The first major step of the NFL’s free agency period passed by yesterday at 4 pm EST. March 8 marked the final day teams could place the franchise tag on one of their free agents. The franchise tag is so important because it helps shape the free-agent class before the players are able to hit the open market. Here is the grading for the eight franchise tags placed during the 2022 NFL offseason.
Designating the franchise tag on a free agent would prevent that player to hit the open market by giving them a non-negotiable deal at top five market value. If a player is franchise-tagged for the second year then he receives 120% of their salary from the previous year. Then if they receive the franchise tag for the third year in a row that player would receive 144% of their previous salary.
Eight teams placed the franchise tag on players that they felt like they could not let hit the open market. Some of the players tagged were expected to receive the tag and others seemed to raise questions on why their team values them so highly.
Kansas City Chiefs: Orlando Brown Jr., Left Tackle
2022-23 Salary: $16.66 million
The first player to reportedly receive the franchise tag was Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Last offseason right before the draft the Chiefs made a blockbuster trade acquiring Brown Jr. from the Baltimore Ravens to be their new starting left tackle. He played well last season receiving a 75.2 grade from Pro Football Focus.
This is one of the least shocking franchise tags that were placed the past few days. After giving up all they did to acquire Brown Jr. the Chiefs were expected to do anything in their power to keep Brown Jr. in the building and attempt to lock him up long-term. The only negative to come with Brown Jr. receiving the franchise tag is that the Chiefs are letting former All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu hit the open market in free agency. The best-case scenario this offseason would have been to lock up Brown Jr. to a long-term deal earlier place the franchise tag on Mathieu. If retaining Brown Jr. comes at the expense of Mathieu that will be a major loss for the Chiefs.
Cleveland Browns: David Njoku, Tight End
2022-23 Salary: $10.93 million
One player that was an under-the-radar free agent this offseason was Cleveland Browns’ tight end David Njoku. The Browns drafted Njoku with the 29th overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. His time in Cleveland was controversial and was not viewed as a success to the outside world. Njoku’s best season came in his second year in the league when he caught 56 of 88 targets for 639 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns.
After the team signed Austin Hooper to a four-year $44 million deal, making him the highest-paid tight end in the league, Njoku had requested a trade. The Browns denied his request because they felt they were not receiving fair compensation and kept him as their second tight end. Hooper has not played great in Cleveland which gave Njoku the opportunity to emerge as the TE1-B rather than TE2. However, the team has not featured Njoku as a major playmaker for their offense.
This all in large part was why many were confused on why the Browns would want to give Njoku this kind of salary for another season. They tagged a player who only caught 36 of 53 targets for 475 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season. It is not entirely Njoku’s fault that he hasn’t emerged as a receiving threat for the Browns, Cleveland could have done more to get him involved.
The question remains why would Cleveland place the franchise tag and pay that high of a salary for a non-vital piece to their offense when they have important starters like Jadeveon Clowney, Ronnie Harrison, and Anthony Walker set to hit free agency. This feels like a misuse of resources for the Browns. The only explanation for this move was that the team was afraid that he could thrive with a different team. This would look bad for the Browns who limited Njoku’s role and never gave him a fair shot to grow into the team’s starting tight end.
Cincinnati Bengals: Jessie Bates, Safety
2022-23 Salary: $12.91 million
One move that absolutely needed to happen this offseason was for the Cincinnati Bengals need to retain safety Jessie Bates no matter what. Bates was a vital piece of Cincinnati’s defense that played a huge role in their road to the Super Bowl last season. It is fair to say that Bates is the most talented player on their defense along with Trey Hendrickson. The dynamic duo of Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell has become one of the best safety tandems in the entire league.
During the 2020-21 season, 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. It is shocking that Bates has not been voted to one Pro Bowl in his career yet.
The Cincinnati Bengals have the cap space to retain their major free agents and add veterans to their roster to get them back to the Super Bowl. Retaining Bates on the franchise tag was the first step to a successful offseason. Cincinnati needs to work on a long-term deal with Bates this offseason so they do not have to risk losing him again next offseason.
Miami Dolphins: Mike Gesicki, Tight End
2022-23 Salary: $10.93 million
There aren’t many pieces of the Miami Dolphins’ offense that the team could confidently build around. However, the two players who should be in the team’s long-term future are second-year wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki. Over the last couple of seasons, Gesicki has emerged as one of the best pass-catchers at the tight end position in the league. He is such a great receiver that he primarily lines up in the slot like a wide receiver despite being listed at a tight end.
This past season Gesicki had career highs in targets, receptions, and receiving yards and was second on the team in all three categories. He caught 73 of his 112 targets for 780 receiving yards and two touchdowns last season. At the salary, Miami would have to pay Gesicki on the franchise tag it seemed unlikely they would let a talented player of his caliber potentially walk away in free agency. New head coach Mike McDaniel is expected to continue Gesicki’s major role for this offense and possibly expand it.
The Miami Dolphins had the most salary cap space available in the league prior to franchise tagging Gesicki. It was the right move to retain Gesicki this offseason and try to work out a long-term deal to keep him as a foundational piece to this growing offense.
Dallas Cowboys: Dalton Schultz, Tight End
2022-23 Salary: $10.93 million
The Dallas Cowboys have made major headlines recently because of the likelihood of them letting go of two of their most talented and expensive players in wide receiver Amari Cooper and DeMarcus Lawerence. Despite how well they have played during their time in Dallas, neither have played to the level of which they are being paid. Part of the reason why Dallas will most likely let go of them was to retain upcoming free agents this offseason like tight end Dalton Schultz.
