FMIA: Reality Not So Nice For Patriots As Rob Gronkowski, Best Tight End of His Era, Walks Away From Football

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Rob Gronkowski’s retirement was the talk of the annual NFL Meetings in Phoenix on Sunday. Writing from the Arizona Biltmore lobby, Peter King begins his Football Morning in America column with a look back on Gronk’s career and how the Patriots are impacted by his retirement. Plus:

• The pass-interference replay solutions under discussion in Arizona, and the likelihood of any of them passing

• A Nobel Prize winner explains why the Raiders were the big winners in the Khalil Mack trade with the Bears.

• More thoughts, notes and opinions on the Colin Kaepernick settlement; Robert Kraft’s apology; fair play in overtime; the past decade for Chris Spielman; the quiet retirement of Malcolm Mitchell

• Plus 10 things, factoids, beernerdness, three interesting pro days and my long-awaited season picks for baseball. [more]

A closer look at the onside kick alternative

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At next week’s owners’ meeting, the NFL will consider an alternative to the onside kick that would allow teams that score a touchdown or field goal — or teams that give up a safety — in the fourth quarter to elect not to kick off and instead line up their offense for a fourth-and-15 play from the 35-yard line. If they get to the 50, they keep the ball.

The rule has been proposed because last year’s changes to the kickoff made onside kicks harder to recover successfully. Picking up a fourth-and-15 isn’t easy to do either, but some teams may think it’s easier than recovering an onside kick.

Teams will only be permitted to try the fourth-and-15 once a game, and only in the fourth quarter, so we won’t see a team trying it in a surprising situation early in a game. Teams may not punt on the play.

Here’s the full text of the proposed new rule:

A team may elect once per game during the fourth period to play offense instead of a kickoff or safety kick. The following rules will apply if such an election is made:

(1) The kicking team must notify the referee of its intention to forego a kickoff or safety kick for one offensive play. The referee will then notify the team that would otherwise be receiving the kickoff or safety kick.

(2) The ball will be spotted on the kicking team’s restraining line and the kicking team will have one scrimmage down on offense to gain 15 yards (4th and 15) to the line to gain. The sideline chain unit will be placed five yards ahead of A’s restraining line and the first down marker will be placed 15 yards from A’s restraining line (40 yard-line to the 50-yard line on a normal kickoff play when the restraining line is the 35-yard line).

(3) Play clock will be set to 25 seconds and winds on the ready for play signal. Game clock starts on the snap, and normal NFL timing rules apply.

(4) Standard scrimmage play rules apply.

(5) If the offense reaches the line to gain, the offense retains possession of the ball and the customary rules are in effect. If the defense stops the offense, the defense assumes possession at the resulting yard line of the play.

(6) If the offense is penalized on the one scrimmage down (4th and 15), the offense cannot elect to then kickoff after the penalty is enforced. Example: the kicking team may not elect to kick after incurring a holding penalty on the one scrimmage down.

(7) Scrimmage kicks are prohibited.

(8) Nothing in this exception prohibits a team from attempting a legal onside kickoff under Rule 6.

Full list of proposed NFL rules, bylaws and resolution changes for 2019

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The NFL has confirmed that the league will consider 16 proposed rule changes, six proposed bylaw changes and three proposed resolution changes at the March league meeting.

2019 Playing Rule Proposals Summary
1. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 6 to make permanent the kickoff rule changes that were implemented during the 2018 season.

2. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 12 to expand protection to a defenseless player.

3. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 14, Section 5, Article 2 to change the enforcement of double fouls when there is a change of possession.

4. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 11, Section 4, Article 2 to simplify the application of scrimmage kick rules for missed field goals.

5. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 14, Section 2, Article 3 to allow teams to elect to enforce on the succeeding try or on the succeeding free kick an opponent’s personal or unsportsmanlike conduct foul committed during a touchdown.

6. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 15, Section 2 for one year only to expand the reviewable plays in instant replay to include fouls for pass interference; also expands automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any Try attempt (extra point or two-point conversion).

6a. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 15, Section 2 for one year only to expand the reviewable plays in instant replay to include all fouls for pass interference, roughing the passer, and unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture; also expands automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any Try attempt (extra point or two-point conversion).

7 By Kansas City Chiefs; to amend Rule 16 to (1) allow both teams the opportunity to possess the ball at least one time in overtime, even if the first team to possess the ball in overtime scores a touchdown; (2) eliminate overtime for preseason; and (3) eliminate overtime coin toss so that winner of initial coin toss to begin game may choose whether to kick or receive, or which goal to defend.

8. By Denver; to amend Rule 6, Section 1, Article 1 to provide an alternative to the onside kick that would allow a team who is trailing in the game an opportunity to maintain possession of the ball after scoring.

9. By Washington; to amend Rule 15, Section 2 to subject all plays that occur during a game to coaches’ challenge by teams or review by the Officiating department in the instant replay system.

10. By Washington; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, Article 5 to add review of personal fouls as reviewable plays in the instant replay system.

11. By Kansas City; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to add review of personal fouls (called or not called on the field) as plays subject to coaches’ challenge in the instant replay system.

12. By Carolina, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia, and Seattle; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to add review of designated player safety-related fouls (called or not called on the field) as plays subject to coaches’ challenge in the instant replay system.

13. By Philadelphia; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to add scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul to be subject to automatic review in the instant replay system.

14. By Denver; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to add all fourth down plays that are spotted short of the line to gain or goal line to be subject to automatic review in the instant replay system.

15. By Denver; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to add all Try attempts (Extra point or Two-point conversion) to be subject to automatic review in the instant replay system.

16. By Competition Committee; to amend Rule 15, Section 1, Article 5 to allow League personnel to disqualify for both flagrant football and non-football acts.

2019 Bylaw Proposals Summary
1. By Buffalo; to amend Article XVII, Section 17.4 to liberalize the rule for reacquisition of a player assigned via waivers.

2. By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVII, Section 17.1 to provide clubs with more roster flexibility during training camp.

