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Should the Cleveland Browns Use the Franchise Tag in 2013?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

According to the NFL's league calendar, today, February 18th, is the first day that teams can begin slapping the franchise tag on a player. The Cleveland Browns will have March 4th to make a decision as to whether or not they will use the franchise tag.

Over the past two seasons, the Browns used the franchise tag on kicker Phil Dawson. It allowed the Browns to prevent their kicker from hitting the open market, while buying time to hopefully negotiate a multi-year deal in the mean time. A multi-year deal never came for Dawson under former general manager Tom Heckert, and Dawson is coming off of his first career Pro Bowl season.

Unfortunately, Joe Banner cannot afford to slap the franchise tag on Dawson for the third year in a row. Dawson made between $3-$4 million over each of the past two seasons, but the league rule is that if a player gets hit with the franchise tag for a third time, they must be paid the average top-5 salary of the highest position in football. That would be quarterback, where it would cost Cleveland about $14 million to franchise Dawson in 2013. The Browns will either have to negotiate a multi-year deal with Dawson, or let him walk.

The rest of the players on the Browns are eligible for the regular franchise tag, since it has never been used on them. Here is the amount of money the non-exclusive franchise tag would cost for the Browns' unrestricted free agents:

  • QB Josh Johnson - $14.642 million
  • RB Brandon Jackson - $8.079 million
  • WR Mohamed Massaquoi - $10.357 million
  • WR Joshua Cribbs - $10.357 million
  • TE Benjamin Watson - $5.962 million
  • TE Alex Smith - $5.962 million
  • DE Juqua Parker - $10.984 million
  • LB Scott Fujita - $9.455 million
  • LB Kaluka Maiava - $9.455 million
  • S Ray Ventrone - $6.798 million
  • CB Sheldon Brown - $10.668 million
  • K Phil Dawson - $2.926 (third year in a row = $14.642 million)
  • P Reggie Hodges - $2.926 million

There are some positions where, unless you have a superstar, it would be outrageous to use the franchise tag on a player. For example, $14.642 million for QB Josh Johnson and $8.079 million for RB Brandon Jackson would be insane for three reasons:

  1. Those players aren't anywhere close in talent level to the top-5 salary makers at their position.
  2. They could rather easily be signed to a one-year deal near the league minimum.
  3. There really isn't a "danger" that another team is going to lock those players up when free agency hits.

That's why the franchise tag would never be used on most of the players on the list. Based on salary figures, the only positions in which Cleveland might consider overpaying a player would be at tight end, safety, or on special teams, because each of those figures are below the $7 million range. If T.J. Ward was hitting the open market, it might be a good time to use the tag on him. He isn't, though -- it's Ray Ventrone, who, again, falls under the same category at Johnson and Jackson. Therefore, there are two players who the Browns could consider using the franchise tag on:

  • TE Benjamin Watson - Watson made $2.88 million in the final year of his contract, so increasing that amount to $5.96 million in 2013 would more than double his salary at a time when he is getting older and the Browns should be thinking about the future of the position. Cleveland does have a ton of money to blow, though, and if they feel like Watson is a critical one-year holdover for Rod Chudzinski's offense, using the tag isn't going to hurt the amount of money they'd have available to spend in free agency.
  • P Reggie Hodges - With Dawson, it made sense to use the franchise tag two years in a row -- special teamers get paid a lot less than the other positions, but Dawson was one of the league's best. Hodges had a great year in 2010, but was injured for all of 2011 and struggled for all of 2012. It's doubtful that the market out there is so big that Cleveland would need to secure him with a franchise tag. But, if returning special teams coach Chris Tabor feels Hodges can return to his old form in 2013 and believes other teams might be interested in him, the tag could be used on Hodges without breaking the bank.

Let us know in the comments section below -- do you think the Browns should use the franchise tag on Watson or Hodges? Or, is there another player on the list who you would use it on, despite the high cost?