Free agency doesn't start for another eight days, but the potential free-agent field could see its ranks dropped markedly Monday. If the talent pool isn't diminished at the top, one has to ask a deeper question as to why not.
In 2012, there was an unprecedented flurry of players being hit with the franchise tag. More than two-thirds of the teams (21 of 32) invoked the franchise tag last year. At the time, it seemed implausible because of who got the tag.
What position would one anticipate receiving the most franchise tags? The ones that team's can ill-afford to lose the least – a star running back, a diva wide receiver, a pass rushing defensive end, guys like that.
So what was the breakdown? No offensive linemen (tackles, guards or centers) got franchised. Neither did any defensive tackles. Only one quarterback was tagged and he had to be – Drew Brees. Only one tight end (Fred Davis), linebacker (Anthony Spencer) and cornerback (Brent Grimes) got the franchise distinction. Only two running backs (Matt Forte and Ray Rice). Three wide receivers (Wes Welker, DeSean Jackson and Dwayne Bowe), safeties (Dashon Goldson, Tyvon Branch and Michael Griffin) and defensive ends (Calais Campbell, Robert Mathis and Cliff Avril) got tagged.
The other six were non-position players – five kickers and a punter. Kicker seemed to be the focus of the franchise tag process. Josh Scobee, Matt Prater, Mike Nugent, Phil Dawson and Connor Barth all got the tag, as did punter Steve Weatherford of the Giants.
Just as the Pro Bowl has proved to be a farce – a big pimple on the NFL's prom queen marketing face – the franchise tag has become subject to similar ridicule.
The intent of the franchise tag rule when it was initiated was a players union concession that allowed NFL owners/franchises to keep a player that they absolutely couldn't afford to lose. Adrian Peterson is a franchise player. Had they not been in line for the No. 1 pick in the draft, even an injured Peyton Manning is a franchise player. With no offense intended to kickers, when the franchise player designation protocol was written up, at no time did either side envision that the most prolific use (and potentially abuse) of the franchise tag would be used on players that put the foot in football.
The fivesome of Scobee, Prater, Nugent, Dawson and Barth made a joke of the system and the rule itself. Weatherford as a franchise player is a sad joke.
Among those players who weren't franchised and allowed to hit the open market were Mario Williams, Vincent Jackson, Cortland Finnegan, Jason Babin, Carl Nicks, LaRon Landry, Pierre Garcon, Cory Redding, Reggie Wayne, Ben Grubbs, Curtis Lofton and Chris Carr. Now those are players that a case could be made should have been franchised. They weren't.
At 3 p.m. Central Monday (not everyone has to bow down to the East Coast and go by their time designations), it's closing time for those teams that want to designate a franchise player. As of Monday morning, with the clock ticking down, only five teams had used the tag – Buffalo (safety Jairus Byrd), Chicago (DT Henry Melton), Cincinnati (DE Michael Johnson), Denver (OT Ryan Clady) and Indianapolis (punter Pat McAfee).
It would seem that number will grow today. The question is how much it will grow. The number has spiraled upward from 13 in 2011 to 21 last year. The number is sure to grow. Doubling from five is almost a given. Even more than that is a possibility.
The Vikings' prime candidate to be tagged is offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, but the price is pretty stiff at $9 million, so that isn't likely to happen. It's not out of the question if the Vikings want to buy time to sign him long-term, but it isn't a favorable position for them.
By 3 p.m. today, we will find out if the 2013 free agent pool includes players like Branden Albert, William Moore, Dannell Ellerbe, Greg Jennings, Aqib Talib, Danny Amendola, Glover Quin and Jared Cook or not. Whether there will be a flurry like 2012 will play out over the next few hours, but at least the list won't be dominated by kickers – instead being used for players more accurately referred to as franchise players.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.