While the franchise tag was used by just 15% of the NFL last year (if you count the transition tag, 19% of teams tagged a player), it remains the tool of choice for clubs looking to keep their best players without saddling their finances with a long-term guarantee. Le’Veon Bell fought the power in 2018, opting to sit out the entire season rather than sign his tender, but it’s unlikely that anyone outside of Bell wages a similar battle in 2019. Still, the first day of tag season is still crucial given that often sets the stage for some of the most high-profile contractual stare downs of the offseason. Here’s a primer ahead of Tuesday, Feb. 19, which is the first day clubs are allowed to use the tag:
A sizable free agent class for sure, but it doesn’t seem like Arizona will enter the tag discussion in 2019.
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DT Grady Jarrett is one of the top names on the market. The Falcons would like him to stay. The tag is a tool to ensure that happens. Reports out of Atlanta have depicted a player and team far apart, so this buys them some time. It’s been a tough sled for Dan Quinn of late. There have been so many essential megastars who have come up on new deals recently, which is a credit to their personnel department, but also a hindrance when it comes to replenishing the parts of the roster that need fixing.
LB C.J. Mosley is the Ravens’ top free agent. The 2014 first-round pick completed his fifth-year option and remains one of the best inside linebackers in the game. That means stacking up contractually with the top names at the position. Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner, Alec Ogletree, Eric Kendricks and Benardrick McKinney all make between $10-$12.3 million per year. The tag is substantially higher than that amount, which means it’s probably not a realistic option especially since the Ravens’ scheme isn’t changing and they’re aware of his long-term fit.
Here is a look at the Bills’ free agency class. It is probably safe to say they will not need to utilize the tag.
Some reasonable thoughts on impending free agency from long-time Bears beat man Brad Biggs. This seems more like an offseason of layering for GM Ryan Pace, with no free agent worth paying at the top of the market for.
Zac Taylor and Co. will likely start fresh without needing to use the tag for this group.
DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun highlights Cleveland’s free agent class, but is an RFA. QB Tyrod Taylor will likely take his services elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine much noise coming out of this group.
DE Demarcus Lawrence’s eagerness to sign the franchise tag in 2018 and not complain apparently came with some qualifiers, one of which being that he won’t be tagged again in 2019. Lawrence showed that he is an elite pass rusher again in 2018, and that his 2017 surge was not a fluke. Jerry Jones long dreamed of a “war daddy” pass rusher, and with more than $40 million to spend this offseason, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll let that pass rusher twist in the wind without a long-term deal.
While this might be a great spring for C Matt Paradis, Denver’s cap does not seem like it’s flexible enough to handle one big chunk taken out by a tag. Denver’s best free agent will test the market barring some last-minute insanity.
DE Ziggy Ansah will hit the market in lieu of a second straight tag. A quiet tag period for the Lions coming up.
A bunch of names of consequence are up for new deals here—Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb come to mind—but likely nothing on the tag front.
DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney will almost certainly get hit with the tag while the Texans work out a long-term deal. As we mentioned, a long-term deal will be expensive especially if Clowney is considered a defensive end. Market comparisons range from Olivier Vernon’s five-year, $85 million deal to Khalil Mack’s earth-shattering six-year, $141 million pact. If he is somehow able to hit the market, expect almost all of the deepest-pocketed teams in the league to be interested.
Nothing to see here.
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Some talent in the Jaguars’ class, though a franchise tag won’t happen. With the potential for a veteran quarterback being added, they’ll want to steer clear of any major one-year deals that gobble up significant space.
OLBDee Ford, as recently as last week, said he’d be fine playing under the franchise tag. It’s not a bad attitude to have for a player who is entering a season with a new defensive coordinator and (potentially) a drastically different front less advantageous to putting up sack numbers. He’s the name to watch, though, as we pointed out a week ago, Steve Spagnuolo’s entrance onto the scene could be a warning sign for both of the Chiefs’ edge rushers.
CB Jason Verrett could end up a crown jewel coming out of this class, but isn’t worth the tag price. WR Tyrell Williams will also be very expensive. According to the most recent league records, L.A. is not in the kind of financial situation where they can allocate a large, short-term contract to anyone, even if there was someone worth that price.
S Lamarcus Joyner played under the tag in 2018. Ndamukong Suh essentially played for the franchise tag number last year ($14 million), but is now 32 and may be viewed as more of a complementary defensive lineman in free agency. G Rodger Saffold told ESPN he may take a discount to come back. That essentially knocks out anyone with a remote sniff at the tag.
There aren’t a ton of realistic places to utilize the tag. Miami’s top free agents include RB Frank Gore, DE Cameron Wake, LB Stephone Anthony, OL Travis Swanson and OT Ja’Wuan James. I thought this post made a decent case for James because, as we’ll mention with a few players down below, the offensive tackle market is not mind-blowing but the price tag for a franchise tackle is.
