NFL teams can begin using the franchise tag starting Tuesday — who could be getting it this year?

The window for teams to use the franchise tag on players opens Tuesday, and closes at 4 p.m. on March 5.

While there’s certainly a debate to be had about the tag and how it’s not really the boon for players that the NFL wants you to believe it is, the reality is it’s part of the league landscape for now. Which means it gives us a chance to discuss the most likely candidates to be tagged by their respective teams.

Here are some players who could be playing a game of tag sometime in the next two weeks:

DE DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys

Lawrence is likely to be tagged for the second straight year, a prospect he’s not happy with. The 34th overall pick in 2014, Lawrence is reportedly a priority for Dallas, but at this time it doesn’t look like he’s enough of a priority for the team to hammer out a multi-year deal for one of the league’s best young pass-rushers.

In 2017, Lawrence made the Pro Bowl for the first time, with 14.5 sacks, 26 quarterback hits and 14 tackles for loss; he followed that up this past season with 10.5 sacks, 23 quarterback hits and 15 tackles for loss, which earned him another Pro Bowl nod.

Tag, you’re it: the Dallas Cowboys will likely place the franchise tag on defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence for the second straight year. (AP)
Tag, you’re it: the Dallas Cowboys will likely place the franchise tag on defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence for the second straight year. (AP)

Lawrence made $17.1 million in 2018, and if he’s tagged again he’ll be paid 120 percent of that amount, or $20.52 million.

Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the Cowboys won’t tag Lawrence right away, and that something could happen during the upcoming scouting combine, when owner/general manager Jerry Jones and agent David Canter will both be in Indianapolis.

DE Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans

Clowney has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last three years, and while he’s already played five NFL seasons, he just celebrated his 26th birthday this month. Clowney and J.J. Watt, when both are healthy, are a formidable pass-rushing pair, totaling 25 sacks (16 from Watt) and 46 quarterback hits (21 from Clowney) in 2018.

NBC Sports’ Peter King believes Clowney is more likely to be franchised by Houston and not offered a long-term contract because he’s not the “worker bee” that others on the Texans’ defense are.

QB Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles

Foles’ situation seems pretty clear-cut: the Eagles made it clear they intend to move forward with Carson Wentz as their starter, and then traded transaction moves with the Super Bowl LII MVP — the Eagles picked up the $20 million option for 2019 on Foles’ contract, then he opted out, paying the team $2 million to do so.

Now Philadelphia will reportedly franchise Foles in the hopes of trading him for a third-round pick, giving him the option to be a starter elsewhere.

K Robbie Gould, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers haven’t used their franchise tag in seven years, but that could be changing if the team can’t come to an agreement on a contract extension with Gould before the tag window closes.

Matt Maiocco of NBCSports Bay Area writes “it would be a major surprise” if the Niners don’t tag Gould if there is no extension.

Gould has been a bargain for San Francisco: signed to a two-year, $4 million deal in 2017, he’s made 72 of his 75 field-goal attempts in two seasons. The franchise tag amount for kickers will be $5.16 million for 2019.

DE Frank Clark, Seattle Seahawks

Taken at the end of the second round in 2015, Clark started all 16 games for the first time in his career and had the stats to match the fact that he played 73 percent of the defensive snaps: 13.0 sacks, 27 quarterback hits, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.

If the Seahawks let him hit free agency, Clark would certainly be one of the most sought-after players on the market, but that seems unlikely to happen.

Last year, Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, said the two “are not scared of the franchise tag,” which will come in around $18.6 million for defensive ends.

LB Dee Ford, Kansas City Chiefs

Another productive pass-rusher from the 2014 draft, Ford made his first Pro Bowl this past season after totaling 13.0 sacks and a league-best seven forced fumbles.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has already said Ford will be back with the team in 2019, making it easy to believe the team’s plan is to franchise the 27-year-old at a cost of around $15.8 million.

OT Donovan Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tackle Donovan Smith never came off the field last season, playing every offensive snap for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP)
Tackle Donovan Smith never came off the field last season, playing every offensive snap for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (AP)

A second-round pick in 2015, Smith didn’t come off the field for even a single snap in 2018.

The Buccaneers would prefer to sign the left tackle to a long-term deal but Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times tweeted recently that the team has indicated that it will franchise Smith if a multi-year deal can’t be struck in the coming weeks.

Again, the combine will likely be a critical time for an extension, with Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht and Smith’s agents from Sportstars in Indianapolis and able to hash things out face-to-face.

DT Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff said last month at the Senior Bowl that he was “encouraged” the team would come to an extension agreement with Jarrett, a 2015 fifth-round pick. But he also acknowledged that it’s possible to use the tag to make sure Garrett remains with the Falcons.

“I think with the way it’s set up in the league, you always look at that if you can’t get something done. But our focus is to see where we’re going with this negotiation,” Dimitroff said, via The Athletic. “Again, he’s a very important part. He is our priority right now. We tabled it, as you know, in the fall, and we focused on the season. Of course, he did a very good job. We love what he does for us, not only on the field but off the field.”

S Landon Collins, New York Giants

Collins said last year he doesn’t want the franchise tag, but he may not have a choice.

A Pro Bowler in three of his four NFL seasons and first-team All-Pro in his second season, 2016, Collins is arguably the best player on a Giants defense that needs more good players. The Giants’ history is to use the tag as more of a placeholder, to buy the team more time to hammer out a contract with a player, so maybe if Collins is tagged, it won’t be for the whole season.

Collins missed the final four games of the 2018 season due to shoulder surgery.

RB Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

After Bell sat out the entire 2018 season rather than risk his health playing on the tag again, the Steelers may place the transition tag on the running back.

Unlike the franchise tag, which carries the exceedingly high cost of two first-round draft picks if a franchised player is signed by another team (the trade terms could be different if agreed upon by both teams), the transition tag means the Steelers would have the chance to match any offer Bell receives from another team.

But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac reported that the Steelers don’t plan to match any offer and retain Bell, and using the transition tag isn’t the smartest move for the team.

If Pittsburgh was able to agree to trade terms with another team, Bell and his agent, Adisa Bakari, would have to agree to sign the tag to execute the trade, and given the history between Bell, Bakari and the team, that is no sure thing.

The Steelers could match an offer and then try to trade Bell, but given their salary cap situation and Bell’s talent, they probably couldn’t do that.

The transition tag amount for running backs will be $9.5 million to $14.5 million this year.

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