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 offense and special teams.
Projected Franchise Tender: $7.89M - $8.193M
Projected Transition Tender: $6.613M - $6.867M
The Washington Redskins' leveraging of the uncapped 2010 season with Albert Haynesworth's contract contributed to a 44-percent increase in the franchise tender amount for defensive tackles over the 2010 ($7.077M) and 2011 ($12.476M) seasons. Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata parlayed his franchise tag into a five-year, $61 million contract that included $37.1 million in guarantees.
The Dolphins and franchised nose tackle Paul Soliai were not able to reach an agreement on a long-term extension before the September 20 deadline. If Miami were to franchise Soliai for a second time, it would cost $14.971 million, or 120 percent of his 2011 tender, in guaranteed base salary in 2012. The Dolphins ranked 12th in the NFL against the run in DVOA this season, and while Soliai won't light up the stat sheet, inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett both posted over 100 tackles and ten tackles for loss this year. Some of that has to be attributed to Soliai's presence in the middle.
Other notable FA defensive tackles: Aubrayo Franklin, Shaun Rogers, Sione Pouha, Amobi Okoye, Andre Fluellen, Antonio Garay, Brodrick Bunkley, Pat Sims, Jason Jones, Howard Green, Trevor Laws, Tommie Harris, Derek Landri
Projected Franchise Tender: $10.595M - $11.002M
Projected Transition Tender: $8.914M - $9.257M
Since being chosen in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Lions defensive end Cliff Avril has 30 quarterback sacks and 14 forced fumbles, including 11 sacks and six forced fumbles playing under a one-year restricted free agent tender worth $2.611 million in base salary this season. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Avril, who turns 26 in April, has 19.5 quarterback sacks in his last 29 games and is unlikely to be allowed to test the free agent market in March.
Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell had a career- and team-high eight quarterback sacks this season, and has 21 sacks during his three seasons as a full-time starter. The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Campbell has also blocked seven kicks over the last three seasons.
Projected Franchise Tender: $8.843M - $9.183M
Projected Transition Tender: $7.869M - $8.171M
Five linebackers received the franchise tag in 2011, and all five signed long-term deals that contained nearly $150 million in contractual guarantees. This year's crop of potential linebacker free agents include Texans outside linebacker Mario Williams, who was off to a blistering start in his adjustment to Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense, posting five quarterback sacks in five games before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury. Williams earned $13.8 million in base salary in 2011, but had a cap number north of $18 million. That high cap number gives Williams' agent (Ben Dogra of CAA Football) considerable leverage, as it would not be financially prudent for the Texans to hold $22 million in cap space to place the franchise tag on Williams this offseason.
Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton may be another franchise tag candidate. The 2008 second-round pick out of Oklahoma has led the Falcons in tackles in each of the last three seasons and was a key part of general manager Thomas Dimitroff's inaugural draft class.
Other notable FA linebackers: London Fletcher, E.J Henderson, Jarret Johnson, Stephen Tulloch, D'Qwell Jackson, Ahmad Brooks, Anthony Spencer, Jameel McClain, Wesley Woodyard, David Hawthorne, Leroy Hill, Dan Connor
Projected Franchise Tender: $10.431M - $10.832M
Projected Transition Tender: $8.705M - $9.04M
The Falcons thought highly enough of Brent Grimes to place a first-round tender ($2.611 million base salary) on the restricted free agent following his Pro Bowl season in 2010. Will Dimitroff use the franchise tag on Grimes, who turns 29 in July, missed four games in December/January following knee surgery and has one interception after picking off 11 passes over the 2009-10 seasons? Atlanta has $7.62 million in cash committed to the cornerback position in 2012, including $6 million to Dunta Robinson that will become fully guaranteed on the second day of the league year. (Payment of Robinson's $3 million roster bonus in 2012 is deferred until 2013). In a division with Drew Brees and Cam Newton, and conference with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, a team can never have enough good cornerbacks.
Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, Dimitroff's friend and mentor, has a similar decision to make with Brandon Carr, who has a career-high four interceptions while playing on the same first-round tender as Grimes. In September, Pioli signed cornerback Brandon Flowers to a five-year extension that included $48.75 million in "new money" with $22 million in guarantees, half of which was fully guaranteed at the time of signing. As with Robinson's salary in Atlanta, Flowers' base salary ($5.75 million) will become fully guaranteed on the second day of the 2012 league year.
Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan expressed his displeasure with his expiring $5.133 million per year contract, which was signed after his first full season as a starter, by staging a brief walkout during the 2011 training camp. The big plays have largely dried up for Finnegan, who has three interceptions, two quarterback sacks and a forced fumble over the last 32 games. Still, Finnegan is the best cornerback on the team and the club could use the franchise tag to continue talks towards a multi-year contract.
Projected Franchise Tender: $6.22M - $6.459M
Projected Transition Tender: $5.391M - $5.599M
Titans safety Michael Griffin is a former first-round pick who has gone to a pair of Pro Bowls during his five seasons in Nashville. Griffin has never missed a game and turns 27 this week. The only safety the Titans have signed for next season is Robert Johnson, a 2010 fifth-round pick out of Utah who was signed off the practice squad in Week 15.
49ers free safety Dashon Goldson was a steal for general manager Trent Baalke, intercepting a career-high six passes and earning Pro Bowl honors for the first time while playing on a one-year, $2 million contract that contained no incentives.
One free-agent safety who will not be franchised is Brandon Meriweather, whose one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Bears contained a provision that prohibits the club from using the franchise or transition tags on Meriweather in 2012.
Redskins safety LaRon Landry was playing at a Pro Bowl level prior to his Achilles injury midway through the 2010 season. The same injury limited Landry to just eight games in his contract year, but he's a key cog in the Redskins defense and could receive the franchise tag if a multi-year extension cannot be reached.
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