Kansas City avoided franchise-tag drama when the Chiefs reached a long-term deal with Eric Berry this week. New England appears to be walking the tightrope with Dont’a Hightower after the Pats opted not to use the tag on their star linebacker. They have a week to get a deal done with Hightower before he becomes a free agent.
Outside of those two, the franchise tag deadline came and went with few surprises. The big names that got tagged had been telegraphed for weeks, if not months.
Teams have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal with these tagged players. Without a deal, the tag price is locked in and guaranteed for 2017. Here’s how things could shake out for the seven NFL players who were tagged this week.
Washington QB Kirk Cousins
Mike Jones at the Washington Post expertly explained how Washington screwed up the Cousins’ deal even before he was slapped with the exclusive franchise tag. Now Cousins has all the leverage here, and he would gladly play next season at $24 million. The 28-year-old QB, who has been to one Pro Bowl and one postseason as a starter, will have made about $44 million in guaranteed money in 2016 and ’17.
Washington is so dysfunctional now that it’s impossible to predict if it will reach a long-term deal with Cousins before the deadline, tag and trade him or just let him play next season as one of the highest-paid players in NFL history.
Pittsburgh RB Le’Veon Bell
Having the best offensive trio in football is starting to get expensive for the Steelers. In 2017, Ben Roethlisberger will count $18.2 million against the cap, Antonio Brown will count $13.6 million against the cap (after becoming the highest-paid receiver in NFL history) and now Bell is guaranteed $12.4 million next season if he plays under the franchise tag.
But having Adrian Peterson’s $18 million figure off the books since the Vikings didn’t pick up his option doesn’t help Bell. Neither do the running back’s suspensions and injury history. A long-term deal with Bell might be complicated, and if it’s figured out, it will likely go down to the wire.
Carolina DT Kawann Short
You could see this tag coming from a mile away. Last year, Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson whipped the market for defensive tackles into a frenzy, and the Panthers and Short couldn’t agree on a long-term deal. But Panthers GM Dave Gettleman doesn’t negotiate contracts during the season, so here we are.
There’s little threat of a holdout from Short, so he’ll play under the tag in 2017 if he has to. But there’s a lot of work to be done before the deadline if he’s going to get a long-term deal between $17-19 million per year.
Arizona OLB Chandler Jones
With 11 sacks in his one season in Arizona, Jones proved he’s worth the money. Now a long-term deal is in the best interest of both parties.
Ideally the Cardinals could keep both Jones and Calais Campbell if Jones gets his deal worked out by March 9, but how likely is that? The Cardinals would also be wise to re-sign safety Tony Jefferson, and Bruce Arians intimated they’d be interested in finding a young quarterback to groom behind Carson Palmer. If the Cardinals are sure Jones’ past off-field issues are behind him, the faster they can get a long-term deal together, the better.
New York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Two years ago the money was on the table for JPP. Then he blew off a few of the digits on his right hand and has been on one-year deals since. But after proving he can still sack the quarterback with fewer than 10 fingers, he’s tagged again.
This designation was surprising since the Giants have invested so much in Olivier Vernon and have a budding (read: cheap) end in Romeo Okwara. It’d be in the Giants’ best interest to lower Pierre-Paul’s nearly $17 million cap number for 2017 to something more manageable in a long-term deal which would give them more flexibility in the off-season.
Los Angeles Chargers LB Melvin Ingram
The Chargers have a new city, a new coach in Anthony Lynn, a new defensive coordinator in Gus Bradley and a scheme change from 3–4 to 4–3. And after a rough season last year, there’s hope with this Chargers team, especially with many key players returning from injury in 2017.
Ingram had eight sacks and four forced fumbles last year, and he’s strung together two excellent seasons in consecutive years. But there may be some uncertainty about his role, and Ingram may want to roll the dice in 2017 and bet on himself.
Los Angeles Rams CB Trumaine Johnson
For a second straight year the Rams tagged Johnson, but this time they should find some common ground before July 15.
Los Angeles doesn’t have much on their backend after losing Janoris Jenkins last offseason, and Johnson struggled at times being The Guy in 2016. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson has only allowed 10 touchdowns in his five-year career with a 72.6 quarterback rating when being targeted. Those are stout numbers, but it’s doubtful that he’s worth what amounts to $31 million in guaranteed money over two seasons.