Players hate the franchise tag, but it’s a necessity for NFL teams.
Instead of letting their best players hit free agency, teams can use the franchise tag. A non-exclusive tag means teams can match any offer sheet to their player, or get two first-round picks as compensation. An exclusive franchise tag means their player can’t even negotiate with anyone else (NFL.com set out the rules of the game in detail here, and here were the estimated tag costs for each position).
The deadline to tag a player this year is March 1, and many teams started making their decisions on Monday. Some still could use the tag by the deadline. Here’s where we stand on who has already been tagged (or reportedly will get it before Wednesday’s deadline), who won’t be tagged, and who might still be tagged:
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell
This was an easy call. The Steelers rode Bell hard down the stretch, got to an AFC championship game, and they were not letting him hit free agency. They’re not even letting him negotiate with other teams, giving him the exclusive tag. Bell might be the most talented back in the NFL and the estimated $12.4 million tag is well worth it.
Verdict: Had to be done.
Washington Redskins QB Kirk Cousins
The Redskins have screwed this up pretty bad, as Charles Robinson wrote about Monday, but they’re not letting Cousins go. Cousins’ agent Mike McCartney said the Redskins have put the exclusive franchise tag on Cousins, which means he can’t negotiate with anyone else. There has been a lot said about what Cousins is worth. That’s fine, but here’s reality: Cousins threw for almost 5,000 yards last season and Washington had no other option. Teams that don’t have a good quarterback overpay with contracts, trades and draft picks until they find one. So Washington weren’t going to let Cousins walk, however (though, maybe a trade will happen?). It will get very interesting next offseason, however, if Cousins doesn’t sign a long-term deal and price to tag him again will be more than $30 million. Yikes.
Verdict: The exclusive tag makes it clear that the Redskins had no intentions of moving on.
Los Angeles Chargers OLB Melvin Ingram
Ingram would have been one of the top free agents available if he hit the market. He improved tremendously the past two seasons, had 18.5 sacks, and will be just 28 years old next season. But on Monday night the Chargers ended any speculation and tagged Ingram at a cost of about $14.1 million.
Verdict: It was the smart move; you can’t lose a good pass rusher like this.
Los Angeles Rams CB Trumaine Johnson
Last offseason the Rams basically picked Johnson over Janoris Jenkins, giving Johnson the franchise tag. Jenkins had a fantastic season with the New York Giants and Johnson couldn’t repeat his fine 2015 with the Rams. Even though a second franchise tag for Johnson is more than $16 million, an enormous figure for a cornerback off a so-so season, the ESPN's Adam Schefter said the Rams are expected to use it on him. The Rams don’t want to lose Johnson for nothing, but that's a steep price. Verdict: If the Rams use the tag, they better get a long-term deal done because that price is way too high.
">Rams decided Wednesday to use it on him.
Verdict: It’s understandable why the Rams wouldn’t want to lose Johnson, but that’s a hefty price.
Arizona Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones
Giving Jones the tag had to be part of the thought process when they traded the Patriots for Jones last year. The Cardinals said all along they would tag Jones and on Monday they made it official, to nobody’s surprise.
Verdict: You couldn’t trade a second-round pick and lose Jones after one season, so it was the obvious move to tag him.
New York Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul
The Giants didn’t want to let Pierre-Paul go so they will tag him, even though Pierre-Paul has made it clear he didn’t want a third straight one-year deal. And the two sides are nowhere near a long-term deal, according to the New York Post.
Verdict: A long-term deal could get done, but it won’t be until right before the July 15 deadline.
Carolina Panthers DT Kawann Short
Part of the strange and inexplicable move to let Josh Norman go last year was the thought that the savings could go to an extension for Short. That didn’t happen. So the Panthers had to tag Short to make sure he didn’t hit free agency. Now Panthers fans have to hope general manager Dave Gettleman doesn’t revoke it in a fit of impatience, like he did with Norman. Just kidding … we think.
Verdict: The Panthers couldn’t afford to let Short go, so they had no choice.
REPORTEDLY WON’T BE TAGGED
New England Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower
It seemed like tagging Hightower was a low-risk move because the Patriots have so much cap space, but the team has told Hightower he won’t be tagged. A deal with the Patriots could get done before free agency starts March 9, but Hightower can test the market if he wants. Hightower is already a Patriots legend, even if he leaves: Without two enormous plays by Hightower in New England’s last two Super Bowls, the Patriots might have lost both games.
Verdict: It seemed like the Patriots would tag him but Bill Belichick knows best, right?
Chicago Bears WR Alshon Jeffery
The Bears never wanted to give a long-term deal to Jeffery, and they found themselves stuck either losing him for nothing this offseason or paying a ton to franchise him again. The Bears tagged him last year and the reported cost to tag him again would be more than $17 million. That’s steep for any receiver, and Jeffery isn’t Julio Jones. It was no surprise that reports said the Bears aren’t going to tag Jeffery again.
Verdict: It’s not fun to lose talented players, but Jeffery can’t stay healthy and that tag was expensive. This was the right call.
Kansas City Chiefs DT Dontari Poe
After the Chiefs signed a long-term deal with safety Eric Berry on Tuesday, it seemed they could then tag Poe to keep two important defensive pieces. But ESPN and NFL Network reported that Poe was not expected to get the franchise tag, and can hit free agency.
Verdict: While signing Berry was great, letting Poe walk for nothing would be a step back for the defense.
Cleveland Browns WR Terrelle Pryor
Cleveland.com reported the Browns still don’t plan to tag Pryor, and that doesn’t make a ton of sense. So many times, a player’s “worth” gets debated. Is Pryor “worth” the receiver franchise tag of more than $15 million after one good season at receiver? Maybe not. But the Browns have more than $100 million in cap room and can’t afford to keep losing good players. It would be disheartening for the Browns to see Pryor walk with nothing in return. The plan appears to be to sign Pryor to a long-term deal before March 9, but why not tag him and make sure he doesn’t leave?
Verdict: If Pryor walks because the Browns didn’t want to use the tag with all that cap room, that’s terrible management.
COULD STILL BE TAGGED
Houston Texans CB A.J. Bouye
Bouye is a great story, an undrafted player who has become a very good cornerback. But the Texans have a lot invested in cornerback already, and it’s hard to see them investing a large salary cap number in another. Bouye is in a great position to cash in.
Buffalo Bills CB Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore can be inconsistent, but his best is very good and the Bills don’t have anyone better. But new coach Sean McDermott preferred zone coverages as the Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator, and remember that the Panthers felt last year they didn’t need All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman anymore. So the new regime might not value him enough to tag him. Add in that the Bills don’t have a ton of cap room and it seems like Gilmore will be a free agent.
Verdict: Probably won’t happen.
Cincinnati Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick/G Kevin Zeitler
The Bengals don’t often use the franchise tag, so they probably won’t use it on Kirkpatrick, a solid cornerback, or Zeitler, a reliable guard the team drafted in the first round five years ago. The Bengals don’t want to use either player, but neither seem to be worth the franchise tag.
Verdict: No franchise tag for Cincinnati, though maybe a transition tag is possible.
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