Raiders apply franchise tag to Branch

The Oakland Raiders have designated safety Tyvon Branch as their franchise player.

A fourth-round pick by Oakland in the 2008 draft, Branch has started all 16 games for the Silver and Black over the last three seasons and led the club with 109 tackles this past year. The 25-year-old also paced the Raiders with 104 stops in 2010 in addition to amassing a career-best four sacks along with one interception.

"We are pleased that Tyvon will return to the Raiders in 2012," said Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie 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 will earn around $6.2 million in 2012 provided he signs the tender, and his retainment increases the likelihood that the Raiders won't bring back free agent running back Michael Bush, the team's leading rusher last season.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland is currently over $22 million over the projected salary cap for next season and must be at or under the limit by March 13.