The Tennessee Titans have the tag.
Presumably, Jared Cook is it.
Monday is the deadline (3 p.m., to be exact) for NFL teams to designate one prospective free agent as a franchise player, which eliminates or at least minimizes the chances that player will sign with another team.
Cook, who tied for the team lead with four touchdown receptions in 2012, is the most high-profile of 17 Titans scheduled for unrestricted free agency when the new contract year begins 3 p.m. (CDT) on March 12. Also in that group are defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, kicker Rob Bironas and return specialist Darius Reynaud.
Because of his production – 40-plus catches each of the last two years – and the fact that during the season he was non-committal, at best, about his long-term future, Cook is a prime candidate for the franchise tag.
“We’ve always wanted Jared,” general manager Ruston Webster said recently at the NFL scouting combine. “That hasn’t changed, and I don’t see that changing. … I would think he’ll be with us next year. He’s a big part of our offense. How it gets done, we’ll just have to see.”
A year ago a record 21 players, including Titans safety Michael Griffin, were given the franchise tag. That number probably was inflated by the fact that a lockout imposed by owners shut down business during most of the offseason and limited opportunities for teams to work out long-term deals with key players prior to the 2011 season.
This year, teams could begin to use the franchise tag on Feb. 14 but not until the weekend did any clubs exercise that option. Among those tagged in recent days were Denver left tackle Ryan Clady and Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee.
Tennessee eventually signed Griffin to a long-term deal in June.
The franchise tag guarantees a team the player’s services for one season at an average of the top salaries of at his respective position. In the case of Cook, that means $6.066 million for 2013.
“Cook is someone, as we all know, we feel very strongly about,” coach Mike Munchak said at the combine. “We feel a big part of us having success next year is having him in the offense and using him in different ways. … We feel he’ll have an opportunity to catch more balls and be more efficient with the plays he’s in there.”