We look back at Atlanta's worst games this year to see what weaknesses New England might exploit. Those weaknesses include pretty much everyone on defense, but is there a secret to stopping the Falcons offense?
03 Jan 2012
by Brian McIntyre
With the end of the NFL regular season, the focus in 20 NFL cities is on 2012 free agency and which players might receive a franchise (or transition) tag this offseason.
Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the formula for determining the amount of the franchise and transition tags has changed. Instead of taking the average of the top-5 salary cap numbers from the previous season at each position -- top-10 for the transition tag -- the franchise and transition tag numbers will now be a percentage of the salary cap. To determine the percentage, the amounts of the franchise and transition tags at each position from the previous five seasons will be added up and divided by the sum of the salary caps from the previous five seasons (for the uncapped 2010 season, the league will take the average of the 2009 and 2011 salary caps). The resulting percentage will be multiplied by the salary cap from the upcoming season to determine the non-exclusive franchise tag and transition tag amounts. (The exclusive franchise tag will be the greater of the franchise tag under the new calculation or the average of the largest five salaries at that position at the end of the restricted free agent period.)
Several weeks back, former NFL general manager Charley Casserly reported during his "NFL Insider" segment on the CBS pregame show that the 2012 salary cap will be "roughly the same" as it was in 2011, allowing us to offer up some projections on what the 2012 franchise and transition tenders will look like, and make some guesses on which players are likely to receive a tender.
Since the exact 2012 salary cap number is not yet known, we've listed a projected range for each tender amount. The lower tender amount is based on the 2011 salary cap figure of $120.375 million per club, with the higher amount based on an estimated 2012 salary cap number of $125 million per club.
This article has been posted in two parts. Click here for analysis of defense.
Projected Franchise Tender: $14.374M - $14.926M
Projected Transition Tender: $12.409M - $12.886M
Drew Brees is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, but there is no chance the Saints let him leave New Orleans. If a long-term extension is not reached by end of February, Casserly reported that they will use the franchise tag to continue negotiations on a long-term contract. Brees is coming off one of the best quarterback seasons in NFL history, passing for an NFL-record 5,476 yards and leading the league with 46 touchdown passes. Brees has not missed a game due to injury during his six seasons in New Orleans and turns 33 on January 15, the same age Tom Brady was when he signed his four-year, $72 million contract extension in 2010 that included nearly $50 million in guarantees. Brees' agent is Tom Condon of CAA Football, who negotiated Peyton Manning's contract in July and who secured a record $50 million guaranteed from the St. Louis Rams for 2010 first overall pick Sam Bradford. Manning and Brady's guarantees were $48 million apiece. It would not be a surprise if Brees tops $50 million in his next deal.
After playing 2011 under a one-year, $4 million contract (with $3 million in available incentives), 49ers quarterback Alex Smith largely did what was asked of him by first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, passing for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions. The 49ers invested a 2011 second-round pick in quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but could look to keep Smith, who turns 28 in the offseason, around for the next few seasons.
Other notable FA quarterbacks: Kyle Orton, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Byron Leftwich, Rex Grossman, Drew Stanton, Chad Henne, Brady Quinn, Dan Orlovsky, Josh Johnson, Matt Flynn, David Carr, Kellen Clemens, Derek Anderson, Josh McCown, Jake Delhomme
Projected Franchise Tender: $7.778M - $8.088M
Projected Transition Tender: $6.691M - $6.949M
Ravens running back Ray Rice finished second to Maurice Jones-Drew in rushing yards (with a career-high 1,364) and, combined with his 76 receptions for 704 yards, led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,068). Rice is a two-time Pro Bowler who has missed three games in his career and won't turn 25 until January 22, the day of the AFC and NFC Championship Games, which the Ravens may very well be involved in. At nearly $8 million, Rice would be a steal.
In his first three seasons in the NFL, Bears running back Matt Forte did not miss a game, ran for over 3,200 yards, caught 170 passes and scored 25 touchdowns. Forte sought a new contract after the lockout ended, but was looking to receive DeAngelo Williams money -– five-years, $40 million, $20 million guaranteed –- and reportedly turned down an offer that included between $13 and $15 million in guaranteed money. Prior to spraining the MCL in his left knee on December 4, Forte had accounted for 38 percent of the Bears' offensive yardage. The Bears are likely to use the tag on Forte in February.
The Seattle Seahawks could use the franchise tag on Marshawn Lynch, who became the team's first 1,000-yard rusher since Shaun Alexander in 2005. Acquiring Lynch from the Buffalo Bills was a six-month process for Seahawks general manager John Schneider, and given Lynch's role in the running game's improvement, it's unlikely he walks after just 29 regular and post-season games.
