8 min read

2023 NFL Free Agency: Top Franchise Tag Candidates

The NFL franchise/transition tag window officially opens on Feb. 21 and closes on March 7. Teams historically have waited until the final week before using the tag on an impending free agent they want to keep, ensuring they won’t become an unrestricted free agent.

Franchise Tag Basics

  • Teams can only use one tag per offseason.
  • It rarely, if ever, happens, but the non-exclusive franchise tag allows the player to negotiate with other teams and sign an offer sheet. If their current team doesn’t match the offer, the new team gives up two first-round picks.
  • The transition tag provides only a right to match, with no compensation coming back if the team allows the player to leave.
  • A team can only use the exclusive franchise tag, which is the average of the top five salaries at the player's position during the current year (as opposed to the average of the top five salaries at a position over the last five years for a non-exclusive tag). This tag is more expensive, but the player would not be allowed to talk with any other team. This was last used on Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and could come into play this year with Lamar Jackson.
  • If a team applies the franchise tag on a player for a second time, then it’s going to be a 120% raise in their salary from the previous year.

Here are the official franchise (non-exclusive) and transition tag salaries for this offseason:

Position Non-Exclusive/Franchise Tag Value Transition Tag Value
QB $32,416,000 $29,504,000
RB $10,091,000 $8,429,000
WR $19,743,000 $17,991,000
TE $11,345,000 $9,716,000
OL $18,244,000 $16,660,000
DE $19,727,000 $17,452,000
DT $18,937,000 $16,068,000
LB $20,926,000 $17,478,000
CB $18,140,000 $15,791,000
S $14,460,000 $11,867,000
K/P $5,393,000 $4,869,000

Franchise Tag Candidates

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

Exclusive Tag: Upwards of $44 million

The situation with Jackson is well known. He wants a fully guaranteed deal, and the Baltimore Ravens have not been interested in doing one. Placing the exclusive tag on Jackson takes him off the market, while a non-exclusive tag would allow Jackson to find his value and bring back an offer sheet to Baltimore.

If Baltimore decides not to match, it would receive two first-round picks. Considering the Houston Texans got a package that included three first-rounders for Deshaun Watson last year, getting just two for Jackson probably wouldn’t be enough. How both sides navigate this situation will be the talk of the offseason. One thing is for sure: It’s not a slam dunk Jackson is back with Baltimore next year.

>> READ: Jackson Contract Talks Going Wrong Direction

New York Giants QB Daniel Jones

Tag Value: $32,416,000

The New York Giants did not pick up Daniel Jones’ fifth-year option last year, which would have been worth $22.4 million in 2023. After a bounce-back season with new head coach Brian Daboll, Jones has the Giants up against the wall. Jones recently made an agent switch after both sides started talking about a long-term deal (they didn’t negotiate in-season). It’s unclear what exactly happened, but talks will have to restart with Jones' new representation in place.

The complicated part with a quarterback like Jones is there’s no middle-tier to pay quarterbacks. While the Giants might want a deal to be worth $35 million per year, Jones has every right to ask for $40-plus million per year just because that’s where the market is, and it’s only going to continue to go up. If the Giants can’t get a deal done with Jones before the tag deadline, that would allow Saquon Barkley to become an unrestricted free agent. The Giants have a lot to juggle here, and it won’t be easy.

>> READ: Giants Want Jones Back in 2023

Seahawks Geno Smith Pete Carroll

Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith

Tag Value: $32,416,000

Geno Smith was one of the great feel-good stories of the 2022 NFL season, leading the Seattle Seahawks to the postseason when few gave them a shot. Everyone in that building loves Smith, from the front office to the locker room, and they all want to keep it going.

Similar to Jones, figuring out the correct value might be difficult. One executive noted Derek Carr’s contract in free agency could ultimately be the perfect blueprint for Seattle and Smith to work off of.

>> READ: Carr Visits With New York Jets

Kansas City Chiefs OT Orlando Brown Jr.

Tag Value: $19,994,400 (Second Straight Year)

The Kansas City Chiefs traded four draft picks to acquire Orlando Brown Jr. and a pair of picks a couple of years ago from Baltimore. After not reaching a deal last offseason, Brown bet on himself and started all 20 games this season, improving as the year went on. He allowed just two sacks in the final 12 games (nine regular season, three postseason). Left tackle is a premium position, and Kansas City would like to work something out, but this is a front office that sets valuations and adheres to them.

It’s worth noting Brown hired an agent last offseason who had never negotiated an NFL contract — which isn't necessarily a bad thing —  but the inexperience complicated matters when discussing a deal that potentially could end up in the nine-figure range. If Brown is tagged again, he could play hardball and play out another year – and then become a free agent next offseason at 27 years old. A third franchise tag would be cost prohibitive for the Chiefs. 

Washington Commanders DT Daron Payne

Tag Value: $18,937,000

The Washington Commanders elected to let Daron Payne play out the final year of his rookie deal, and he went on to have the best season of his career with 64 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and 20 quarterback hits. The issue that could come up in Washington is it already committed big money to Jonathan Allen, has Montez Sweat eligible for an extension and has to make a decision on Chase Young’s fifth-year option.

In other words, the defensive line room has the potential to be really expensive soon. Letting Payne go would be difficult, but Washington is in a tough situation from a positional budgeting standpoint. 

Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs

Tag Value: $10,091,000

The new Las Vegas Raiders regime declined Josh Jacobs’ fifth-year option, which was worth about $8 million last offseason. The former first-round pick turned around and had a league-leading 1,653 rushing yards and 2,053 yards from scrimmage in his first season with coach Josh McDaniels.

Las Vegas could tag him and pay the extra $2 million to bring him back – but keep in mind Raiders general manager Dave Ziegler came from the New England Patriots, where they almost never put significant money into running backs. The free-agent RB class and draft class are super deep, which the Raiders might factor into their decision.

>> READ: Top Free Agent Running Backs

Jacksonville Jaguars TE Evan Engram

Tag Value: $11,345,000

Evan Engram took a one-year, prove-it deal last offseason to join Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence, and it could not have worked out better. The former Giants first-round pick totaled a career-high 73 receptions and 766 yards, and his 481 yards after the catch was second-most among tight ends.

Both sides want to keep it going, and the Jacksonville Jaguars could use a franchise tag as a placeholder for an eventual long-term deal. 

Dallas Cowboys TE Dalton Schultz

Tag Value: $13,117,200 (Second Straight Year)

Some might put Tony Pollard here, but there’s a strong belief around the league that the $10 million tag for running backs is still too big of a number when considering the number of options available. Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys value Dalton Schultz as a run blocker, and there’s no hiding his talent as a pass catcher.

He put up 154 receptions for 1,596 yards and 16 touchdowns during the past two seasons, including the postseason. A second tag being $13.1 million is still team-friendly. Schultz’s camp was not happy with the tag last year, so expect both sides to make a strong push for a long-term deal. 

Denver Broncos DE Dre’Mont Jones

Tag Value: $19,727,000

Dre'Mont Jones is not a household name, but he’s been productive for the Denver Broncos, totaling 138 quarterback pressures and 22 sacks since entering the league in 2019. The 26-year-old is just entering his prime, and after trading away Bradley Chubb, there are some who believe Denver might use the tag on him. Jones said after the season that he wouldn’t be surprised if it happens.

Broncos general manager George Paton called Jones one of the team’s core players and said the team wants him in Denver for “a long time.” The tag number might be too expensive for the Broncos, and they would love to get a long-term deal done before having to use the tag – but Jones has the leverage.