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Franchise Tag Primer: Best Option for all 32 Teams

While some teams have multiple high-end free agents they'd like to keep, many others have nobody worth what the franchise tag would cost. Here's a look at every team's situation.
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It’s that time of year again. Time for players to be prevented from hitting the open market by their own teams, then pretend to be happy about it (or strategically unhappy!) during every interview in spring ball (should they show up at all). The deadline for teams to utilize both the franchise tag and transition tag has been delayed to Monday, March 16, so let this be a guide for any and all possibilities leading up to the big moment.

Barring the completion of a new collective bargaining agreement that may alter these terms in any way, teams can utilize the franchise tag and transition tag this year, which will be interesting for clubs with multiple high-priority free agents.

For those who need a refresher, the franchise tag ties a player to their current team on a one-year deal that is the average of the top five salaries at the position. The transition tag is another high-end one-year deal, but is the average of the top 10 salaries and gives the player a chance to seek offers elsewhere.

Consider this a team-by-team guide, exploring the most likely scenario on every roster.

Week 15 Sunday Superlatives Kenyan Drake

Arizona Cardinals

• Kenyan Drake, RB

After being traded from the Miami Dolphins, Drake’s end of season run in Arizona was eye-opening: 123 carries, 643 yards and eight touchdowns. While it’s important not to get caught up in the weight of several games (166 yards against the Seahawks, 137 yards and four touchdowns against the Browns and 110 yards on 15 carries against the 49ers), the Cardinals found an obvious answer for Kliff Kingsbury at running back just in time for that player to hit free agency.

Should they not want to muddle the cap and devote an irresponsible amount of space to the running back position (remember that David Johnson is still on the books and largely unmovable) utilizing the transition tag to give the Cardinals a one-year rental on Drake while they assess his market value might be the best move. However, it may not come to that. CBS Sports reported post-combine that Drake may be looking for less than the transition tag number anyway.

Atlanta Falcons

• No options

With the news that the Falcons are going to let tight end Austin Hooper hit free agency, it doesn’t appear that there is a tag-worthy candidate on the roster.

Baltimore Ravens

• Matthew Judon, OLB

Judon is expected to receive the franchise tag. Whether the Ravens keep him or not is a different story. As we’ve seen over the last few years, it’s become increasingly common for general managers with contending rosters to sacrifice high-end draft capital for in-prime talent already developed. Judon is a modern pass rusher with coverage capability and someone who can get the most out of pass rush snaps. He’ll be entering his age 28 season just before training camp.

(UPDATE: Baltimore has tagged Judon.)

Buffalo Bills

• Jordan Phillips, DT

Phillips, the former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins, had 9.5 sacks for the Bills last year along with an eye-opening 16 quarterback hits. He could be a candidate, given that they have a massive cushion in salary cap space and may want to see how the rest of their defense develops organically.

Carolina Panthers

James Bradberry, CB

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If the Panthers were hellbent on using a tag, Bradberry would probably be their only realistic option. The 27-year-old cornerback is one of this year’s top free agents at a position where good to very good players don’t often make it to market. The acquisition of Russell Okung was a strange one for the Panthers, leaving a lot of us to wonder what their immediate plans for 2020 are and whether they might value being immediately competitive.

Chicago Bears

• No options

The Bears have some important decisions to make this offseason on some of their complementary parts, though it doesn’t seem like any will rise to the level of the franchise tag or transition tag.

Cincinnati Bengals

• A.J. Green, wide receiver

The Bengals would look absolutely ridiculous allowing A.J. Green to hit the open market after getting nothing in return for him at the trade deadline. And while this jibes with an organization known for its fiscal conservatism, the Bengals will need Green around to break in whichever quarterback they decide to take at No. 1.

Cleveland Browns

• No options

It would be surprising to see the Browns devote a large chunk of cap space to one of their free agents, given how many holes they’ll have to patch this offseason to help stabilize a top-heavy roster.

Dallas Cowboys

• Dak Prescott, quarterback

Barring any last-minute changes, it seems the Cowboys and Prescott are destined to enter that special type of high-profile negotiation that the Jones family appears to revel in. We saw it last year with the Ezekiel Elliott contract (which ended in t-shirts for sale!) and we’ll probably wander down that path with Prescott as well. Hitting him with the tag is a procedural move to ensure Prescott is not somehow ensnared by Bill Belichick.

Denver Broncos

• Justin Simmons, safety

Last year was a good time to log career highs. Simmons had four interceptions and 93 tackles amid a Second Team All-Pro campaign. John Elway said that the Broncos would use the tag on Simmons if they could not lock him up long term, so this one is pretty cut and dry.

(UPDATE: Denver has tagged Simmons.)

Detroit Lions

• No options

The Lions parted ways with Damon Harrison this offseason, which may end up being their highest-profile move before the start of free agency. Their crop of impending free agents outside of the versatile Graham Glasgow isn’t going to rise to the level of tag-worthy talent.

Green Bay Packers

No options

The Packers don’t traditionally use the tag, and with Mason Crosby locked up on a long-term deal, their most likely tag recipient is off the board.

Houston Texans

• No options

It would be surprising to see owner/general manager/vice president/CEO Bill O’Brien utilize the franchise tag on D.J. Reader, though the all-powerful O’Brien has surprised us during offseasons in the past. The Texans are in a fairly good place cap-wise but need to begin allocating funds for a Laremy Tunsil extension.

