The deadline to put the franchise tag on players is Monday, but most teams will announce their intentions this afternoon to avoid any last-minute snags.
The only AFC North player guaranteed to get the tag is running back Ray Rice. The Ravens will gladly pay him $7.7 million to keep him this year. The NFL's leader in total yards from last season would have been the top free-agent running back.
In addressing the report, Rice's agent, Todd France, told the Carroll County (Md.) Times: “Maybe it’s because people assume since Ray has led the NFL in yards from scrimmage since becoming a full-time starter in 2009 that he should be the highest-paid running back in the NFL. Regardless of where it came from or who said what, I won’t comment on any specifics of our negotiations except to say my focus is to have an amicable negotiation process that results in a long-term contract for our client.”
The other near certainty is that the Pittsburgh Steelers won't use the tag. There had been talk about the Steelers putting the tag on wide receiver Mike Wallace to protect the restricted free agent, but Pittsburgh has reportedly decided to give him a first-round tender. There is no one else to consider for the franchise tag because Pittsburgh's top unrestricted free agents (the ones who weren't cut) are cornerback William Gay, quarterback Dennis Dixon and punter Daniel Sepulveda.
It's unknown whether the Bengals or the Browns will use the tag. The top candidate for the Browns is kicker Phil Dawson, who received the tag last season. To franchise Dawson for a second time, the Browns would cost $3.3 million in base salary, which is 120 percent his 2011 franchise tag number of $3.1 million. The Bengals presumably would consider putting the tag on either kicker Mike Nugent ($3.1 million) or safety Reggie Nelson ($6.2 million).