3. By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVIII, Section 18.1 to provide teams more effective access to players during the postseason.

4. By Competition Committee; to amend Article XIV, Section 14.3(B)(8) to make the tiebreaking procedures fairer for the selection meeting.

5. By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVII, Section 17.1 to provide additional roster spots during the preseason.

6. By Competition Committee; to amend Article XVII, Section 12.3 to offer more roster flexibility.

2019 Resolution Proposals Summary
G-1. By Competition Committee; to amend the Anti-Tampering Policy to permit an interested club to contact a Vested Veteran before clubs have been notified of the player’s termination via the Player Personnel Notice if (i) the players is not subject to the Waivers System and, (ii) the employer club has publicly announced the player’s release.

G-2. By Washington; to amend current League practices regarding teams’ post-game officiating inquiries and allow opposing teams to receive the League’s post-game responses to any officiating inquiries submitted by either team.

G-3. Withdrawn, By Philadelphia; to continue the annual tradition of having Dallas and Detroit play on Thanksgiving, provided that one of those clubs host a home game with the other club playing away, and alternating home and away games each subsequent season.

The league should get rid of the legal tampering window

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Free agency began five days ago. But it actually began a week ago, when the legal tampering window opened.

For the first time since the league adopted a negotiating period that implicitly acknowledged the rampant tampering that happens before the official launch of free agency (and ideally ended it), the negotiating period has unfolded in a way that made the illegal tampering even more obvious. Within minutes after the legal tampering window opened, for example, the Raiders and tackle Trent Brown had a four-year, $66 million deal in place. So either Brown accepted the first offer that came from the Raiders (highly unlikely) or the deal was largely done before the time for talking began (very likely).

Brown was the first but not the last. More and more deals were reported throughout Monday and into Tuesday. By the time the party officially began on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, the confetti had fallen, the whiskey bottles had been emptied, and the cigars had been smoked down to a nub.

Thus, if illegal tampering has once again become obvious even with a legal tampering window in place — and if more and more of these deals are going to be reported and dissected long before the free-agency period actually commences — the league should just get rid of the legal tampering window and return to the days when the race starts as the green flag waves, and not multiple laps before.

There’s an important business reason for eliminating the false start to free agency. The NFL currently enjoys three major offseason tentpoles: the Scouting Combine, free agency, and the draft. When the audience believes free agency begins at 4:00 p.m ET on a Wednesday but by Monday night it’s already over, the NFL does a poor job of maximizing the intense interest that naturally and organically by the free-agency process.

A simple fix exists. Instead of opening a legal free agency period, start free agency. So what is there’s tampering before then? Everyone does it, and rarely does anyone get punished for it.

FMIA: How The Odell Deal Got Done, and an NFL Free Agency Wet Blanket

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From start to finish, the Odell Beckham Jr. trade negotiations took half a day. In the latest edition of Football Morning in America, Peter King tells the tale of the quick talks between the Giants and Browns, and also covers:

• Why free agency is fool’s gold, and why expectations should be tempered for the Jets, Browns, Raiders and other “winners” in March.

• Items on all the biggest free-agent moves, from Earl Thomas heading to Baltimore to Le’veon Bell getting the payday he desired in New Jersey.

• More thoughts, notes and opinions on Tyreek Hill’s troubles; the Miami tanking question; the importance of Jabrill Peppers; Mike Mayock’s lessons learned; a defense of Ben Roethlisberger

• Plus 10 things, factoids, beernerdness, a reader’s farewell to fantasy and a word about broadcast attire.
[more]

Full text of memo from NFLPA to agents regarding March 11 meeting

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[Editor’s note: Throughout the past six days, I’ve had multiple conversations and other communications regarding a meeting that occurred on Monday, March 11 between a group of agents and a group of players, in conjunction with the NFLPA’s annual meeting. I spent roughly an hour earlier today writing a story about the meeting. NFLPA Executive Committee member Richard Sherman has taken issue with my characterization of the meeting and the memo issued to all agents by the NFLPA after the meeting, which suggests that the meeting did not go well. Thus, I have decided to post the entire memo, so that there is no misunderstanding. The full memo, with no edits or additions or changes, appears below.]

Dear Contract Advisors,

Congratulations and good luck to all of you during the start of this busy free agency period. In the first 48 hours of free agency, we have seen 79 deals totaling $1.7 billion dollars with $842 million guaranteed. We would also like to remind you that we are here for you and your clients to provide you with any information or counsel as you negotiate free agent deals with NFL clubs. Also, we are in the third-year of the 89% cash spending minimum period, and you should feel free to reach out to us for updates on where each of the clubs stand relative to that CBA requirement. We will be posting updates on social media (@NFLPA) about where teams stand in coming days.

As a continuation of the agent community’s request for more information and collaboration, we wanted to provide a recap of our NFLPA Board of Player Rep Meetings that recently concluded.

For three days, we had nearly 200 NFL players in Miami — our largest turnout ever — for intense discussions about how our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is working, what we may want to change, how to maximize our benefits, and most importantly, how we prepare for the expiration of this current deal in March of 2021. The Executive Committee and Board learned about the history of the CBA, the Lockout in 2011, as well as the major economic portions of the CBA and its operation. We met seven (7) hours a day for three (3) full days so that the players fully understand their options as we prepare for the expiration of the current CBA.

Players are especially serious about preparing for the next round of labor negotiations, and our internal counsel and external counsel were included in all discussions. The meetings also included an auxiliary session where we invited a group of agents to interact with Board members and members of our Executive Committee. The attending agents were: Peter Schaffer, Christina Phillips, Jayson Chayut, Steve Caric, Pat Dye Jr., and Adisa Bakari. Approximately sixty (60) players attended that auxiliary meeting.

