The NFL’s annual window for teams to tag impending free agents opens today at 4 p.m. ET and won’t shut until March 5 — eight days before unfettered free agency commences.
For those in need of a refresher, the franchise tag is a mechanism allowing a club to tender a one-year offer to one of its potential free agents. With slight variations to the calculus, the tag is basically worth the average of the top five salaries at the player’s respective position or 120 percent of his previous year’s salary if it represents a more lucrative raise.
A player given an “exclusive” tag, which is worth slightly more, cannot negotiate elsewhere. A player given the “non-exclusive” tag can deal with outside teams, but if he’s allowed to sign with a new organization, his previous club is compensated with two first-round draft picks.
The transition tag is essentially worth the average of the top 10 salaries at a player’s position or 120 percent the value of his most recent salary (whichever is higher). A player with the transition tag can negotiate with other clubs, however his original team does not receive compensation if he leaves after an outside offer is not matched.
With those ground rules in mind, here’s a look at one player for — almost — each of the league’s teams who might be a logical tag candidate.
Arizona Cardinals: Surprise … the league’s worst team in 2018 has no need for a tag in 2019.
Atlanta Falcons — DT Grady Jarrett: One of the best interior defenders in the game and only 25, Jarrett could be sticking around given the pace of Atlanta’s recent cost-cutting moves to free up cap space.
Baltimore Ravens — ILB C.J. Mosley: A Pro Bowler in four of his five seasons, the 26-year-old is certainly a performer Baltimore wants to keep … though a franchise tag approaching $15 million could be tough to swallow.
Buffalo Bills: Simply no viable options.
Carolina Panthers: LB Thomas Davis, C Ryan Kalil and DE Julius Peppers are gone for a team quickly getting younger … but with no young talent worthy of a tag.
Chicago Bears — S Adrian Amos: He’s one half of the league’s premier safety combo alongside all-pro Eddie Jackson. With no first- or second-round draft pick this year, the Bears might be compelled to re-invest in Amos. Safeties ($11.3 million franchise value in 2018) have the cheapest tag among defensive players.
Cincinnati Bengals: No real case here, either. TE Tyler Eifert might command a tag if he could stay healthy, but he’s missed 34 games over the past three seasons.
Cleveland Browns: They’ve got roughly $80 million in cap space, which is better spent in other ways.
Dallas Cowboys — DE Demarcus Lawrence: After being franchised in 2018, he stands to make nearly $21 million in 2019 if he gets another tag. With 25 sacks over the past two seasons, he’s worth it.
Denver Broncos — C Matt Paradis: He’s quietly been one of the league’s most reliable pivots the past four years and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 overall center in 2018. But most teams would balk at tagging a lineman for more roughly $15 million if he doesn’t play left tackle.
Detroit Lions: Franchising DE Ziggy Ansah last year turned out to be a mistake. Don’t expect another in 2019.
Green Bay Packers: Don’t anticipate a tag even with familiar names like OLB Clay Matthews and WR Randall Cobb set to leave.
Houston Texans — OLB/DE Jadeveon Clowney: Arguably the top unsigned player anywhere, Houston certainly has the cap room (approximately $80 million) to retain a talent who will command a major windfall if he reaches the open market.
Indianapolis Colts: No team is projected to have as much spending power, but none of GM Chris Ballard’s $100 million-plus war chest ought to be earmarked for his own free agents — at least from the tag perspective.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Just focus on your quarterback conundrum, fellas.
Kansas City Chiefs — OLB Dee Ford: After he produced a career-best 13 sacks, GM Brett Veach has no intention of letting Ford get away … even if he has to bulk up a bit to play in new DC Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme.
Los Angeles Chargers: Nope.
Los Angeles Rams — OLB Dante Fowler Jr.: His potential and age (24) would seem to make him the strongest tag consideration for the NFC champs … but the midseason acquisition’s production — despite some flashes of brilliance — doesn’t warrant a reward in the $15-16 million range.
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Miami Dolphins — RT Ja’Wuan James: The Fins don’t have tons of cap space, and James is hardly elite. But the former first rounder is only 26 and has been solid for a team that has plenty of gaping holes.
Minnesota Vikings — LB Anthony Barr: He’s never seemed like an optimal fit in Mike Zimmer’s defense, yet Barr has been a Pro Bowler four years running. Maybe a tag becomes more feasible if someone like DE Everson Griffen is cut loose.
New England Patriots — K Stephen Gostkowski: The franchise’s all-time leading scorer was tagged four years ago and, now 35, has shown little drop-off since. He’d come much cheaper than DE Trey Flowers or LT Trent Brown.
New Orleans Saints: Be nice to keep DE Alex Okafor, RB Mark Ingram and/or backup QB Teddy Bridgewater, but not at this steep a cost.
New York Giants — S Landon Collins: His production has dipped since his 2016 all-pro campaign, but he’s still been a Pro Bowler each of the past three seasons.
New York Jets — K Jason Myers: A first-time Pro Bowler in 2018, he also became the first player in league history to have five field goals of at least 55 yards in the same season. The relatively cheap cost of franchising kickers (just $4.9 million in 2018) also has appeal.
Oakland Raiders — TE Jared Cook: Is it the best move to tag a 31-year-old who’s career has been a study in inconsistency? Probably not. But Cook was this team’s most productive pass catcher in 2018 (68 catches, 896 yards, 6 TDs), and tight ends had the cheapest franchise tag ($9.8 million) among non-kickers last year.
Philadelphia Eagles — QB Nick Foles: He’s essentially bought his freedom, opting out of his contract for $2 million. But Philly could still tag him with the intention of striking a subsequent trade in order to find better and more immediate returns than the third-round compensatory pick in 2020 they’d probably get for Foles in a worst-case scenario.
Pittsburgh Steelers — RB Le’Veon Bell: After being franchised the past two years — and opting to sit out the 2018 season rather than play for $14.5 million — could he next be saddled with a transition tag? It might seem like a vindictive move by Pittsburgh if it happens, but it would also grant the Steelers control and perhaps enable them to try and derive some level of compensation in a potential tag-and-trade scenario. Note: Tags also can be rescinded.
San Francisco 49ers — K Robbie Gould: Another case where reliability doesn’t mean premium dollars given his position. Gould’s 97.1 percent conversion rate on field goals (33 for 34) topped the NFL in 2018.
Seattle Seahawks — DE Frank Clark: At 25, he’s four years younger than star FS Earl Thomas and has been a better soldier of late. Clark’s 32 sacks since 2016 rank ninth league-wide in that span but aren’t very far behind pace setter Chandler Jones’ 41.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — LT Donovan Smith: If nothing else, he’s durable, starting every game of his four-year career. Smith has hardly been dominant, but the Tampa Bay Times reports a tag is likely in his future.
Tennessee Titans: Their unsigned players skew older, and none had the kind of 2018 season deserving of a massive payout.
Washington Redskins — OLB Preston Smith: His sack numbers don’t impress (24½ in four seasons), but he is one of the league’s more underrated all-around edge defenders. Is he worth more than $15 million? It’s a stretch.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
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