The annual window for application of the franchise and transition tag opens on Tuesday, providing teams with roughly two weeks to decide whether to apply either restriction on otherwise allowing the player to head to unrestricted free agency.
So it’s time for our annual (when we remember) look at the candidates for a tag on every team. The teams are grouped by division and conference.
Bills: Left tackle Cordy Glenn is the top, and perhaps only, candidate for the franchise tag. As teams strive to improve their ability to rush the passer, protecting for the passer becomes more important, too. Some will argue that the Bills should consider using the tag on guard Richie Incognito, who had a Pro Bowl year after returning from his NFL exile. But that’s a non-starter because there’s no separate category for guards; the franchise tag for any offensive lineman essentially becomes the franchise tag for left tackles, the highest paid members of the group.
Jets: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is the obvious choice. The question becomes how much they plan to invest in the defensive line over the long haul, given the presence of Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams. They presumably hope to keep quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but not at nearly $20 million for one year.
Dolphins: A premium will be placed on pass rushers, and defensive end Olivier Vernon is one of the few that will be available. The question for the Dolphins is whether that much money can be invested in Vernon, given the investment already made in Ndamukong Suh. Paying big money to Vernon, whether through the tag or a long-term deal, could result in the end of Cam Wake’s time with the team.
Patriots: There’s no one to tag this year.
Ravens: Kicker Justin Tucker makes the most sense for the tag, since the one-year salary is very reasonable in comparison to the open market. The only other alternative is guard Kelechi Osemele. As noted above, however, the absence of position-specific tags for interior offensive linemen means they’ll be paid like the highest-paid left tackles.
Bengals: Cincinnati has several key free agents who could qualify for the tag, including four key defensive backs: cornerback Pacman Jones, cornerback Leon Hall, safety George Iloka, and safety Reggie Nelson. Offensively, tackle Andre Smith and receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are due to hit the market. But will the Bengals feel compelled to give any of them the large, one-year salary that comes from the franchise tag? It’s possible the Bengals will view none of them as so irreplaceable that they should be tagged.
Browns: Safety Tashaun Gipson’s contract year wasn’t strong enough to justify an eight-year salary for 2016. Other candidates include tackle Mitchell Schwartz and receiver Travis Benjamin. Schwartz is the more likely of the two to be tagged, but it won’t be cheap for either guy. Two years ago, the Browns went the transition-tag route with center Alex Mack, and it resulted in an offer sheet from the Jaguars that, although matched by the Browns, gives Mack the ability to walk away this offseason.
Steelers: The Steelers have no impending free agents worthy of either tag.
Titans: One of the benefits of being 5-27 over the last two years is that there’s no reason to tag any of their free agents.
Texans: Punter Shane Lechler turns 40 later this year, but he still has a big leg — and a big role for a team that often needs to play the field-position game.
Colts: Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are headed to free agency, but does either guy merit the tag? Probably not. Kicker Adam Vinatieri also is headed to free agency, but because he has been tagged two prior times during his career he would be eligible for the quarterback level of the franchise tender. Which means he’s not getting tagged.
Chiefs: Safety Eric Berry, the 2015 comeback player of the year, is a guy the Chiefs very much want to keep. The question becomes whether they want him badly enough to apply the franchise tag.
Chargers: Safety Eric Weddle is the primary candidate, but it feels as if the bridges are obliterated based on some bizarre events between team and player from late in the season. Tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green also are due to hit the market, but it would be hard to justify tagging either, given the cost.
Raiders: Tackle Donald Penn is due to hit the market. With the Raiders forced to spend plenty of money to comply with the minimum spending requirements, maybe they’ll consider doing what they have to do to keep around a guy who has started 32 of 32 games with the Raiders. (Even so, it’s still highly unlikely.)
Broncos: Linebacker Von Miller is a no-brainer for the franchise tag, absent a new deal. The Broncos may have to use the exclusive version to prevent another team from loading up an offer sheet and gladly giving up a pair of first-round picks to get him. If they can get Miller signed, defensive lineman Malik Jackson could be tagged. Quarterback Brock Osweiler almost definitely won’t be, given that the $20 million for 2016 would become the starting point for a long-term deal.
Cowboys: None of the free agents justify the tag.
Eagles: They may want to keep quarterback Sam Bradford, but a one-year franchise tender of $20 million sets the stage for the kind of contract the Eagles would never want to give him.
Giants: Kicker Josh Brown was tagged once by the Seahawks in 2007. He can be tagged one more time before the quarterback tender would apply to him. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul could be tagged a second time, but that’s highly unlikely. Ditto for former first-rounder Prince Amukamara, who hasn’t done enough to merit being tagged a first time.
Washington: Quarterback Kirk Cousins becomes the primary candidate, if the team can’t get him re-signed. But at $20 million for one year, is Cousins really worth it? From his perspective, it makes sense to go year-to-year if tagged, since he’d be eligible for unrestricted free agency or a tag of $24 million in 2017. That’s $44 million over two years, far more than Washington (or anyone else) would offer on a long-term deal now.
Vikings: The good news for the Vikings is that they made the playoffs. The better news is that they have no key free agents that would require tagging this year.
Packers: Kicker Mason Crosby is the primary candidate. Perhaps the only candidate.
Bears: Receiver Alshon Jeffery could be tagged, but will the Bears want to invest eight figures in a guy who underachieved in 2015, and who some suggest wasn’t playing through injury in order to avoid racking up bad performances?
Falcons: The Falcons have no free agents that would justify use of the tag.
Buccaneers: In 2015, the Bucs opted not to exercise the fifth-year option on running back Doug Martin’s contract. That makes it very hard to justify using the much more expensive franchise tag now.
Saints: There’s no one to tag; tight end Benjamin Watson would merit some debate, but not much given his age. With quarterback Drew Brees counting for $30 million in 2016, they need to save their money.
Panthers: Cornerback Josh Norman undoubtedly will be tagged absent a long-term deal.
Cardinals: Despite a 13-3 season, the Cardinals have no free agents worthy of the investment associated with the franchise tag.
Rams: Four key starters in the secondary are due to hit the market, and cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins could be candidates for the tag. Kicker Greg Zuerlein also is a possibility, at a much lower investment.
Seahawks: Some have said that agent Russell Okung’s biggest fear is that tackle Russell Okung will be slapped with the franchise tag. Agent Russell Okung should welcome it, if he gets it. He won’t be getting it. Neither will linebacker Bruce Irvin. Punter Jon Ryan possibly could. The best news for the Seahawks is they won’t need it to keep quarterback Russell Wilson around.
49ers: Defensive tackle Ian Williams has become a reliable nose tackle, but it would be a shock if he’s tagged. Kicker Phil Dawson was tagged twice by the Browns; if the 49ers tag him, he’ll be entitled to quarterback money.