Starting today, until March 5, NFL teams can place the franchise tag on one of their impending free agents. The franchise tag keeps players under contract with their former teams for one more season. Players under the franchise tag receive a salary of either the average of the top five salaries at their position or 120% of their previous year’s salary, whichever is higher.
Teams generally use the franchise tag for one of two reasons. First, they may not be confident in signing a long-term contract before free agency begins. The tag would keep the player under contract while still giving the two sides time to strike a long-term deal. Also, a team might want to keep the player but still have concerns about signing a multi-year deal. Using the franchise tag, teams can delay contract negotiations for another year. Players who fall under this category include those who have an injury or off-the-field issues as well as those coming off a breakout year but without a proven track record.
Demarcus Lawrence – Cowboys DE
The Cowboys All-Pro pass rusher has already played under the franchise tag for one season. Because of that, his tag value for 2019 is $20.5 million. Dallas will not tag Lawrence immediately but instead will try to work out a long-term contract. If they don’t come to an agreement, though, the team will use the franchise tag again.
Demarcus Lawrence has been very productive over the last two seasons, with 25 total sacks, 49 QB hits and 29 tackles for loss. He is reportedly looking for a long-term deal valued over $20 million per season. If he doesn’t get that this offseason and is tagged yet again, he might holdout from offseason training and even regular season games.
Jadeveon Clowney – Texans EDGE
Clowney’s case is complicated because of his position. The former number one overall pick is an edge rusher who plays both defensive end and outside linebacker. He has been a Pro Bowler the last three seasons, staying relatively healthy after early career injury issues. The Texans may franchise tag him this season instead of signing him to a deal that could cost north of $100 million.
If that does happen, the two sides will have a disagreement over how much Jadeveon Clowney should make next season. Houston will tag him at the lower linebacker number, roughly $15 million. On the other hand, Clowney’s camp will contend that he should be designated a defensive end, which would net him over $17 million. Arbitration due to a debate over a position designation has happened before. Jimmy Graham and the Saints disagreed on whether he was a tight end or wide receiver, a debate the Saints eventually won.
Either way, Clowney will be making an eight-figure salary in 2019. That $2 million difference, though, is a lot of money.
Nick Foles – Eagles QB
As most of the NFL world knows, the Eagles are looking to franchise tag Foles and trade him to another team. They want to allow Foles to be a starter somewhere else, since Philadelphia’s franchise quarterback is Carson Wentz. However, the Eagles also do not want to lose their Super Bowl MVP quarterback for nothing.
There is a rule in the CBA against tagging a player specifically to trade him. But the tag and trade process has worked before. An example is with the New England Patriots and Matt Cassel in 2008, when the same CBA language was already in place. While everyone knew the Patriots weren’t going to keep Cassel as a backup for almost $15 million, New England used the franchise tag and traded him to the Chiefs.
By tagging and trading Foles, the Eagles could prevent him from going to a division rival like the Giants or Redskins. They could also get a valuable draft pick or player in return from a team like the Jaguars.
Landon Collins – Giants Safety
All-Pro strong safety Landon Collins is clearly New York’s best defensive player as well as one of their leaders. He is the definition of a franchise cornerstone with his ability to play all over the field. Collins can play in the box and stop the run, he can play deep safety and he can even play shallow coverage.
The Giants first priority this offseason needs to be to resign Collins. He has been a Pro Bowler for the last three seasons and is an anchor in the secondary. They should franchise tag him as early as today and then focus on making a contract agreement.
Grady Jarrett – Falcons DT
While there are a lot of great pass rushers about to become free agents, Jarrett is the one interior linemen who is likely to be tagged. Only 25 years old and coming off the best season of his career, Jarrett will soon be one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Atlanta will make sure to keep him, even if that means slapping him with the $15.5 million franchise tag.
Jarrett is both a good run stuffer and a good pass rusher for a defensive tackle. Because of his all-around game, Pro Football Focus had him ranked fifth among all interior linemen. It is in the Falcons best interest to sign him and make him a defensive anchor for the future.
Dee Ford – Chiefs LB
Dee Ford fits the description of a free agent coming off a breakout season. Before last year, Ford was good but not a top-tier player. In 2018, his fifth season in the NFL, the Chiefs linebacker had a terrific season, one of the bright spots of Kansas City’s shaky defense. Ford’s 13 sacks, 29 QB hits and league-leading seven forced fumbles led him to the Pro Bowl.
Those numbers will also make him a lot of money. However, the Chiefs may want to franchise tag him rather than immediately give him a long-term deal. Because he has only had one great season, they will want Ford to prove that he can have continued success. If he has another great season under the franchise tag, KC can think about a huge contract next season.
Trey Flowers – Patriots DE
Trey Flowers’ production on the defensive line warrants consideration for the franchise tag. He has 136 total QB pressures over the last two seasons, almost twice as many as any other Pats defender. Unfortunately for him, Bill Belichick has been reluctant to spend money on premier free agents, even his own team’s. Belichick will not be willing to pay Flowers $18.6 million for next season.
While the franchise tag is unlikely, New England may try to work out a contract to keep Flowers. However, his recent production and youth will probably field him offers that his former team won’t be willing to beat. Chances are, Trey Flowers won’t be a New England Patriot next season.
Frank Clark – Seahawks DE
The Legion of Boom era is over in Seattle. With guys like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett either gone or about to be, the Seahawks have a new young defense. They hope one of the defense’s new key pieces will be 25-year-old defensive end Frank Clark. Clark had 13 sacks along with 27 QB hits last season and will continue to increase his production.
The Seahawks know they need to keep Clark on their roster. If that means placing the franchise tag on him, that is what they will do.
Ja’Wuan James – Dolphins RT
The Dolphins have had a lot of struggles on the offensive line in recent years. Whether due to injuries or bad draft decisions, a lot of their O-linemen have not panned out. While James, a first-round pick in 2014, has not been a stud by any means, he was solid last season. Miami already has to fill holes in all three of its interior line positions. They would be better off keeping together a solid tackle duo of Laremy Tunsil and James so they can focus on the other spots.
However, paying James about $15 million under the franchise tag seems a bit too high. The Dolphins should try to work out a multi-year contract and avoid the tag. Worst case though, they might as well use the franchise tag and avoid creating an extra area of need.
Donovan Smith – Buccaneers LT
Since joining Tampa Bay as a second-round pick in 2015, Smith’s greatest ability has been his durability. He has played all 64 games in the four seasons since then, but hasn’t been that great. He had a 66.4 rating on Pro Football Focus last season, which ranked him at number 46 out of all NFL tackles. Yet, reports say that Smith would have received about $12 to 13 million per year in free agency. That is just slightly lower than the $15 million offensive line franchise tag number.
The Buccaneers are going to keep Donovan Smith one way or another, either with the tag or by agreeing on a long-term deal. The left tackle said he is motivated and ready to prove the doubters wrong.
Le’Veon Bell – Steelers RB
After sitting out an entire season instead of playing under the franchise tag, Bell could get tagged by Pittsburgh again. However, this time, the Steelers would not use the franchise tag. It would be the third straight year tagging Bell, which means the franchise tag would be under the quarterback number, 25 million.
Rather, the Steelers could use the transition tag on Bell. This would allow them to match any contract offer Bell signs with another team. However, if Bell were to sign somewhere and the Steelers were not to match, the team would not get anything in return for their star’s departure.
While a transition tag is possible, the most likely scenario is to allow Bell to leave as an unrestricted free agent. This would give the Steelers a compensatory third round pick in return.
Featured image from NBC Sports Philadelphia
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