Players took to heart the call by this agent group to have a better working relationship and prepare for upcoming labor talks to make greater gains for players. It was in this spirit that they welcomed contract advisors to share their ideas on how we can work better together. During the meeting Peter Schaffer asserted that he represents the bulk – if not all – agents. As a follow- up to the small agent meeting in Indianapolis, players were keenly interested in hearing from the agents about their ideas to prepare for a work stoppage. While the agents who attended the auxiliary session mentioned educating players on the need to save, they offered no specific commitments to create savings plans or engage in specific debt reduction strategies.

The agents in the auxiliary session engaged in some discussion of their positions on certain CBA items like the funding rule and the franchise tags and seemed to be under an impression that those issues were not equally important to players. However, as we have done in previous years, those issues as well as other important issues had been discussed in-depth by players during their sessions throughout the three days of Rep Meetings. Like the agents, we agree that those are items that we would all like to improve and/or change. However, at the auxiliary session, players were dismayed by the lack of any input by the agents on “real world” options when the Owners are likely to push back strongly on changes to these and other economic and restriction issues. For example, there was no discussion on how we should collectively build leverage in order to substantially strengthen players’ ability to effectuate these changes and gains, and/or their plans to prepare players for a lockout or a strike. Rather, at times, the session turned into a lecture on why players “should” believe that these issues are important and almost suggesting that they had the unilateral ability to simply change them. Accordingly, there was a general feeling among the players that the agents came into the session grossly underestimating our players’ understanding of complex CBA/negotiating issues; many of the agents’ remarks focused on emphasizing their value in the CBA negotiation process, and thus the session was clearly not as productive as it could have been.

There was a portion of the meeting when one agent made an unfortunate remark that many players interpreted as extremely condescending, and during a rather heated exchange about the “roles” of the agents in this business, other agents specifically and personally targeted an Executive Committee member about the contract that he signed. The Player leaderships does not know which agents are members of Mr. Schaffer’s representational group, and it may become important that current players know who these agents are in light of some of the comments and information learned during the meeting (including the existence of a derogatory email extolling agents to publicly attack a current player and his decision to represent himself).

The agents also raised their opinion that there is a need to eliminate “inducements” – referring to payments by some agents to some entry level players. The agents did not take the opportunity to raise:

• agents’ fees;
• any ongoing concerns of the 1.5% default fee on the SRA; or
• the efforts of agents regarding continuing education.

One of the items of business that our player leadership implemented during the resolutions portion of Rep Meeting was passage of a resolution regarding “inducements” that agents wanted us to consider. We would like feedback from all agents regarding this issue, and a copy of that resolution is attached.

Following the auxiliary meeting, every member of the NFLPA Executive Committee voted to share the following statement:

“We do believe that agents can play an important role in helping to prepare our men for issues that matter to us, and we will continue to seek input, as we have in the past. We want to emphasize that contract advisors are, above all else, agents of this Player’s Union, and all agents owe a fiduciary duty to their clients and the collective body of players. The invitation extended to the agents to attend the auxiliary meeting was done in the hope of building better relationships and to provide a constructive conversation as we prepare for the expiration of the CBA. However, both the tone and specific statements by some of the agents showed an overall lack of understanding of the role of the elected player leadership and at times specifically demonstrated a lack of respect for the rights of players to represent themselves if they so choose.”

NFLPA, agents at odds as CBA talks near (and the owners love it)

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Lost in the commencement of free agency was the climax to long-lingering hostilities between the NFL Players Association and the agents who represent players in contract negotiations.

A session between a group of players and a group of agents happened on Monday in conjunction with the NFLPA’s annual meetings. Based on communications with multiple sources, it did not go well. With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring in less than two years, that will be music to the ears of the folks who have billions in their bank accounts.

PFT has obtained a copy of a memo sent by the NFLPA to all registered contract advisors explaining the tone and content of the meeting between approximately 60 players and six agents: Peter Schaffer, Christina Phillips, Jayson Chayut, Steve Caric, Pat Dye Jr., and Adisa Bakari.

“[P]layers were dismayed by the lack of any input by the agents on ‘real world’ options when the Owners are likely to push back strongly on changes to these and other economic and restriction issues,” the memo explains. “For example, there was no discussion on how we should collectively build leverage in order to substantially strengthen players’ ability to effectuate these changes and gains, and/or their plans to prepare players for a lockout or a strike. Rather, at times, the session turned into a lecture on why players ‘should’ believe that these issues are important and almost suggesting that they had the unilateral ability to simply change them. Accordingly, there was a general feeling among the players that the agents came into the session grossly underestimating our players’ understanding of complex CBA/negotiating issues; many of the agents’ remarks focused on emphasizing their value in the CBA negotiation process, and thus the session was clearly not as productive as it could have been.”

More will be written in subsequent items here about the economic and restriction issues. To the extent that the agents shared hard truths with players on key topics (for example, the owners will not relinquish the franchise tag without a major concession in return), the players shouldn’t shoot the messenger. To the extent that the players want to make significant gains in the next CBA (for example, getting rid of the franchise tag), the agents should realize that their role isn’t to tell the players why shouldn’t want these things but how they could at least try to go about getting them.

Based on the memo, it appears that one specific incident caused angst and concern among the players.

“During the meeting Peter Schaffer asserted that he represents the bulk — if not all — agents,” the memo explains. “There was a portion of the meeting when one agent made an unfortunate remark that many players interpreted as extremely condescending, and during a rather heated exchange about the ‘roles’ of the agents in this business, other agents specifically and personally targeted an Executive Committee member about the contract that he signed,” the memo explains. “The Player leadership does not know which agents are members of Mr. Schaffer’s representational group, and it may become important that current players know who these agents are in light of some of the comments and information learned during the meeting (including the existence of a derogatory email extolling agents to publicly attack a current player and his decision to represent himself).”

The member of the Executive Committee mentioned in the memo is Richard Sherman, and the reference is to the contract he negotiated for himself in 2018. A year later, multiple agents continue to believe it was a bad deal, and Sherman and other players (like Russell Okung, another member of the Executive Committee) continue to be upset about the criticism of Sherman’s deal.

