NFL Franchise Tag Tracker and Analysis: Dak Prescott, Chris Jones, A.J. Green, More

Monday is the deadline to franchise tag players. We'll analyze every move as it's made.
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There is still much we do not know about the NFL’s administrative schedule in the coming weeks. Things could change as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the NFLPA voting on the new CBA or both. One thing we do know: Teams appear to be operating as if Monday’s franchise and transition tag deadline is still intact.

As a reminder, 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.

Here is a look at who has been tagged so far. For a team-by-team list of most likely scenarios, please check out our franchise tag primer here.

• Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

Negotiating a long-term deal with the Dallas Cowboys is never simple…or boring. Thus, we have Prescott pinned down with the franchise tag until a long-term agreement can be reached. There’s little doubt both sides have an interest in getting this done. Dallas, especially, should hope to reach an agreement before a string of mega-deals resets the quarterback market altogether. Prescott was arguably one of the best quarterbacks in football a season ago and should earn a deal that topples current APY leader, Russell Wilson at $35 million.

• Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

The moment the Titans worked out a long-term deal with Ryan Tannehill, this became inevitable. Henry carried the ball nearly 400 times last year during the Titans’ stunning run to the AFC championship game, and while he’s proven he’s a transcendent back, he has yet to prove that he can effectively buck the rigors of load management over a long period of time. Perhaps the Titans negotiate something long-term, but in the moment they have the best power back in football locked down.

• A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals could not afford to keep Green through the trade deadline last year when the demand for a receiver was sky high and then get nothing for him. This ensures that one of the best wide receivers in football is in place for when the Bengals select a quarterback atop the 2020 NFL draft. Green will ease the transition for any rookie and while it is unlikely that he’ll be happy on the one-year deal, it gives the Bengals time to work something out on a short-term extension

• Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals (transition tag)

While the Cardinals continue to phase out David Johnson, they needed to figure out a way to make room for Kenyan Drake, who exploded in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense following a mid-season trade from Miami. It’s an overwhelmingly large amount of money devoted to one position, though the Cardinals do save a bit of cash from the franchise tag and can match any offer Drake gets in free agency. Seemingly adrift in Miami, Drake averaged more than 100 total yards per game alongside Kyler Murray in Arizona.

• Joe Thuney, G, New England Patriots

A bit of a surprise here at the deadline (though not if you were looking at our All-32 preview), Thuney is one of the best interior line players in football. The Patriots are operating in a way that would make it seem like they’ll blow past Tom Brady, or at least that they won’t wait around until Brady makes his decision. Keeping Thuney in the fold helps New England in two ways: One, should Brady come back, he keeps quick-strike interior pressure off his heels. Two, should the Patriots be breaking in a first-time starter, he gives that player some peace of mind in the pocket.

• Bud Dupree, OLB, Steelers

Dupree flashed in the final year of his rookie deal, earning the former first-round pick another season in a defense that seems to be tailored to his strengths. Dupree’s sack and pressure numbers both jumped significantly in 2019 despite a boatload of tight games and an offense that could not keep pace. With Ben Roethlisberger in the fold, he immediately becomes an essential piece of a playoff contender.

• Chris Jones, DL, Kansas City Chiefs

Following their Super Bowl victory over the 49ers, the Chiefs immediately faced a plethora of difficult financial decisions. Tagging Chris Jones was not one of them. Jones is the second best interior rush presence in football, behind only Aaron Donald. Keeping him was obvious, but now the problem lies in pacifying Jones. His rising star is no secret, and his desire to reach the open market and find a deal commensurate with his abilities is obvious. Jones is only 25, and signing him to a long-term deal does make some sense, but the question is how the Chiefs will find the cap room to do it.

• Shaq Barrett, OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

An obvious tag candidate from minute one, this is a savvy move from the Bucs' front office in order to get a larger sample size on a player who had a huge season in 2019. Barrett, who logged 19.5 sacks in 2019, along with 19 tackles for loss and 37 quarterback hits, had just 14 sacks and 35 quarterback hits in the five years leading up to his first season in Tampa Bay.

