The NFL franchise tag deadline has come and gone, as plenty of teams waited until the last minute to slap the tag on key players in order to prevent them from being unrestricted free agents. The Baltimore Ravens finally put the tag on Lamar Jackson while the New York Giants had to come to a decision whether to prevent Daniel Jones or Saquon Barkley from hitting free agency (they were able to retain both).
The Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders wasted no time in making sure their top running backs didn't hit the market, tagging Tony Pollard and Josh Jacobs more than 24 hours prior to the deadline. Six teams decided to use the franchise tag this offseason, creating even more speculation if those teams can reach long term deals with those tagged players.
With the franchise tag deadline passed, here are the winners and losers as free agency is less than a week away.
Winner: New York Giants
The Giants were able to accomplish the goals they set -- reach a long term deal with Daniel Jones and franchise tag Saquon Barkley. From an organizational standpoint, this is a win for the franchise (even if it wasn't settled until 3:54 p.m. -- six minutes before the deadline).
Jones signed a four-year, $160 million deal with $82 million fully guaranteed. Signing Jones allowed New York to place the franchise tag on Barkley and giving the front office until July to reach a long term deal with Barkley.
The question that persists for the Giants. Was 9-6-1 and a divisional round playoff appearance with a quarterback that had a career year and a running back that's averaged fewer than 4.5 yards per carry post-ACL surgery the ceiling? The Giants are going to find out in the coming years.
For this offseason, New York is keeping Jones and Barkley. That's a win for the franchise.
Loser: Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys were wise not to let Tony Pollard hit the free agent market, placing the franchise tag on him and giving the talented running back $10.91 million for the 2023 season. While Dallas gives themselves more time to work out a long-term deal with Pollard, they still are paying Ezekiel Elliott $16.72 million in 2023.
Dallas is currently paying $27.63 million for two running backs next season. That has to be corrected in the coming months. The Cowboys can't build a Super Bowl championship roster with over $16 million in salary cap space going to Elliott.
Elliott's contract has to be restructured or the Cowboys need to cut ties with him all together. They can't pay two running backs over $10 million per season.
Winner: Orlando Brown
Brown wants to sign a long-term deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, but he'll get the opportunity to test the free agent market this year as Kansas City decided not to place the franchise tag on him. Arguably the best offensive lineman on the market, teams can go into a bidding war for Brown as he finally gets the opportunity to showcase how much he's worth as a left tackle.
Only three left tackles make over $20 million per season and only one left tackle (Trent Williams) has a contract that totals over $100 million. Brown appears primed to receive over $100 million and $20 million annually in free agency.
Loser: Josh Jacobs
The Raiders certainly benefitted from tagging Jacobs this offseason, especially since Jacobs is coming off a season which he led the NFL in rushing yards (1,653) and yards from scrimmage (2,053) while earning First Team All-Pro honors. Jacobs was arguably the cream of the crop of all the running backs set to hit free agency.
Then the Raiders tagged Jacobs, taking him off the market while earning a salary of $10.091 million in 2023. Jacobs would have received more on the open market if he were to hit it, especially since the Raiders declined his fifth-year option for 2023 (putting him in that free agent situation in the first place).
Jacobs should thrive in year two in Josh McDaniels' offense and put up big numbers, but would have have received as much money as this offseason with more tread on his tires? Unless Jacobs gets a contract extension, 2023 is another "prove it" year.
Winner: Lamar Jackson
Jackson will get somewhat of an opportunity to test the market, as the Baltimore Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on their franchise quarterback. This gives Jackson the opportunity to negotiate with other teams, giving them a chance to offer Jackson the guaranteed money he's seeking in his next contract.
If Jackson is offered a king's ransom in his next deal, the Ravens can choose to match it or get two first round picks. If Baltimore decides to match it, Jackson returns to the Ravens and gets his money.
Either way, Jackson is getting his money -- form the Ravens or another team. At worst, Jackson gets $32.416 million guaranteed in 2023 (assuming he signs the tender).
Loser: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens do want to pay Jackson, but slapping the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jackson is a significant gamble. Jackson is going to get paid by some team over the next week, and there's going to be a bidding war for him.
Two first-round picks in return isn't nearly enough for a player of Jackson's talents. The Ravens had over a year to get a long term deal with Jackson done. Now he may not even be with the Ravens by the end of next week.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars want to work out a long-term deal with Evan Engram, and slapping the franchise tag on their franchise-record setting tight end was the best way to handle that business. The tight end market isn't strong in free agency and Engram would have been in high demand after a career year.
Engram is getting paid $11.345 million, a slight raise over the $9 million salary he received last year. Good for the Jaguars for taking care of one of Trever Lawrence's best pass catchers as soon as possible, especially since they have four more months to work on an extension.
Loser: Cincinnati Bengals
Jessie Bates leaving Cincinnati appeared to be a foregone conclusion once the Bengals couldn't reach a deal with him at the franchise tag deadline last July. Bates held out for a bit before deciding to play under the tag.
The Bengals decided not to tag Bates this time, paying him $14.46 million -- less than he would have received in free agency. Bates will get significantly more on the open market, and the Bengals will likely lose out on one of the core players of their franchise.
Winner: Miles Sanders
The franchise tag was used on three running backs: Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, and Tony Pollard. Sanders wasn't going to receive the franchise tag from the Philadelphia Eagles, so he's arguably the best running back available in a crowded market.
How much are teams willing to pay Sanders given he's the top running back available? If the three backs that were tagged are getting $10.091 million, certainly Sanders can receive $8 to $9 million per season from teams that desperately need a running back.
Sure there are cheaper options, but those players didn't produce in 2022 like Sanders did. After the running backs that were tagged, James Conner is the next highest contract at $7 million per season. Certainly Sanders can receive more than that amount in free agency.
Loser: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs still have a week to work out a long-term deal with Orlando Brown, making a business decision not to franchise tag him this time and pay Brown $18.244 million for 2023. If Kansas City doesn't sign Brown, the Chiefs have a massive void at both tackle positions -- as Andrew Wylie is also set to hit free agency next week.
The depth at tackle is severely questioned if the Chiefs don't retain Brown or Wylie, but Brown is a difference maker on that offensive line. Kansas City didn't have the $18.244 million in guarantees and salary cap hit to get four extra months of negotiating with Brown.
If the Chiefs don't sign Brown this week, he's getting paid by someone in free agency. The Chiefs would be back to square one at tackle, a frightening sight for Patrick Mahomes.