The NFL confirmed Wednesday that teams can apply the franchise tag in a 14-day window beginning Feb. 10.
That's the period when the Ravens will likely put the tag on defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to keep him off the free-agent market. Team officials recently talked to Ngata about a new deal, but both sides understand that such a big-money contract can't be completed until the new collective bargaining agreement is signed.
The franchise tag on defensive tackles last season was a one-year tender worth $7 million. Ngata, who turned 27 last month, is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and is considered one of the top defensive players in the NFL.
The franchise tag allows teams to keep their most valuable free agent off the market by paying him the average salary of the top five players at his position.
With a record number of players eligible for free agency, it's assumed that there will be a record number of players given the franchise tag. Others who could be facing the tag include: Michael Vick, Logan Mankins, Vincent Jackson, Sidney Rice, LaMarr Woodley, Tamba Hali, Marcedes Lewis, and Johnathan Joseph.
There have been some questions -- mostly coming from the players union -- on whether the tags could be used this year and applied to the 2011 season.
"The CBA hasn't expired and the CBA has the right to franchise players so we are telling clubs that you have the right to franchise players and then depending on what the new agreement says, that will [be taken] into account," said Peter Rucco, NFL senior vice president and general counsel.
"Neither party is proposing to get rid of the franchise tag. But as far as we're concerned, clubs have the right to tag players, the agreement continues with the same terms and conditions that it has been; it isn't expiring until March 4 and the window to franchise players is 14 days. From our standpoint, you have every right to franchise players."
Rucco said he wouldn't be surprised if the union challenged the use of the franchise tag this year. "They seem to challenge a lot of things but I don't know what they'll do," he said.
Ngata is looking for a deal that is similar to the one signed by rookie Ndamukong Suh, who signed a five-year, $68 million contract with Detroit that includes $40 million guaranteed.
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