NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL deadline for placing franchise tags on players has passed, with only eight given the tag by their teams for next season.
Dallas linebacker/defensive end Anthony Spencer, Kansas City offensive tackle Branden Albert and Miami defensive tackle Randy Starks were the latest to be tagged on Monday.
The other tagged players are Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd, Chicago defensive tackle Henry Melton, Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson, Denver offensive tackle Ryan Clady and Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee.
All eight are non-exclusive franchise players.
With the non-exclusive tag, his team has the right to match any offer sheet, or get two first-round draft picks in return for allowing him to leave.
Both sides can continue to negotiate on a longer deal even after a franchise tag has been applied.
Last year, 21 players received the franchise tag.
Baltimore avoided using the franchise tag by re-signing quarterback Joe Flacco to a six-year, $120.6 million contract.
The free-agency signing period begins March 12.
PITTSBURGH (AP) — William Gay is heading back to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The veteran cornerback has agreed to a three-year deal with Pittsburgh, a move that should give the Steelers some insurance if unrestricted free agent Keenan Lewis decides to play elsewhere. Financial terms were not disclosed.
The 28-year-old Gay spent the first five seasons of his career in Pittsburgh before signing with the Arizona Cardinals last spring. Gay had two interceptions for the Cardinals, starting 15 of 16 games. He added three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery while playing for a defense that finished fifth in the league in yards allowed in the air.
Gay thrived while playing as a nickel back for the Steelers in 2011, finishing with two interceptions, a career-high 14 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries. He parlayed his success into a two-year, $4.95 million contract with the Cardinals, who released him last week to clear space under the salary cap.
Gay didn’t waste time finding a new job. Though the return to Pittsburgh wasn’t official until Monday, he started spreading the news Sunday night, changing his Twitter bio hours before the deal was officially announced.
The signing gives the Steelers a backup plan if they can’t retain Lewis. The 26-year-old was spectacular at times in 2012, his long arms making him Pittsburgh’s best cover cornerback. He also managed to stay healthy, a feat in a secondary pockmarked by injuries to star Troy Polamalu and mainstay Ike Taylor.
Lewis seemed open to staying in Pittsburgh, but he may have to sign a contract under market value to stick around. The Steelers have until next week to get in compliance with the salary cap and have already started making moves by reportedly restructuring the contracts of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and linebacker Lawrence Timmons, among others.