Today marks the first day NFL teams could designate a player with the franchise tag on their roster. Between then and March 7 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 could change how they address needs on their roster. Here are the offensive free agents who could be franchise tagged by their respective teams before March 7th.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
There is no larger profile free agent that could become available this offseason than Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. It isn’t every offseason that a former league MVP has the opportunity to hit the open market. That being said, it is improbable that Jackson will actually hit the open market. He is almost guaranteed to receive the franchise tag if he doesn’t receive an extension from Baltimore prior to the March 7 deadline.
The questions with Jackson this offseason will be about what the Ravens decide to do with Jackson after giving him the tag. It is unlikely that Jackson plays a snap on a one-year deal after playing out the final season of his rookie contract this past year. There has been plenty of speculation about the Ravens trading a franchise-tagged Jackson to a team looking for a massive upgrade at quarterback.
At this point, it seems more likely that Jackson will be suiting up for another team going forward rather than remaining in Baltimore. The Ravens would have to rebuild their offense but besides, Jackson there isn’t much on this roster offensively that puts this team in a prime positon to be a Super Bowl contender.
Plenty of teams should be interested in Jackson’s services. Rumored teams to be interested in acquiring Jackson include the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and New York Jets. All three teams are picking in the top-15 of the 2023 draft and put Baltimore in positon to draft a quarterback using their the round selection they would be acquiring from a trade involving Jackson.
Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants
The remarkable season by the New York Giants has made the decision involving Daniel Jones’ long-term future with the team more difficult for the team. Coming into the season New York wanted to see if Brian Daboll could help Jones look more like the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be in 2019. The team also decided to decline Jones’ fifth-year option and sign veteran Tyrod Taylor to a two-year deal in Jones couldn’t turn the corner. Instead, Jones helped lead the Giants to an improbable playoff run including a win against the Vikings on the road in the Wild Card Round.
Jones had career highs in completion percentage and passing yards along with career lows in turnovers. Daboll helped transform Jones into a game manager. Despite not being the most dynamic playmaker, Jones was coached to be efficient with the football despite not putting up outstanding numbers for the team. Jones had the best season of his career with one of the least talented receiver groups he has had since he has entered the league. Darius Slayton led the team in receiving yards with 724 followed by Richie James (569 receiving yards) and late-season breakout Isaiah Hodgins (351 receiving yards in eight games).
Many expect the Giants to try to retain Jones, even if that means using the franchise tag on him. There could be a slight chance that New York looks into acquiring another player at the position that could be viewed as an upgrade like Lamar Jackson or Aaron Rodgers. But for the time being New York cannot afford to let Jones out the door with not many better or equal options available.
Geno Smith, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Last year the average NFL fan learned that Geno Smith is still on an NFL roster. This past season Smith was voted to the Pro Bowl and won Comeback Player of the Year. Smith and the Seattle Seahawks were one of the best stories around the league this year. Many were surprised to see the Seahawks hold off from adding another quarterback to their roster to compete with Smith and recently acquired Drew Lock. Seattle had plenty of options available this offseason including Jimmy Garoppolo, Baker Mayfield, and rookies like Desmond Ridder and Malik Willis. Seattle stuck to their guns and had a quarterback competition between Smith and Lock.
Expectations were extremely low for this team following their blockbuster trade that sent Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. The Seahawks also let go of Future Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Wagner within the same period of time. But this team did not give up on this season and made a legitimate run to the playoffs. Outside of Seattle’s outstanding rookie class all contributing right away the largest reason for this team’s outstanding run was the play of Geno Smith.
The first time Smith started gaining national attention was following Seattle’s week one victory over their former franchise quarterback Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos. Smith had an outstanding game showing the ability to move the ball down the field against what ended up becoming one of the best defenses in the league. Smith continued to put up great numbers and win games for Seattle.
Both sides are motivated to keep Smith in Seattle. If the Seahawks use the franchise tag on Smith it may be just to guarantee that Smith stays in Seattle and doesn’t have the opportunity to negotiate with new teams.
