The time for NFL teams to use the franchise tag begins today, and this is the easiest way for teams to ensure their best free agents are brought back for at least one more season.
Well, that is if you have enough cap space to afford it. No one is expecting the Cincinnati Bengals to slap the franchise tag on defensive end Michael Johnson for the second consecutive year, which would cost the team around $13 million, over half of their projected cap space.
As for offensive tackle Anthony Collins, the franchise tag would likely cost the team $9-$11 million. Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, Coley Harvey of ESPN and Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer are all reporting the Bengals are unlikely to use the franchise tag, which makes it look as though that's the message the team is putting out right now.
I say "message the team is putting out", because it could be a smart negotiating tactic by the Bengals.
If Collins and his agent think the Bengals won't hang the tag over his head, they may be more willing to sign a long-term contract to give him that long-term security he likely desires.
But if the Bengals were to use the tag on him and he thought that was the case, it could make him not want to accept their deal. That's because he could simply collect a nice paycheck this year, get a full year of starting experience under his belt and then go on to get a massive contract next offseason.
In other words, the thought of using the tag could actually prevent Collins from wanting to sign a long-term deal, as he stands to gain more money if he becomes a free agent in the 2015 offseason.
That's why the Bengals should want him to think they won't use the tag in hopes of getting him re-signed now.
The Kansas City Chiefs actually used a similar method last year with left tackle Brandon Albert. All of the talk leading up to the franchise tag deadline that year was they were going to let Albert walk and use the tag on free agent receiver Dwayne Bowe.
They couldn't get Albert to ultimately sign a long-term deal, but prior to the deadline, they shocked everyone by signing Bowe to a long-term deal and placed the tag on Albert, keeping him in KC for one more year.
Ironically enough, the Chiefs decided to tag Albert not just because he was a quality tackle, but keeping him allowed the team the option of moving him to guard and putting their No. 1 draft pick (turned out to be Eric Fisher) at left tackle.
The Bengals are in a similar situation, as keeping Collins would allow the team to kick Andrew Whitworth inside to guard and keep Collins at left tackle.
In other words, don't rule out the franchise tag for Collins until the March 3 deadline to use it passes.