Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson might receive a franchise tag from the Browns if a multi-year deal isn’t reached in the next few weeks, though it’s not guaranteed, a league source told the Beacon Journal on Friday.
“That’s a possibility, but not 100 percent,” the source said.
Each NFL team may franchise one player beginning Monday and no later than March 5. Jackson is one of 11 Browns players scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. March 13.
The Browns are not close to reaching deals with any of their potential free agents, and the team expects to know more about its players with expiring contracts after the NFL Scouting Combine, which runs Wednesday through Feb. 28, the source said.
If the Browns designate Jackson as their franchise player, they would prevent him from hitting the open market, locking him down with a one-year deal that’s expected to be worth about $8.8 million, the projected average annual salary of the five highest-paid players at his position. Last year, the Browns used the franchise tag on kicker Phil Dawson, who’s also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month.
Jackson played last season under a one-year contract worth about $4.5 million, including incentives, so he would receive a significant raise if franchised. It wouldn’t be a surprise, though, because Browns General Manager Tom Heckert has publicly expressed his desire to bring Jackson back.
The 6-foot, 240-pound Jackson missed 26 games — 10 in 2009 with his first torn pectoral muscle and all 16 in 2010 with another torn pectoral — before making a successful comeback and leading defensive coordinator Dick Jauron’s 4-3 defense last season. Jackson had a team-high 158 tackles, finishing with eight fewer than Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, the league leader in tackles.
Jackson, 28, was the runner-up for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. He received six fewer votes than the winner, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Speaking of comebacks
Defensive end Marcus Benard is rehabilitating and expects to make a full recovery and be able to play football again, Heckert said.
In October, Benard wrecked his three-wheeled motorcycle on Interstate 71 in Brooklyn. Benard lost control of his 2011 Can-Am Spyder, hit a guardrail and was thrown about 241 feet, according to the police report.
Other than a broken hand, Benard’s injuries were not disclosed. He spent the final 12 games of the season on the reserve non-football injury list. After the accident, the Browns paid him about $370,000, the remainder of his 2011 base salary of $525,000, even though they weren’t required to do so.
Benard pleaded not guilty to driving under a suspended license and reckless operation. He later pleaded no contest after the charges were amended to no operator license and failure to control. On Nov. 21, he paid $424 in fines and court costs and received six months of probation.
Benard is scheduled to become a restricted free agent in March. Heckert declined to comment on Benard’s future with the Browns.
Benard has not returned messages from the Beacon Journal.