Starting Wednesday, NFL teams can place the franchise or transition tag on any player with an expiring contract.

While there are different levels of the tag (see below), it basically keeps a player from reaching unrestricted free agency.

The deadline to tag a player this year is 3 p.m. on March 1. Free agency begins March 9.

Here are some top candidates to receive a tag, though in some cases it might be wise for the teams to let them walk.

CB A.J. Bouye, Houston Texans

Should he get the tag: Yes

Why: He had a breakout season in 2016, but is he a one-hit wonder? While Bouye likely believes he’s earned the right to test the open market — especially in a league that overpays for cornerbacks — he couldn't be too unhappy with the salary bump he’d receive with the franchise tag salary of more than $14 million. Bouye, who went undrafted in 2013, made just $1.6 million last year.

QB Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

Should he get the tag: Yes

Why: Many players hate the franchise tag's lack of long-term security, but Cousins stands to cash in. He made nearly $20 million after being tagged in 2016 and would receive roughly $24 million if he were franchised a second time. (Being franchised in consecutive years automatically triggers a 20% raise.) It's worth wondering if the Redskins will use the exclusive tag on him as speculation swirls that a quarterback-needy team like the San Francisco 49ers — their new coach, Kyle Shanahan, previously worked with Cousins in Washington — might be willing to make him a monster offer. Ultimately, the Redskins' best option seems to be keeping their Pro Bowl quarterback and locking him up to a long-term deal that would also lower his 2017 cap number.

S Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs

Should he get the tag: Yes

Why: Franchising the all-pro for the second consecutive year won’t go over well with Berry's camp. Using the tag again in 2017 must merely be a means to getting a new deal done — the sooner, the better — before negotiations get truly nasty between Berry and the Chiefs. One of the most well-liked and respected players in the locker room, Berry held out of about a month of the 2016 preseason last year because of the tag and has threatened to sit out next season if the team doesn't lock him up for the long run.

RB Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

Should he get the tag: Yes

Why: The franchise tag for a running back is expected to be around $12 million, which would allow Bell to be the second-best paid at the position in 2017 after Adrian Peterson. That seems like a lot, but Bell is worth it — despite two suspensions for violating the substance abuse policy. This seems like a situation where both sides will try to get a long-term deal done, but the tag would be a no-brainer to make sure such a critical piece of the Pittsburgh offense remains in place.

ILB Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots

Should he get the tag: No

Why not: There is no doubting his value to the defense — just look at Hightower's momentum-changing, fourth-quarter strip sack in the Super Bowl — but financially the tag does not make sense for a frugal franchise. The tag for a linebacker is exceptionally high (it was $14.1 million last year, and will only be more in 2017) which would make him, by far, the highest-paid inside linebacker in the league. Look for the Patriots to try to sign Hightower before free agency opens instead.

OLB Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals

Should he get the tag: Yes

Why: The Cardinals already invested a lot in Jones when they sent a second-round pick to the Patriots last year in order to acquire him. Head coach Bruce Arians and team president Michael Bidwill have already said that, barring agreement on a new deal by March 1, Jones will receive the tag. This also means Arizona could lose Calais Campbell, 30, one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL, unless Jones re-signs early and gives the team the option to tag Campbell instead.

DT Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers

Should he get the tag: Yes

Why: The Panthers seem prepared to tag Short, with both head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman telling reporters recently that was the plan absent a new deal by March 1. And it makes sense given how sought after Short would likely be if he reached free agency. He’s one of the NFL’s most dominant interior linemen, and the Panthers have shown they will spend their money in the trenches.

DE Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants

Should he get the tag: Yes

Why: He played last year on a $10 million deal — a prove-it contract in his first full season back after losing part of a hand in a fireworks accident. And Pierre-Paul did indeed prove he can still play, recording seven sacks in 12 games (he missed time with a groin injury). The problem is that, after New York's spending spree last year, signing JPP to the massive deal he wants just might not be possible — though cutting WR Victor Cruz and RB Rashad Jennings on Monday in cost-cutting moves might help. Pierre-Paul likely won’t be happy about settling for a one-year deal at roughly $17 million, but it would be the best move for the Giants to keep their best pass rusher off the market.

OLB Melvin Ingram, Los Angeles Chargers

Should he get the tag: Yes

Why: Sure, the Chargers found an elite pass rusher in 2016 in defensive rookie of the year Joey Bosa. But in order to be a truly strong defense, they need two, and that’s why they should make sure Ingram can’t leave. Though he’s not as good a player as recently tagged pass rusher like Von Miller and Justin Houston, a tag number around $14 million makes sense for the Chargers to keep him.

WR Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

Should he get the tag: No

Why not: After playing 2016 on the franchise tag, it would be extremely costly for the Bears to tag Jeffery a second time — more than $17.5 million. There have been times in his career where he has been the type of receiver who deserved elite money, but he underperformed last season for a poor offense and also served a four-game suspension for a PED violation, factors that will likely drop his value.

K Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks

Should he get the tag: No

Why not: It is not uncommon for teams to tag kickers, as Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens and Stephen Gostowski of the Patriots learned in recent years. Hauschka once seemed like a candidate, too, but a rocky 2016 — he missed six extra points in the regular season and another in the playoffs — hurt his value. Seattle also recently signed former Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, another sign Hauschka could soon be playing elsewhere.


What is the NFL franchise tag?

It's a mechanism which allows a team, if it chooses, to tender a one-year offer to just one of its potential free agents. With slight variations to the calculus, the tag is basically worth the average of the top five salaries at the player's position.

A player given an "exclusive" tag, which is worth slightly more, cannot negotiate with other teams. A player given the "non-exclusive" tag can deal with outside clubs, but if he's allowed to sign with a new team, his previous club is compensated with two first-round draft picks.

Nine players were franchised in 2016, but only Miller was given the exclusive tag. Four of them signed long-term extensions before training camp. One, Josh Norman, had his tag rescinded by the Panthers, allowing him to leave for a multi-year offer from the Washington Redskins.

What is a transition tag? It's essentially worth the average of the top 10 salaries at a player's position or 120 percent the value of his 2016 salary (whichever is higher). Players with the transition tag can negotiate with other clubs, but their original team does not receive draft pick compensation if they fail to match an outside offer.

Miami Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon was the only player to get a transition tag in 2016. It was eventually rescinded, and he left to join the Giants.


Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones