ALAMEDA _ NFL teams were able to begin applying franchise tags Monday, and it’s something the Raiders will be watching closely even if they have no intention of using it as an option of their own.
The only player remotely deserving of that designation is left tackle Donald Penn, who has done an admirable job protecting the blind side of quarterback Derek Carr for the past two seasons at cost of $9.6 million.
Penn rescued the Raiders from a bad situation after general manager Reggie McKenzie zeroed in on Rams tackle Rodger Saffold even as their own Jared Veldheer was in serious negotiations with the Arizona Cardinals.
Veldheer signed with the Cardinals, Saffold agreed to terms with the Raiders and then failed a physical. Penn, released by Tampa Bay after a poor season, stepped in and proved to be at least Veldheer’s equal, and perhaps even better when taking into account grading by profootballfocus.com
(Saffold re-signed with the Rams and eventually needed shoulder surgery, validating the decision of owner Mark Davis to move on).
Penn, making the rounds during the Super Bowl on radio row, said he was surprised he hadn’t heard from the Raiders regarding a new contract. Not surprising, really, given the stealth manner in which McKenzie operates.
The Raiders general manager has assuredly calculated what he believes to be Penn’s worth, and he’ll step in with an offer if he feels the market has reached his comfort level.
What McKenzie won’t do give a multi-year deal to 32-year-old player who may have two good years left as an NFL starter. Nor will he ante up the one-year tag number which is projected at $13.5 million for an offensive lineman.
But as teams begin to apply the franchise tag over the next week, McKenzie and coach Jack Del Rio will watch these names closely because of their teams opt to let these prospective unrestricted free agents hit the market, the Raiders will be interested.
Keep in mind that in most cases last season, McKenzie and Del Rio zeroed in on players who were at their physical prime, rather than just past it, with the possible exception of linebacker Curtis Lofton.
McKenzie wasn’t shy about spending free agent dollars a year ago _ he even made a run at Ndamukong Suh _ and should have $50 million to spend this year.
1) Von Miller, Denver Broncos
A pipe dream, with the Broncos either signing him up long-term or preventing or applying a tag estimated at $13.17 million. Frankly, if Miller did get the tag, you’d have to seriously consider parting with two first-round draft picks for the opportunity to pair him with Khalil Mack.
If the Broncos do tag Miller, their salary structure may make it a stretch to sign Malik Jackson, a 3-4 defensive end who would also work nicely with Mack. Jackson is familiar with Del Rio and likes him.
“It’s cool to have Jack Del Rio out there in Oakland, and you’ve got (former) offensive coordinator) Adam Gase in Miami,” Jackson said during Super Bowl week. “It’s cool to have coaches that have branched out to do their own thing and are doing great things, but right now I’m with the Denver Broncos and my contract doesn’t end until March, so it’s not like I can do anything;”
2) Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers
Norman’s estimated number as a cornerback is $13.05 million, but like Miller, good teams simply don’t let their top talent get away.
3) Muhammad Wilkerson, N.Y. Jets
This one gets at least a little interesting in that the Jets already have Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams and Wilkerson ended the season with a broken leg. But in the end, another player probably too good to get away.
4) Cordy Glenn, Buffalo
Maybe McKenzie’s waiting on giving Penn a deal because he wants to see if this 26-year-old left tackle hits the open market. At 6-foot-6, 344 pounds, Glenn has the “big man” size both the general manager and head coach love. Projected franchise number for offense linemen is $13.5 million.
5) Eric Berry, Kansas City
No way the Chiefs let Berry get away after his brilliant play after returning from cancer the year before. But if the Chiefs are forced to franchise Eric Berry, that means cornerback Sean Smith, another prospective free agent, could hit the open market. The Raiders love signings (Rodney Hudson) where they not only get a good player, but weaken a division foe. The projected franchise tag number for a safety is $10.6 million.
6) Olivier Vernon, Miami
Had 7.5 sacks last season, 29 in four seasons and was among the NFL leaders in quarterback pressures. The big money given Ndumukong Suh last season may make it difficult to franchise Vernon as a defensive end at $15.4 million.