NFL teams have until 4 p.m. ET to use their franchise tag on one of their pending free agents. Already, as we discussed Friday, the Chicago Bears have used theirs on defensive tackle Henry Melton. So what about the rest of the NFC North?
Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has said he does not expect to use the tag. There has been speculation that the Green Bay Packers would franchise receiver Greg Jennings, but while the Packers have surprised us before with their tag, it still seems unlikely.
That leaves the Minnesota Vikings, whose top pending free agent is right tackle Phil Loadholt. There is every indication that the Vikings want Loadholt back, but the economics of the franchise tag -- all offensive linemen, be it left tackles or centers, are classified in one category -- would seem to make the possibility at least temporarily unappealing.
Franchising Loadholt would consume $9.828 million against the 2013 salary cap until the sides presumably agreed on a long-term contract. If that didn't happen, Loadholt would play on a one-year deal that would pay him the same amount. That's beyond-elite pay for a right tackle, even if the chances of Loadholt actually seeing it are remote.
(The franchise tag can be rescinded at any time before a player signs it.)
Loadholt has never made a Pro Bowl, but he is reliable (one missed game in four years) and has worked to improve his conditioning and pass blocking. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the NFL's sixth-best right tackle last season, and really the only bad thing you can say about him is that he is penalty-prone.
As the chart shows, Loadholt received 11 penalties in 2012, tying him for the fifth most among NFL players. It's worth noting that two of the penalties were for illegal formation, which is actually the fault of the receiver on his side but technically gets called on the tackle, but he also committed five false starts, two holds and two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls.
I don't foresee a scenario where Loadholt doesn't return to the Vikings in 2013. The franchise tag is one tool for ensuring that, but it might not be necessary.