With the deadline for signing franchise players to multiple-year contracts a week away, the clock is ticking toward crunch time for several teams and their designated veterans.
By rule, NFL teams have until July 15 to reach agreement with franchise players on multi-year contracts. After the deadline, a designated player may sign only the one-year tender for a franchise free agent at his position.
Of the 14 players tagged as franchise free agents in February, only three -- Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill (six years, $38 million), New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs (four years, $25 million) and Pittsburgh offensive tackle Max Starks (four years $26.3 million) -- have signed multi-year contracts. Technically Hill was no longer a franchise player when he signed his deal, since the Seahawks had rescinded the designation during draft weekend in late April, then reached a contract accord with him just a few days later.
Eight franchise players have signed one-year tenders with their respective clubs. They are: Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Bryant ($9.884 million), Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel ($14.65 million), Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby ($9.678 million), Cincinnati kicker Shayne Graham ($2.483 million), Atlanta punter Michael Koenen ($2.483 million), Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers ($16.7 million), Tennessee tight end Bo Scaife ($4.46 million) and San Diego running back Darren Sproles ($6.621 million).
Several of those veteran players and their teams continue negotiations toward long-term contracts.
The Chiefs acquired Cassel from New England in a trade after the quarterback signed his one-year tender with the Patriots.
Barring contract extensions, and pending the resolution of the ongoing negotiations on the league's collective bargaining agreement, those eight players could become unrestricted free agents next spring.
There remain three franchise players -- St. Louis safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson and Baltimore linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs -- who have yet to sign any contract.
The cases of Suggs and Dansby are particularly interesting, since this is the second year in a row the Ravens and Cardinals, respectively, designated the defenders as franchise players. To employ the marker for a third consecutive year, the clubs would have to make a tender offer at the highest franchise number, probably the quarterback level.
The franchise tender for a quarterback this spring was $14.65 million and likely will be higher in 2010.
It may be critical for the Panthers to reach a long-term agreement with Peppers, a deal that would lower his 2009 figure. Without a multiple-year contract, the cost of keeping Peppers for 2010 might be prohibitive. For the Panthers to use the franchise tag again on Peppers and 2010, it would cost them 120 percent of his 2009 salary or $20.04 million.
Negotiations toward long-term contracts on other fronts have been mixed. Suggs said two weeks ago he was "close" to a long-term deal and only "little things" needed to be worked out. But the six-year veteran has yet to sign.
Dansby and Cardinals have been talking for much of the offseason, and the standout linebacker even changed agents, but he has yet to strike an agreement. There have been published reports that Robinson, one of the league's premier cover defenders, will consider signing the one-year tender if Houston officials contractually stipulate that they won't use the franchise tag again on him next spring.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.