The memo concludes with a statement from the NFLPA Executive Committee: “We do believe that agents can play an important role in helping to prepare our men for issues that matter to us, and we will continue to seek input, as we have in the past. We want to emphasize that contract advisors are, above all else, agents of this Player’s Union, and all agents owe a fiduciary duty to their clients and the collective body of players. The invitation extended to the agents to attend the auxiliary meeting was done in the hope of building better relationships and to provide a constructive conversation as we prepare for the expiration of the CBA. However, both the tone and specific statements by some of the agents showed an overall lack of understanding of the role of the elected player leadership and at times specifically demonstrated a lack of respect for the rights of players to represent themselves if they so choose.”

Schaffer provided a statement to PFT regarding the meeting, which as one source in the room explained to PFT ultimately resulted in progress, despite some difficult discussions early in the process.

“We want to thank the NFL Players Association for inviting several agents to attend the recent auxiliary meeting of the NFLPA Board of Representatives,” Schaffer said. “The agents in attendance were selected by the NFLPA, and represented a cross-section on the agent community and participated in the interest of solidarity and cohesion with all members of the NFLPA, in order to work together to build a strong relationship to identify both problems within our common interest profession, and solutions. The opportunity to have such varying perspectives and sharing of viewpoints in one room, particularly as we prepare for the upcoming expiration of our labor agreement, is rare and unique. It is step forward that the NFLPA allowed for and heard suggestions that led to spirited debates, without which there can be no real solutions and transparency. The agents attending shared with the players a common heartfelt passion for both the business and game of professional football. We look forward to future opportunities for various groups of agents and members of the NFLPA to gather and continue a dialogue for the betterment of all current, former and future NFL players.”

However it plays out from here, the union and the agents need to find a way to work together. Relentless criticism by agents of the 2011 CBA — criticism which often ignores the reality that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith negotiated the best deal possible when faced with a workforce not inclined to miss a single game check — has slowly and surely pushed the two parties apart. It’s time for them to resolve those difference and get on the same page.

Which means that, initially, the players need to get on the same page about the agents, and the agents need to get on the same page about the players. Eventually, they will be facing a group of NFL and ownership representatives who have been on the same page for decades. And they will be intent on keeping the gains made in 2011 (they’ll say the current agreement works for both sides), they will try to get more, possibly under the threat of a lockout, and absent a lockout they will dare players to strike.

Unless players are willing to strike and make it stick for a full season, they need to be ready to use all other available tools in order to get the best possible deal, the kind of deal that both sides will be happy with over the long haul, ensuring the kind of labor peace that will fuel the ongoing growth of a game from which players, agents, owners, and many others benefit. That won’t happen until players and agents are operating in unison, the way that the owners always do and always will.

And if the players and agents can’t come together, the owners will win. Again.

The full details of the Le’Veon Bell contract

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Various summaries of the new contract signed this week by Jets running back Le'Veon Bell have emerged since Bell put pen to paper. PFT has obtained a copy of the raw document, which means that (like it or not) you’re now getting a full and complete explanation of all of the details of the deal.

This is a full and complete explanation of the entire terms from the raw document, checked, double-checked, and triple-checked.

Signing bonus: Bell gets $8 million right out of the gates, an amount to be paid in three installments. He’ll get $4 million within 15 days of March 31, 2019, $1 million within 15 days of April 15, 2019, and $3 million within 15 days of January 1, 2020.

Roster bonuses: Bell receives a $4 million 2019 roster bonus, with $3 million of it due within 15 days of April 15, 2019 and the remaining $1 million due within 15 days of October 15, 2019. The payment is fully guaranteed. He also receives a $4.5 million 2020 roster bonus, $2 million of which must be paid within 15 days of March 31, 2020 and the remaining $2.5 million of which must be paid within 15 days of October 15, 2020. The 2020 roster bonus becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day after the contract is signed, which makes it as a practical matter fully guaranteed at signing.

Base salaries: The deal has so-called “Paragraph 5” salaries (because they’re listed in Paragraph 5 of the standard player contract) of $2 million for 2019, $8.5 million for 2020, $8 million for 2021, and $9.5 million for 2022.

Guaranteed base salaries: The 2019 base salary is fully guaranteed at signing, as is the 2020 base salary. Bell’s 2021 base salary is guaranteed for injury at signing; it becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the 2021 league year.

Per-game roster bonuses: For each year of the deal, Bell gets $31,250 for every game that has him on the 46-man active roster. The maximum payment is $500,000 per year.

Training-camp bonuses: Bell receives $3 million in 2021 and $3 million in 2022 for showing up for and fully participating in training camp.

Incentives: In each year of the deal (2019 through 2022), Bell can earn $500,000 for 1,800 yards from scrimmage, another $500,000 for 2,000 yards from scrimmage, another $500,000 for 1,800 yards from scrimmage plus the Jets making the playoffs. The bonuses are cumulative, meaning that he can earn $1.5 million per year.

Escalators: Bell has a potential $550,000 salary escalator for 2020, 2021, and 2022 that can be earned in any of three ways: gaining 2,000 yards from scrimmage, being named the Associated Press offensive player of the year, or being named the Associated Press regular-season MVP. These are not cumulative; Bell can boost his salary by only $550,000 for each of the final three years of his contract, based on his performance in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

The full guarantee at signing, contrary and/or confirming any and all other reports on the subject, consists of the $8 million signing bonus, the $2 million 2019 base salary, the $8.5 million 2020 base salary, the $4 million 2019 roster bonus, and the $4.5 million 2020 roster bonus. If my math is correct (and it often isn’t), that’s $27 million fully guaranteed at signing.

The total guarantee (full guarantee plus injury guarantee) is $35 million.

The cash flow (minus the per-game roster bonuses) is $14 million through 2019, $27 million through 2020, $38 million through 2021, and $50.5 million through 2022. With the per-game roster bonuses, it’s $14.5 million through 2019, $28 million through 2020, $39.5 million through 2021, and $52.5 million through 2022.

