The Packers placed the franchise tag on Chad Clifton this week. It surprised me, because I thought it would effect the Packers salary cap immediately, but the Packers have until March 2nd to work Clifton's guaranteed franchise salary figure into the cap. Mark Tauscher restructed his contract this week for some additional room next year, and some more restructuring, along with some releases, are likely to create cap room.
It would be a shock if another team courts Clifton now, because it would cost a team two first round picks. Clifton is a solid and underappreciated player, but it will cost Brett Favre type money to resign him, which seems too steep. If the Packers have a certain amount of money allocated to sign free agents this offseason, however, it might as well be spent resigning Clifton because there are not any top free agents at the positions the Packers might consider upgrading.
Defensive End: The Packers could use a run stopping, pass rushing, every down playing defensive end, like the player they expected when they signed Joe Johnson two years ago. The only top player who fits that profile, another New Orleans defensive end Darren Howard, was given the franchise tag by his team so that effectively makes him unavailable. Miami's Adewale Ogunleye and Tennessee's Jevon Kearse are also free agents, but both are better pass rushers than run stoppers, and Kearse has had numerous injury problems. Ogunleye first got league wide notice this last season, so he might be a one year wonder.
Linebacker: If the Packers wanted to improve at either outside linebacker position, San Francisco's Julian Peterson would be an upgrade to either Nai'l Diggs or Hannibal Navies, but Peterson was tagged by San Francisco instead of Terrell Owens, so he is certainly not going anywhere.
Safety: Only one safety, Jacksonville's Donovin Darius, would be a clear upgrade over Antuan Edwards or Marques Anderson, but (reaccuring theme) Jacksonville placed the franchise tag on him for the second consecutive season. Carolina's Deon Grant is an unrestricted free agent, but he is a free safety and plays more like Darren Sharper than LeRoy Butler. Reggie Tongue is a free agent strong safety from Seattle, but it isn't clear that Tongue is any better than Anderson. Last offseason, two Butler like safeties, Lawyer Malloy and Rodney Harrison, both were free agents after their teams cut them, so maybe a player like them will be cut before March 2nd.
With the franchise tag on Clifton, the only two free agents who may get some early attention are Michael Hawthorne and Edwards. With the tight cap situation, it looks like the Packers are seeing what the market is for those two players and waiting until March to possibly resigning them. The Packers would be better off if both players returned next season, but neither one can afford to be paid starters money.