GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers did not use the franchise tag on receiver Randall Cobb -- or any of their other pending free agents -- and now have only until March 10 to get a deal done with him before he's free to sign with another team.
It would have cost the Packers $12.823 million to use the franchise tag on Cobb, but it would have assured that they would retain their slot receiver for at least one more season.
They easily could have absorbed that number under their salary cap given that they have about $33 million in available space at this point, but Packers general manager Ted Thompson has rarely used the tag as a means to keep a player. He did so in 2010 with defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, who then agreed to a long-term deal shortly thereafter. He also used it in 2008 on defensive tackle Corey Williams and then traded him to the Cleveland Browns.
So what's next for Cobb and the Packers?
Between now and Saturday, the Packers still have exclusive negotiating rights with all of their free agents. But come 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, any team would be free to negotiate with Cobb even though they couldn't sign him until March 10.
Last season, the Packers let their priority free agent, cornerback Sam Shields, get to the negotiating period before they signed him to a four-year, $39 million contract. They got the deal done about six hours after Shields and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, were allowed to start talking to other teams.
Cobb's agent, Jimmy Sexton, almost certainly has an idea of what kind of money his client could get on the open market, but he might want to wait until the negotiating period officially opens at 4 p.m. ET on Friday before he goes back to the Packers with any more demands.
It's possible a team with major cap space, say the Jacksonville Jaguars (with nearly $70 million in cap space) or the Oakland Raiders (more than $56 million in cap space), could come in with an offer far above what the Packers think Cobb is worth.
Sexton did not return messages left Monday.
Cobb is coming off his best season with 91 catches for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he has been primarily a slot, or inside, receiver during his four-year NFL career. Typically, receivers who play on the outside are higher paid.
The Packers plan to continue to try to work out a deal with Cobb before free agency opens. They also are trying to re-sign tackle Bryan Bulaga, who could have been franchised for $12.92 million, well above his market value.