MAQB: We're Still Waiting on the Salary Cap as the Franchise Tag Deadline Arrives

Only one player has been tagged, as we wait for the NFL's 2021 salary cap. Plus, what does the future hold for Trent Williams and Von Miller, which players may be expected to step into bigger roles and why hasn't the booth umpired been instituted already?
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We’re still waiting for the 2021 salary cap number, which will lead to franchise tags being assigned and a bloodletting of high-priced veterans. Here’s what you need to know as of close of business Monday afternoon.

49ers OT Trent Williams, Broncos LB Von Miller and Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin

• The franchise tag deadline is, for now, hours away, set for 4 p.m. ET Tuesday. There’s a chance it’ll get moved, of course, since the cap is part of the calculation and the cap hasn’t been set yet. But it’s at least notable that 13 days into the tag period, there’s been just one executed—the Broncos franchising Justin Simmons. In the case of Simmons, since it’s his second tag, Denver does have the benefit of knowing his number ($13.792 million, which is 120% of his cap figure from 2020). But there’s more to the fact that teams haven’t used the tags yet. One is that in some cases, like Tampa Bay’s (with Chris Godwin and Shaq Barrett), there are two players worthy of being franchised, and not tagging one right away allows the team to hold the threat of that tag over both in negotiations on a longer-term deal. Two is that holding back the tag does allow a team to use it on someone else if they can reach a deal with the guy they’d intended it for. And three is that the actual cap number, and not its calculation in the franchise tag formula, is complicating things. One problem with the tag is it’s a single-year, lump-sum payment, and in a tight-cap environment that means even a $5 million difference in the ceiling could mean tagging someone results in someone else losing their job—a reality that would be enough for some teams to slow the process down. And clearly, the process has been slowed down by all of this.

• The top of the free-agent market annually has one trap that will likely endure this year—pandemic be damned—where teams project players into bigger roles than they’ve previously played, and pay them accordingly. To me, the ultimate example of this is from my childhood. Alvin Harper was the No. 2 receiver in Dallas to Michael Irvin on two championship teams and was fantastic in that role. Then, Tampa signed Harper in 1995 to be the Bucs’ No. 1. And while he produced, and actually had career numbers his first year there, he didn’t live up to the deal he was signed to and was gone two years later. To me, the two Bengals’ defensive free agents, William Jackson and Carl Lawson, may be those sorts of guys. It’s possible Godwin could prove to be too, without Mike Evans opposite him (I think Godwin will get tagged, which would make this point moot). Pittsburgh’s Bud Dupree, who broke out after T.J. Watt became a full-fledged star, could be another. There are usually a lot of these types on the market—they often make it there because their teams have paid the other guy already. And it’s something worth keeping on your radar.

• A sneaky big story: The impending free agency of 32-year-old left tackle Trent Williams. The Niners, upon trading for him, agreed not to franchise him, giving Williams an open path to the market. It’s not often that an elite blindside tackle, regardless of age, makes it to free agency. I think, all things being equal, Williams wants to keep playing for Kyle Shanahan. But I also know that things could go a little haywire if Williams makes it to the market. And if he were to bolt, it might lock the Niners into taking a tackle with the 12th pick, which isn’t ideal, even if it’s a very strong year at the position.

• There are lots of NFL folks wondering about the future of Von Miller right now—the eight-time Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl 50 MVP is heading into the final year of the blockbuster deal he signed in 2016, due $18 million, turning 32 this month and coming off an eight-sack season (and having just been cleared after a criminal investigation that lasted nearly two months). New GM George Paton has said, on the record, that he wants Miller back. The next question is at what price, and whether the Broncos would be O.K. going forward with his current number (I don't think they will be). Denver is likely to have between $40 million and $50 million in breathing room, so it’s not like they can’t find room. It’s more how they see the value there, in tandem with other plans (i.e. a Simmons’s extension) for this offseason. I’d expect some sort of closure being reached in the coming days, with Miller having been back in the building on Monday. And I do think there’d be interest in him, if he became available.

• Keep an eye on Ryan Fitzpatrick being a viable option for a team that might not like its options at the quarterback position in 2021 and is looking to tread water for a year. To me, Washington has always made sense there, presuming the team doesn’t land a Deshaun Watson type. Ron Rivera’s team is ready to win now, with an ascending defense and some intriguing young talent on offense, and Fitzpatrick could give them the chance to for maybe $5 million or $6 million per year. The Football Team has the 20th pick in the draft. They have a couple young guys they like (Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke). Getting Fitzpatrick, to me, would achieve two goals—both giving them a solid for-now answer that wouldn’t require a long-term commitment, and allowing them to wait on taking a big swing for another year.

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• One thing I was able to glean from the coaches subcommittee proposing the booth umpire to the competition committee last week was the point that, I’m told, Titans coach Mike Vrabel made in the meeting: “If this works, it could take replay out of the game.” Vrabel’s right, too. The Ravens’ proposal to have a booth umpire, which almost passed last year, is to have an eighth member of the officiating crew upstairs with access to all the broadcast feeds through the league’s Hawkeye technology (which gives the user fingertip access to all the camera feeds the network’s director has), calling down to correct only obvious misses—the kind the rest of us can see immediately, plain as day on TV. So if those are being taken care of by the booth umpire, you know what’s being eliminated? That’s right, coaches’ challenges. Which, of course, would speed up, rather than slow down, games. To me, this is all a very common sense effort to give the officiating crew the advantage that 20 million people at home have for every game they’re watching, which is to see the game from all angles. I actually think it’s kind of ridiculous this has been voted in already.

• While we’re there, I think it’s notable that the booth umpire proposal has the support of Walt Anderson, who served as a field official for 24 seasons before moving to the league office as a senior vice president last year. Per the proposal, Anderson would train the booth umpires.

• I found this interesting from Eagles tackle Jason Peters, discussing now ex-teammate Carson Wentz on Sirius XM Radio: “One thing I do know about Frank [Reich], he’s gonna put Carson in the best position. He’s not just going to let [Wentz] just go out there [and] have bad mechanics, or just go out there and throw bad balls. He’s going to put him in the best spots. He’s going to correct him when he’s wrong, and vice versa. They’re going to communicate with each other and all that good stuff.” When Reich was in Philly, he handled a lot of scheming the offense to Wentz’s strengths, while QB coach John DeFilippo drilled him on mechanics. Presumably, then, the mechanical work here—if Reich wants to delegate it—could go to recently promoted offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and Wentz’s old friend Press Taylor. And if Wentz rebounds mechanically? Then, I think the well-regarded Brady would have a pretty clear path to becoming a head coach pretty soon.

• I should’ve mentioned this in the MMQB column, but good on the Bills getting Micah Hyde signed to a two-year extension, a well-deserved reward for a really good player. Hyde and fellow safety Jordan Poyer were both signed during Sean McDermott’s first offseason in Buffalo, and they’ve been underrated, vital pieces to what’s been a very successful rebuild.

• On International Women’s Day, Linda Wilson Bogdan should be remembered in our pro-football world. The daughter of Bills founder Ralph Wilson, she was a Bills scout for decades, and the first full-time woman scout in league history (she grew up with my dad in suburban Detroit, and was great to me at games when I was a kid). A true trailblazer, Bogdan was, for a long time, the only woman in her profession, and paved the way for others to walk down her path. Bogdan passed away in 2009. Pretty cool legacy she left.