Yesterday marked the start of the two-week period in which all NFL clubs can assign the franchise tag to one unrestricted free agent, with a deadline of March 4th to use the tag.
Keep in mind that the formula for determining the franchise tag has changed under the new 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement to a much more club-friendly formula. It's no longer equal to the average of the top five salaries at each specific position.
Instead, a new formula is used which adds the amounts of the franchise tag at each position from the previous five seasons. That number is then divided by the sum of the league-wide salary cap number from the previous five seasons. The resulting percentage gets multiplied by the league-wide salary cap for the upcoming season to determine the franchise tag amount.
Get it? Don't worry, it doesn't matter unless your Mickey Loomis or Khai Harley. But the question still remains: which player, if anybody, will the Saints use their franchise tag on this year?
Of the eleven unrestricted free agents the Saints currently have to deal with this off-season, there are really only two players good enough at their position to even consider paying the one-year franchise tag salary: Jermon Bushrod and Sedrick Ellis.
Bushrod is the most likely of those two players to get tagged. The current league-wide salary cap hasn't been determined yet but based on a likely cap figure of $121 million this season, the franchise tag for offensive lineman will probably be in the neighborhood of $9.668 million. That's more than the total of the two-year contract Bushrod signed in 2011.
It gets a little more interesting if the Saints decide to use the tag on Sedrick Ellis. The likely tag figure for defensive tackles this year, assuming a $121 million salary cap, will be around $8.313 million. But with the Saints switching to a 3-4 defense, Ellis projects to be more of a defensive end in their new system (if they decided to keep him around). The tag price for defensive ends this year, however, will likely be in the neighborhood of $10.993 million. So the Saints could play a bit of a shell game and save about $2.5 million by tagging Ellis as a tackle but using him as an end. Tricky, tricky!
Considering how tight the Saints are against the salary cap, they may choose not use the franchise tag at all. This is a pretty likely scenario as well.
The only thing we know for certain is that we'll know for certain what the team decides in less than two weeks.