The Panthers made sure Greg Hardy wouldn't hit the open market. (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
The deadline for teams to utilize the franchise or transition tag on players with expiring contracts hit on Monday afternoon. Here's a glance at what went down:
• Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints: This is the franchise tag situation that interested NFL minds have been waiting on for some time now. The Saints' star is expected to argue that he should qualify under the tag provisions for wide receivers instead of at tight end -- the price tag for the former is set at $12.3 million; for the latter, it's a touch more than $7 million. The verdict, should this argument come to it, may be a game-changer for those players at the evolving tight end position who spend ample time off the line.
The other X-factor here is the non-exclusive tag designation given Graham. That's almost always the tag of choice (as opposed to the exclusive tag), and it leaves the door open for another team to negotiate a contract with Graham. If he then signs elsewhere, the Saints could match or receive two first-round picks in return.
• Greg Hardy, DE, Panthers: The deadline for tagged players to replace those one-year deals with long-term contracts is July 15. Expect the Panthers to work right up until that date, if necessary, in hopes of keeping Hardy in the fold beyond 2014. Most of their desire to do so will lie in the $13.1 million that Hardy will make under the DE tag -- about half of what the Panthers had available under next season's cap headed into March.
• Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins: Orakpo's deal may be a placeholder for a multi-year deal, too, though the Redskins' reported hesitancy to tag Orakpo may be an indication that they'd prefer to see if he can play a full 16 games at a high level before committing to him further. The $11.455 million tag price here is a hefty one, but Orakpo was the team's best defender by a wide margin in 2013.
• Nick Folk, K, Jets: Probably the safest bet here to sign an extended contract before July 15. Even if Folk and the Jets cannot agree on anything more permanent, New York should be able to fit in Folk's $3.5 million 2014 salary comfortably under the cap. Currently, the Jets have more than $25 million available.
• Alex Mack, C, Browns (transition tag): Mack received the far less-used transition tag, which saves the Browns about $1.5 million over what the franchise tag would have cost and gives them the right to match any offer he receives from another team. Unlike with the non-exclusive franchise tag, teams do not receive draft-pick compensation if they lose a player via the transition tag. Either way, it's now very unlikely Mack leaves Cleveland before the 2014 season.
• Jason Worilds, OLB, Steelers (transition tag): OK, so maybe the transition tag is not as rare as it once was ...
The cash-strapped Steelers, somewhat surprisingly, opted to designate Worilds as their transition player despite being short on cash again this offseason. The LB transition tag brings a cost of $9.754 million should no other team jump at the chance to sign the 26-year-old Worilds off an eight-sack performance in 2014. Pittsburgh also has LaMarr Woodley under contract for the time being, though he carries the prohibitive cap number of $13.6 million for next season. The team can save a huge chunk of that cash by waiting until after June 1 to cut him.
• Michael Bennett, DE, Seahawks: Bennett was a critical piece in the Seahawks' Super Bowl run, but with Cliff Avril's contract escalating and players like Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman in need of extensions soon, there simply was no room to retain Bennett under that $11 million-plus price tag. He should find plenty of suitors in free agency -- more than he had last offseason when he signed a relatively cheap one-year deal in Seattle.
• Jairus Byrd, S, Bills: The Bills tagged Byrd last year, which resulted in a rather unhappy marriage throughout 2013. A second tag would have cost the Bills $8.3 million for 2014, or about what Byrd's reportedly after as a yearly average on a long-term deal. He would be the top free-agent safety to hit the market.
"We’ve chosen not to use the franchise tag on any of our impending unrestricted free agents," Bills GM Doug Whaley said in a statement.
• Eugene Monroe, OT, Ravens: Baltimore would love to re-sign Monroe before free agency opens on March 11, but the $11.654 million tag price for offensive tackles loomed too large even though Monroe performed well following his 2013 trade to Baltimore. Will the Ravens be able to get a deal done before Monroe can sign elsewhere? If not, they may be relegated to turning their attention back to fellow OT Michael Oher, who's also a pending unrestricted free agent.
• Vontae Davis, CB, Colts: The Colts reportedly opted not to use the tag on Davis, though Miami's agreement on a four-year deal with Brent Grimes could help Indianapolis get a deal done here anyway. Grimes received $32 million with $16 million guaranteed on that contract, which may set the bar for the CB market this offseason. Davis, 26 in May, is five years younger than Grimes, so he should be able to command a similar price.
•Alterraun Verner, CB, Titans: The cornerback franchise tag sits at $11.834 million. Tennessee already has an $8.3 million cap number for Jason McCourty sitting on the 2014 books at that position, so tacking on a massive salary for Verner was not in the cards. It does not sound as if there has been much progress made in contract talks here either, so Verner may take his skills to free agency, where he would be arguably the top cornerback talent available.
•Eric Decker, WR, Broncos: The likelihood of a tag being used here was low as the Broncos already are stockpiled with Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker at WR plus Julius Thomas (who's in line for a contract extension soon) at TE. The wide receiver tag cost is substantial at more than $12.3 million for the 2014 season.At the very least, Decker should get a chance to test the market.
• Lamarr Houston, DE and Jared Veldheer, OT, Raiders: Oakland had two candidates for a tag, yet opted to keep that option in its pocket. Veldheer stated rather clearly that he did not want to be hit with the franchise tag (though few do), so he and the Raiders reportedly have been discussing a lengthier contract. They now have until next Tuesday to hammer out something.
Houston's outlook in Oakland may be slightly less steady. If the 26-year-old edge player cannot come to terms with the Raiders, he should fare well in free agency.