Tackle gets qualifying offer of $7.021M
Green Bay Packers: Unable to reach a long-term agreement before a Tuesday 4 p.m. deadline, the Green Bay Packers have designated left offensive tackle Chad Clifton a franchise player, apprising him and his agent of the move by fax, ESPN.com confirmed.
The maneuver, which had been anticipated, greatly reduces the potential for Clifton to depart the Packers as a free agent. It means the team has made the four-year veteran a one-year qualifying offer for $7.021 million.
Clifton, 27, is arguably the linchpin veteran of an offensive line that might have been the NFL's best overall blocking unit in 2003. The Packers ranked third in the NFL in rushing offense and surrendered only 19 sacks, second-fewest in the league.
It marked the initial season in which Clifton, who joined the Packers as a second-round pick in the 2000 draft, was able to start all 16 games. Most impressive was the fact that Clifton was able to rehabilitate from the career-threatening hip injury sustained late in the 2002 season when impacted by Warren Sapp of Tampa Bay on a blindside hit.
A former University of Tennessee star, Clifton has appeared in 53 games and started in 48 of them, and is viewed as an emerging star at a key position.
"As we've said for the last year, our intent is to make sure Chris McAlister stays a Raven," said Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome, who attended the final workouts at the NFL Combine. "The goal is to reach a long-term contract with him and his agent."
McAlister, 26, was given the franchise tag last March and signed a one-year qualifying offer worth $5.962 million after attempts to reach a long-term agreement failed.
This time, the franchise tag will obligate the Ravens to pay McAlister $6.8 million, the average salary of the top five cornerbacks.
McAlister can sign an offer sheet with another team, but the Ravens would have the right to match or accept two first-round picks as compensation.
Baltimore held off on signing McAlister to a multi-year contract due to his off-the-field problems. Ravens coach Brian Billick benched McAlister for a Sept. 21 game at San Diego after the cornerback missed curfew and skipped a team meeting.
Last August, McAlister was pulled over for speeding and charged with driving under the influence in Fairfax County, Va.
On the field, McAlister is one of the league's top cover corners. A starter since being selected in the first round in 1999, McAlister usually is given the task of covering the opponent's top receiver.
Darius will make $4.1 million next season if he doesn't agree to a new contract with the Jaguars. Another team can still sign Darius, but would have to give up two first-round draft picks if Jacksonville didn't match the offer.
The $4.1 million is the average of the five highest-paid safeties in the league.
Kansas City can match any offers that Tait receives.
Tait, a five-year veteran, was drafted by the Chiefs with the 14th overall pick in the 1999 draft.
Over the final seven weeks, Howard recorded five sacks and 25 tackles.
The franchise tag assures Howard of a salary of $6.5 million in 2004 unless a multi-year agreement is reached.
The move would give the four-time Pro Bowl player a $7.1 million salary for next season, the average pay for the NFL's top five offensive linemen.
Jones can negotiate with other teams, but Seattle can match any offers or receive two first-round draft choices if the Seahawks decide not to match. The Seahawks also have until March 17 to negotiate a contract with Jones.
Failing to agree on a deal would mean the Seattle front office would have to wait until July to resume talks.
Jones, selected by Seattle with the sixth overall pick in the 1997 draft, has started 106 games at left tackle. He was the only Seahawks offensive lineman to reach the Pro Bowl until Steve Hutchinson was selected after last season.
Jones also was tagged by the Seahawks last year.
Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report. Senior ESPN.com writers Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton contributed.
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