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
New York not only has to focus on Daniel Jones becoming a free agent but they also have Saquon Barkley to worry about. For the first time in three seasons, Barkley remained healthy and showed that he is still one of the best running backs in the league. This gives New York a decision to make whether they want to guarantee that they could keep their starting quarterback or their Pro Bowl running back.
It is no secret that giving a running back a long-term extension is ill-advised for the long term, especially a running back that has an injury history. But it would be so hard for the Giants to let Barkley leave this offseason. This offense runs through Barkley. The threat of Barkley as a runner puts another defender in the box that opens up a receiver for Daniel Jones. For the majority of the year, Barkley had a legitimate case to be named Offensive Player of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year.
The best off-season plan for New York would be to franchise tag Jones and work out an extension with Barkley. It would be safer if they had Jones on a short-term deal that they could let him go from his he regresses than letting Barkley walk within the next two years. Having Barkley on a long-term deal is worth continuing to figure out the quarterback position for New York. If Barkley somehow isn’t a Giants next year this team will look how many thought they would this past season.
Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys
The most improved skill position player in the league this past season was Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard. Pollard officially moved past Ezekiel Elliott on the depth chart this past year to assert himself as the team’s best and start running back. This was outstanding during the season because the combination of Pollard and Elliott in the backfield won Dallas a decent amount of their games.
Pollard is entering a contract year things could get difficult for Dallas. Elliott is currently entering the third season of his six-year $90 million extension. It is ill-advised to have a running back on the roster on a second contract making him one of the highest-paid in the position. Dallas could have two running backs on their roster that have a top-10 salary at the position. Now the early reports are that Elliott and the Cowboys are looking for how they could move money around to avoid cutting him so the team could have more available cap space. This is a necessity for the Cowboys’ offense to have Pollard on the roster on a second contract.
Even though running backs are viewed as replaceable the Cowboys cannot let Pollard walk in free agency. There is a case that he was the best offensive player on the team throughout the entire season. The only players that make a case for that title besides Pollard are Zack Martin and CeeDee Lamb. He is the most explosive weapon on the roster and showed that he could take control of games similar to how Elliott did for Dallas early in his career. Franchise tagging Pollard could buy the Cowboys more time to figure out how they’re going to move Elliott’s money around to keep him in the backfield with Pollard at least for next season.
Another reason Dallas may be interested in franchise-tagging Pollard instead of signing him to a long-term deal is that they likely want to see how he recovers from the broken leg that he suffered against the San Francisco 49ers during the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
Despite an extremely disappointing season for the Las Vegas Raiders overall they found an offensive superstar in Josh Jacobs in 2022-23. Coming into the season many expected the Raiders to lean more into the Derek Carr-Davante Adams connection after acquiring Adams and have a split backfield like Josh McDaniels had in New England throughout his tenure as the offensive coordinator. Instead, the Raiders leaned into their former first-round running back into a contract year which led to the best season of his career.
Jacobs led the league in rushing this past season which would have gained more national attention if the Raiders had been a relevant playoff contender this season. The most impressive part about Jacobs leading the team in rushing is that it was behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Outside of left tackle Kolton Miller the Raiders could look to improve their entire offensive line this offseason. Jacobs rushed for 100+ yards six times this past season including a 200+ yard rushing game against the Seattle Seahawks late in the year.
There is a lot of uncertainty around who will be the starting quarterback of the Raiders next season now that Derek Carr has been let go. Las Vegas cannot afford to lose both Carr and Jacobs in the same offseason if they want to be competitive next year. The Raiders cannot afford to let Jacobs hit the market and ponder the possibility of joining a team that is a star running back away from being a contender. Las Vegas needs to keep Jacobs in the building to keep their offense explosive next season regardless of who starts at quarterback for them next season.
Orlando Brown Jr., OT, Kansas City Chiefs
For the second straight season, Orlando Brown Jr. is a franchise tag candidate for the Kansas City Chiefs. Even though Brown Jr. did not play near an elite level this year the Chiefs could franchise tag him again paying him a 120% boost from what he was tagged for the year before. That would mean that Brown Jr. could be making slightly under $20 million next season.