• Leonard Williams, DL, New York Giants

This is ultimately a cautionary tale for general manager Dave Gettleman, who traded draft capital for Williams last season assuming that the team could evaluate Williams within their defense and the former top-five pick would re-sign. That has proven more difficult than expected, which caused the Giants to utilize their franchise tag to kick off free agency. To say this is approaching comedy may be putting it lightly. While it's unknown what Williams’s market would have been in free agency, he was let go from his original team for a third- and fifth-round pick at a time when the rest of the NFL world was sure he was available (news via ESPN). 

• Anthony Harris, S, Minnesota Vikings

After freeing up some cap space with the Kirk Cousins deal, the Vikings made a late surprise entry into the franchise tag pool by locking down their star safety. This shouldn’t be the last we’ve heard from the Vikings in free agency as they continue to operate like a team on the cusp of Super Bowl contention. Harris will be entering his age-29 season in 2020 after a career-high six interceptions in 2019, along with 11 pass breakups and a fumble recovery. 

• Justin Simmons, S, Denver Broncos

The Broncos and Simmons seem to be destined for a long-term deal if you believe the continued optimism of John Elway. We’ll see if that optimism continues once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed and the two meet at the negotiating table. While the safety position is fluid, there’s little doubt Simmons will need to top the market on a long-term deal, which means edging out Landon Collins in Washington (six years, $84 million, $14 million APY). The Broncos currently have a little more than $50 million in cap space and a long to-do list this offseason in order to build an infrastructure around Drew Lock at quarterback. However, Simmons is an essential role player in the Vic Fangio-Ed Donatell defense and thus surfaces as a priority.

• Hunter Henry, TE, Los Angeles Chargers

This is a prudent move for the Chargers right now, keeping a solid player at a position that is only going to skyrocket in value over the coming years. Teams need a quality, movable tight end with high-end receiving ability, and while we wait for the collegiate pipeline to adjust and churn out a handful of George Kittle clones, the available pool in the NFL is what it is. Henry is right around even in terms of catch percentage above expectation and is a top 15 player in catch percentage. Assuming L.A. ends up breaking in a rookie quarterback, his presence in the offense is going to be a necessity. If the Chargers are smart, they’ll sprint to the altar on a long-term deal with Henry before the Kittle deal gets done. It would not be surprising to see a large gap between the tight end and receiver markets close this offseason (for perspective, the receiver market is soon to have its first $20 million APY player, while the tight end market caps out at $9.368 million).

• Matthew Judon, OLB, Baltimore Ravens

The question now is: Will the Ravens keep Judon around? If you’re a team like Baltimore, which has a whip-smart front office and a super creative defensive coordinator, you could probably stand to swap out someone like Judon and take the massive net in value (Judon was originally a fifth-round pick). Judon has been a steady riser since his rookie season, but capped his first 16-game season in 2019 with 9.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and a surge in QB hits (33 from a prior high of 20). There will be a market for his services as some pass rush-needy teams survey the free agent landscape and wonder about the economics of paying someone like Jadeveon Clowney at the top of the market.

• Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE, Jacksonville

One of the best picks of the Dave Caldwell era, Ngakoue has already stated his desire to get out of Jacksonville. Should the Jaguars fail to change his mind and reach an agreement on a long-term deal, he could be this offseason’s Frank Clark. Ngakoue, who has 37.5 sacks over four seasons and more than a dozen forced fumbles, will garner some trade interest. The question is whether he will find a situation as amenable defensively as the one he had in Jacksonville, surrounded by defensive stalwarts like Calais Cambell and excellent cover corners like Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Still, it’s clear Ngakoue is more than just a system player and has shined in individual battles throughout his career.

Brandon Scherff, G, Washington

The Ron Rivera era was not going to start by losing two of Washington's best offensive linemen. While Trent Williams seeks a trade elsewhere, Scherff was hit with the exclusive franchise tag Saturday, preventing the former top five pick from hitting the open market at a time when offensive line talent is set to fetch record highs in free agency. The 28-year-old has made the Pro Bowl three times and, despite missing 13 games over the past two seasons, remains one of the most consistent guards in the sport. Regardless of what Washington does at quarterback this offseason, neither Haskins nor a rookie replacement is going to be better off without Scherff helping slow down interior pressure. 

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