Until free agency actually begins, we can only speculate. However, before free agency can commence, teams have to decide whether they are going to place the franchise tag on a player. The opportunity to do so began this week and will run through March 3. Essentially, the franchise tag virtually guarantees that a player will return for at least one more year with their current team. They are guaranteed a competitive salary (greater than the average of the top five salaries at the position). Here is a list of players who could potentially get the franchise tag, and what it might mean for their Fantasy value.
Jimmy Graham – The debate about Graham getting the franchise tag from the New Orleans Saints isn’t centered on whether it will happen; it’s almost inevitable that he’ll receive the tag. The question is for which position. Graham wants to be tagged as a wide receiver, not a tight end, given that he’s played only 33 percent of his snaps as a tight end. The benefit of being tagged as a wide receiver is obviously, more money for Graham. If he is tagged as a tight end, he can file a grievance to be tagged as a wide receiver. It will be an ongoing debate, but for Fantasy owners, as long as Graham returns to the TE position, he will still be the Number 1 tight end in the game. In 2013, he registered career-highs in yardage (1,215) and touchdowns (16). He had six games with over 100 receiving yards. He’s going to continue to be a very Fantasy draft pick, because 2013 proved that even if the tight end position seems deep, having a stud tight end can give you an edge in the Fantasy game.
Dennis Pitta – It appeared that when new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was hired, the Ravens tight end was discussed. Once Kubiak had his introductory press conference, he stated that he expects Pitta to be a big part of the offense in 2014. Clearly, the Ravens are looking to keep Pitta, but if they cannot come to a contract agreement, look for them to place the franchise tag on him. Like Graham, he will argue that he is a receiver rather than a tight end, but again, for Fantasy, the result is the same. Pitta is likely return to a team with a desperate need for receivers of any kind. He was injured for most of the 2013 season, and he only played in four games, totaling 169 yards and a touchdown. Look for Pitta to bounce back to his 2012 numbers next season (61 receptions for 669 yards and seven touchdowns).
Brandon Pettigrew – It doesn’t seem like a probable scenario for Pettigrew to be given the franchise tag, but it is a possibility. The Lions will likely opt for him to test out free agency and see what he can get. It’s not like they have better options waiting in the wings. Joseph Fauria is really the only other tight end that they’ve played, but that doesn’t mean they won’t get one in the draft or through the free agent market themselves. In the five years since Pettigrew joined the NFL, he hasn’t really developed into much more than a blocker and occasional pass catcher. The most receptions he’s had in a season was 83 in 2011. That same year, he had career-highs for touchdowns (five) and yardage (777). He’s only gone downhill since, and Matthew Stafford can’t always be to blame.
Julian Edelman – Most sports outlets believe it is highly unlikely that the New England Patriots will give the franchise tag to Edelman. The Patriots were willing to let Wes Welker go, and they have less invested in Edelman. The Patriots also have Danny Amendola and they saw some potential in their two rookies, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. From a cost perspective, Edelman may not be worth what it would take to keep him. He had his best statistical season to-date, and he actually stayed healthy and played in all 16 games. All told, Edelman had 1,056 receiving yards on 105 receptions and six touchdowns, and still played a role in punt returns, totaling 374 return yards. If the Patriots let him test the free agent market, Houston might be a possible landing spot. Where he ends up will truly determine his overall Fantasy value. The Patriots may like him, but maybe not enough to keep him.
Hakeem Nicks – Another possible franchise tag candidate, but one that is far-fetched, is Hakeem Nicks. After another disappointing season, it is clear that he has lost a step over the past two seasons. In 15 games in 2013, he had 56 receptions for 896 yards and zero touchdowns. In 13 games in 2012, he had 53 receptions for 692 yards and three touchdowns. Prior to that, he had two 1,000-plus yard seasons with 11 and seven touchdowns respectively. While Victor Cruz reportedly wants Nicks back with the Giants, all reports are saying that Nicks will likely move on from New York. A possible landing spot has been New England, if they do let Edelman go. Nicks will likely be able to be signed for a fairly cheap contract. At age 26, a team can hope that he does still have something left in the tank. The Giants questioned both his talent and drive, but it is possible that a change of scenery is what Nicks needs. Like Edelman, watch to see where he ends up to determine what Fantasy value he has left.