For years the Dallas Cowboys have been searching for their next starting tight end to replace Jason Witten who retired in 2017 then returned to the team for a season before leaving to sign with the Raiders in 2019. Dallas drafted Schultz in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Daft. He was given an opportunity to be the Cowboys’ starting tight end during the 2020-21 season after tore his ACL during the first game of the season. Schultz played extremely well catching 63 of his 89 targets for 615 receiving tards and four receiving touchdowns.
This past season Schultz was named the team’s starting tight end despite Jarwin returning to the team. He topped all of his stats from a season ago and stepped up in a major way when wide receiver Michael Gallup missed multiple games due to injury. Schultz finished the season catching 78 of 104 targets for 808 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns.
When the season ended many believed that Dallas would let both Schultz and Gallup walk in free agency. Dallas could have easily targeted both positions in the draft because both position groups are very deep in this class. However, the team is working on an extension for Gallup and will keep Schultz around for at least one more season on the franchise tag at a reasonable price. Schultz will have to prove next season that he is a star who could emerge as one of the better tight ends in the league.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Cam Robinson, Left Tackle
2022-23 Salary: $16.6 million
For the second straight season, the Jacksonville Jaguars have the first overall selection in the upcoming draft. Also for the second straight year, the Jacksonville Jaguars have placed the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson. This comes as a complete shock because many felt that the team would replace Robinson with one of either Alabama’s Evan Neal or N.C. State’s Ikem Ekwonu with the first overall pick.
Robinson has been a solid left tackle, but not deserving to be the sixth highest-paid left tackle in the league. For context, Robinson will be making more than veterans like Taylor Lewan, Donovan Smith, Taylor Decker, D.J. Humphries, Dion Dawkins, Jake Matthews, Charles Leno and Tyron Smith next season. All of which were graded ahead of Robinson according to PFF last season. Robinson received a 67.4 grade from Pro Football Focus last season.
Last season it felt appropriate to keep Robinson in-house to be their starting left tackle when he has been solid for them. However, retaining him at his salary with so many possible upgrades in free agency and the draft feels irresponsible. They may have been better off using the franchise tag to keep former Pro Bowl wide receiver D.J. Chark around for one more season. The Jaguars also could have tagged either starting offensive guard Andrew Norwell or A.J. Cann who would have been cheaper and may be harder to replace.
However, there is a scenario where the Jaguars could release Robinson rescind the franchise tag from Robinson if they do fall in love with one of the tackles in this year’s draft. If that was the case Jacksonville wouldn’t owe Robinson any money if he does not sign the tag. This would be similar to when Carolina rescinded the franchise tag from Josh Norman in 2016.
They could also trade Robinson to another team in need of a left tackle. Jacksonville would split the $16.6 million price tag with Robinson’s new team. This has happened multiple times in recent history including Yannick Ngakoue in 2020, Jadeveon Clowney in 2019, Frank Clark in 2019, Dee Ford in 2019, and Jarvis Landry in 2018.
Green Bay Packers: Davante Adams, Wide Receiver
2022-23 Salary: $20.12 million
Tuesday marked the end of the buzz around Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams playing for teams other than the Green Bay Packers next season. Rodgers reportedly is interested in returning to the team and signing an extension with them. Also, the team decided to place the franchise tag on All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams. It isn’t shocking that the Packers placed the franchise tag to retain Davante Adams. He was the consensus best player expected to hit free agency this offseason. The only realistic scenario that Adams was not going to return to Green Bay was if the team traded Rodgers and then decided to blow it up by giving Adams the franchise tag then trading him for draft assets.
Last season Adams was named First-Team All-Pro for the second season in a row and was voted to his fifth straight Pro Bowl. Over the last few seasons, Adams has built as good of a case as anyone to be considered the best receiver in the entire league. Last year caught 123 of his 169 targets for 1,553 receiving tards and 11 receiving touchdowns. He was top-3 in every receiving category this past season except receiving touchdowns where he ranked in the top-5.
It will not be long until Adams is the highest-paid receiver in the league. Getting Adams at $20.12 million is a discount considering what he could command on the open market. Adams’ extension with the Packers will potentially be around $28-$30 million per year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Chris Godwin, Wide Receiver
2022-23 Salary: $19.18 million
This offseason has not started off the way the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have wanted it to go. Both future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet have retired this offseason. On top of that Tampa Bay was slated to have numerous starters hit free agency including Carlton Davis, Ndamukong Suh, Leonard Fournette, Jason Pierre-Paul, Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, William Gholston, and Chris Godwin. The Buccaneers needed to use the franchise tag to get a head start on trying to retain as many key free agents as possible. For the second season in a row, the Buccaneers placed the franchise tag on wide receiver Chris Godwin.
The former Pro Bowl receiver was having a great year prior to tearing his ACL in Week 15 against the New Orleans Saints. In 14 games last season, 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 and over 1,100 receiving yards in two of the last three years. He is one of the most dangerous slot receivers and red zone threats in the league.
When Godwin is paired with Mike Evans they have a case for the best receiver duo in the league. Tampa Bay was able to lure Tom Brady in free agency back in 2020 because of their great weapons at wide receiver. Their offense cannot afford to lose much more vital offensive pieces. As difficult as it may be to let some of their free agents walk, retaining Godwin was the best move to stop the bleeding this roster will likely continue to go through this offseason.
This team will not be a Super Bowl contender, but could possibly still make the playoffs since they compete in a very weak NFC South. When Godwin gets healthy he could help this team down the stretch possibly return to the playoffs and show that this team still has the foundation of a contender that a quarterback may want to play for in the near future.
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