Drew Brees and the Saints remain far apart on contract negotiations. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

And this year in particular, the tag is being used like never before.

On Friday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter suggested as many as 25 teams could use their franchise tags this season — 11 more than the previous record of 14 (2011 and 2009) — and the dominoes are already falling. Ravens running back Ray Rice, Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, 49ers safety Dashon Goldson and Redskins tight end Fred Davis are among the growing number of players to be slapped with the tag this week.

But one star who has yet to hear his name called is New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

The 2011 offensive player of the year is set to become a free agent on March 13, and the latest word is that he and the Saints are still as far as $5 million per year apart in their negotiations.

Citing league sources, Schefter reports Brees — who last season broke Dan Marino’s single-season passing record — wants a deal that averages $23 million over the first three years. New Orleans has countered with a five-year, $18 million a year offer.

According to a CBSSports.com report, the Saints put an offer on the table before the 2011 season that would have made Brees the highest-paid player in the NFL. But Brees turned it down.

“He (general manager Mickey Loomis) offered Brees the highest-paid contract in the NFL,” a source told CBSSports.com’s Larry Holder. “Does that not equate with great or elite?”

The last line refers to a Yahoo Sports report on Thursday in which a league source said Loomis had referred to Brees as a “very good” but not “great” quarterback.

It’s hard to argue that the man who led the team formerly known as ‘The Aints’ to their first-ever Super Bowl title in 2010 is not a great quarterback. It’s also hard to argue that there’s Brees or the Saints would be as good as they are without one another. Sean Payton’s offense is the perfect fit for Brees and the 33-year-olds accuracy and coverage-reading skills are ideal for the New Orleans attack.

But if the Saints and their star QB can’t close the gap quickly, they may be forced to pull out the franchise tag trump card — and risk losing Brees much sooner than they had hoped. Monday is the league’s franchise tag deadline.

Meantime, the Ravens have already locked up their top offensive weapon — at least for now. As Mark Maske reports:

The Baltimore Ravens placed their franchise-player tag on tailback Ray Rice, the team announced.
“As we have in the past, placing the franchise designation on a player allows us to keep negotiating on a long-term contract,” Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said in a written statement released by the team. “Our goal is to keep Ray Rice a Raven. We’ve done this with other outstanding players through our history, including Haloti Ngata a year ago.”
   Rice ran for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He has topped 1,200 rushing yards in each of the past three seasons.
The Ravens also announced that they’d released wide receiver Lee Evans and cornerback Chris Carr. The team placed running back Ricky Williams on the reserve-retired list. Williams previously announced his retirement.

Teams who have already used their franchise tags:

49ers - S Dashon Goldson

Cardinals - DE Calais Campbell

Eagles - WR DeSean Jackson

Falcons - CB Brent Grimes

Raiders - S Tyvon Branch

Ravens - RB Ray Rice

Redskins - TE Fred Davis

More from Washington Post Sports:

Saints had bounty system that paid for injuring opponents

Insider: Redskins use tag on Fred Davis

Ravens use franchise tag on Ray Rice

Eagles tag wide receiver DeSean Jackson

Raiders keep Tyvon Branch off the market