There are other alternatives for Kansas City this offseason at left tackle. But after winning the Super Bowl this past season Kansas City will likely do what they can to keep as much of this team intact as possible. Brown Jr. has played like one of the best tackles in the past, however, that was when he lined up at right tackle. Since making the full-time transition to left tackle Brown Jr. has been a slightly above-average player at the position. Kansas City will likely bet on their ability to coach Brown to play as how he did earlier in his career in Baltimore.
According to PFF, Brown Jr. has a better second season with Kansas City than his first. He improved to a 75.8 PFF grade from the 75.2 grade he had last season. Unless Kansas City believes they can find an upgrade with the 32nd overall pick or are willing to give up draft capital to trade for another left tackle Kansas City will likely keep Brown Jr. in the building and try to sign him to a long-term extension.
Mike McGlinchey, OT, San Francisco 49ers
One of the more under-discussed free agents that could hit the market is San Francisco 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey. Since he was drafted ninth overall in 2018, McGlinchey has been a key part of the 49ers’ offensive line. Even though he hasn’t been voted to Pro Bowls or been named to All-Pro teams McGlinchey has been one of the best and most consistent right tackles in the league. This past season McGlinchey earned a 71.5 grade from PFF.
Due to how expensive San Francisco’s roster currently is it is likely that the team will not be able to pay McGlinchey market value and remain under the salary cap. If he was to walk they could look at in-house options to replace him. But if San Francisco believes this current roster is capable of winning a Super Bowl next season they could tag McGlinchey to keep him around for one more year.
McGlinchey’s status with the 49ers is dependent on how they feel about the other tackles Jayon Moore and Colton McKivitz along with how they feel about their roster overall. Last offseason San Francisco let Pro Bowl guard Laken Tomlinson sign with the New York Jets and replaced him with 2020 second-round pick Aaron Banks. They also replaced Pro Bowl center Alex Mack with journeyman center Jake Brendal. So it is worth noting that San Francisco has attempted to replace talented players along the offensive line with inexpensive players in recent years.
Kaleb McGary, OT, Atlanta Falcons
There are only a few positives to pull out of how the Atlanta Falcons played this past year. The best player on the team this past year was Second Team All-Pro left guard Chris Lindstrom. However, there is a case that starting right tackle Kaleb McGary was the second-best player on the roster this past season. This was unexpected as veterans Elijah Wilkinson and Germain Ifedi were brought in by Atlanta to compete with McGary for the team’s starting right tackle job this past year.
Until this past season, McGary had been disappointing since Atlanta took him with the 31st pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He was so disappointing that the team declined his fifth-year option that would have kept him on the team for the 2023-24 season. McGary earned an 86.6 grade from PFF this past season. He was an outstanding run-blocker and improved his all-around this year.
Atlanta has way too much cap space available this offseason to let McGary walk after a career year. It could benefit them to attempt to sign McGary to an extension before the Franchise Tag deadline. But at a minimum, he should be retained on the Franchise tag. The Falcons don’t have a lot of great pieces on this roster but if McGary is retained they’ll have three first-round picks on their offensive line that have shown they could play at least at a Pro Bowl level.
Evan Engram, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
A lot has changed in the past year to get to this point. Slightly over a year ago the New York Giants let Evan Engram walk in free agency and he signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. This signing was questioned at the time because Engram had not been a reliable pass catcher over the past few seasons. But Engram emerged as a top pass-catching option for Jacksonville and one of the more productive tight ends in the league this past season.
Engram was fourth in the league in receiving yards among tight ends among the likes of George Kittle, Pat Freiermuth, and Dalton Schultz. He was also tied with Mark Andrews for the third most receptions in the league this past year by tight ends. After an extremely productive year, Engram deserves a long-term deal.
Jacksonville surprisingly has very limited cap space available. But after the spending sprees over the past few offseasons, the Jaguars don’t have a lot of available cap space to spend on free agents. So as a result of this, it is unlikely that the Jaguars could retain Engram if he was to hit the open market. If Jacksonville strongly feels that Engram is a key part of this offense that cannot be replaced they may have to franchise tag him.