Indianapolis Colts

• No options

Anthony Castonzo is back and the rest of the Colts’ impending free agent lot can likely be taken care of without the use of a cap-clogging tag.

Jacksonville Jaguars

• Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE

This one isn’t a well-kept secret. Ngakoue, like many of the Jaguars’ impending free agents over the last several years, has expressed his interest in hitting the open market. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are making sure that, at the very least, they get something in return. Search your favorite team + Yannick Ngakoue and someone is making a case to give up a first-round pick for him. At age 24, he may be worth it. Ngakoue is extremely productive and will likely play through another contract before hitting age 30.

(UPDATE: Jacksonville has tagged Ngakoue.)

nfl-franchise-tag-primer-chris-jones-chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs

• Chris Jones, DT

Part of the problem with winning a Super Bowl? You have a lot of good players you need to keep. Jones is one of the most damaging interior presences in football and is worth holding onto. That likely means a messy foray into the tag process. He doesn’t seem too excited about it for the moment.

Los Angeles Chargers

• Hunter Henry, TE

The tight end market is shaping up to break in Henry’s favor, meaning the Chargers may have to use the tag in order to keep him around. Tight ends who can line up and block in space are still one of the best positional values in football.

(Update: Los Angeles has tagged Henry.)

Los Angeles Rams

• No options

I would have speculated on Dante Fowler, but Les Snead recently told reporters that he doesn’t expect to use the tag in 2020. The Rams are going to have an increasingly difficult time keeping together the core of the team that reached the Super Bowl two years ago so it will be interesting to see how they allocate spending money with a new defensive coordinator.

Miami Dolphins

• No options

If there was anyone the Dolphins were even remotely considering keeping long-term they have the cap space to do so. This is not a free agent class to break the bank over.

Minnesota Vikings

• Anthony Harris, S

The Vikings have some good free agents and could potentially use the tag on someone like Harris, though it doesn’t seem like something they use with overwhelming frequency as an organization. That, and they’re a bit strapped for cash and may need to get creative with Harris on a long-term deal.

New England Patriots

• Joe Thuney, G

Thuney could sneakily cash in this offseason, which might lead the Patriots to buck trend and keep the guard on the franchise tag given their uncertainty at the quarterback position. If they’re breaking in a younger player or propping up a 40-plus-year-old, stability against interior rushers is critical.

New Orleans Saints

• No options

The Saints have already done the hard-to-believe, tendering Taysom Hill as a first-rounder. Using the franchise tag on this crop of free agents would somehow be crazier.

New York Giants

• Leonard Williams, DT

Dave Gettleman is right: He’ll get killed if Williams walks in free agency. If negotiations get weird, the franchise tag is an option, albeit a financially extreme one. The team has some flexibility financially this offseason, though they hope Williams doesn’t get in the way of an efficient dip into free agency.

New York Jets

• No options

Adam Gase will take great pleasure burning the rest of this roster to the ground. While he should want Robby Anderson back, it would be hard to imagine the Jets allocating a large portion of their cap to one player, given how busy they need to be in free agency.

Las Vegas Raiders

• No options

Jon Gruden is going to need every last red cent this offseason to acquire veteran quarterbacks he once loved to populate the depth chart.

Philadelphia Eagles

• No options

We expect the Eagles to be busy in free agency, but not as much with their own free agents.

Pittsburgh Steelers

• Bud Dupree, OLB

It has been widely reported that the former first-round pick will get tagged. This is the logical step for a player who has had middling sack production numbers throughout his career before ballooning to 11.5 in 2019, while also topping a career high in quarterback hits.

arik-armstead-49ers

San Francisco 49ers

• Arik Armstead, DE

This is the logical choice if the 49ers want to keep their feared defensive line together. Armstead doesn’t sound like he’d fight it, either. The 49ers aren’t flush with cap space right now with about $6 million heading into free agency and the draft. They’ll have to move some funds around.

Seattle Seahawks

• No options

General manager John Schneider said as much at the combine. The Seahawks will retool this offseason without a massive one-year hit.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

• Shaq Barrett, OLB

Here’s another dead giveaway and no brainer. At the combine, Bruce Arians said Barrett “ain’t going anywhere” after a breakout 2019 that saw him log 19.5 sacks and 37 quarterback hits. The tag is the ideal maneuver for a player who has only spent one season in a new defense. The interesting question for Tampa will become whether they utilize a second transition tag (if the CBA allows) on Jameis Winston.

Tennessee Titans

• Ryan Tannehill, QB; Derrick Henry, RB

The Titans have a choice to make here. If I am running the front office, I tag Derrick Henry to try and avoid a hyper-complicated long-term negotiation after Henry logged more than 400 carries in 2019. He told The Rich Eisen Show recently that Ezekiel Elliott’s latest deal is the “floor” for him, which makes sense and is what any running back should aspire to. However, if you’re the Titans, does it make good business sense? As for Tannehill, you may have some confidence that, with the field populated by other veteran passers, his price tag will come back to earth without the need for a tag.

Washington

• Brandon Scherff, G

NFL Media reported recently that Washington is hoping to reach a long-term deal with Scherff so they don’t have to go down the arduous road of franchise tag jousting. Where have we heard that before in Washington?

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.