The Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns are the first teams this year to use the franchise tag on kickers, and they were both right in doing so. Putting the tag on the Bengals' Mike Nugent and the Browns' Phil Dawson represent the best value for both teams.
The Bengals could have used it on safety Reggie Nelson ($6.2 million), and the Browns could have done the same with running back Peyton Hillis ($7.7 million). In both cases, it would have been overspending because neither are among the top 10 at their position.
Nugent was the league's most accurate kicker until late in the season when he missed four field goals over the final three games. He finished eighth in the NFL in accuracy (86.8 percent) and 15th in touchbacks (36). So, the price of the tag (it's been estimated between $2.6 million and $3.1 million for this season) isn't too costly considering Nugent's effectiveness.
Dawson was the logical choice after the Browns reached a long-term deal with middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. This was the only way the Browns were keeping the most consistent offensive weapon from last season. Dawson 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 in 2011.
The franchise tag is a little higher for Dawson because he was given the designation last year. The Browns will pay him $3.3 million in base salary, which is 120 percent his 2011 franchise tag number of $3.1 million.
These are not outrageous figures when you look at the landscape of kicker salaries these days. Here are some of the kickers who are making at least $2.7 million this season: St. Louis' Josh Brown ($2.7 million), Indianapolis' Adam Vinatieri ($2.7 million), Chicago's Robbie Gould ($2.8 million), Tennessee's Rob Bironas ($2.85 million) and San Francisco's David Akers ($3 million).
Having a strong kicker is essential in the AFC North because of the challenging weather late in the season and the stinginess of the defenses (all four AFC North defenses finished in the top 10 in fewest points allowed). The Bengals and the Browns made sure they have one by using the franchise tag today.