NFL franchise tag period opens Tuesday

Taylor Moton

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers know they have a glaring need up front.

They could choose to begin addressing it as soon as today.

Tuesday is the first day NFL teams can use the franchise tag to keep potential unrestricted free agents from reaching the market. Under the terms of the tag, teams can lock up key players for a one-year deal worth the average of the top five salaries at the position over the last five years. The team then has until July 15 to reach a long-term deal with the player.

For the Panthers, the obvious candidate is right tackle Taylor Moton, and it remains a possibility that they will tag him between now and the March 9 deadline.

Of course, they're still hoping to reach a long-term deal with their top blocker because that would provide short-term cap relief for the team in addition to the stability (and a larger financial guarantee) for the player.

The unrestricted free agency period starts on March 17, though teams can contact potential free agents on other teams beginning March 15.

While the salary cap for this year isn't set, it will be at least $180 million, down from $198.2 million last year.

For Moton, the tag would pay him between $13 million and $14 million for the 2021 season.

He's a significant need for the team since they currently have just one starting offensive lineman under contract for 2021 (center Matt Paradis).

The Panthers have used the franchise tag seven times in the past, with varying degrees of success.

Left tackle Jordan Gross got it in 2008, and signed his long-term deal the following year. Center Ryan Kalil was tagged in 2011, and reached a new contract before the start of that season.

Others haven't gone as well, such as the 2014 tag for defensive end Greg Hardy (who played one game and spent the rest of the year on the commissioner's exempt list), and the 2016 version on cornerback Josh Norman (which was eventually rescinded, leading to him leaving for no compensation).

The Panthers have also tagged punter Todd Sauerbrun (2003), defensive end Julius Peppers (2009), and defensive tackle Kawann Short (2017). 

Their 1998 foray into the tagged-player market didn't work out quite so well, with the team sending two first-round picks to Washington for defensive tackle Sean Gilbert, who was good but never lived up to the expectations created by his cost to acquire and his contract.

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