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NFL teams get jump start on franchise tags

The Pittsburgh Steelers slapped the franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell, right. (Fred Vuich / Associated Press)
The Pittsburgh Steelers slapped the franchise tag on running back Le’Veon Bell, right. (Fred Vuich / Associated Press)
By Arnie Stapleton Associated Press

Le’Veon Bell, Chandler Jones and Kawann Short didn’t have to wait until Wednesday’s deadline to get franchise tagged.

And a person with knowledge of the details said the New York Giants have told defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul that he, too, will get the franchise tag. The person with direct knowledge of the move spoke on condition of anonymity because the Giants didn’t announce the decision.

The Giants have to designate Pierre-Paul a franchise player by 1 p.m. PT on Wednesday. He will earn roughly $17 million this season unless the team reaches a long-term agreement by July 15.

The Steelers placed their exclusive rights franchise tag on Bell on Monday, the same day the Panthers, Cardinals and Giants applied their non-exclusive franchise tags to keep their stars from becoming free agents.

This buys the teams and players until mid-July to reach agreement on new long-term contracts.

Otherwise, they’ll play on one-year deals and make the average of the top five players at their position in 2017.

While only the Steelers can negotiate with Bell, other teams can negotiate with Pierre-Paul, Short and Jones. However, the compensation required – two first-round draft picks – is a strong deterrent.

The biggest superstar to get franchise tagged last year was linebacker Von Miller, who received the exclusive rights franchise tag from the Broncos shortly after his MVP performance in Super Bowl 50.

That set up a stalemate that often turned contentious until the sides agreed to a record-shattering deal at the deadline that was worth $114.5 million over six seasons and included more guaranteed money – $70 million – than any nonquarterback in NFL history.

The newly franchise-tagged players could make similar big splashes at their positions – or could find themselves playing on one-year franchise tenders instead.

Bell was the first player in NFL history to average 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving in 2016. Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this month the Steelers intend to keep Bell in black and yellow indefinitely. If the sides don’t agree on a long-term deal Bell’s salary for 2017 would likely top $12 million.

A long-term deal for the 25-year-old running back isn’t without risk, however. Twice suspended for violating the league’s drug policy, Bell has been unable to finish the Steelers’ final game in each of the past three seasons because of injuries.

The Panthers’ tag of Short, worth about $15 million, is the latest move to keep their defensive line together. They also re-signed defensive end Wes Horton to a two-year deal Monday, a day after re-signing defensive end Mario Addison to a three-year contract.

All three were set for free agency.

A four-year NFL veteran, Short has 17 sacks in the past two seasons, third-most among defensive tackles.

The Cardinals’ tag of Jones came on his 27th birthday and was hardly a surprise.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season. He has 25 1/2 sacks over the past two seasons.

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1/2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

This is the second time the Giants have used their franchise tag on Pierre-Paul.

Pierre-Paul had a comeback season in 2016, recording seven sacks and 53 tackles. He also had eight passes defended, forced three fumbles and recovered one and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. He missed the final four regular-season games and a playoff matchup against Green Bay with a sports hernia.

Pierre-Paul missed the opening half of the 2015 season because of a severe hand injury sustained in a fireworks accident on July 4.

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