Tag game fast approaching for NFL clubs

Posted Feb 7, 2018

Teams are finalizing their decisions on whether to place the franchise tag on some of their most talented players. NFL clubs can make use of the tag starting Feb. 20th.

In less than two weeks NFL clubs will begin to decide if the franchise or transition tags are part of the plan for holding onto some of the best players on their rosters this offseason. Beginning Feb. 20th, teams can begin to use the franchise tag on one of their unrestricted free agents.

There is a non-exclusive rights and an exclusive franchise tag that can be employed.

The non-exclusive rights figure is a one-year offer that is the average of the top five salaries at that players’ position or 120 percent of the player’s salary from the previous season, whichever is greater.

Despite being tagged, that player can still negotiate with other clubs on a contract. In the event he signs with another club, the compensation would be two first-round draft selections.

The exclusive franchise tender would be a one-year contract that is the average of the five largest salaries of that year at said player’s position at the conclusion of the restricted free agent period, or 120 percent of their previous year salary, whichever is greater. This player cannot negotiate with other NFL clubs.

The transition tag offers the player a salary equal to the average of the top 10 players at his position. This player can negotiate with other clubs, but his team has the right of first refusal and can match any offer. If the original club elects not to match there is no compensation due.

Teams have until March 6th at 4 pm ET to designate franchise or transition players.

Below is a rundown of which NFL players could be tagged in just a couple of weeks.

Ezekiel Ansah – Detroit
After being forced to run a defense in New England this past season without a premier pass rusher, it’s doubtful that Lions new head coach Matt Patricia would want to part with the Lions best quarterback harasser.

Ansah is coming off a 12-sack season and has 44 total sacks in his five years with Detroit. A long-term agreement would naturally be preferred with Ansah entering his prime at age 28, but the Lions have the cap space to make use of the franchise tag if negotiations hit a snag.

LeVeon Bell – Pittsburgh
Bell was tagged last year, but was unable to reach a long-term deal with the Steelers and thus might be tagged again for 2018 if a long-term agreement cannot be reached.

Pittsburgh and the feature back have been trying to hammer out a multi-year deal, with Bell recently saying he felt like a priority. The Steelers are cap strapped so it would behoove them to get a long-term contract wrapped up before early March, but if they run into issues the tag could be a last resort to buy them more time to complete a new deal.


Kirk Cousins – Washington
As surprising as this might sound, reports did surface that Washington was considering using the tag on Cousins for a third straight year in an effort to get compensation for him in return. If they go through with such a plan, it would obviously be the non-exclusive tag, which would allow Cousins’ agent to negotiate with other teams.

Of course Cousins could jam up Washington if tagged, by not signing the tag, which would be about $34.5M and prevent them from moving him. But odds are Cousins would want out and facilitate that by signing the tag.

It’s an unlikely plan, but we are talking about Washington here.

Jimmy Garoppolo – San Francisco
After his 5-0 mark as a starter down the stretch in 2017, the 49ers are more convinced than ever to sign Garoppolo to a long-term contract extension. Should those negotiations take longer than anticipated however, the tag will very much come into play.

The tag would be north of $23M for the 49ers, but it would be worth the extra four months of time to get a long-term deal finalized.

Jimmy Graham – Seattle
The franchise tag for a 31-year old tight end is not an ideal way for the Seahawks to tie up cap space knowing they’re already heavily invested in a lot of big name players. The tight end franchise tag is likely to be more than $10M per season.

If the Seahawks do want Graham back, a short two or three-year deal worth around $7M per season should get it done. Seattle may have some cuts to make however, to fit this deal under their cap along with a draft class and other pieces like the defensive tackle below.

Case Keenum – Minnesota
Keenum is coming off a magical season with the Vikings, but Minnesota has a very unusual case with three quarterbacks coming up as free agents simultaneously. Teddy Bridgewater, may or may not be a free agent based on whether the final year of his rookie deal is tolled by the league. A decision is expected soon. Sam Bradford will be a free agent.

Word out of Minnesota is they want to hold onto Bridgewater, whether he's ruled to have a year left on his rookie deal or is a free agent and move forward with him as their starter. However, coming off what was almost a career-ending knee injury, that commitment would need a viable backup plan.

Bradford is still starting caliber, but his injury history is worse than Bridgewater’s and he can’t be given a cost prohibitive cap figure like a franchise or transition tag.

Signing Bridgewater to a short-term prove-it type deal would be the ideal scenario, then find a way to keep Keenum in the fold to hedge their bets on Bridgewater.

But would they have to resort to a one-year franchise tag for Keenum knowing he’d be interested in testing the market to see if he could start elsewhere?

That doesn’t seem practical or fiscally responsible. It’s a sticky situation in Minnesota.

Jarvis Landry – Miami
Negotiations are underway between the Dolphins and Landry, but reports indicate they’re moving at a snail’s pace. If time runs out on Miami, will they make use of the non-exclusive franchise tag to ensure some form of compensation?

Yes, Landry has caught more passes in his first four years than any other players in league history, but he’s a possession receiver, not a game breaker. Does that warrant a tag of almost $16.5M?

It’s not like the Dolphins are devoid of receiver talent on their roster.

DeMarcus Lawrence – Dallas
A 14.5-sack season and four forced fumbles is going to earn the Cowboys pass rusher a lot of money.

All indications are Lawrence is the Cowboys’ top priority this offseason, and with more cap room than they usually have, Dallas is likely to complete a long-term agreement with the pass rusher.

The franchise tag would be a last resort.

Andrew Norwell – Carolina
The Panthers guard playing on a one-year restricted free agent tender had a banner year and made first team All-Pro. Carolina will be pushing hard to sign him to a long-term contract knowing the franchise tag for offensive linemen is the same across the board.

As well as Norwell played, the Panthers don’t want to pay him like an elite offensive tackle, so a multi-year deal is the only option Carolina would want to pursue.

Sheldon Richardson – Seattle
Just 27-years old, the defensive tackle is a no-brainer to keep in the fold, especially after giving up a second-round pick and WR Jermaine Kearse to acquire him from the New York Jets.

A multi-year deal certainly makes more sense than a $14.5M franchise tag, knowing Seattle’s cap situation doesn’t offer tons of latitude. Whether they achieve that with Richardson or Graham (above) first will bear watching, knowing it will inevitably impact the other.

Sammy Watkins – L.A. Rams
Watkins didn’t rack up a ton of yardage in his first season with the Rams, but did put up eight touchdowns in 15 games. GM Les Snead is committed to keeping the receiver on their roster. The question is at what cost?

With other receivers outperforming him on the Rams roster last season can they tag Watkins at $16M?

Los Angeles will likely try to find common ground on a long-term contract before early March to try to avoid such a scenario.

Rams safety LaMarcus Joyner is another consideration, but it’s rare for safeties to be franchised.