NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The window for NFL teams to use the franchise tag closed at 4 p.m., ET Monday. Only six teams elected to use the designation among one of its veteran free agents: Dallas, New England, Miami, Denver, N.Y. Giants and Kansas City.
Franchise tags are an agreed upon portion of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between NFL owners and the NFL Players Association. Each team is allowed one tag (franchise or transition) per year in order to keep an unrestricted free agent without agreeing to a contract extension. By rule, teams have to pay franchise tag players at least the average of the top-five salaries at his position. It isn't cheap for teams, but it helps keep important players from testing the free agent market.
2015 Franchise Players**
Dez Bryant, WR (Cowboys) - $12,823,000
Bryant publicly stated multiple times that he wanted a long-term deal to stay in Dallas. He didn't get one. Still, the man who led the NFL with 16 touchdown catches in 2014 will remain in a Cowboys uniform for the 2015 season.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE (Giants) - $14,813,000
The man known as JPP in New York posted 12.5 sacks in 2014, more than his 8.5 combined sacks from 2013-2014. He showed he still has the ability to get after the QB as well as anybody, having been quiet since his All-Pro 2011 season when he posted 16.5 sacks.
Demaryius Thomas, WR (Broncos) - $12,823,000
No surprise here as it wasn't believed the Broncos were willing to let Thomas test the waters in free agency, especially if 2015 is Peyton Manning's final season in Denver. His 111 receptions in 2014 ranked second in the NFL behind Antonio Brown's 129. His 1,619 receiving yards were also second.
Justin Houston, OLB (Chiefs) - $13,195,000
Houston could have been a top target for the Titans had he hit the market, but like Thomas, it's not a surprise to see Kansas City make sure he remains a Chief. Houston was an absolute monster in 2014, leading the NFL with 22 sacks and earning his first All-Pro honors. In the last three seasons, Houston has recorded double digit sacks and made the Pro Bowl each year.
Stephen Gostkowski, K (Patriots) - $4,126,000**
This tag was expected to go to another Patriot (more on that below). Gostkowski led the league in field goals made in 2014 with 35. He also led the league in 2013 with 38. The Patriots kicker owns a career 86.8% field goal percentage in his nine seasons in New England.
Charles Clay, TE (Dolphins) TRANSITION TAG - 7,071,000
This one might be the surprise of the day. Clay ranked 12th among NFL tight ends with 58 receptions, 14th in yards with 605 and 22nd in touchdowns with three. Now he'll be paid among the best in the league at the position. Miami did just part ways with wide receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, so this could be an effort to avoid overhauling all of Ryan Tannehill's weapons.
Because of the 'transition tag' designation, Clay may sign offer sheets from other teams, but it allows the Dolphins an opportunity to match any offer. Also, with the transition tag, Clay will receive the average of the top 10 tight end salaries rather than the top five. The Dolphins would not receive compensation if they do not match another team's offer.
Notable Players Not Tagged
Devin McCourty, S (Patriots)**
Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, Devin's twin brother, has likely already begun his pitch to lure his brother to Nashville. Many thought the Patriots would use their franchise tag on McCourty, but New England still has until March 10th to reach a contract extension. The McCourty twins last played together in college at Rutgers.
Ndamukong Suh, DL (Lions)
No one expected Suh to get tagged, but it's still worth mentioning because he might garner the richest defensive contract in NFL history. A bidding war is sure to ensue.
Suh had 8.5 sacks in 2014 and will give an immediate boost to whatever defense he joins in 2015. In terms of size, strength and dominance, it's hard to find a bigger difference-maker than Suh.
Demarco Murray, RB (Cowboys)
The writing was on the wall for this as well. Murray never got close to a contract extension with the Cowboys, who knew that paying Bryant and their star running back was improbable. Murray will hit the open market next week after leading the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2014.
Julius Thomas, TE (Broncos)
Like the Cowboys, the Broncos couldn't afford to keep both of their Thomas's. Julius will hit the open market with plenty of potential suitors, likely making the price tag too steep for Denver's blood. Thomas has 12 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, even while missing time in both due to injury.