NFC West the 'it' division in game of tag

NFC West teams have wielded the franchise tag more frequently than teams from the seven other NFL divisions.

That includes a league-high 20 times since divisional alignment in 2002, according to totals from ESPN Stats & Information. But with only four franchise players since 2010, a figure tied for last over that span, the NFC West has come back to the pack more recently. The AFC North and AFC West have had seven franchise players over the past three offseasons.

1993-2012 Franchise Player Designations

The NFC West has a few potential candidates this offseason as the two-week window for naming franchise players opened Monday. I'll take a closer look at them individually in a bit.

First, some history.

Walter Jones and Orlando Pace are the only three-time franchise players in NFL history.

Both were offensive linemen from the NFC West. Both qualified as franchise players in the broader sense, without their teams using the franchise tag to keep them off the market. They were perennial Pro Bowl choices. As such, both eventually commanded long-term deals -- after pocketing a combined $30 million in one-year franchise contracts.

The four current NFC West teams have combined to use the franchise tag 31 times. Teams currently in the AFC East rank second with 24.

The first chart breaks down the totals by current divisional affiliations. The NFC West's total includes seven instances when Arizona or Seattle used the tag before 2002, when neither was in the NFC West.

The totals since 2002 go like this: NFC West 20, AFC North 17, AFC South 16, AFC West 15, AFC East 14, NFC South 12, NFC East 12 and NFC North 10.

The chart below shows team-by-team totals for offense, defense and special teams. Seattle ranks tied for first and Arizona is third in total franchise tags applied since 1993.

Franchise Player Designations Since System Began in 1993