If the Cincinnati Bengals want to use the franchise tag on Anthony Collins or Michael Johnson, the team's top free agents heading into free agency (March 11), the first date that they can apply it is February 17.
Don't get excited. According to Bengals.com, don't expect them to apply it to anyone.
Because the team used the franchise tag on Michael Johnson last season, they were on the hook for an $11.175 million tender. Per league rules, if the Bengals franchised Johnson for a second season, that number would jump to $13.4 million. Not going to happen. One report suggested earlier this month that Johnson could command over $10 million per season.
Considering that Geno Atkins is the only Bengals player averaging $10 million or more per season and that Carlos Dunlap, arguably a better defensive end, makes $7.8 million per season, and also considering that A.J. Green will further squeeze Cincinnati's cap situation, giving Johnson over $10 million per season is laughable.
As for Collins, the franchise tag would have cost Cincinnati $9.828 million last year (we mention that as a baseline). Franchise numbers won't be released until later but some projections have a franchise tag number of $11.126 million for an offensive lineman.
Collins won't find an annual salary close to that. It would be in-tune to the whole "overreacting" about a player that's the lead story for the first week of every free agency period. Won't happen. If/when Collins leaves, the Bengals may look for an offensive tackle in the the first round of this year's draft.
On the other hand, it's entirely possible that Cincinnati uses the franchise tag to prevent external negotiations and allow the team to exclusive negotiating rights for a long-term deal (aka, preventing another team from negotiating against Cincinnati) before the mid-July deadline.