Three days ago marked the first day that teams could designate a player on their roster with the franchise tag. Between then and March 8th teams will have the opportunity to retain at least one of their key free agents without them hitting the open market.
A franchise tag is a one-year contract with a salary calculated from the average of the top-5 paid players at the respective position. The franchise tag is non-negotiable for players. It gives teams the opportunity to negotiate a long-term deal with the player or keep them in the building for one more year.
There are plenty of premier free agents that could get franchise tagged before the deadline. The free agent will be majorly impacted by which players are franchise tagged. The entire offseasons for teams can change as the priority free agents available to them could change how they address needs on their roster. Here are the free agents who could be franchise tagged by their respective teams before March 8th.
Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
The biggest no-brainer to get franchise tagged this offseason is Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams. Since the 2016 season, there is a great argument that there hasn’t been a wide receiver as dominant as Adams in the NFL. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler and has been named First-Team All-Pro in each of the past two seasons. This last season Adams caught 123 of his 169 targets for 1,553 receiving yards and 11 receiving touchdowns in 16 games.
When Green Bay franchise tags Adams there is still a lot of work for the Packers to do. At that point, it seems that Aaron Rodgers will make a decision about his future with the team. Depending on Rodgers’ status with the team Adams may or may not want to remain in Green Bay. If Rodgers is no longer with the team it is very possible Adams asks for a trade.
It seems unlikely that Adams would play on the $18.5 million wide receiver franchise tag for multiple reasons. His injury history could scare him from wanting to play the 2022-23 season on a one-year deal. Also, Adams is worth more than the $18.5 price tag on the open market. It is extremely realistic for Adams to be making upwards of $28+ million per year on his next deal. That would make him the highest-paid receiver in the league.
Green Bay would be on the hook for half of Adam’s $18.5 million price tag if they traded him. If the Packers trade Rodgers and Adams demands a trade, it may be in their best interest to blow it up and go through an offensive rebuild. Green Bay could get at least a first-round pick in a deal for Adams if he was to be moved.
Terron Armstead, OT, New Orleans Saints
Over the last two seasons, the New Orleans Saints have gone through major changes on offense with both Drew Brees and Sean Payton retiring. The team decided to retain Payton’s coaching staff by promoting defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to head coach, retaining Pete Carmichael, and promoting both Ryan Nielsen and Kris Richard as co-defensive coordinators.
In order to remain competitive in the near future, the Saints need to retain as much as their current roster until they figure out their offensive identity. This means they need to do everything in their power to retain left tackle Terron Armstead. He has emerged as one of the league’s better left tackles over the past few seasons going to three straight Pro Bowls between 2018-20 and being named Second-Team All-Pro in 2018. This past season Armstead was limited to eight games this year due to injuries. He was one of the multiple starters that the Saints had that missed multiple games that hurt them down the stretch.
Outside of Alvin Kamara, the Saints’ offensive line is the only piece of their offense holding them from going through a major rebuild. Their offensive line needs to stay intact in order for this offense to play at a competitive level next season. The Saints have too many needs across their roster, especially on offense, to have another need to fill at left tackle. New Orleans has limited resources financially and needs to address the quarterback position and wide receiver. The Saints likely need to add two starting wide receivers this offseason.
New Orleans cannot afford to use their first-round pick to fill the void Armstead would leave in this offense. They should use that selection to add to their wide receiver group or take a quarterback of the future. Only by franchise tagging Armstead will the Saints ensure he will be on their team when free agency starts. Teams like the Los Angeles Rams (if Andrew Whitworth retires), Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Indianapolis Colts could try to lure Armstead to sign with them if he hits the open market.
Marcus Williams, S, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have another priority free agent they can hit with the franchise tag. New Orleans can franchise tag safety Marcus Williams for the second year in a row. He is a vital piece of the Saints defense that has been one of the best units in the league. The Saints’ defense was what carried them to almost make the playoffs next season. If the Saints were to lose Williams that would open up a huge void on their defense.
The case to franchise tagging Williams for the second season in a row is a solid one. It would only cost the Saints $12.7 million to retain Williams for one more season. He is also an important piece of the Saints defense that was built by new head coach Dennis Allen over the past few seasons. Allen likely doesn’t want to lose a crucial member to his defense in his first year as head coach.
Even though Williams has never been a Pro Bowler, he has been considered one of the best safeties in the league. Last year, in 16 games, he had a career-high 74 combined tackles (52 solo tackles), eight passes defended, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. Pro Football Focus gave him an 80.1 grade last season.
Similar to the situation with Terron Armstead, the Saints cannot afford to add another need to their offseason checklist by losing Williams. They could add a safety on Day 2 to help replace Williams. However, it would not be ideal for him to hit the open market and for them to have to address the safety position with their limited assets.
J.C. Jackson, CB, New England Patriots
One player who felt like a lock to receive at least the franchise tag this offseason is New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson. The talented young corner made a comment recently about how he doesn’t feel confident that the team will prioritize keeping him this offseason. Jackson said, “I guess they feel like they don’t need me…I guess I can’t be that important to them. I know I am, but they’re not showing me”. He later said he would play for the team this season if he received the franchise tag.
