The franchise tag deadline has come and gone. Some teams did the obvious, some had to make some difficult financial decisions that will create a major domino effect on the free agent market and some teams tried to get cute.
So let’s break it all down, examining what this means moving forward:
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (exclusive)
The stage is set for an absolutely memorable game of contractual ping-pong all offseason. Bell doubling down on his threat to retire, the Steelers talking up RB James Conner, Bell possibly holding out and all the glorious, agent-driven dirt that is sure to surface in the meantime. What complicates matters? Neither side is in the wrong. Bell is the best running back in football, and is maybe one of the 15 best wide receivers—and he wants a deal that reflects as much. The Steelers, with a troika of highly-paid offensive players, are finding it hard to envision a long-term deal for a 26-year-old running back that has a history of significant injuries as well as suspensions.
It’s far more convenient for Pittsburgh from a financial perspective to take this one year at a time until the franchise tag jumps a third time next year. By then, Bell will be 27 and unlikely to secure as lucrative a long-term deal. In this matchup between an unstoppable force and immovable object, the only way Bell wins is by legitimately convincing the Steelers he’s done if he doesn’t get the long-term deal. Can that happen given Ben Roethlisberger’s age and a closing Super Bowl window?
Ziggy Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions (non-exclusive)
The Lions and Ansah may talk about a long-term deal, but it would be surprising to see something signed before the July deadline. This is an ideal rental period for new head coach Matt Patricia, who is just now figuring out how he wants to stack this Lions defense. Ansah will be 29 years old before the season starts, and while his production has been elite at times, it has also been sporadic (Sacks per year: 8, 7.5, 14.5, 2, 12). Under the non-exclusive tag, Ansah gets more than $17 million for the season and another double-digit sack season could propel him into free agency at the preventative but not obsolete age of 30.
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys (non-exclusive)
Lawrence has handled this situation beautifully, and almost seems welcome to the prospect of playing out the year for $17.1 million. He recently told NFL Network, “I feel like they have given me the opportunity to really break the bank next year.”
The defensive end will turn 25 in two weeks, meaning that if he doesn’t strike a long-term deal this season, he’ll hit the open market in his contractual prime. This creates a hard decision for Jerry Jones, who must weigh Lawrence’s potential (he went from a previous high of eight sacks in 2015 to 14.5 last year) against his consistency. Given Jones’s admiration for home grown stars, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him at least make a run at locking down the “War Daddy” pass rusher he’s always wanted. But Lawrence and his agents weren’t born yesterday. Agent David Canter facilitated Olivier Vernon’s record-breaking five-year, $85 million contract with the Giants back in 2016. Lawrence will cost more.
Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins (non-exclusive):
The tagging of Landry has been more directly linked with trades given Miami’s inability to sign the highly-productive wide receiver. ESPN reported that five teams, including Baltimore and Chicago, have at least checked in on a possible deal. Making a move for a franchise tagged player isn’t easy, and it may occur after the meat of free agency is over. Clearly there are teams starved for wide-receiver talent that would be interested in someone who posted two seasons of 110 or more catches.
Lamarcus Joyner, S, Los Angeles Rams (non-exclusive):
Joyner’s tag means WR Sammy Watkins will be able to test the waters. Unfortunately, Watkins’s best option might be signing a high-end, one-year deal similar to those signed by Alshon Jeffery or Terrelle Pryor during last year’s free agency. And really, the best place for him to end up might be back in Los Angeles playing for an explosive offensive mind like Sean McVay. The $11.2 million tag number for a safety is not overwhelmingly prohibitive if the Rams were interested in working out a longer-term deal before the deadline (the tag makes Joyner the fifth-highest paid safety in APY right now).
Kyle Fuller, CB, Chicago Bears:
A potentially smart move for the Bears, who save $2 million up front by not using the franchise tag but still give themselves a chance to match any offer Fuller receives. The former first-round pick needs a healthy season to skyrocket himself near the top of the cornerback market next offseason.
Allen Robinson, receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars: Coming off an injury, Robinson, like a few of the high-profile receivers last year, may be on the market for a one-year prove it deal.
Graham Gano, kicker, Carolina Panthers: Gano signed a long-term, four-year deal on Tuesday.
Andrew Norwell, guard, Carolina Panthers: The Panthers were not going to repeat mistakes of the past and get themselves wrapped up in a financial crisis. Norwell would be too expensive under the tag and will now go break the bank in free agency.