The NFL on Wednesday confirmed that because the league is still operating under a collective bargaining agreement, teams can still use franchise and/or transition tags to lock up soon-to-be-free agents. Teams can apply that designation during a two-week window that begins a week from today. However, the player the 49ers locked up last year with the franchise tag, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, may be harder to pin down this season.
The franchise tag, of course, allows a team to retain a player by paying him the average of the five highest-paid players at his position. Last season, Franklin was paid $7.003 million, which was the average of the top five defensive tackles in the league. This year, that number is expected to jump considerably to more than $12 million, according to calculations by the industrious Brian McIntyre. That leap is due in large part to the salaries of two defensive tackles in particular, Washington's Albert Haynesworth and Oakland's Richard Seymour (Thanks, Dan and Al).
A year ago, the franchise tag number for defensive tackles was one of the least expensive. (QB, RB, WR, OL, DE, LB and CB all were higher). This year, it could be the third highest behind only quarterback and defensive end. The league is expected to release official franchise figures soon.
Despite the current contract impasse, teams still can negotiate contract extensions with their own players until March 4. Franklin, center Davis Baas and linebacker Takeo Spikes are perhaps the soon-to-be unrestricted free agents the 49ers would most like to retain.
Questions about franchise tags, the Senior Bowl, Alex Smith, Jim Harbaugh, etc? I'll be chatting away beginning at 11 a.m. today. Log onto www.sacbee.com/live to log your question. Warning: Best Buy is delivering (and installing because I'm a Luddite) my new LED LCD HD OMG! TV today between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., so I may have to break away for a touch to let them in.
-- Matt Barrows