Projected Franchise Tender: $9.443M - $9.806M
Projected Transition Tender: $8.477M - $8.802M
Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson played 2011 under the one-year franchise tag and caught 60 passes for 1,106 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. For the Chargers to franchise Jackson again in 2012, they would have to fork over $13.709 million, or 120 percent of his 2011 tender.
Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker led the NFL in receptions (122) and was second behind Detroit's Calvin Johnson in receiving yards (1,569). Welker is the only key cog of the Patriots unsigned for 2012, and while he's on the wrong side of 30, it would be surprising if New England let Welker test the free agent market.
You may have learned last season that Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson wants a new contract. After making it through the season in one piece, he appears to understand that he didn't go about it the right way. There is no denying Jackson's big-play ability -– he owns 17.8-yard average on 230 career receptions -– but it would be understandable for the Eagles to have reservations about making a large financial commitment to Jackson. The Eagles could gain considerable leverage in contract talks with the franchise tag, as Jackson would not start seeing checks from the franchise salary until September.
Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons and is one season removed from a 15-touchdown performance. The Chiefs invested a 2011 first-round pick in Jonathan Baldwin and signed Steve Breaston in free agency after the lockout, but Bowe is easily their best receiver and is an inherited player Scott Pioli should want to keep for the long-term.
If the Saints are able to secure a long-term deal with Brees, they could use the tag on Marques Colston, who, with five 1,000-yard seasons to go along with his 48 touchdowns over the last six seasons, may be the most consistently productive wide receiver to not make the Pro Bowl.
Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and has 17 touchdowns over his last 32 games. While his propensity for Ochocinco-esque behavior may give the front office pause, he has No. 1 receiver talent and should be brought back.
Other notable FA wide receivers: Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Plaxico Burress, Robert Meachem, Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, Steve Smith (PHI), Brandon Lloyd, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn, Harry Douglas, Eddie Royal, Early Doucet, Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Chaz Schilens
Projected Franchise Tender: $5.416M - $5.624M
Projected Transition Tender: $4.673M - $4.852M
Packers tight end Jermichael Finley bounced back from a season-ending knee injury in 2010 to catch 55 passes for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. Finley is an exceptional athlete, has already produced two 50-catch seasons, and won't turn 25 until late March.
Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez would have been a candidate for the franchise tag, but Jay Glazer of FOXSports.com reported on Sunday that Gonzalez signed a one-year, $6.9 million extension. Gonzalez earned $5.75 million in base salary in 2011. Had the Falcons been forced to franchise Gonzalez, it would have cost 120 percent of his 2011 cap number ($7.75 million), or $9.3 million in guaranteed base salary. It will be interesting to see if Gonzalez's one-year extension contains any bonuses or incentives to bring his available compensation up to the $9.3 million figure.
Projected Franchise Tender: $9.447M - $9.81M
Projected Transition Tender: $8.437M - $8.762M
Another player who could be impacted by the Drew Brees contract situation is Saints Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks. The 6-foot-5, 343-pound former fifth-rounder out of Nebraska has started 64 of 67 regular and post-season games over the last four seasons. He could easily command a contract similar to the seven-year, $56.7 million deal that teammate and fellow Pro Bowler Jahri Evans signed on May 11, 2010.
Packers center Scott Wells turns 31 in January, but has started 97 of the team's last 105 regular season games and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. Wells is the only Packers offensive lineman without a contract for the 2012 season.
Other notable FA offensive linemen: Ben Grubbs, Mike Brisiel, Dan Connolly, Jeff Saturday, Matt Birk, Nick Hardwick, Dan Koppen, Chris Myers, Jeremy Zuttah, Jeff Backus, Max Starks, Vernon Carey, Jake Scott, Sean Locklear, Stephon Heyer, Demetrius Bell, Jared Gaither
Projected Franchise Tender: $2.665M - $2.768M
Projected Transition Tender: $2.452M - $2.546M
Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee earned $2 million in base salary in 2011, the final year of his contract. He was 23-of-25 on field goal attempts and had 39 touchbacks.
Matt Prater had seven field goals in either the fourth quarter or overtime in four of the Broncos' eight wins this season. The 27-year-old is 10-of-13 in his career on field goals of 50 yards or longer, including 3-of-4 in 2011.
Buccaneers kicker Connor Barth was 26-of-28 and carries a streak of 16 successful field goal attempts into the 2011 season. Over his last two seasons, Barth is 49-of-56 (87.5 percent) and the Buccaneers spent $19.5 million on punter/kickoff specialist Michael Koenen last July. Less than $3 million for a dependably accurate field goal kicker should be nothing for a Buccaneers team that could have around $50 million in cap space in 2012.
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