8 players that should be franchise tagged
The offseason is underway for all but the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos—time to look ahead at free agency.
One of the most important aspects in building a successful roster is being able to keep talent from hitting the free agency market. While there are many reasons for teams and players to go their separate ways, the franchise tag has been an asset to teams over the years, whether it is just keeping a player for an additional season, or providing more time for the two parties to come to an agreement on a long-term contract.
Generally, the preference for all of these teams and players is to sign long-term contracts, but agreements can’t always be made. Assuming new, lucrative deals cannot be agreed upon, these are the players who we believe are worthy of receiving the hefty franchise tag this offseason.
1. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
Jeffery is by far the best free agent wide receiver this offseason, and would be sure to command colossal contract offers if he were to hit free agency. The 25-year-old battled through injuries and missed some time during the 2015 season, his first year as the Bears’ top target. Regardless, he posted the highest receiving grade of his career, along with an overall grade of 94.2, ranking him third among wide receivers this season. The Bears do have first-round pick Kevin White waiting in the wings, but 2016 will assuredly be treated as a second rookie season for him after missing the entire year with injury. Marquess Wilson and Marc Mariani performed well last year given their increased roles, but neither impressed enough where Chicago would want to rely on either as starting receivers heading into next season. Simply put, the Bears need Jeffery back.
2. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos
This one can be filed under the no-brainer category. Miller has excelled from day one in the NFL, and is an elite pass rusher. He’s graded among the top three edge defenders in each of his five seasons, even despite missing part of the 2013 season. He was our second-overall edge defender behind division-rival Khalil Mack, and third in pass rushing productivity. The Broncos have several outstanding players on defense, and keeping Miller might prevent them from also keeping someone like Malik Jackson, but Miller is a talent that needs to be secured under any circumstances.
3. Oliver Vernon, DE, Miami Dolphins
Tagging Vernon might be a stretch, solely due to the Dolphins’ current cap situation, but moves could be made to free up enough space to keep him. From a production standpoint, Vernon was our third-ranked edge defender this season behind the aforementioned Mack and Miller. He ranked in the top five of edge defenders with a 9.2 run-stop percentage, and his 81 total pressures were fifth-most among all defenders. With Cameron Wake celebrating his 34th birthday last weekend (while also still recovering from a torn Achilles), keeping Vernon is shaping up to be the main objective for Miami’s defensive success moving forward.
4. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets
Wilkerson is a prime candidate for the franchise tag this offseason. He is recovering from a broken leg and it remains to be seen if (or how) that will affect his availability or level of play in 2016. With nose tackle Damon Harrison also set for free agency, it will be difficult to get both signed to new contracts. Harrison will likely come at a lesser cost, and therefore could be easier to keep. Re-signing both would be a massive amount of money to invest in the defensive line, with Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams also on the roster. The Jets are among a handful of teams with the least amount of current cap space. However, if they can free some money, it could be possible to re-sign Harrison and tag Wilkerson to keep both and readdress the situation in 2017. If they chose not to re-sign Harrison, the tag might still be on the table for Wilkerson to make sure he’s the same player after breaking his leg.
5. Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs
What Berry was able to do on the field this season after being diagnosed with, and beating, Hodgkin’s lymphoma was beyond brilliant. Berry finished the year with an 88.0 overall grade, sixth-best among safeties, and looked much like the player we saw during his last full season in 2013. Berry won our Comeback Player of the Year Award and was named to our All-Pro team as a second-team safety. He’s consistently been one of the best players on the Chiefs’ defense since they drafted him five years ago, and it would be a crime if Kansas City somehow let him slip away. The Chiefs have several players set to hit the market, though, so the franchise tag is certainly an option.
6. Cordy Glenn, LT, Buffalo Bills
The Bills have quietly improved their offensive line quite a bit from a few seasons ago, finishing ninth in our rankings this season, up from 30th in 2014 and 22nd in 2013. Glenn’s continued development has been a significant part of that rise, and it would be tough to sustain the improvement without his presence. Glenn graded as the 10th-best tackle overall and seventh in pass protection this season. If he hits the open market, we have him as our best available offensive lineman. The biggest issue in keeping him is allocating money and cap space, with the Bills currently right up against the salary cap threshold. Buffalo would have to move on from other players in order to sign Glenn—franchise tag or otherwise.
7. Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers
Norman had a breakout year as one of the best cover cornerbacks in the league, and has been integral to Carolina’s success on defense. He held opposing quarterbacks to a 54.0 passer rating when targeted, lowest among all cornerbacks. Great cover corners are one of the most sought-after positions with the amount of passing in the league these days, and they come at a premium on the market. Players such as Sam Shields are commanding more than $10 million per year. Carolina would like to lock Norman up long-term, but they have plenty of cap space for the projected $13.7 million price of the franchise tag if it absolutely boils down to it.
8. Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore Ravens
The 2008 offseason was the last year where there was not a specialist tagged, and the streak will continue if the Ravens cannot get a deal done with Tucker prior to the start of free agency. Tucker has been among the best kickers in each of his four years as a pro, and our top graded kicker for the second straight season. Even with a franchise tag amount possibly pushing the value to $4.5 million for kickers, it’s worth it to keep one of the most consistent legs in the league.