The 49ers hope to retain some important scheduled free agents, but they are not expected to resort to the franchise tag to get it done.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown are 2013 starters who the 49ers would like to see return to the team in 2014. But the franchise tag does not appear to be a realistic option for any of them.
Boldin made $6 million last season in salary after the 49ers acquired him from the Baltimore Ravens for a sixth-round draft pick. Boldin had the best year for a 49ers wide receiver since Terrell Owens in 2002 with 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. But the projected franchise tag of $11.5 million is exorbitant for a player who turns 34 next season.
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Whitner signed a three-year, $11.4 million contract with the 49ers in 2011. The franchise tag for a safety is projected to be approximately $8 million. Whitner appears likely to hit the free-agent market, where he could compete with Cleveland’s T.J. Ward and Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd. Ward and Byrd are both candidates to be franchised by their respective teams.
And the 49ers made a goodwill gesture of a $300,000 payment to Brown in December as a partial makeup for Brown's forfeiture of a $2 million escalator when he did not take part in the 49ers' offseason program. The projected franchise tag for a cornerback is around $11.2 million.
The price to place the franchise tag on a kicker is projected at $3.38 million -- about $1 million more than Phil Dawson’s pay from last season. Dawson made 32 of 36 field-goal attempts in the regular season. However, as Pro Football Talk points out, Dawson can only be tagged this offseason for the price of a quarterback (about $16 million).
Because the Cleveland Browns twice tagged Dawson, a third tag would result in a much-higher high tender for Dawson this year. In 2012, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees filed a grievance that prompted the ruling that if any player can receive only two franchise tags before the cost of a third increases significantly.
Free agency is scheduled to begin on March 11. Until then, the 49ers have sole negotiating rights with all of their scheduled free agents.
Teams are allowed to begin placing the franchise tag on players Feb. 17. The 49ers did not use the tag last season, but named safety Dashon Goldson as their franchise player in 2012.