LBAnthony Barr, a 2014 first-round pick and four-time Pro Bowler, talked about a rather nebulous future in his most recent comments about free agency (via ESPN): “I’ve been thinking about it,” he said. “It’s been a whole year, two years really, coming, so—my contract was up last year, had the option, and this year now it’s really up so the possibilities I feel like are endless and I could be anywhere. I want to be back, like I’ve said throughout the last year, but like I’ve been saying also I know my worth and I know what I've got to do I’ve got to do it for me.”
The projected tag number for a linebacker—roughly $15 million—isn’t that much higher than his fifth-year option salary of $12.3 million. While it does accelerate his salary floor should a long-term extension get done, it gives the Vikings a chance to closer evaluate a dynamic player who took on different roles last year and suffered from a recurring hamstring issue.
Bill Belichick hasn’t made much noise on the franchise-tag front of late. Since 2012, only K Stephen Gostkowski has gotten the designation. A look at their impending list of free agents shows two players that merit consideration: OT Trent Brown and DE Trey Flowers. However, the Boston Globe has already poured cold water on Brown receiving the tag, and it would be surprising to see New England devote about $18.5 million to one player on defense, especially at a position Belichick has had success in identifying over the years (we’re utilizing Over The Cap’s projected tag numbers, btw).
QB Teddy Bridgewater could do well this spring, but not enough to command a quarterback’s share of the tag. RB Mark Ingram will be interesting to watch after a long, distinguished career with the Saints, but is not a tag option. Saints free agents here.
It feels like S Landon Collins is inevitable here. ESPN reported as much around the trade deadline last year and not much has changed for the 25-year-old, three-time Pro Bowler. Given that the Giants’ defensive coordinator, James Bettcher, is still getting a feel for his personnel and is an attractive coaching candidate who could find himself atop a lot of wish lists if the Giants play well next year, feeling out Collins’s long-term viability seems like the most financially responsible option. Given the cap pitfalls left behind by former GM Jerry Reese and the recent long-term extension handed out to Odell Beckham Jr., waiting on Collins might be smart. However, as the safety market reheats given the league’s increasing need for position versatility (especially for a body type and skill set like Collins’) buying in now with a long-term deal is also sensible. Tagging him will give the Giants a chance to figure it all out.
The Jets’ best free agent is WR Robby Anderson, who is a restricted free agent. Outside of a potentially cavalier approach to free agency, their most important personnel decision will hinge on how they handle Anderson’s tender.
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Placing the franchise tag on Nick Folesis a possibility, especially if the Eagles already have a partner in mind and prefer to steer him away from Washington or the Giants. It would ensure a better return than the compensatory pick they’d get for letting him go, even if it narrows their list of suitors. This is one of the most underrated stories of the offseason—a true gamble for a general manager who continues to bet big year in and year out.
ESPN reported a week back that Pittsburgh is still looking into the transition tag for RB Le'Veon Bell. This would set up an incredibly electric offseason for Bell, who has largely maintained his silence since becoming the first player in more than a decade to completely skip a season under the franchise tag. As the prospect of losing Antonio Brown seems more likely, perhaps the Steelers are hedging their bets and trying to keep one area of positional strength intact.
Nothing to see here.
As recently as October, DE Frank Clark’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, said that Clark would be willing to play under the franchise tag in 2019. It appears the Seahawks are leaning in that direction, according to the Seattle Times. Not a bad deal for a 25-year-old, who, assuming he stays healthy, will graduate to a more-than-generous salary floor in 2020. The pass-rushing class next year will be robust, though it’s hard to imagine the likes of Vic Beasley, Leonard Williams and Yannick Ngakoue reaching free agency.
OT Donovan Smith had a not-bad 2018, which is good enough to merit franchise tag consideration in 2019 given a thin market at the tackle position. He recently told the Tampa Bay Times that he’d like to come back, and maybe new head coach Bruce Arians wants a live, one-year evaluation of his franchise left tackle before committing big money. The going rate for a franchise left tackle (Taylor Lewan and Nate Solder were the last to do big deals) is between $15 and $16 million per season.
DE Derrick Morgan is the biggest name out of this class, and recently told the Titans’ website he’s ready to explore all options (the tag is certainly not one of them).
Washington has some talent hitting free agency, including WR Jamison Crowder and S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, though it would be difficult to imagine them allocating top-five safety money to Clinton-Dix when good, young players at the position (Eric Reid, for example), are settling in at the $7.3 million per year mark. Clinton-Dix is also battling a tough class that includes Earl Thomas, (possibly) Tyrann Mathieu and Lamarcus Joyner.
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