The NFL offseason is under way and one of the first orders of business will be which players will be placed on the franchise tag.
Teams must make a decision on whether or not to use the franchise tag on a player between Feb. 23 and March 9.
The tag comes in two forms — exclusive and non-exclusive. The latter is more commonly used. It is a one-year tender which amounts to no less than the average of the top five salaries at that players’ position over the last five years, or 120 percent of his current salary, whichever is greater.
Players are allowed to negotiate with other teams under this tag, but their current team has the right to match. If not, that team is compensated two first-round draft picks, making it extremely rare a player signs with another team.
The exclusive tag is similar, only the player cannot negotiate with another team.
There is also the transition tag, which is a one-year tender for the average of the top 10 salaries instead of top five and players can negotiate with other teams but the original club can refuse to match any offer.
The 2021 franchise tag will be a bit different. The salary cap is expected to be lowered, which means the one-year tender will be lower this year compared to last year.
Nevertheless, here are the prime candidates to be placed under the franchise tag in 2021:
Last year, the Cowboys and Dak Prescott failed to reach an agreement on a long-term contract and he played under the franchise tag and it is a real possibility that could happen again in 2021.
Reports suggest that if a deal is not worked out by March 9, that is indeed what will happen. There is some uncertainty about Prescott’s future going forward. He is returning from a gruesome ankle injury he sustained in Week 5 that ended his season, although the Cowboys have indicated they are confident he will return healthy.
Whether or not it impacts negotiations remains to be seen. Regardless of injury, the Cowboys do not want Prescott to hit free agency. If he is to be tagged again, he would join Kirk Cousins as the only other quarterback to be placed on the franchise tag in two consecutive seasons. The tag is expected to be $37.7 million, an increase from the $31.4 million he played on last year’s franchise tag. If the Cowboys want to sign Prescott long-term, a $40 million per year deal may be needed to get it done.
Robinson has said everything is on the table — whether that is playing for the Bears or hitting free agency — but playing on a franchise tag is likely something he prefers to avoid. The 27-year-old is coming off a contract in which he had an average annual value of $14 million. Because of COVID, the salary cap this season is likely to be lower, which means a wide receiver on the franchise tag may only receive $15-16 million vs. the $18.5 million from last year.
But the Bears appear to be hesitant on making a long-term offer to Robinson. His prior history with knee issues, including a torn ACL in 2017, raises some concerns and Chicago may rather play it safe on a one-year deal.
That will probably not make Robinson happy, as many talented receivers of his caliber are netting $20 million-plus in AAV. With the Bears in play to bring in a new quarterback, having a talented receiver like Robinson will be important. But if Robinson is not happy it could become a messy situation.
Another possibility is a tag-and-trade if it does not appear the two sides will reach a conclusion on a long-term extension. This allows the Bears to at least receive something in return instead of allowing him to hit free agency.
Rumors are already circulating that it is expected the Lions will use the franchise tag on Golladay. The 27-year-old wide receiver is coming off an injury-plagued 2020 season in which he only played five games. The year prior, Golladay led the league with 11 touchdown receptions and reached the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career, which he expressed should be enough for the Lions to keep him if they really want him there.
While his injuries certainly cast some question marks long term, it would make sense for the Lions to try and bring Golladay back on the franchise tag where they would only have to pay him $15-16 million. The Lions are also in the midst of a rebuild and could potentially use Golladay in a tag-and-trade scenario as well.
The Bucs reportedly plan to bring Godwin back for 2021 and one of their options to do so would be via the franchise tag.
Godwin has obviously been an integral part of the Bucs offense the last few seasons, hauling in 65 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns over 12 games with Tom Brady this year. He’s arguably one the best receivers in the game, along with his counterpart, Mike Evans.
Keeping Godwin could mean making a tough decision elsewhere, though. Shaquil Barrett and Lavonte David are also expected to hit free agency as well. If they cannot sign Godwin long-term and need to use the tag on him, Barrett or David could slip through the cracks.
Well, it turned out to work actually just fine. Williams had a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2020 with the Giants, proving that the former first-round pick may still reach his potential yet. While Williams’ 2020 season gives himself a compelling argument for a long-term deal, it is possible the Giants may choose to place a second franchise tag on Williams.
Such a move would not necessarily save the Giants money – at least in the short term. Gettleman and co. would essentially need to ask themselves, is Williams worth a long-term investment after one good season or should they pay more to retain him in 2021 and keep their cap space open for the future?
Will Fuller V
Fuller has shown flashes of his potential through his first five seasons in the league, but questions remain about whether or not he can stay on the field. Last year, it was a PED suspension that cost him the final six games of the season, making the receiver a risky long-term investment for any team.
Because of that risk, it would make sense for the Texans to bring him back under the franchise tag. Houston is reportedly interested in keeping Fuller – who was a go-to receiver for Deshaun Watson (whether or not Watson stays in Houston is a whole other story). There was some talk the Texans would trade Fuller at the deadline last year, but placing him on the tag would give both Fuller and the Texans the opportunity to see if he can indeed stay on the field for an entire season and whether or not he will earn that long-term deal.
The Ravens will likely use the franchise tag on either Ngakoue or Matthew Judon, but it seems as if the former is more likely because the team used the tag on Judon last year and it would cost them $20 million to do it again in 2021.
Of course, Ngakoue was placed on the franchise tag last year by the Jacksonville Jaguars and refused to play on it. He also took a pay cut from the tag on his revised one-year, $12 million deal when he was traded to the Vikings, which also did not include a no-tag provision.
So, Ngakoue could very well be placed on the franchise tag again, which would cost approximately $16 million for the Ravens. Baltimore is a perennial playoff contender, so perhaps Ngakoue may be more amenable to playing on it for the Ravens.