The incentives and escalators add a maximum additional payment of $7.65 million, giving the deal a max value of $60.15 million over four years.

FMIA: Looking Back at Antonio Brown Trade, Looking Ahead to Free Agency

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It was a busy week, and an even busier weekend, culminating in the Steelers sending Antonio Brown to the Raiders as the start of free agency looms this week. In the latest edition of Football Morning in America, Peter King tackles all the trade tributaries and also covers:

• All the free agency rumors and possibilities, including Le’Veon Bell to the Jets; the most underrated players on the market; and why the smart money could be better left in teams’ pockets this month.

• A pro day preview of Kyler Murray, who will perform for pro scouts in Norman, Okla., on Wednesday.

• More thoughts, notes and opinions on a football legend turning 99; one of the coolest contracts in NFL history; why the NFL should leave the combine in Indianapolis.

• Plus 10 things, factoids, beernerdness, the T-shirt of the week and reflections on my daughter Mary Beth’s weekend wedding in Seattle. [more]

Players have the power to turn the tables on the franchise tag

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For players, the franchise tag stinks. But the one-per-club, once-per-year device for restricting a player who otherwise would be an unrestricted free agent has been baked into the relationship between the league and the men who play the game for more than a quarter century, and it’s not going away any time soon.

But the players whose opportunities to hit the open market have been limited by the franchise tag have begun to realize that they have rights, too. And they have begun to assert those rights, in a way that possibly has made the teams begin to think twice about embarking on the annual franchise-tag dance.

It actually began more than a decade ago, when Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones received the franchise tag for three straight years from the Seahawks, stayed away until the start of the regular season each year, and ultimately cashed in with a long-term deal after pocketing three years of the franchise tender. In 2006, the NFL and NFL Players Association altered the Collective Bargaining Agreement to make it harder for teams to franchise tag a player three straight times, bumping the third tag to the quarterback tender or a 44-percent increase over the second franchise tag, whichever is greater.

It took players a while to realize the power that they had under the franchise tag, if they are willing to refuse to sign long-term deals and instead to play year-to-year under the franchise tag. Last year, quarterback Kirk Cousins and cornerback Trumaine Johnson forced their way to the open market in lieu of being tagged a third time, and the template for other franchise-tagged players became obvious: Carry the injury risk for two years of the tag, and then finally get the chance to cash in.

Last year, running back Le'Veon Bell took it to another level, showing that non-quarterbacks have a path to unrestricted free agency by sitting out the second year of the franchise tag, which still forces a team to use the quarterback tender the next year. Which in turn makes it highly unlikely that a third tag will be applied.

Thus, while the franchise tag continues to stink for players, players can make it stink for teams — by refusing to accept long-term offers, by staying away as late as possible until the start of the regular season after a first tag, and either by forcing the team to use the quarterback tender or pay a 44-percent increase for the third tag or (again for non-quarterbacks) sitting out the entire year and making it as a practical matter impossible to franchise tag him a third time.

That’s why it’s not a surprise that Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark (pictured) reportedly vows to stay away until Labor Day, if he doesn’t get the long-term deal he thinks he deserves. And that’s also why it’s not a surprise that Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence seems to be contemplating skipping the entire season and hitting the open market in 2020, unless the Cowboys want to keep him with the quarterback franchise tender.

More franchise-tagged players need to behave this way, even if fans and media and teammates and coaches pressure them to show up and play. The teams have robbed these players of their ability to get paid on the open market, and these players have the power to disrupt things by withholding services and/or declining to give their teams a way out of the franchise-tag maze by accepting a long-term offer that pales in comparison to what they’d make on the open market.

The more that the franchise-tagged players aggressively pursue their rights, the more that the teams will think twice before using the franchise tag in the first place. While it would be better for all players if the franchise tag went away altogether, it’s good that players have decided to take a stand against this artificial device for keeping free agents from becoming free agents.

And as more players take a stand, the less likely teams will be to use the franchise tag as a knee-jerk device to deny the players the shot at the open market that their efforts and abilities have earned for them.

FMIA: Kyler Murray, No. 1 Story at the Combine, And No. 1 Pick in the Draft?

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At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, talk all weekend centered on one prospect—Kyler Murray, who could very well end up becoming the No. 1 pick in the draft. In this week’s Football Morning in America column, Peter King begins with the latest on Murray and also tackles:

• A hodgepodge of notes from the combine, including items on the best quarterbacks in Indy, the unbelievable speed from defensive prospects and more

• The Antonio Brown situation, and why Oakland might be the best landing spot for Pittsburgh’s talented but temperamental wide receiver.

• Why the trade market for Josh Rosen—should Arizona decide to ditch the second-year QB—would be robust.

• More thoughts, notes and opinions on the sad saga of Jason Witten; Rob Gronkowski’s retirement odds; Nick Foles’ next stop; prime-time buzz for combine.

• Plus 10 things, factoids, beernerdness, coffeenerdness and the one glaring pockmark on the otherwise fabulous city of Indianapolis. [more]

FMIA: The Combine Names to Know and How NFL Might Handle Kraft

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The NFL Scouting Combine is this week in Indianapolis. If you’re woefully uninformed on the best draft prospects, storylines, sleepers and more, Peter King will catch you up in a can’t-miss combine primer, featuring the expertise of scouting gurus. King also tackles:

• The Robert Kraft sex-trafficking story, and how the NFL might handle discipline if the Patriots owner is found to be involved.

• A statistical look at NFL compensatory picks and how the rich keep getting richer.

• The logical and likely landing spots for Antonio Brown, whose stock keeps dropping.

• More thoughts, notes and opinions on Andrew Whitworth, Mel Kiper, Lincoln Riley, Nick Foles and Christian Hackenburg.

• Plus 10 things, factoids, beernerdness, teanerdness and the brutal realities of an 18-day bug. [more]

PFT’s Free Agent Top 100

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The following are PFT’s top 100 free agents for the start of the 2019 league year. The rankings include prospective unrestricted and restricted free agents, as well as released players. The list will be updated as events warrant, with signings, tags and re-signings denoted when announced and/or reported.

1. Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. (The Cowboys used the franchise tag on Lawrence.)

2. Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. (The Texans used the franchise tag on Clowney.)

3. Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers. (The Lions agreed to terms with Flowers on a five-year deal on March 11.)

4. Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. (The Falcons used the franchise tag on Jarrett.)

5. Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark. (The Seahawks used the franchise tag on Clark)

6. Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford. (The Chiefs used the franchise tag on Ford and then traded him to the 49ers.)

7. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. (The Jets agreed to terms with Bell on a four-year deal on March 13).

8. Giants safety Landon Collins. (Washington agreed to terms with Collins on a six-year, $84 million deal on March 11.)

9. Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. (The Jets agreed to terms with Mosley on a five-year deal on March 12.)

10. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. (The Ravens agreed to terms with Thomas on a four-year deal on March 13.)

11. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. (The Jaguars agreed to terms with Foles on a four-year deal with a base value of $88 million on March 11.)

12. Texans safety Tyrann Mathieu. (The Chiefs agreed to terms on a three-year, $42 million deal with Mathieu.)

13. Washington linebacker Preston Smith. (Smith agreed to terms with the Packers on March 12.)

14. Bears safety Adrian Amos. (Amos agreed to terms with the Packers on March 12.)

15. Rams guard Rodger Saffold. (Saffold agreed to terms with the Titans on four-year, $44 million deal on March 12.)

16. Broncos center Matt Paradis. (Paradis agreed to a three-year, $27 million deal with the Panthers on March 12.)

17. Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner. (The Raiders agreed to terms with Joyner on March 11.)

18. Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby. (Darby signed a one-year deal with the Eagles on March 15.)

19. Ravens linebacker Za’Darius Smith. (Smith agreed to terms with the Packers on March 12.)

20. Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown. (The Raiders agreed to terms on a four-year, $66 million deal with Brown on March 11.)

21. Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. (The Vikings agreed to terms with Barr on March 11 after he had a deal in place with the Jets.)

22. Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright. (Agreed to terms to remain with the Seahawks.)

23. Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

24. Dolphins offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James. (The Broncos agreed to terms with James on March 11.)

25. Bucs offensive tackle Donovan Smith. (Signed a three-year deal with the Buccaneers on March 5.)

26. Bears cornerback Bryce Callahan. (The Broncos agreed to terms with Callahan on March 15.)

27. Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah.

28. Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks. (Hicks agreed to a four-year deal with the Cardinals on March 12.)

29. Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander. (The 49ers reached an agreement with Alexander on March 11.)

30. Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham. (Graham signed a three-year extension with the Eagles on March 1.)

31. Eagles receiver Golden Tate. (Tate signed a four-year deal with the Giants on March 14.)

32. Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. (Richardson agreed to a three-year deal with the Browns on March 12.)

33. Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson. (The Broncos agreed to terms on a three-year deal worth $33 million with Jackson on March 11.)

34 Saints defensive end Alex Okafor. (The Chiefs signed Okafor to a three-year deal on March 14.)

35. Panthers offensive tackle Daryl Williams. (The Panthers re-signed Williams on March 13.)

36. Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams. (The Raiders agreed to terms with Williams on March 13.)

37. Colts cornerback Pierre Desir. (Desir re-signed with the Colts on March 13.)

38. Saints running back Mark Ingram. (The Ravens agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Ingram on March 13.)

39. Patriots defensive back Jason McCourty. (McCourty agreed to a two-year deal with the Patriots on March 13.)

40. Packers defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson.

41. Ravens safety Eric Weddle (signed a two-year deal with the Rams on March 8.)

42. Raiders tight end Jared Cook.

43. Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett. (The Buccaneers signed Barrett to a one-year deal on March 15.)

44. Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget.

45. Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson. (The Steelers agreed to a three-year, $25.5 million deal with Nelson on March 12.)

46. Chiefs center Mitch Morse. (The Bills agreed to terms with Morse on March 11.)

47. Rams outside linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. (Re-signed with the Rams.)

48. Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane. (The Chargers agreed to terms on a deal with Mebane on March 13.)

49. Falcons defensive end Bruce Irvin. (The Panthers agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Irvin on March 19.)

50. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. (The Cardinals agreed to terms with Suggs on March 11.)

51. Falcons running back Tevin Coleman. (The 49ers agreed to terms with Coleman on March 13.)

52. Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard (The Bengals agreed to a new deal with him on March 21).

53. Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (Agreed to a two-year deal with the Colts on March 21).

54. Chargers inside linebacker Denzel Perryman. (Perryman signed a two-year deal with the Chargers on March 8.)

55. Browns linebacker Jamie Collins.

56. Chargers defensive tackle Darius Philon. (The Cardinals agreed to terms with Philon on a two-year deal on March 21.)

57. Bucs receiver Adam Humphries. (The Titans agreed to terms with Humphries on March 11.)

58. Colts safety Clayton Geathers. (Geathers agreed to terms on a one-year deal to return to Indianapolis on March 20.)

59. Jets defensive end Henry Anderson. (The Jets reached agreement with Anderson on March 12.)

60. Giants center Jon Halapio. (Halapio re-signed with the Giants on March 6.)

61. Colts defensive lineman Margus Hunt. (Signed a two-year deal with the Colts on March 5.)

62. Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall.

63. Washington receiver Jamison Crowder. (Agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Jets on March 11.)

64. Washington safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. (Signed a one-year deal with Bears on March 14.)

65. Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake. (The Titans agreed to terms with Wake on a three-year, $23 million deal on March 12.)

66. Falcons guard Andy Levitre.

67. Browns quarterback Tyrod Taylor. (The Chargers agreed to terms with Taylor on March 13.)

68. Texans defensive lineman Christian Covington. (Signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys on March 14.)

69. Seahawks cornerback Justin Coleman. (Agreed to terms on deal with Lions on March 11)

70. Bears defensive end Aaron Lynch.

71. Ravens receiver John Brown. (The Bills agreed to terms with Brown on March 11.)

72. Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan.

73. Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley. (The Bills agreed to terms with Beasley on March 12.)

74. Lions safety Glover Quin.

75. Jaguars receiver Donte Moncrief. (Reached a two-year deal with the Steelers.)

76. Ravens defensive end Brent Urban.

77. Jets cornerback Darryl Roberts. (Re-signed with the Jets on March 11.)

78. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (Agreed to a two-year deal with the Rams on March 19)

79. Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro. (The Titans reached an agreement to retain Vaccaro on March 11.)

80. Steelers tight end Jesse James. (Agreed to terms on deal with Lions on March 11.)

81. Patriots defensive tackle Danny Shelton.

82. Saints offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod.

83. 49ers kicker Robbie Gould. (The 49ers used the franchise tag on Gould)

84. Rams running back CJ Anderson.

85. Vikings safety George Iloka.

86. Jaguars tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

87. Texans cornerback Kayvon Webster.

88. Packers linebacker Jake Ryan. (The Jaguars signed Ryan on March 16.)

89. Steelers guard Ramon Foster. (Signed a two-year deal with the Steelers on March 7.)

90. Vikings running back Latavius Murray. (Agreed to a four-year deal with the Saints on March 12.)

91. Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett. (Signed a one-year deal with the 49ers on March 14.)

92. Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. (He agreed to terms with the Saints on a one-year, fully guaranteed $7.25 million deal on March 14.)

93. Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden. (The Giants agreed to terms with Golden on a one-year deal on March 14.)

94. Packers receiver Randall Cobb (The Cowboys agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Cobb on March 19).

95. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

96. Titans guard Quinton Spain.

97. Cardinals safety Tre Boston.

98. Seahawks guard J.R. Sweezy. (The Cardinals reached an agreement on a two-year deal with Sweezy on March 12.)

99. Washington offensive lineman Ty Nsekhe. (The Bills agreed to terms with Nsekhe on March 12.)

100. Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert. (Re-signed with the Bengals on a one-year deal on March 16.)

Previously ranked: Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Washington running back Adrian Peterson, Patriots returner Cordarrelle Patterson.

FMIA: Kyler Murray and One Coach’s Argument For Why The Small QB Will Have a Massive Impact in the NFL

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Kyler Murray is short, and there was a time when that fact would have impeded his dream of becoming an NFL quarterback. Peter King kicks off his Football Morning in America column with a look at why that logic no longer applies, as explained by someone with firsthand knowledge of how good Murray can be. King also tackles:

• The Colin Kaepernick-NFL settlement and the three things that influence our opinion of the case.

• An appreciation of Joe Flacco, who despite recent results still deserves to be remembered for one of the great playoff runs by a quarterback in history.

• More thoughts, notes and opinions on Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Kareem Hunt, Greg Schiano, Adam Silver, Roger Goodell and my argument for why there is no such thing as too much coverage of the Patriots dynasty.

• Plus 10 things, factoids, beernerdness and a fun opportunity for football fans in Indy to have a beer with me, Frank Reich and sports media members. [more]

Team-by-team look at potential 2019 tag candidates

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It’s a tradition that truly is unlike any other. Whether it’s a good tradition or a bad tradition is in the eye of the tradition beholder.

Every year, we take a look at the players who may end up being tagged in advance of free agency. The two-week window for the franchise or transition tag (each team can do one or the other) opens Tuesday.

So here’s the 2019 version of our list. And it’s no list that any player should want to make, because it means that the player is being kept from maximizing his contract value on the open market.

Dolphins: Two years ago, the Dolphins had to decide whether to exercise the fifth-year option on former first-round tackle Ja'Wuan James. Last year, the Dolphins had to decide whether to cut James before the fifth-year option payment became fully guaranteed. This year, they have to decide whether to apply the franchise or transition tag to him. Tagging him won’t be cheap, but letting him leave will require the Dolphins to find a new right tackle. Which won’t be easy to do.

Bills: Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander has signed a one-year extension, not that he would have been a candidate to be tagged. Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, a former second-round pick of the Dolphins who arrived via waivers in October 2018, has said he’s in negotiations with the team; with Kyle Williams retiring, need may supersede whether Phillips is worth the eight-figure investment. Right tackle Jordan Mills has started 48 of 48 regular-season games, but that likely won’t be enough to get him tagged.

Jets: Plenty of Jets players are due to become unrestricted free agents, from quarterback Josh McCown to running back Bilal Powell to receiver Jermaine Kearse to cornerback Morris Claiborne. They’ve already re-signed receiver Quincy Enunwa, and none of the other names of potential free agents would justify spending cash that they’ve likely earmarked for guys who will be hitting the market in other cities.

Patriots: The kicker position in New England has been like the coaching position in Pittsburgh. While the Patriots won’t have only three kickers in 50 years, they’ve had only two in 23: Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski is due to become a free agent this year, and the franchise tag would seem to be a move that his current skill level doesn’t merit. He missed a field goal in the Super Bowl, and he nearly missed two others. Tackle Trent Brown, who thrived when thrust into the starting lineup in 2018, is due to hit the market. If the Pats didn’t use the tag on Nate Solder last year, they likely won’t use it on Brown. Ditto for defensive end Trey Flowers; if the Patriots wanted to keep him beyond 2018, they would have already signed him to a new deal.

Steelers: Multiple reports have indicated that the Steelers plan to use the transition tag on running back Le'Veon Bell, apparently in the hopes of trading him. If so, things could get even uglier, with a fight over the amount of the tag and a determined lack of cooperation from Bell, who would need to go along with the plan in order for the plan to work the way the Steelers would like it to.

Bengals: The Bengals previously extended the likes of Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. Tight end Tyler Eifert and cornerback Darqueze Dennard are due to become free agents, but neither should prompt the Bengals to do something they haven’t done in six years — apply the franchise tag.

Browns: The Browns have a growing nucleus of great players. For now, none that are due to become free agents should compel the Browns to break out the tag.

