The franchise tag. Those three words can bring an onslaught of emotions for NFL clubs and their players. Particularly this year, when the overall cap number is down, tagging a player creates cash challenges. There are relational challenges to consider, too.
Teams have until 4 p.m. on Tuesday to designate a franchise tag. There’s still a chance that cap questions may extend the deadline, but even a little extra time doesn’t make those decisions any easier.
To use Joe Banner’s word, the tag is “provocative” — and the results around it can be just that.
Remember the conundrum the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves in with Le’Veon Bell? Tagged for a second year in 2018, Bell sat out the season.
Used effectively, the tag can simply be a bridge. We have seen this done in Denver, and the Broncos may well be in line to repeat history with Justin Simmons. Last week, Simmons became the first player tagged this offseason. It’s the second straight season Denver has utilized the tag on Simmons, but he could well go the way of Demaryius Thomas and Von Miller and ink a long-term deal with the Broncos.
Like most things in life, communication is critical. A well-communicated, honest message from a club to a player that they are looking to build around can buy time — and thus build the needed bridge to get a deal done.
Dak Prescott was one of the key players whose name was consistently brought up with the franchise tag. As Mike Tannenbaum told me: “Dak playing on a one-year deal for a little over $37 million doesn’t make any sense for the Cowboys.” The Cowboys knew that — and they got ahead of it before the tag deadline, reportedly inking their quarterback to a 4-year, $160 million deal, with a record $126 million guaranteed. Proof — as if anyone needed it — that franchise quarterbacks must be retained.
With deadline day here, which players are most likely to received the same message as Simmons?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: LB Shaquil Barrett
Undrafted free agent (Denver), 2014
PROS: Anyone who watched the Tampa Bay Bucs defense dismantle Andy Reid’s offense in Super Bowl LV knows Barrett’s significance. In the postseason alone, Barrett upped his game: with 4 sacks and 21 pressures (according to PFF). Finding edge rushers that storm quarterbacks like Barrett is like trying to spot the first flowers of spring — patience, patience. The Bucs won’t risk losing Barrett.
CONS: Communication. Communication. Communication. Barrett has made it clear that he feels like the time is now for him to cash in and get a long-term deal done. A tag must be communicated (there’s that word again!) as the basis to get that deal done. This will be the second year Barrett receives the tag. That means a 20% salary increase over last year’s — about $19 million.
The additional challenge Tampa Bay faces comes with the player who may well be Tom Brady’s favorite target: Chris Godwin. His tag number is lower but as critical as he is to the offense, filling the void he would leave is easier than filling the one Barrett would leave behind. Not to mention that Brady might a) advocate for the Bucs to do a deal with him (see: Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown) and, should that fail, b) benefit any receiver coming into the offense. Not to mention that Tampa Bay has an arsenal of talented offensive weapons.
Chicago Bears: WR Allen Robinson
Second-round pick (Jacksonville), 2014
PROS: Robinson is a huge bright spot in the Chicago offense. He’s posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons despite the Bears’ ongoing search for a quarterback. GM Ryan Pace has made it clear that he wants Robinson in Chicago — the tag would give them a chance to get that long-term deal done that they had hoped to complete before the 2020 season.
CONS: Who’s the quarterback? Thjat’s the question for both Robinson and the Bears. Whether or not they can come up with the same answer remains to be seen. For a team that is fairly tight to the cap, $16 million for a receiver may be too steep. Some have indicated the chance of a tag and trade scenario in this instance.
Detroit Lions: WR Kenny Golladay
Third-round pick, 2017
PROS: Golladay has proven himself to be a building block. When you plant the seed, you want to experience the bloom in your own garden. Using the tag here enables the Lions a chance to do that. PFF noted, “three receivers were selected in the top 10 of the 2017 draft and Golladay has outperformed all of them.” Not exactly talent a team wants to part ways with.
CONS: Where are the Lions in their rebuild process? A season away? Three seasons away? As Banner wrote, $16 million against the cap for the receiver on a team that still has several seasons to go may not be the best use of dollars. Like with Robinson, a tag and trade possibility exists.
Carolina Panthers: OT Taylor Moton
Second-round pick, 2017
PROS: The best ability is availability — and Moton has that and then some. He’s started every game for Carolina for the past three seasons and gave up just three sacks on 1,057 snaps in 2020 (per PFF). The Panthers cannot let the critical piece of their offensive line walk away — and won’t. Given Moton’s production, the tag number of under $14 million for one of the best tackles in football is a win.
CONS: Sure, the tag number is under $14 million — the benefit of using the tag at the offensive line position — but this really needs to be about getting a long-term deal done. For stability. For cap dollars. For overall team building.
Washington Football Team: G Brandon Scherff
First-round pick, 2015
PROS: Buying time. Washington has tried several times to successfully sign Scherff to a long-term deal. It hasn’t happened. A tag now has to be to keep their four-time Pro Bowl guard in the trenches for them for years to come. Because …
CONS: Since Scherff was tagged last year, that 20% increase puts the number around $18 million. That’s a steep price for a guard. Confidence is key here: If Washington is confident in what Scherff brings to the table, new GM Martin Mayhew has to be confident in Scherff signing long-term after using the tag.
UPDATE: NFL Network reported Monday night that Washington is using its franchise tag on Scherff.