Joe Flacco isn't going anywhere.
The occasional quasi-provocative (read: fictional) opining to the contrary is a waste of energy. He is precisely the reason owners fought so hard to retain the franchise-tag designation in the current collective bargaining agreement with the players. The Baltimore Ravens have no intention of letting him get away. It's folly to consider otherwise.
This Ravens franchise has lived through Stoney Case and Tony Banks and Kyle Boller and Elvis Grbac and I could go on and on. Trust me, few teams have a better appreciation for inept quarterbacking than the Ravens, and few organizations could appreciate the value of a true standout passer more. If the sides can't work out a long-term deal, then the Ravens will place the exclusive-rights tag on him or find a way to match any offer sheet that comes his way.
Consider him the poster boy for the franchise class of 2013. There aren't any great QB prospects on the draft horizon either.
Teams can begin designating franchise players on Monday and they have until March 4 to do so. In a case like Flacco, the Ravens will take every minute possible to negotiate a long-term deal with him before applying the tag. But they will have no trepidation about tagging him if need be.
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With that in mind, here is a look at the teams that will, won't and just might utilize the franchise tag this offseason:
Will use it
Baltimore: The Ravens will tag Flacco, who is the only quarterback candidate this offseason for the designation. If they get Flacco signed to a long-term deal, then the Ravens won't tag anyone else given their cap situation. Right now it's earmarked for Flacco.
Miami: Whether the tag is put on cornerback Sean Smith or left tackle Jake Long, it would be ridiculous for the Dolphins not to use it at all. They're already looking at losing free agent running back Reggie Bush and impactful defensive lineman Randy Starks. Would they really risk losing all four of these players for nothing but compensatory picks?
Long's slumping play and injury woes give pause, but to have a top corner and tackle in their mid-20s both hit the market in the same year is unheard of in the salary-cap era. Says here someone gets tagged.
Denver: Ryan Clady is vitally important to keeping immobile quarterback Peyton Manning healthy and happy. If the Broncos can't get Clady locked up for the next five years, then they take it year-to-year and keep the stud protecting Manning's blindside. No doubt 2013 is Super Bowl or bust for the Broncos anyway.
Kansas City: Tackle Branden Albert might end up being a guard long-term, but the Chiefs can't afford to lose any assets on offense. Andy Reid won't stand for it and to tag franchise receiver Dwayne Bowe a second straight year would be cost-prohibitive. My money is on them franchising Albert if they can't sign him.
Buffalo: Cutting safety George Wilson this week sent a message to the rest of the league that ball-hawking safety Jairus Byrd isn't going anywhere. The Bills need to keep the few young play-makers they have and this could be a year where a bevy of safeties get tagged.
Detroit: Speaking of safeties, how could the Lions let Louis Delmas get away? They can't. They also can't franchise defensive lineman Cliff Avril for a second straight year. Delmas changes everything about their defensive approach when he is in the lineup, and they can't risk losing him.
NY Giants: Um, speaking of safeties again, Kenny Phillips gets hurt a lot, too, but damn does he change the entire look of this defense when he is playing. Teams would line up for his services if he is given the chance to test the market and the safety tag is low enough that even a team in a cap bind like the Giants would have to make the move.
Oakland: Teams aren't shy about placing it on a specialist, and punter Shane Lechler has been about as good as it gets at his position for quite some time. Field position is imperative given the Raiders' issues offensively and defensively and they need to protect the assets they have.
Might use it
Houston I'd be surprised if the Texans tagged pass rusher Connor Barwin at this point, but I can't rule it out. Most likely, they let him see what's out there for him and then see what they can do to match. But after letting Mario Williams walk a year ago, you have to at least allow for the possibility they prevent Barwin from dipping his toes in the waters.
New Orleans: Jermon Bushrod has had some strong outings, and the Saints have never been shy about investing in their offensive line ... but the cap issues are very real and they are paying both guards huge money. I tend to think one of these good young starting left tackles end up hitting the market. We'll see if Bushrod is one of them. They won a Super Bowl with him as their left tackle, after all.
Chicago: Henry Melton has been great for them and he is one of the few impact players on defense who isn't on the wrong side of 32. There is a debate to be had over what to do with him, and the often-fiscally prudent Bears need to consider all options.
New England: I don't see it happening, but maybe tagging Sebastien Vollmer ends up making some sense for Bill Belichick. He has some freakish talent and is the only hanging chad, if you will, on this offensive line. The Patriots could make it happen under their cap if need be, knowing they have all summer to get a long-term deal done and eventually open up more cap space.
Green Bay: Personally, I don't see them tagging receiver Greg Jennings, as great as he is. Too much youth and too much youth at that position, and too great a quarterback and too many other players who need to get paid. But you could at least make the argument the Packers retain this asset, so while I am doubtful they tag Jennings, I'm willing to at least consider it an option at this point.
Tennessee: Kickers are still cheap on the tag, so if the Titans want to keep Rob Bironas, they could always apply the tag and then work from there. Tight end Jared Cook has real value as well, but if I had to guess as it stands now, I'd bet against him getting tagged.
Won't use it
Seattle: Everyone the Seahawks might have used it on has already been extended.
San Francisco: No reason to tag safety Dashon Goldson a second straight year. The 49ers are another team that has excelled at extending their nucleus long-term.
St. Louis: The Rams are trying to get Danny Amendola signed long-term, and the receiver isn't worthy of the $11 million a year it costs to tag a receiver -- not even close.
Arizona: No obvious candidates for the Cardinals.
Washington: No one worthy of the tag is entering free agency. The Redskins placed it on tight end Fred Davis a year ago, and he ended up missing almost all season with injury.
Philadelphia: Not gonna happen with the Eagles.
Dallas: The decision to tag Anthony Spencer last year ended up being sage, but to do it two years in a row would be nuts, especially given the Cowboys' cap situation.
Atlanta: The Falcons need help. They tagged corner Brent Grimes in 2012, but here's another case that screams out for a long-term solution rather than a 20-percent raise on another one-year contract for Grimes.
Carolina: The Panthers are deep into cap-cutting mode and don't have a natural candidate anyway.
Tampa Bay: Jeremy Trueblood has been a strong right tackle for the Buccaneers, but not the kind of player who gets franchised at tackle money.
Minnesota: The Vikings are another team that needs to find ways to create cap space, not tag someone to eat up considerable amounts on a guaranteed one-year deal.
Cleveland: The Browns can't franchise kicker Phil Dawson every year.
Cincinnati: The Bengals rarely use it, even when they have top players who merit it (i.e. Johnathan Joseph a few years back).
Pittsburgh: The Steelers aren't going to tag receiver Mike Wallace ... and if they aren't tagging Wallace then they aren't tagging anyone.
Jacksonville: Just check out the Jaguars' roster, folks.
Indianapolis: The Colts are still in rebuilding mode and hoping that someone else fails to tag a franchise tackle that ends up hitting the market.
San Diego: New coaching and front office regime and no one worthy of the tag among the Chargers' free agents.
NY Jets: The Jets are well over the cap and will have to take some short-term pain for what they believe will be long-term gain.