NFL free agency is under a month away and as always there will be some big names looking for new homes. For the Cleveland Browns all the talk has been around who will be brought in from the open market. How about decisions on who this team should retain?
Applying a franchise tag to a player is a good way to buy some time if a long-term deal cannot be reached.
It's worked for legendary kicker Phil Dawson the previous pair of offseasons, but it won't be an option this year.
CBA rules state that to use the tag on an athlete for a third consecutive year automatically activates the quarterback rate. That stands at just under $15 million. No way CEO Joe Banner spends that kind of coin on "Phil the Foot."
Every position has a different franchise tag dollar amount associated with it and this changes annually. The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport provides those tentative values. If that pay day is less than what the individual's previous season's salary was, then a 120 percent increase is awarded.
Only one man per team can be franchised. Who could it be for the Browns? Or will anyone be selected?
The challenge becomes whether this club feels free agency, the draft or another current personnel member is worth turning to instead of overpaying for a proven commodity.
Cleveland has 14 unrestricted free agents that were on their 2012 roster. Let's take a look at the top three veterans who may be considered for the franchise tag.
Benjamin Watson (Tight End)—Cost to Franchise: $5.962 million
Tight end has turned into a really precarious position for the Browns.
Outside of Ben Watson this squad doesn't possess another proven starter. Jordan Cameron showed glimpses but is still quite raw, and Alex Smith wasn't a reliable target.
Averaging over 10 yards per catch, staying healthy and not dropping the ball in 2012, suggest that the Norfolk, VA native remains an asset. He's also demonstrated chemistry with both starting quarterbacks, Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden, over the past two seasons.
Slapping the tag on the 32-year-old gives Cleveland needed flexibility to assess what they really have in Cameron, as well as Brad Smelley and any upcoming draft pick.
The TE free agency group is underwhelming and filled by older performers or ones that are injury-prone.
Bennett leaving Eli Manning and a solid foundation in New York seems unlikely. Keller is undersized at 6'2" and missed the last month of the season due to a high ankle sprain.
If the Browns truly want to build the core of their team through drafting then it makes sense to buy yourself time and allow the youngsters to develop while keeping on a familiar face for one more campaign.
Joshua Cribbs (Wide Receiver/Kick Returner)—Cost to Franchise: $10.357 million
Over $10 million to a nearly 30-year-old special teams player? No, thank you.
Of course Cribbs can contribute in other ways. He remains effective out of the Wildcat, had the second-most team receptions in 2011, is dangerous in space and is a fan favorite.
No. 16 was given a raise following a tremendous 2009 season that saw him become the most feared return man in the NFL. Four total special teams touchdowns will do that.
However, he hasn't taken a kick back for a score since that incredible year.
Injuries and fumble trouble are also becoming more frequent.
Coming back in 2013 depends if the former Kent State QB takes a hefty cut to his now expired three-year contract of $15.496 million.
The availability of Ohio native and Buckeye alum Ted Ginn Jr. on the open market from San Francisco is another reason why Cribbs' days in Northeast Ohio are most likely over.
Sheldon Brown (Cornerback)—Cost to Franchise: $10.668 million
At first the thought of shelling out north of $10 million for an aging cornerback that is approaching 34 seems absurd.
It probably is, but consider this scenario: Cleveland moves Brown to free safety, which allows his positive leadership and experience to stay on the field.
He is an upgrade over the current FS personnel of Usama Young and Eric Hagg. Keeping the 11-year veteran also allows for the club to draft a promising third- or fourth-round talent and let him develop naturally over this next season.
Admittedly, this is not a probable situation. It might start making more sense if the Browns are unable to land a desirable safety via free agency or are not wowed during the combine by any prospect.
Odds are that Joe Banner, Michael Lombardi and company will not issue a franchise tag to anyone on this roster.
New administrations want to bring in their own crew and build through the draft.
That being said, if a short-term deal cannot be reached with Benjamin Watson (assuming one is offered at all) then he is the one that needs to be tagged.
No other Cleveland UFA's departure has more of an immediate negative impact on their respective position than Watson.
Follow Andy McNamara on Twitter @AndyMc81.
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