Tuesday is the first milepost in the NFL offseason. Let’s jump into it …
• That’s right, starting Tuesday, teams can apply the franchise tag to players. We don’t have the official numbers yet, because those are based on where the cap lands. But here are projections for a $180 million cap, a $183 million cap (that’s been the working number for some teams) and a $185 million cap.
Position by position for 180/183/185, all figures in millions:
Because the cap will be lower, and even with inflation factored in, all those numbers are down (and some significantly so) from 2020. Which puts first-time tag candidates in different situations from those who might be tagged for a second time (like Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, Broncos S Justin Simmons, and Washington G Brandon Scherff), since those guys, by rule, would be tagged at 120% of their 2020 tag number.
• Of the second-timers, Prescott is most likely to get a repeat tag. Both Denver and Washington want to keep their 2020 tagged players long-term, and are confident they can do it, the question is whether another tag is the mechanism they’ll use to get it done (I presume it would be if such deals aren’t done by the March 9 deadline). Prescott’s 2021 tag figure is $37.691 million, Scherff’s is $15.981 million and Simmons’s is $13.792 million. Of the first-timer candidates, I think Bucs WR Chris Godwin and Panthers OT Taylor Moton are likely to get tagged, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lions WR Kenny Golladay to find the same fate. I’m a little more up in the air on Seahawks CB Shaquill Griffin, Packers RB Aaron Jones and Jets S Marcus Maye.
• And while we’re here, I wouldn’t expect a ton of news before the March 9 deadline (Tuesday is simply when the window opens) to tag guys. The reason teams wait? It allows some to hold the tag over two guys (Tampa would be an example, with Godwin and Shaq Barrett set to be free agents), and keeps open the chance to tag a second guy if the guy that was earmarked for the tag initially gets a deal. The caveat this year is that with the cap likely to go down, it’ll be much harder for cap-strapped teams (like Pittsburgh with Bud Dupree) to swallow the single-year lump-sum number that comes with franchising a player.
• Fun fact that I got from ex-Chargers coach Mike McCoy last week that I’m not sure I’d heard before: The famed Wildcat package was actually named after ex-Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez. Back when McCoy was with the Panthers, a decade and a half ago, Carolina unveiled the look with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart running the zone-read. But initially, the idea was borne of building in contingencies if Basanez, an option quarterback in college,and the third-stringer behind Jake Delhomme and Chris Weinke, was forced into action. Basanez’s alma mater? Northwestern. Hence, the Wildcat. From there, then Carolina OC Dan Henning went to Miami with it, and Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams put it on the front page in 2009, and made the term (which is for a personnel package, more than a scheme look) a permanent part of our lexicon. And, of course, the Panthers’ coach responsible for it was John Fox, who wound up being the Broncos’ coach during the Tebowmania season of 2011, which is what McCoy and I were on the phone to talk about, in the wake Tim Tebow’s retirement from baseball. “Yeah, we just took advantage of what Tim did best, and that’s what it’s all about,” McCoy said. “Coaches, players, everyone adjusted to what we did best, and Foxy got everyone to buy-in. Everyone bought into that style, it wasn’t just Tim. And it was exciting, because it was always different, every week.”
• Amid the messiness of the Texans’ situation, a certain perception of GM Nick Caserio has emerged among some NFL people that he’s just “Bill Belichick, Scouting Edition.” And I don’t know if that’s a fair picture to paint. To me, one example that he’s not lies in who he picked to be his head coach—ex-Ravens assistant David Culley. Caserio has told people that he believes you need a different type of coach, more of a unifier, to reach players and build the right culture, than you did in generations past. That’s what Culley is, to be sure. So I do think, at least in one early example in his tenure, and with the biggest decision he’s made to this point, he’s shown that he can veer from the path that was laid out for him over his first couple decades in the NFL.
• And while we’re there, here’s another point: Caserio has shown signs he’ll be more inclusive with his scouts and coaches than New England was in the draft and free-agent process. Caserio oversaw a department in Foxboro that dealt with an exodus of rising stars who didn’t feel involved enough working for the Patriots. And while he was there, those around Caserio saw him evolve from a guy who was uptight and hyper-concerned with carrying himself as a Patriot, so to speak, early in his time as the scouting chief (2009 to ‘11) to someone who was far more comfortable in his own skin and a little less Belichickian, at the end. I’ve maintained all along that Caserio, for all else that went wrong, was a really good hire. And, of course, given the situation brewing around Deshaun Watson, he’ll have to prove he was.
• My buddy Ian Rapoport over at NFL Network reported earlier Monday that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was diagnosed with COVID-19, which was the impetus for the team closing its facility as a precaution last week. As I understand it, it’s also slowed the team’s process a little in resolving the Ben Roethlisberger situation. The sides, of course, do have time to work out some adjustment to the $19 million he’s due in 2021. But the longer it drags out, the more time Pittsburgh has to sniff around other options, as well.
• Cam Newton did a very interesting interview on the I AM ATHLETE podcast with Brandon Marshall, Chad Ochocinco and Fred Taylor. And in it, Newton left the door wide open for a return to New England. Asked if he’d go back on a one-year deal, Newton responded, “Hell yes.” And while explaining his struggles, he spoke of Belichick and Josh McDaniels in fairly reverential terms. I’d say this, too: The Patriots have a full understanding of how a stripped-down skill-position group and the scheme adjustment from Tom Brady handcuffed Newton in Year 1. So I’ll say it again: Do not rule out Newton going back for a second go-round in Foxboro. I don’t think he’ll be back without competition. But I do think based on the way he worked, and how he fit into the culture, he bought himself enough capital in the building to where, if a clear upgrade isn’t available, the Patriots would look at bringing him back.
• I genuinely love this from new Lions coach Dan Campbell, via MLive.com: “I said this to Chris [Spielman] the other day, I was like, ‘I love the fact we’re only known as meatheads. I’m a meathead? I have limited brain capacity? I like [that people think] that. I’m good with that, you know what I mean? I have zero problem with it. That whole press conference was literally for our team and our fans and community and people that want the Lions to succeed. … I want to be in Detroit. I want this job, because I identify with this job. You talk about it fitting like a glove? This thing fits me like no other, because I just feel like I can relate to this. I understand, man. I think I’m kind of a gritty guy, you know? Without trying to toot my own horn, I just know who I am.” This is very, very similar to what Campbell said to me last month after his press conference, and it very much fits a principle that one of Campbell’s mentors, Bill Parcells, had: Don’t talk to the media, talk through the media. The idea was to have another audience in mind. And in his players and his new city, Campbell sure did.
• And to wrap up where we started, here are projections for 2021 transition tags, if the cap lands at the projected figure of $183 million:
QB: $23.08 million
WR: $14.38 million
RB: $7.24 million
TE: $8.20 million
OL: $12.69 million
DE: $13.97 million
DT: $11.78 million
LB: $12.75 million
CB: $13.33 million
S: $9.08 million