The deadline for NFL teams to use franchise or transition tags arrived Monday afternoon, with several teams opting to tag players with a one-year contract to prevent them from hitting the free agency open market next week.
As General Manager Rick Spielman said before the deadline, the Vikings were one of 26 teams that did not use the franchise tag on any player.
Six players were tagged (five with a franchise tag, one with a transition tag), and placement on two edge rushers and two sizable wide receivers illustrates the premiums that teams pay for players at those positions.
Use of the franchise tag results in a player receiving a one-year contract valued at the average of the top five salaries at that player's position or 120 percent of the player's previous salary, whichever is greater. Use of a transition tag results in a one-year offer that is in the amount of the top 10 salaries at the position. The player has an option of signing elsewhere, but the original team also has a right of matching the offer from the would-be suitor.
Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City: Houston led the NFL with 22 sacks in 2014, was first-team All-Pro and earned selection to his third straight Pro Bowl. He has 48.5 sacks in starting 53 of 59 games played in his first four seasons after being selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants: Pierre-Paul, a first-round selection in 2010, had 12.5 sacks in 2014, finishing in eighth in the NFL a spot ahead of Everson Griffen's 12 sacks. Pierre-Paul's finest season came in 2011 when he had 16.5 sacks and helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLVI.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver: Thomas finished second in the NFL with 111 receptions and 1,619 yards in 2014 when he also caught 11 touchdowns. Thomas's stats soared above the clouds when Peyton Manning arrived to quarterback the Broncos. In three seasons, Thomas has caught 297 passes on 469 targets for 4.483 yards and 35 touchdowns, compared to 54 receptions on 109 targets for 834 yards and six TDs in his first two seasons combined.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas: Bryant's tagging may have been the most predicted as a likely outcome by those in the media to buy time for the Cowboys to try to work on a long-term deal. Bryant has had at least 88 catches, 1,233 yards and 12 touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. The 2010 first-rounder led the NFL in 2014 with 16 touchdown receptions in turning in his first All-Pro season and earning his second straight selection to the Pro Bowl.
Stephen Gostkowski, K, New England: As widely predicted as Bryant's tagging by Dallas, many thought the same would be true for Devin McCourty by New England, but the Patriots opted to tag their kicker who led the NFL with 156 points in 2014 by making 35 of 37 field goals (94.6 percent) and all 51 extra points. It was the third straight and fourth overall season for Gostkowski to lead the league in scoring. He also tied for fifth in the league with 53 touchbacks last season.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami: Clay, a sixth-rounder in 2011, has 127 of his 161 catches, 1,364 of his 1,809 yards and nine of his 14 touchdowns in the past two seasons with the Dolphins.
Teams only have the option of tagging one player, making some marquee names likely to hit the market. McCourty, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (whose 1,845 rushing yards in 2014 were almost 500 more than second place) and Broncos tight end Julius Thomas are considered in the top rung of potential free agents.
Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh also was not tagged by the Lions.