The NFL's franchise and transition tag window opens today, a period where teams can place a one-year tender on an impending free agent in order to keep them under contract and continue to negotiate a long-term deal. If a deal isn't reached by July, the tagged player earns a fully guaranteed one-year deal based on the average salary of top players at his position.
The window to tag players will remain open until March 9, about a week before the 2021 league year opens.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the midst of retaining a championship roster, are expected to utilize the tag in some capacity on one of its 30 team-wide imminent free agents. Currently, the Buccaneers are projected to own $28.2 million in salary cap space this offseason, according to Spotrac. A final cap number has not been set by the NFL, but the minimum will be $180 million per team.
The most important questions are: Which franchise tag candidate would be logistical as the Buccaneers balance out their cap table, and will that player accept a one-year contract?
For a refresher on the three different types of tenders - the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags, and the transition tag - click here.
Tampa Bay has two realistic candidates to receive a tag: Wide receiver Chris Godwin, and edge rusher Shaq Barrett. It would be unrealistic to expect older veterans such as linebacker Lavonte David, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, tight end Rob Gronkowski, or kicker Ryan Succop to take on such a high salary.
Barrett was franchise-tagged an offseason ago and is looking to cash in on a long-term deal this offseason, but is technically still eligible to receive the tag two more times. He would see a pay increase each time should he play under the tag.
Barrett has made it known repeatedly, however, that now is the time to establish long-term financial security for his family. After an eight-sack regular season followed by another four in the playoffs, the likelihood that Barrett would actually play on the franchise tag again is minimal.
Although, upgrading his tender from non-exclusive to exclusive - ensuring a salary that meets the average of the top five edge rusher contracts in the NFL - and utilizing it simply as a placeholder to set up a long-term contract after free agency could be in both parties' best interest if a deal isn't reached beforehand.
Franchise-tagging Barrett for a second time would cost the Buccaneers about $19 million in 2021, should he play under a tag to the surprise of everyone.
Barrett stands out as Tampa Bay's prized, priority free agent this offseason, but Godwin presents his own argument in favor of receiving the franchise tag as well.
Godwin has only played on a rookie deal to this point in his career and has made $3.3 million in four years to show for it. Scoring 24 touchdowns and posting over 3,500 receiving yards along the way, Godwin has earned himself a pay raise this offseason too.
If he is willing, Godwin could go about it the way Barrett did by taking on the tender for a big salary next year - but one the team could manage - and set himself up for a long-term contract in 2022.
Godwin is considered by all accounts as a team-first, selfless person. Although it is unknown how he feels about any of the tag options, one could assume Godwin wouldn't hold out from the team or do something equally dramatic should he receive the tender. Tampa Bay surely would like to keep Godwin in red and pewter for the foreseeable future, but money is tight and it will be no easy feat to keep everyone.
The 2021 wide receiver franchise tag is projected to equate to $16.4 million, while the transition tag projects to $14.3 million.
If you're looking to place a bet on who Tampa Bay will place a franchise (or transition, but that seems less likely) tag on this offseason, Godwin would make the most sense. His 2021 cap hit would be a bit more manageable at the wide receiver position, while simultaneously putting life-changing money in his bank account and putting him on a path to sign a long-term contract next year.
One thing is definite, however: Tampa Bay wants to make Barrett and Godwin Buccaneers for life. If the team can find a way to make that happen for both players this offseason, it will.