but nobody would blame them for slapping the tag on Williams if they have to.
7. Washington Redskins- Kirk Cousins
New year, same story. Much like last offseason, Cousins wants a massive extension worthy of a franchise QB, but Washington isn't sure he's that guy yet. He didn't do much to help his case with a 8-7-1 finish, but he's far better than any other option out there this offseason. Washington will place the tag on Cousins for a consecutive season, unless they somehow get a deal done. They still want to see if they like that.
6. New Orleans Saints- Jahri Evans
The Saints don't have very many options here, given their constant cap-space woes and their lack of quality free agents this offseason. But, in order to take advantage of Drew Brees' remaining years, they need to keep him upright, and Evans is good enough to do just that. The Saints probably won't end up tagging anyone, but with Nick Fairley negotiations stagnating, Evans is a contender.
5. Seattle Seahawks- Deshawn Shead
With the signing of Blair Walsh, the Seahawks showed they probably weren't going to use the tag on struggling kicker Stephen Haushka. They don't have many other candidates, but out of the ones that are left the most likely remains to be Shead. He's not the most talented player in the secondary, but the Seahawks have been struggling finding a decent CB2 across from Richard Sherman, and Shead could be that guy.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers- Le'Veon Bell
Well, this is an easy one. Bell is arguably the best running back in the league, and one of the most patient backs ever. If the Steelers can't come to an agreement and don't franchise Bell, the sky will fall.
3. Houston Texans- A.J. Bouye
Bouye had a huge year, playing very good football for the majority of the season. He was playing behind one of the best defensive lines in football, but he did his part in contributing to what ended up being the best defense in football even without J.J. Watt. Even though the Texans have money tied up at the cornerback position, Bouye was good enough this year to be worth considering the franchise tag. If your offense can't move the ball, it's up to your defense to make plays, and Bouye is a playmaker.
2. Tennesse Titans- Chance Warmack
The Titans are another one of those teams without a real viable candidate for the tag. But, if they change their mind for whatever reason, Chance Warmack is probably the best bet. The big guard from Alabama has all the physical tools to succeed, and adding another mauler to that beast of an offensive line could help push the Titans over the top.
1. Minnesota Vikings- Matt Kalil
Kalil hasn't had the best couple of years since his excellent rookie year, but given how bad the offensive line was without him last year, they'll want to retain him. Protection of the QB is key, especially since it seems likely AP will leave, and Teddy Bridewater will be as fragile as ever once he eventually comes back from injury. The Vikings need all the help they can get on the line, and they aren't going to start by letting one of their two free-agent tackles leave.