Franchise tag primer: Star edge rushers highlight projected candidates
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The NFL's window for tagging impending free agents will open Tuesday and close March 5. League rules permit teams to apply one tag, and most will use the franchise tag, which binds a player to his team's roster for one year at a salary no less than the average of the top five salaries at the player's position. Also available is the rarely used transition tag, which allows the player to negotiate with other teams in free agency while giving the tagging team the right to match any offer.

There are a number of players who could get slapped with one of the designations in 2019 if they are unable to agree to a long-term deal. Here are the various candidates:

No-brainers

Jadeveon Clowney, Edge, Houston Texans

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Franchise tag salary: $18.65M

There's simply no way the Texans let Clowney walk this offseason. The former No. 1 overall pick has yet to truly live up to the immense hype placed on him, but he still collected nine sacks and starred in run defense in 2018. At just 26, Clowney would be the league's most sought-after free agent if he hit the open market. Houston will prioritize signing the edge rusher to an extension but could use the franchise tag to buy itself additional time if negotiations prove difficult.

Dee Ford, Edge, Kansas City Chiefs

Franchise tag salary: $18.65M

The Chiefs hired Steve Spagnuolo as their new defensive coordinator, but don't expect the change in scheme to alter Ford's standing with the team. Great players can play in any system, and that's exactly what the former first-round pick is. Ford has already stated he wouldn't mind playing under the franchise tag, and that remains the most likely scenario after he broke out with 13 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2018.

Frank Clark, Edge, Seattle Seahawks

Franchise tag salary: $18.65M

Seattle hasn't used the franchise tag since 2010, but that should change this year. Clark developed into an elite defensive end in his fourth campaign, notching a career-high 13 sacks. Turning 26 in June, the talented rusher's best years are likely still ahead of him. The Seahawks would surely prefer to work out a long-term contract, but the tag will be used if a deal can't be agreed upon.

Demarcus Lawrence, Edge, Dallas Cowboys

Franchise tag salary: $20.57M

The last of the four star pass-rushers, Lawrence's situation is slightly different than that of his peers. The stud lineman was slapped with the tag last year and is a prime candidate to be designated the Cowboys' franchise player again in 2019. Tagging him again would be costly as the salary increases for players tagged in back-to-back years, but the team may have its hands tied with extensions for Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper looming. Coming off his second straight double-digit sack season, Lawrence won't be leaving Dallas just yet.

Likely to be tagged

Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

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Franchise tag salary: $25.58M

One of the more intriguing storylines of the offseason is where the Super Bowl LII MVP will land. Foles almost certainly won't be returning to Philadelphia with Carson Wentz locked in as the starter, so look for the Eagles to try and secure as much compensation as possible for the backup pivot. While riskier, trading Foles would ensure a better return than the compensatory pick the team would receive for letting him walk.

Landon Collins, S, New York Giants

Franchise tag salary: $12.04M

Collins is likely to be tagged despite an injury-riddled, subpar 2018 season by his standards. One of the league's premier box safeties, the former second-round pick would still be an attractive free agent if he hit the open market. Designating Collins as their franchise player would make a ton of sense for the Giants - they can take a year to determine whether last season was an anomaly, or if he doesn't quite fit in the team's future plans.

Trey Flowers, Edge, New England Patriots

Franchise tag salary: $18.65M

Devoting $18.65 million to a single defensive player seems doesn't seem like something Bill Belichick would do, but Flowers was a key, young player on two championship-winning squads. The productive edge rusher isn't flashy but always gets the job done, which is exactly the type of player the Patriots want to hold onto. And on the off chance Flowers' career path is similar to that of Chandler Jones' - who was traded after four seasons - then at least New England could receive a healthy return for his services.

Grady Jarrett, DT, Atlanta Falcons

Franchise tag salary: $15.57M

Similar to a number of other teams on this list, the Falcons will use the tag to ensure their star player doesn't bolt in free agency. Arguably Atlanta's best player on defense, Jarrett excels as a pass-rusher and run defender. General manager Thomas Dimitroff has said he would prefer to sign Jarrett to a long-term deal, but the franchise tag could be used as a stepping stone.

Donovan Smith, OT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Franchise tag salary: $15.28M

Smith has yet to develop into the top-tier left tackle the Buccaneers drafted him to be, but he's started all 64 games since going in the second round in 2015. Unless Tampa Bay uses the No. 5 overall selection in April's draft on the position, there aren't any in-house candidates to replace him. Searching for stability on offense, it may be wise for Bruce Arians to keep Smith around for at least one more campaign.

Could be tagged

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Washington Redskins

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Franchise tag salary: $12.04M

There are two factors that the Redskins will consider when pondering the tag for Clinton-Dix. On one hand, they gave up a fourth-round pick to acquire the safety from the Green Bay Packers. While not an overly hefty price, the team won't want to give away a draft pick for nothing. On the other hand, the Redskins may not want to pay Clinton-Dix top-five safety money with cheaper options available on the open market.

Robbie Gould, K, San Francisco 49ers

Franchise tag salary: $5.16M

While Gould isn't a lock to receive the tag, he's the most likely option among kickers. The veteran was automatic during his second year in San Francisco, connecting on 33 of 34 field goals, including both attempts from 50-plus yards. The $5.16-million salary would make Gould the NFL's highest-paid kicker, but it's a small price to pay for stability at the position. The 49ers have plenty of cap space as well.

Unlikely to be tagged

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Los Angeles Rams

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Franchise tag salary: $15.57M

Suh will be viewed as a luxury in a star-studded Rams defense. Los Angeles will likely opt against paying the 32-year-old more than his $14 million 2018 salary. There are simply greater priorities looming for the NFC champions.

Jared Cook, TE, Oakland Raiders

Franchise tag salary: $10.93M

Cook is coming off a career year in Jon Gruden's offense, but there's little chance that Oakland will allocate top tight end money to the 31-year-old. Cook was the Raiders' most productive offensive weapon in 2018, however, so who knows what Gruden will do.

Candidate for transition tag

Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

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The Steelers can place the franchise tag on Bell for the third consecutive year, but this situation is highly unlikely given the versatile rusher refused to play under the tag in 2018.

The transition tag is an option because, in theory, it aids both parties. Bell can test the open market for a long-term deal - which is what he's wanted all along - while giving Pittsburgh the option to match any offer the running back receives from another club. The Steelers could also look to trade Bell to ensure they receive compensation, but this is the least likely option since the disgruntled star would have to sign his tender for negotiations to proceed. Either way, the most likely scenario involves the former All-Pro rusher playing for a new franchise.

Projected salary cap figures courtesy: Over the Cap

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Franchise tag primer: Star edge rushers highlight projected candidates
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