Ravens: The first big personnel move for new G.M. Eric DeCosta was trading Joe Flacco. The second will be deciding whether to tag linebacker C.J. Mosley. If a long-term deal isn’t negotiated before the window for tagging Mosley closes, DeCosta could be forced to use the franchise tag in his first year on the job.

Texans: Linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, is due to hit the market. The Texans will have to decide whether to sign him to a long-term deal, tag him, or let him walk away. Tagging Clowney could spark a Terrell Suggs-style fight as to whether Clowney is an outside linebacker or a defensive end, since the latter designation carries a bigger one-year tender. However it plays out, Clowney has every reason to be upset with the Texans for taking full advantage of the rookie wage scale in order to avoid paying him big money right out of the gates — and to resist giving him the long-term deal he has earned.

Colts: G.M. Chris Ballard faces no dilemmas when it comes to whether to tag any of Indy’s pending free agents; the real question is whether Ballard will carve off some of his gigantic cap stash to make a big splash in the early days of free agency. He’s inclined to resist, but that could be easier said than done — especially with no viable in-house candidates for the tag.

Titans: Linebacker Derrick Morgan headlines Tennessee’s free-agent class. A 30-year-old with 0.5 sacks in 13 games won’t have to worry about being tagged.

Jaguars: Kicker Josh Lambo has a new long-term deal. He’s the only guy who would have merited any consideration under the rules of the tag.

Broncos: At one point, cornerback Bradley Roby looked to be headed for a 2019 tag. But after Denver traded Aqib Talib and made Roby the top corner across from Chris Harris, Jr., Roby didn’t play well enough to force Denver’s hand during the period for applying tags.

Chiefs: Pass-rusher Dee Ford becomes the first in what could be a long line of young players to force the Chiefs to make tough decisions. If tagged this year, Ford could force the Chiefs to move on from the likes of linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry. If not signed to a long-term deal this year, Ford could force the Chiefs into a mess of a situation next year, when both receiver Tyreek Hill and defensive lineman Chris Jones are due to become free agents. Looming over every decision made by the Chief is the eventual mega-deal that will be given to quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Back to Ford, tagging him could spark a squabble over whether Ford is a linebacker or a defensive end, the same kind of fight that’s looming between the Texans and Jadeveon Clowney.

Chargers: Cornerback Jason Verrett may have been headed for the tag, but a torn Achilles tendon wiped out his contract year. Receiver Tyrell Williams is due to hit the market; he’s simply not tag-worthy.

Raiders: Two years ago, tight end Jared Cook parlayed a catch for the ages in a playoff game between the Packers and Cowboys into a big contract with the Raiders. Coach Jon Gruden has repeatedly gushed about Cook, and hopes to keep him. Whether that happens via the franchise tag remains to be seen.

Cowboys: Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (pictured) is on track for a second straight tag. Last year, he pounced on $17.1 million. This year, the tender spikes to $20.52 million. Which would make a long-term deal ridiculously expensive, and which would guarantee that Lawrence will hit the market in 2020, since his tag for 2020 would shoot to  $29.52 million.

Washington: For the first time in a long time, Washington won’t be at the epicenter of franchise tag talk. The team sent a fourth-round pick to Green Bay for safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix; the franchise tag would seem to be a bit too much to spend to ensure keeping him around. Once-promising receiver Jamison Crowder has never fulfilled his potential, and he missed too many games last year.

Giants: Safety Landon Collins stands out as the one player on the roster worthy of tag consideration; barring an extension, it quite possibly will happen.

Eagles: The team reportedly is considering the use of the franchise tag on Nick Foles, with an eye toward trading him. Although this approach would violate the CBA, Foles seems to be OK with it — possibly because his agents already know that he wouldn’t get on the open market a long-term contract worth more per year than the franchise tag will pay.

Vikings: The team has locked up every key young player on the roster except linebacker Anthony Barr, who has completed his rookie deal. The Kirk Cousins contract could make it difficult to tag Barr; the best bet for keeping him could be to let him shop himself during the legal tampering period, at which time he may realize the grass won’t be greener with a new team. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who signed a one-year deal last March, is a long-shot candidate to be tagged.

Packers: Green Bay hasn’t used the franchise tag for eight years and counting. Not long ago, it would have been a no-brainer to tag linebacker Clay Matthews. That won’t happen. Ditto for receiver Randall Cobb, whose four-year, $40 million contract is expiring.

Lions: Last year, the Lions tagged defensive end Ziggy Ansah with the goal of giving new coach Matt Patricia a year to evaluate Ansah. Seven games and four sacks later, Ansah won’t be tagged again.

Bears: There’s no one due to become a free agent who would or should merit serious tag consideration.

Panthers: See the Bears.

Buccaneers: Absent an extension, tackle Donovan Smith is expected to be franchise tagged. And for good reason. The 2015 second-round pick has started all 64 games of his career.

Falcons: A breakout star in Super Bowl LI, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett finally is poised for the open market. The Falcons likely won’t let him get there.

Saints: Running back Mark Ingram is heading to the open market. Regardless of whether the Saints hope to keep him for a ninth season, it won’t happen via the franchise tag.

Seahawks: Defensive end Frank Clark is expected to be tagged if not extended. Next year, things will get very interesting, absent a contract extension for quarterback Russell Wilson.

49ers: After 11 seasons with the Bears and one with the Giants, Robbie Gould has found a home in San Francisco over the past two years. The 49ers could choose to keep Gould around via the franchise tag.

Cardinals: An emerging star in 2016, when he racked up 12.5 sacks, pass rusher Markus Golden surely won’t be tagged. The same applies to linebacker Deone Bucannon, who undoubtedly will hit the market.

Rams: Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was a so-so performer in the regular season. He elevated his game in the playoffs, but likely not enough to be tagged. Pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. likewise say a spike in his performance in the playoffs, but also not enough to be tagged. Using the franchise tag for a second straight year on safety Lamarcus Joyner would cost $13.5 million.