Sizing up franchise tags

Deadline day has come and gone.

No, not that deadline day. This deadline day.

Yeah, today was the final day for NFL teams to slap one of their free agents with the world-famous franchise tag.

When time ran out, a record 14 tags had been used, but as ESPN.com’s Mike Sando points out, only three of those 14 players have been to the Pro Bowl. Which leads to the question: Why is it called the franchise tag when it clearly isn’t for franchise players?

It is an insurance policy. In fact, there’s a chance two or three franchised players won’t even make it to September with their teams. But now, instead of letting them go for nothing, the “franchisees” become trade bait.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the 14 players tagged by the 4:00 p.m. ET deadline, with some analysis to boot:

Atlanta Falcons: Michael Koenen (punter)

That’s right, a punter was tagged! To Atlanta’s credit, Koenen is one of the best in the league, and he’ll only cost the Falcons $2.48 million.

Arizona Cardinals: Karlos Dansby (linebacker)

Dansby was tagged for the second consecutive season. But with Arizona having to worry about Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin, the team was smart to at least get Dansby’s tender out of the way. They can worry about trying to secure him long-term when they’re done with that other duo.

Ray-Lewis1 Baltimore Ravens: Terrell Suggs (linebacker)

Like Dansby, Suggs is becoming a household name in the game of tag. And he comes from a similar situation, with Baltimore having to deal with fellow linebackers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott, both of whom become free agents on Feb. 27.

Carolina Panthers: Julius Peppers (defensive end)

Peppers is one of those guys who’s almost certain to get traded. He is unhappy and the team appears to be ready to move on. Still, if the right offer doesn’t come, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Panthers held on to the four-time Pro Bowler in the same way the Cards have forced Boldin to bite the bullet. That damn 16.68 million dollar bullet. It’s also important to point out that the Panthers had to work extra hard to get this done. Had they not signed left tackle Jordan Gross to a six-year deal earlier in the day, the tag would have had to go to him.

Cincinnati Bengals: Shayne Graham (kicker)

Graham is one of those three players who’ve been to the Pro Bowl, but does he really count? He’s also a cheap franchisee, making $2.48 million.

Houston Texans: Dunta Robinson (cornerback)

Good decision for Houston. The Texans can’t afford to lose any important parts of what is already a mediocre defence and Robinson is one of the more underrated players in the league. Coming off a rather serious knee injury, Robinson played pretty well in 11 games in 2008.

New England Patriots: Matt Cassel (quarterback)

We know exactly what this is all about. If Tom Brady’s knee isn’t ready to go on opening day, Cassel’s there. If Brady’s knee is healed, Cassel’s in Minnesota, Kansas City, New York (with the Jets, of course), or Detroit (with the Lions, of course).

New York Giants: Brandon Jacobs (running back)

The tag on Jacobs means Derrick Ward becomes the flashy free agent running back of 2009. Jacobs will stay in blue, where he’ll likely work alongside “fire,” better known as Ahmad Bradshaw, this year. Ward is probably gone, and he’ll probably get Michael Turner money.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Max Starks (offensive tackle)

The Steelers had to plug at least one hole on the offensive line, with fellow offensive linemen Marvel Smith, Willie Colon (restricted) and Chris Kemoeatu slated for free agency. Starks is not the best of the bunch, but this is an indication that the team doesn’t feel comfortable with Smith’s back problems.

O.J.-Atogwe St. Louis Rams: O.J. Atogwe (safety)

The underrated Canadian is quite possibly the best defensive player the Rams have. Atogwe forced a ridiculous six fumbles to go with five picks in 2008. He’s easily worth the $6.34 million he’ll get if the two sides don’t reach a long-term deal.

San Diego Chargers: Darren Sproles (running back)

With LaDainian Tomlinson wearing down, general manager A.J. Smith wasn’t about to make the same mistake he did with free agent running back Michael Turner last year. Knowing full-well that Tomlinson’s days in San Diego could be numbered, this move was a must.

Seattle Seahawks: Leroy Hill (linebacker)

It looks as though the team and Hill will come to an agreement on a long-term contract, but they weren’t able to get it done in time. Now that time is less of a factor, watch for Hill to get a deal done, just as franchise man Marcus Trufant did last summer.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Antonio Bryant (wide receiver)

Bryant has had quite the career resurrection. The only wide receiver tagged will make $9.88 million next year, unless he’s smart enough to sign a deal and secure his long-term future. Or, he might just be dumb enough to do neither.

Tennessee Titans: Bo Scaife (tight end)

This one seems odd on the surface but Scaife was actually one of Tennessee’s most reliable receiving options last year. The Titans let Erron Kinney go two years ago partly because they had confidence in Scaife. Now, with Alge Crumpler fading, he’s their go-to tight end. Of course this was all made possible when the Titans locked up kicker Rob Bironas Wednesday night.

One notable omission

You’re probably asking: Where’s Nnamdi Asomugha? (Then again, I highly doubt you’re just getting the news now, but you get the point.)

Oakland’s cornerback was tagged last year and fully expected to be tagged again by Thursday’s deadline, but it didn’t happen because Asomugha signed a three-year deal with the Raiders.

That’s right. A good player chose to play in Oakland.

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