It’s the first major step in the offseason where NFL clubs make some of the biggest fiscal decisions regarding the talent on their roster. Teams can exercise their use of the franchise or transition tag beginning on Wednesday to help ensure they’ll either keep one of their most valuable players or be given significant compensation if they can’t.
NFL teams can 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, said 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 clubs elects not to match there is no compensation due.
The deadline for clubs to use either tag is March 1st at 4 pm ET.
Here’s a look at the players who could potentially receive the franchise tag as early as Wednesday.
RB Le’Veon Bell - Pittsburgh
Bell is the only back in the league to play in less than 14 games and finish in the top 10 in rushing yards. The Steelers bell cow back had almost 1,900 yards from scrimmage in 12 games thanks to a suspension. That suspension will probably prompt Pittsburgh to put the one-year tag on Bell allowing them to wait and see if he can stay on the straight and narrow after serving league-imposed suspensions each of the last two years. It’ll cost them a little over $12M based on franchise tag projections for running back.
S Eric Berry - Kansas City
Berry has stated that he doesn’t want to play under the franchise tag in 2017 after doing so this past season. The Chiefs would like to reach a long-term deal, knowing to tag Berry again would actually cost them about $2M more than the projected figure of $11M for safeties ($12.96M). If he’s tagged it is expected to be right at the deadline on March 1st because the Chiefs have another player on their roster to consider as tag worthy (see below).
QB Kirk Cousins - Washington
Washington is boxed into a corner on this one. With a very thin free agent market and a middling cast of quarterback prospects in the draft, the smart move is to lock up Cousins long term after a season in which he finished behind only Drew Brees and NFL MVP Matt Ryan in passing yards with more than 4,900 and a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio.
After tagging him last year, the cost of tagging him again would be almost $24M. It’s time for Washington to commit.
Gilmore has stuck to his conviction that he’s deserving of top five cornerback money. Logging a career-high five interceptions this season and reaching his first Pro Bowl, albeit as an alternate, didn’t hurt. The Bills bought themselves time by picking up his fifth-year option, but now a decision must be made.
Knowing the Bills new defensive scheme is likely to employ more zone concepts, it’s hard to justify paying a cornerback $14-$15M a year. In a year where the cornerback class in the draft is deep, Gilmore might not be worth such a sizable investment.
LB Dont’a Hightower - New England
Did the Patriots jettison Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones the past couple of years so they could back the Brinks truck up for Hightower? It’s possible. New England has used the franchise tag before (2015 Gostkowski; 2012 Welker; 2011 Mankins; 2010 Wilfork; 2009 Cassel; 2007 Samuel; 2005, 2002 Vinatieri; 2003 T. Jones). In most of those cases the player was either signed to a long-term extension, traded or allowed to walk the following year.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Hightower tagged, but a long term agreement is almost sure to follow knowing how important the linebacker is to how things run for the Patriots on the defensive side of the ball.
Top potential free agents at each position pic.twitter.com/8zfD60H8Hg— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 14, 2017
LB Melvin Ingram - L.A. Chargers
The Chargers organization gave Ingram the time needed to develop and were rewarded. Ingram, who has 18 sacks and seven forced fumbles over the last two seasons, looks like a perfect fit for Gus Bradley’s defense. GM Tom Telesco will probably work to strike a long term agreement. The transition tag seems more likely than a franchise tag, but having a book end pass rusher opposite Joey Bosa is critical.
WR Alshon Jeffery - Chicago
With more than $58M in projected cap space for the Bears, tagging their top offensive playmaker at almost $16M a season wouldn’t cripple them as much as other teams. For a roster devoid of game breaking talent, and the likelihood that Chicago will have a new quarterback under center in 2017, it would probably be smart to keep one of their few elite players on the roster. Bears ownership however, is very mercurial so it’s difficult to know where their priorities lie.
OLB Chandler Jones - Arizona
His stats speak loudly enough for Jones’ value to the Cardinals defense. Over the last two seasons he’s posted 23.5 sacks, 39 quarterback hits, eight forced fumbles and an interception. He’d certainly be worthy of a franchise tag designation. Naturally Arizona wants to reach a long-term agreement, but head coach Bruce Arians said at season’s end that they will tag Jones if that’s what it takes to keep him.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul - NY Giants
Coming off a pair of one-year contracts, largely precipitated by his fireworks accident, Pierre-Paul is seeking long term security. That may also be the best course for the Giants, who would have to fork over $17M if the projections on the franchise tag for defensive ends proves accurate.
DT Dontari Poe - Kansas City
Poe is a difference maker in the middle of the Chiefs defense. His impact doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but he’s a critical component in Kansas City’s 3-4 front. In fact there really isn’t anyone else on the roster that can fill his role. With Eric Berry their other franchise tag consideration, the more affordable thing to do would be to franchise or transition Poe and try to get a long term deal done with Berry.
DT Kawann Short - Carolina
The most consistent defensive lineman for the Panthers is going to get paid. After seeing Josh Norman depart after Carolina rescinded the franchise tag, the same will not happen with Short. With an estimated $50M in cap space, they’ll tag him if a long term contract extension cannot be brokered before the free agent market opens.