Franchise tag deadline clarifies Redskins' free agency options

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Now that the deadline for applying the franchise tag has passed, the Redskins have a clearer idea of which free agents will hit the market when it opens a week from today.

Most notably, they will have several high-profile receivers to choose from unless those players agree with their current teams on a contract extension before March 13 at 4 p.m. The contract receiver Stevie Johnson agreed upon with Buffalo on Monday sets the market. It was reportedly worth five-years and $36.3 million with $19.5 million guaranteed,

The San Diego Chargers opted not to franchise receiver Vincent Jackson, who was their franchise player in 2011. Instead of paying Jackson the required $13.7 million for 2012, he is headed toward free agency as a candidate to fill the Redskins’ need for a split end (X receiver). Jackson, 29, had nine touchdowns and 1,106 yards on 60 catches last season. He likely will have several suitors.

New Orleans’ Marques Colston and Indianapolis’ Pierre Garcon remain unprotected after their respective teams tagged other players. The Saints kept quarterback Drew Brees from free agency by making him an “exclusive” franchise player. Colston, 28, is therefore a pending free agent. He had 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns on 80 catches in 2011.

Garcon is headed for free agency after the Colts tagged defensive end Robert Mathis. Indianapolis signed Mathis to a contract extension on Monday, so tagging him is now irrelevant in terms of protecting his rights. However, that leaves Garcon free to test the market.

He reportedly turned down a five-year, $35 million extension (little less than the average money per year in Johnson’s contract) late last month. Garcon, 25, had 947 yards, six touchdowns and 70 receptions last season despite the Colts’ terrible quarterback situation.

Phildelphia’s DeSean Jackson, Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe and New England’s Wes Welker were the three receivers who received the franchise tag, so they’re not going anywhere unless a team is willing to part with two first-round picks as compensation.

Baltimore’s Ray Rice and Chicago’s Matt Forte were tagged by their respective teams, keeping from the free-agent market a pair of running backs viewed as exceptional fits for coach Mike Shanahan’s zone scheme.

The Redskins enjoyed bursts of solid production from backs Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster last season, but they would like to find a back that produces similarly to how well Terrell Davis did for Shanahan’s Super Bowl teams in Denver and how Arian Foster currently excels in Houston. With Rice and Forte off the market, that figures to be a luxury the Redskins can’t afford in free agency.

The Tennessee Titans had a pair of talented defensive backs heading to free agency, which would suit the Redskins’ needs on the back end. The Titans chose to protect the rights to safety Michael Griffin by using the franchise tag on him. That leaves cornerback Cortland Finnegan ready to test the market. Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes was another candidate to join Washington until the Falcons used the franchise tag on him.

Baltimore’s decision to tag Rice sends left guard Ben Grubbs headed to free agency. The Ravens drafted Grubbs, who turns 28 on Saturday, 29th-overall in 2007. Current Redskins offensive line coach Chris Foerster held that position with Baltimore at that time.

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