Patriots’ Welker, Giants’ Weatherford are given NFL franchise tags

It pays to play a skill position in the NFL, like New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, or receivers Wes Welker and Dwayne Bowe.

It also pays to be a kicker, as five placekickers and one punter were given franchise tags, protecting their current teams from losing them without compensation.

The NFL’s deadline for applying the tags was Monday afternoon, and a late flurry saw 10 players added to the list. In all, 21 players were tagged.

Only Brees, the 2011 AP Offensive Player of the Year, was made an exclusive franchise player, meaning he is not free to sign with another team. The Saints will continue negotiations on a long-term contract.

But Brees is in line to earn well over the $14.4 million base salary for a nonexclusive tag because his 2012 salary will be based on the average of the five highest-paid players at the position as of April 20. For players given the nonexclusive tag, the new salary is based on the five highest-paid players at their position in 2011.

The other 20 players could move to new teams, but compensation would be two first-round draft choices.

All-Pro receiver Welker was tagged by New England and Bowe by Kansas City. Welker, who led the league with 122 receptions, and Bowe will earn about $9.5 million in 2012 if they don’t reach new, longer deals with their teams.

Also tagged Monday were Titans safety Michael Griffin, Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer, Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, and several kickers: Giants punter Steve Weatherford, Denver placekicker Matt Prater, Tampa Bay placekicker Connor Barth, and Jacksonville placekicker Josh Scobee.

The other placekickers tagged were Cleveland’s Phil Dawson and Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent last week.

Mathis agreed to a long-term deal minutes after he was tagged.

Also previously tagged were Ravens running back Ray Rice, Bears running back Matt Forte, Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, Redskins tight end Fred Davis, Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, Raiders safety Tyvon Branch of UConn, and Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes.

Free agency begins on March 13.


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