The Oakland Raiders placed the franchise tag on safety Tyvon Branch on Thursday, guaranteeing him about $6.2 million for 2012 to keep him off the open market in free agency.
“We are pleased that Tyvon will return to the Raiders in 2012,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said in a statement. “Tyvon is a talented, productive player who we hope will be wearing the Silver and Black for many years to come. We will continue to work on a long-term deal to make that happen.”
Branch, a fourth-round pick in 2008, has started every game the past three seasons and led the Raiders in tackles the past two years. He had 78 solo tackles, one sack, one interception, four passes defensed and one fumble recovery last season. He also was much improved in pass coverage, cutting his completion percentage against from 67.4 percent in 2010 to 55.7 percent last season, according to STATS LLC.
The move to lock up Branch means running back Michael Bush will likely be able to test the free agent market starting March 13. Bush led the Raiders with 977 yards rushing last season, stepping into the starting role when Darren McFadden went down with a season-ending foot injury. Bush has expressed interest in becoming a starter and might leave Oakland to do it.
The decision to keep Branch is one of many key ones coming for the Raiders in the next few weeks. Pro Football Talk reported recently that the Raiders were more than $20 million over the projected 2012 salary cap even before placing the franchise tag on Branch.
The Raiders can rework contracts with high base salaries and salary cap numbers for 2012, like quarterback Carson Palmer's and defensive tackle Richard Seymour's. They also could cut some veterans like defensive tackle John Henderson.
McKenzie said after hiring coach Dennis Allen that some of the team's contracts were “out of whack” but he didn't envision having problems getting under the cap.
Oakland released cornerback Stanford Routt last month just one year into a $54.5 million, five-year contract. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, who got the franchise tag last offseason before signing a five-year, $48 million contract, also could be a target for restructuring or release.
Wimbley was second on the Raiders with seven sacks last season and was also 15th in the league with 31 quarterback knockdowns and hurries, according to STATS.
“We will take into consideration anything they come back with bearing in mind that he is one of the better players at his position,” agent Joe Linta said.