The former undrafted free agent has emerged as one of the best young cornerbacks in the league. After putting up nine interceptions last season, Jackson had eight interceptions this season as he replaced Stephon Gilmore as New England’s number one cornerback. Last season he was considered a potential candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. This past season Jackson was voted to his first Pro Bowl and was named Second Team All-Pro.
Even though New England hasn’t acted like it, locking Jackson into a long-term contract should be the number one priority for the Patriots this offseason. After trading away Gilmore, it was received that Jackson would replace Gilmore as New England’s number one cornerback. If for some reason they were to let him walk, the Patriots’ biggest strength on defense would quickly turn into a major weakness.
Bill Belichick has let defensive stars hit the open market in free agency before and has shown the ability to groom young players to replace them. However, the Patriots should try to keep their dominant defense very much intact this offseason and use their other resources to give Mac Jones and the offense as much help as possible. Unless New England uses free agency to strengthen up their offense and the draft to keep their defense playing at a high level, it is hard to validate why the Patriots should let Jackson hit the open market and potentially sign elsewhere.
Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Kansas City Chiefs
Right before the NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs made a blockbuster trade with the Baltimore Ravens to acquire tackle Orlando Brown Jr. He had asked the team to trade him after they denied his request to transition him to the left tackle position or pay him like so. Kansas City made Orlando Brown Jr. their new starting left tackle to replace the earlier cut, Eric Fisher.
Brown played well last season for the Chiefs last season posting a 75.2 PFF grade. After giving up their first-round pick in a package to acquire Brown last offseason it is extremely unlikely that the Chiefs will let him hit the open market. It is more of a question of whether Brown and the Chiefs can agree to a long-term extension or have to hit him with the franchise tag instead of will they hit him with the franchise tag.
The Chiefs would be wise to get an extension done with Brown before March 8th so they can potentially franchise tag another important player to their Super Bowl-caliber roster. If they cannot get an extension done then Brown will receive the franchise tag and the team can work on an extension from that point on.
Tyrann Mathieu, S, Kansas City Chiefs
If the Kansas City Chiefs were to agree on an extension with Orlando Brown Jr. they could potentially set their sights on retaining safety Tyrann Mathieu. Since signing with the Chiefs in 2019 he has been the best player on Kansas City’s defense not named Chris Jones. His presence is what has kept their defense from being a liability when they have lacked the talent to match up against opposing offenses.
Calling Mathieu just a safety isn’t doing him justice. He is a versatile defender that can line up at safety, cornerback, or linebacker if he was asked to. Last season Mathieu made his third Pro Bowl posting 76 combined tackles (60 solo tackles), three forced fumbles, three interceptions, and a forced fumble. On top of his three Pro bowls Mathieu has been named First-Team All-Pro twice and Second-Team All-Pro once in his career.
Mathieu would be a hot commodity if he hit the open market. Any team looking to add a gamechanger to their defense would be interested in signing him. Replacing what Mathieu brings to Kansas City’s defense would be extremely difficult for them to do with just one player. It would be in their best interest to bring him back whether it be via franchise tag or an extension once free agency begins.
Carlton Davis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This offseason has the framework to be a rough one for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team retained both of their offensive and defensive coordinators during the coaching search. But then the offseason took a turn when Tom Brady retired. Prior to Brady’s retirement, this offseason did not look great for the Buccaneers with so many priority-free agents hitting the market. Now the odds of retaining most of these free agents are low because there is no longer the allure of playing with Tom Brady. One of the major free agents Tampa Bay has hitting the market is cornerback Carlton Davis.
Beginning in 2016 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have invested a lot of draft assets into rebuilding their secondary. They have drafted 11 defensive backs in that span. Eight of those defensive backs have been drafted in the first three rounds. Davis is the best cornerback Tampa Bay drafted in that span. Two seasons ago Davis established himself as the Buccaneers’ number one cornerback responsible for locking down the best cornerback on the opposing team.
Davis has played well the past couple of seasons but is not considered among the league’s elite cornerbacks. He has not been to a Pro Bowl yet, but he can definitely get voted to one in the near future. Last season in ten games Davis had 39 combined tackles (33 solo tackles), 11 passes defended, and an interception. PFF gave Davis a 66.6 grade for the season.
There are a lot of important Buccaneers players set to hit the market in free agency this offseason. My franchise tagging Davis the Buccaneers would retain at least one of their talented starters that could hit the market. If the Buccaneers extend Davis they would at least have one of their starting cornerbacks long-term past next season when Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting hit free agency next offseason.
Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Prior to the Week 15 matchup against the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers would have almost definitely would have franchise-tagged wide receiver Chris Godwin. However, he tore his ACL and did not finish the season. It will now be extremely interesting to how Godwin’s free agency is going to play out because he will miss time to begin next season. Now that Tom Brady is retired, the Buccaneers likely want their next quarterback to have both Godwin and Mike Evans. But Godwin likely doesn’t want to play on the franchise tag again, especially after getting hurt on the franchise tag this past season.
