Evaluating all 10 franchise tag decisions
The first domino of free agency toppled yesterday, with franchise tags being slapped on 10 players across the NFL, better setting the marketplace for the free-for-all madness that will begin next week.
The franchise tag today is really only used for two reasons: to buy more time for a long-term deal to get done, or because you don’t have enough confidence in the player to hand him those big-time guaranteed dollars just yet, but he has shown enough that you’re willing to give him another year to earn them.
Here we break down those moves into two categories: smart and questionable.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins ($19.953 million)
This is the classic case of the latter scenario outlined above. Washington saw some very good play from Cousins last season, but not enough of it to be confident in handing him $100 million or $50 million guaranteed, which is the ballpark contract a young, franchise quarterback is dealing in. Instead, they get to see him try to earn that deal in 2016, paying him the same kind of big-money ($19.95 million), but only being tied to him for the 2016 season.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears ($14.599 million)
Tagging Alshon Jeffery made too much sense not to happen, which is why it was so strange that we weren’t sure for so long. If Kevin White works out, the Bears will have two top weapons, something they haven’t been able to claim since Jeffery and Marshall were at their best. If White doesn’t pan out, they will need to keep Jeffery in-house as their only real receiving weapon. Even at this price, there will still be four higher-paid receivers in 2016 (three if Calvin Johnson officially walks away).
Von Miller, OLB, Broncos (~$14.129m, exclusive tag, not set until all of next year’s salaries are complete)
Von Miller wasn’t just franchise tagged, but became the first non-QB since Richard Seymour in 2010 to receive the exclusive tag, meaning only Denver can negotiate with him. The Broncos just saw how truly devastating Miller can be at his best, and he’s trying to parlay that into a monstrous contract. This is a deal both parties want to make, but hammering out the details is going to take some significant time. A three-game playoff run from Miller that featured six sacks, one hit, 16 hurries, a pass breakup, an interception, and two forced fumbles will be at the forefront of negotiations.
Trumaine Johnson, CB, Rams ($13.952 million)
The Rams had a decision to make between Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, and while they reportedly were offering Jenkins the long-term deal first, he rejected it, believing himself to be the type of shutdown player that 22 touchdowns surrendered over the past four seasons belies. Johnson, on the other hand, has allowed just six over the same timespan, and only one in each of his past two seasons. Last season, he looked like one of the better corners in the league for much of the year, so the Rams can now try to lock him down long-term and allow Jenkins to seek the riches he believes he’s worth elsewhere.
Josh Norman, CB, Panthers ($13.952 million)
Norman is another in the category of no-brainer when it comes to buying more time for a long-term deal. He emerged as a shutdown corner last season, and for a good portion of the year, was yielding a worse passer rating when targeted than if the QB had just thrown the ball into the turf every play. He ended the season leading the league in passer rating allowed, and there is no way Carolina could allow him to hit the open market.
Cordy Glenn, LT, Bills ($13.706 million)
The Bills are left with an interesting decision with Cordy Glenn. He may never be one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL, but he is a good player at a position where they are in shortage league-wide. A good O-line is often not about how good your best players, are but about how bad the worst are. The Bills couldn’t take the chance that the player to replace Glenn at left tackle would be a problem big enough to stunt the development of Tyrod Taylor. Glenn surrendered just two sacks last season, three less than Dallas’ Tyron Smith.
Olivier Vernon, DE, Dolphins ($12.734 million, transition tag)
Vernon was the only player to have the transition tag applied to him, which means the Dolphins will pay him less this season, but also if they fail to match any offer he attracts from another team, they will receive nothing by way of compensation in return. This is likely born of their cap situation, but also may effectively do their negotiating for them. If Vernon’s price goes too high, they can walk away and focus elsewhere. For a player whose elite play really only spans eight games, that may be smart.
Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Jets ($15.701 million)
It’s beginning to feel like the Jets don’t quite know what to do with their D-linemen, having amassed so many of them. Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams gave the team some cover to move on from Wilkerson, but instead, they have chosen to hang on to him this season and risk losing NT Damon Harrison, the only player without viable cover, to the open market. Wilkerson is a fine player that gives them some impressive versatility up front, but this feels like indecision rather than calculated hedging.
Eric Berry, S, Chiefs ($10.806 million)
Eric Berry’s comeback story a year ago was one of fairytales. To even return to the NFL after his Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis was remarkable, but to come back and play maybe the best football of his career practically defies belief. The issue for the Chiefs, however, is that I’m not sure Berry is really a game-changing player, or worth the $10.81 million they just committed to him for the 2016 season. That figure means he is scheduled to earn $4.7 million more than Kam Chancellor. Berry is a good player, but that is game-changing money I’m not convinced he justifies.
Justin Tucker, K, Ravens ($4.572 million)
How hard can it really be to negotiate a long-term contract with a kicker? Justin Tucker is arguably the best in the league, having topped PFF’s grades in each of the last two seasons, thanks to being proficient at both place-kicks and kickoffs. Last season, his average kick sailed 7 yards into the end zone, and he missed just one spot kick from under 50 yards. Retaining him for the Ravens was obviously important, but this feels like business that could have been done without using the franchise tag.