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Tuesday is the first day NFL teams can place the franchise and transition tags on players and in so doing protect their rights to those pending free agents.
And Tuesday might not exactly offer a flurry of activity because teams actually have until March 9 to decide whether to use their tags.
But what is more likely to happen is teams will begin to press harder to get their best and brightest stars signed to long-term contracts to avoid using those tags — all of which go on the salary cap in a one-year lump sum when used.
So, make no mistake, teams realize the two-week tag window is a milestone and it means free agency is around the corner. Free agency begins March 15 with the legal negotiating window during which teams can talk to representatives for pending free agents on other teams. Official signings can begin with the new league year starting March 17.
And, you’re asking, what does all this mean tangibly for the Miami Dolphins?
Let me burst a couple of bubbles of joy for you to start off:
The Dolphins have no player they’re going to employ a franchise tag on. The team’s unrestricted free agents are Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Breida, DeAndre Washington, Julien Davenport, Ted Karras, Davon Godchaux, Vince Biegel, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Elandon Roberts, Kavon Frazier, and Matt Haack.
And the club has not indicated to any agent representing those players they have designs on using the franchise tag on their clients.
(The club, on the other hand, has told many of those agents not to share information with reporters but that’s another story for another day).
Anyway, it’s not just about the team telling agents their intentions. The fact is none of those players is at a level that would warrant a franchise tag.
That’s generally bad news because it means the Dolphins don’t have so many talented players that the supply has outstripped the team’s ability to sign them all.
The other bit of sad face news coming your way?
NFL teams generally are not excited to give up on great players. So they work really, really hard to keep them under contract. Or they use the franchise tag them.
And that’s terrible for the fan bases of not-so-great teams that want to see their clubs improve by adding those players. Like the Dolphins.
Dolphins fans want their team to add several upstanding free agents to improve the roster and the team’s chance of making the playoffs. And, obviously, receiver is a key spot of interest.
That’s why Dolphins sites have focused on Miami possibly signing Tampa Bay receiver Chris Godwin if he becomes a free agent.
And they’ve focused on Miami possibly signing Chicago’s Allen Robinson if he becomes a free agent.
But neither, unfortunately, is likely to actually reach unfettered free agency.
Tampa Bay has designs on re-signing Godwin, according to an NFL source, and Chicago is also hopeful of retaining Robinson. And if, in the extreme, long-term deals are not reached in the next couple of weeks, both teams are likely to use the franchise tag on those players.
So the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers intend to use upwards of $15 million to tag Godwin if no deal is soon signed. And the Bears, which used the franchise tag on Robinson in 2020, are expecting they’ll sign Robinson and if not, he’ll be tagged again at around $18 million.
Great, so how about Detroit’s Kenny Golladay. He played only five games in 2020 due to injuries and the Lions need to make several moves to get under the the expected $180 million to $185 million salary cap.
So it seems Golladay might be a logical candidate for Miami to chase once free agency starts. Except the Lions have four other receivers also headed to free agency so they’re not simply going to let the entire receiver room walk away.
They’re going to try to keep their best guy.
That’s perhaps the reason NFL.com reported Monday that Golladay is expected to be tagged if the team cannot strike a long-term deal. In other words, he’s unlikely to get away.
One Lions receiver who would like to join the Dolphins is Marvin Jones Jr. He caught 76 passes for 978 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2020 and is looking to play for a team he sees as an emerging contender. So keep that name in mind.
And now understand this: All these players are franchise tag candidates for a reason. They’re very good. But because of that, they are very expensive.
The tag numbers for such players are often considered the negotiating floor by their agents.
And with $26 million to $29 million in expected salary cap space (barring restructures or cap-clearing cuts) the Dolphins are unlikely to orbit that stratosphere for multiple players.
It’s also hard to imagine them trading for one of those players and then paying him, thus using both draft and cap resources to add one player.
So it’s going to require some strange circumstance for the Dolphins get any of the fun, big-play receivers whose names you just read are franchise tag candidates.