A look at potential franchise tag targets for each of the AFC North teams. The window for tagging players opens Monday and closes March 5.
The Browns have only used the franchise tag once since their return to the league in 1999. It came last year when Cleveland put the tag on kicker Phil Dawson, who had been seeking a long-term contract instead.
While the odds of the Browns using the franchise tag are considered slim, here are the options:
Top candidate: D'Qwell Jackson, middle linebacker. The Browns don't want to lose Jackson, the NFL's second-leading tackler. But they might not want to commit to him long-term considering his medical history. Before this season, he had missed the previous 26 games due to two separate pectoral injuries. That's why the franchise tag makes a lot of sense for Jackson. The problem is, the franchise tag for linebackers takes into account all linebackers, including the pricey pass-rushers. To keep Jackson, the tag will cost the Browns around $9 million. Jackson said last month that he is open to playing under the tag, and he should be for that weekly $529,000 check. It just seems unlikely that the Browns would pay that amount of money to retain him for one year.
Dark horse: Phil Dawson, kicker. This could be the only way the Browns keep the most consistent offensive weapon from last year. Dawson's wife and three kids lived in Austin, Texas, last season and he might not want to be away from them for another season. The Browns used the tag on Dawson last season and it didn't affect his production. He converted 24-of-29 field goal attempts, and two of those misses were the result of bad snaps. He also hit seven field goals of 50 yards or longer, and no one in the NFL had more from that distance this year. The Browns could find another strong-legged kicker, but it will be hard to find one as adept in tough lakefront conditions late in the season.