Franchise tag for Saints, Falcons?

Starting Monday, teams can begin using franchise tags. They can use that tactic to protect a potential free agent any time between then and the March 5 deadline.

This could come into play for two NFC South teams -- the Saints and Falcons. I’m not seeing anyone on the list of free agents for the Bucs and Panthers that would make sense to use a franchise tag on.

But I’m seeing several possibilities each for the Falcons and Saints. Let’s start with the Saints because that’s where the biggest names are.

Quarterback Drew Brees, guard Carl Nicks and receiver Marques Colston all are potential free agents. A lot of people are speculating the Saints will use the tag on Brees.

But I don’t see that happening. I think the priority here is to get a long-term deal done with Brees. Using the franchise tag is often a last resort when contract negotiations aren’t going well. Getting stuck with the franchise tag often angers a player that is seeking long-term security and the last thing the Saints want is an angry Brees.

Besides, estimates say the franchise tag cost for a quarterback will be a little more than $16 million. If the Saints structure Brees’ deal somewhat similar to the most recent contracts signed by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, they can get his cap figure for this year to somewhere around $14 million. That would give them a little extra cap room to work with as they try to keep Nicks and Colston.

Plus, there’s one other problem with putting the franchise tag on Brees. It wouldn’t completely protect him. Another team could attempt to sign him to a monster deal, but it would cost that team two first-round draft picks. Teams have been hesitant to do that in recent years because the cost is so steep. But this is Brees we’re talking about. I don’t think many teams would hesitate to cough up two first-round picks for Brees.

I think the only logical thing here is for the Saints to get Brees locked up for the long term. Once they do that, they can resort to the franchise tag if they can’t get a long-term deal done with Nicks or Colston.

The Falcons also have a couple of candidates for the franchise tag. Atlanta’s prominent free agents are cornerback Brent Grimes and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.

Like the Saints, I think the Falcons would prefer to get long-term deals with both players and would only use the franchise tag if all else fails. The Falcons have some cap room to work with, but franchising Grimes or Lofton would be expensive.

The estimate for the franchise tag for a cornerback is $10.6 million. That’s a ton of money for a player like Grimes. He’s become a very good cornerback, but he’s still undersized and never is going to be truly elite. The Falcons already have a ton of money tied up in cornerback Dunta Robinson.

Franchising Lofton would cost an estimated $8.8 million. Like Grimes, Lofton is a very good player, but he’s not elite. There even have been some rumblings that Lofton could become a two-down linebacker with new coordinator Mike Nolan taking over the defense.