NFL teams tag record 21 players

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:06 AM ET

TORONTO - Matt Flynn, Courtland Finnegan and Brandon Lloyd all hit the open market Monday when their clubs declined to put a franchise tag on them.

But 21 other potential free agents won’t be going anywhere, including Robert Mathis and Cliff Avril.

The Colts signed Mathis to a long-term deal while the Lions hope to soon do the same with Avril, meantime slapping him with the tag that comes with a one-year salary of about $10.6 million.

In New England, Wes Welker gets tagged for $9.4 million after he turned down a new two-year deal averaging $8 million per year. Welker, 30, led the NFL with 122 receptions in 2011 but failed to catch a game-changing long pass from Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.

There had been some question whether Mathis would fit into the Colts’ rebuilding program but his 83.5 sacks and 39 forced fumbles since being selected in the fifth round of the 2003 draft now make him a cornerstone of the new head coach Chuck Pagano’s defence.

The 21 tags were a league record but it leaves several big-name players as free agents. The Chargers didn’t tag Vincent Jackson and there is speculation out of Chicago that the Bears, who are looking for a big-body receiver, will target him.

Defensive end Mario Williams, with 53 career sacks, is likely to be the most sought-after free agent.

Guard Carl Nicks wants to become the NFL’s highest paid interior offensive lineman.

Finnegan meantime is the premier cornerback on the market and both the Lions and Cowboys can use his aggressive, efficient tackling skill.

“It is bittersweet,” Finnegan said after the Titans decided not to offer him a contract. “But I understand it is a business. My ultimate goal was to retire (in Tennessee), but I can’t control that. They wanted to move on, honestly. I don’t know why, and I don’t know what else a guy could do career-wise and in the community.”

Other free agents include Chargers tackle Jared Gaither, Baltimore guard Ben Grubbs, cornerback Brandon Carr and receiver Marques Colston.

The players with franchise tags:

Raiders: Safety Tyvon Branch.

Eagles: Receiver DeSean Jackson.

Falcons: Cornerback Brent Grimes.

Redskins: Tight end Fred Davis.

Ravens: Running back Ray Rice.

49ers: Safety Dashon Goldson.

Bears: Running back Matt Forte.

Cardinals: Defensive end Calais Campbell.

Bengals: Kicker Mike Nugent.

Browns: Kicker Phil Dawson.

Colts: Robert Mathis

Saints: Quarterback Drew Brees.

Lions: Defensive end Cliff Avril.

Jaguars: Kicker Josh Scobee.

Broncos: Kicker Matt Prater.

Titans: Safety Michael Griffin.

Patriots: Receiver Wes Welker.

Cowboys: Linebacker Anthony Spencer.

Buccaneers: Kicker Connor Barth.

Giants: Punter Steve Weatherford.

Chiefs: Receiver Dwayne Bowe.

SAINTS COULD FACE LAWSUITS

If there is pain, there is gain.

Former Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young believes players can sue the Saints.

Now a lawyer, Young believes anyone hurt playing against the Saints while Gregg Williams was running his bounty program, has grounds for a lawsuit.

“I was shocked at the fact that it was institutionalized and that they paid for hurt players,” Young said. “I think it opens up, if I’m hurt against the Saints in the last couple years, I’m suing the Saints.”

Young said the fact the coaching staff was involved makes the team censurable.

“The problem is that they institutionalized paying somebody for actually hurting them. To me that goes to the integrity of the game. The fact that they institutionalized it tells me that this is a big issue.”

STEELERS MAY LOSE WALLACE

The Steelers are just the stroke of a pen from losing receiver Mike Wallace.

Any team can sign Wallace, perhaps the league’s top deep threat, after the cap-strapped Steelers decided they couldn’t afford to put the franchise tag on him.

Any team can now sign Wallace in return for just one first-round draft pick. Pittsburgh does have a chance to match any offer said Steelers GM Kevin Colbert but they may not be able to fit Wallace under the cap.

Both the Patriots and San Francisco are believed to have an interest. The Patriots would lose their No. 31 pick in the draft, but would pick up the big-play receiver that could once again make them a Super Bowl contender. San Francisco would give up only the 30th pick, a position in the draft that isn’t likely to allow them to add a player who would contribute more than Wallace.

QUICK HITS

Marijuana possession charges against Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill have been dropped ... Rams G.M. Les Snead says there’s a “90 percent” chance the club will trade it’s No. 2 spot in the draft order ... A radio report out of St. Louis says the Cardinals aren’t interested in signing receiver Hines Ward ... Free agent offensive lineman Frank Omiyale, lately of the Bears, is talking with Seattle. The Seahawks also re-signed runningback Marshawn Lynch to a four-year, $32 million contract with $18 million guaranteed ... The Denver Post reports Willis McGahee has fired agent Drew Rosenhaus and is “unhappy with his contract”, recently asking the Broncos to upgrade the four-year, $9.5 million deal he signed last July. The club refused. McGahee, due only $2 million in 2012 after rushing for 1,199 yards and making the Pro Bowl last season, has indicated he will not be a hold out.

TEXANS MAKE FOSTER VERY RICH

Three years ago Arian Foster was a dime-a-dozen running back nobody wanted.

Monday, Foster became one of the NFL’s highest-paid ball carriers, signing a five-year deal worth $43.5 million, including a guarantee of $20.75 million.

The 25-year-old, who went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2009, will make $18 million this season and $30 million in first three years of deal.

After leading the NFL in rushing with 1616 yards in 2010 he made a low-end $525,000 last season.

But he didn’t complain. On the field, he followed up in 2011 with 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns. Monday, he was rewarded.

“This was a really tough time for Arian, because he took a major risk,” his agent Mike McCartney said. “He really took to heart that the Texans basically said, ‘Hey, we know you had a great year (in 2010), but we need to see it again.’ He was a great example of how to handle these kinds of situations, and to see the Texans reward him like this, I’m really thrilled for him.”


Photos