Godwin was voted to a Pro Bowl during the 2019-20 season. He hasn’t been voted to one since but has been extremely productive when he has been healthy. Last season in 14 games Godwin caught 98 of his 127 targets for 1,103 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He has put up over 800 receiving yards in the last four seasons. He is one of the most dangerous slot receivers and red zone threats in the league. On top of that, he is also a home run threat that could take a pass to the house on any given play.
Tampa Bay has to tread carefully this offseason if they want to retain Godwin on a franchise tag for the second season in a row. They need to come to an agreement with Godwin that they will let him recover at his own pace especially if he does not receive a long-term extension. In the extension talks, Tampa Bay would have to convince him they have a plan in place at quarterback that is better than the other teams who may want Godwin’s services in the near future.
If franchise-tagged for the second year in a row Godwin will make around $19.2 million next season. Retaining the former Pro Bowl receiver like Godwin would help this team stay afloat while they retool their roster. The post-Tom Brady era wouldn’t be awful as long as they can retain Chris Godwin to keep one of the best wide receiver duos in the league.
Jessie Bates, S, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals defense played a major role in their trip to the Super Bowl this past year. Arguably the best player on their defense over the last couple of seasons has been safety Jessie Bates. There have been reports that the team plans on franchise tagging Bates if they cannot come to an agreement for an extension by the deadline. This would be wise for Cincinnati to do everything in their power to keep him in the building. The tandem of Bates and Vonn Bell are one of the best safety duos in the league and the Bengals should try to keep them together for the long term.
It is shocking that Bates has not been voted to a Pro Bowl yet in his career. Last year Bates was named Second-Team All-Pro. This past season Bates had 88 combined tackles (67 solo tackles), four passes defended, an interception, and a fumble recovery. This was Bates’s first season without at least three interceptions. Bates did only have a 56.2 PFF grade this past season.
Since it is more than likely that the Bengals retain Bates via franchise tag or extension it is now a question is whether they hold onto him for just one more season or for the long-term. If Bates were to receive the franchise tag he would make $13 million next season. Cincinnati should try to lock Bates up long-term while it is financially possible and they believe their Super Bowl window is open. If the Bengals want to keep this Super Bowl window open they need to retain Bates this offseason.
Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins
It is very rare to find a difference-making tight end on the open market in free agency. This offseason there are multiple starting-caliber tight ends that will hit the market that could make a major impact on an offense. Outside of Rob Gronkowski, there may not be a better tight end hitting free agency than Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki.
Even though he is listed as a tight end Gesicki is more than just that. He primarily lines up at slot receiver. for Miami. He is one of the best receivers at the tight end position in the league. Last season Gesicki was second on the team in receiving yards, receptions, and targets. He caught 73 of his 112 targets for 780 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Last offseason Miami started preparing for a potential Gesicki exit by drafting former Boston College tight end Hunter Long in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Long did not have a major role this past season but would likely be the team’s starter if Gesicki left in free agency. Even though they have a backup plan in place Miami should try to keep Gesicki at least with the franchise tag. The Dolphins have an opportunity to retain a top-5 tight end in their conference for only an $11 million price tag.
New Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel comes from the San Francisco 49ers whose offense is centered around George Kittle. He likely wants to keep a talented player at the tight end position like Gesicki with the team to feature him as a force for the offense. It would be great for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s development to keep Gesicki a part of his group of weapons going forward.
Harold Landry, EDGE, Tennessee Titans
One player who is not receiving enough attention as one of the premier free agents in this year’s class is Tennessee Titans pass rusher Harold Landry. Though his sack production has not been the most consistent throughout the years, Landry has developed into one of the best young standup edge rushers in the NFL. If he was to hit the open market he would be a major get for a team looking to add a young pass rusher to their growing defense.
This past season was the best Landry has had to date. He was voted to his first Pro Bowl during the 2020-21 season. Landry had 76 combined tackles (51 solo tackles), a career-high 12 sacks, and a forced fumble for the Titans. He had outproduced Bud Dupree who the Titans had signed to a massive contract last offseason.
If the Titans were to let Landry sign elsewhere in free agency, edge rusher would become their largest need for them to address this offseason by a mile. The issue though is that pass rushers are not cheap. If Tennessee decides to franchise tag Landry he would make either $17.5 million or $18.5 million depending on if the Titans choose to classify him as a defensive end or edge rusher. Even if the Titans were to give Landry an extension he would be making that much on a yearly basis.
The Titans have a lot of talent across their defense and could play well next year if Landry leaves. However, losing the team leader in sacks will leave a major void on any defense. Tennessee would have to allocate its resources to bring in a pass rusher or two to fill the void left by Landry. They could either sign a veteran pass rusher, draft one early in the NFL Draft, or both. But by franchise tagging Landry the Titans will keep their strong defense intact for another year.
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