NFL teams can start using franchise tags on Feb. 10, according the league itself. That puts kind of a strange wrinkle in the offseason CBA saga. With some 170 starters ticketed for free agency there could be more than a few handed out by front offices, thinning out the big free agent market in a year where there might not be one at all.
One player likely to receive the tag: New England Patriots offensive guard Logan Mankins, three-time Pro Bowl gaurd, including a starting spot this year, after he held out for the first 7 games of the season. If he were to hit the market, Mankins could fill a major need for the St. Louis Rams.
Just last week there was some talk that Mankins might be done in New England, allowed to bolt without getting the tag. However, adding another pricey free agent to an offensive line that already includes two pricey free agents and a first round draft pick might be a little much.
Part of me wonders why John Greco isn't a more serious candidate to fill that spot, but they obviously didn't feel strongly enough about him to keep him active late in the season. Beyond an in-house answer, they can probably find a solid starter in the middle rounds of the draft.
As far as free agents are concerned, Mankins would easily be at the top of the class. After that, there's an interesting phenomenon in Atlanta where both their starting guards are set for free agency this season, Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl. Could the Falcons lay out the bread for both birds? (They also have their top CB Bret Grimes and LB Stephen Nicholas due for UFA). Some other interesting names on the list: 49ers David Baas (who can also play C), the Ravens' Chris Chester.
As far as the Rams and the franchise tag, they just don't have very many apt candidates to use it on, at least none worth keeping around at the tag's one year salary level.