Another franchise tag period has come and gone, and this year things went largely as expected. The sentiment among many in the agent community -- that several of these teams placed the franchise tag on players more as a means of squatting on their rights for another year than as a true precursor to a huge deal -- is as strong as ever, and the process has left several players frustrated and disillusioned.
Of course, Von Miller got his mega-deal. He was always going to. Denver had to give him the $70 million in injury guarantees he's made it clear he demanded since January.
And, as is almost always the case, any extensions that do get completed on the franchise tag generally occur within hours of the deadline. It wasn't until Friday that the talks between the Jets and star defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson started going anywhere, after two-plus years of talks spanning two front-office regimes in New York. Those sides did turn in the one shocker of the period, beating the deadline on a five-year deal that sources said comes in at $86 million in total with around $37 million in full guarantees and $53.5 million in injury guarantees. Wilkerson is also set to earn $54 million in the first three years of his new deal.
For all of the grousing and idle threats from Justin Tucker's camp, the reality is he is a kicker, and even great kickers have little leverage in these situations. The Ravens could always string him along for another year on the tag, and they weren't going to break the bank. In the end, he signed for four years, as expected. (I pegged that as a 75-percent likelihood at the start of the week, even when the kicker was displeased with the talks.)
As for the rest of this bunch, well, that's how it goes. This tag is an especially effective tool for teams to maintain the rights to their top talent on a yearly basis, and in a sport with such extreme injury risks, it serves the clubs well. This cycle was particularly bereft of any real hope for big-money deals for most of the franchise players, however, and in most every case the sides never got anywhere remotely in the same ballpark to reach the point where more meaningful negotiations could occur.
Now that things have gone almost entirely as expected in these cases, the question becomes what is next for the players and those teams. Some of these situations became more caustic than others -- we've seen outbursts from several -- but the bottom line is that the clubs continue to hold the hammer in some of these instances.
Miller got his record contract, setting new standards for defensive players, and effectively replacing Peyton Manning in Denver by netting a contract in line with the elite quarterback deals in the game (as we told you would be the case way back on the Super Bowl 50 pregame show). Wilkerson and Tucker also got paid.
The remaining four players who carry the franchise tag enter training camp under very different circumstances.
This one has been pretty simple since the moment the quarterback was tagged. He'd play out 2016 on the tag. If he produces anything close to what he did a year ago, Dan Snyder will finally be paying huge money to a quarterback.
Trust me, it's generally a great problem to have. Cousins repeats his breakthrough from last season -- and he has plenty of weapons around him to do so -- and Snyder will be waving that checkbook all over the place. He knows we're talking over $60 million in guarantees at that point, but he wants to see a larger sample size from the former mid-round pick, and Cousins is perfectly happy to gamble on himself.
This could be Flacco 2.0, or at least something close to it. Trust me, the Redskins will pay if the kid shows he can play (again).
Given how much he has overcome with his battle against cancer and how much he means to the locker room and the community, I still can't help but wonder if he remains a Chief despite the difficulty of landing a deal this offseason. His medical history makes for some potentially uncomfortable elements to any deal, but the Chiefs have been paying all of their top homegrown talent and this safety certainly qualifies.
Perhaps another season of stellar play, coming off his return to form in 2016, results in the sides striking something long-term in January. Of course, Kansas City is going to have to find a way to retain stalwart defensive tackle Dontari Poe, too, and that market has taken a major spike in recent months.
As much as this has been a setback, I have a hard time ruling out something getting done six months from now when perhaps things have cooled down. They've been through so much together, already, for me to think this is entirely over after 2016. Chiefs GM John Dorsey was quick to put out a statement thanking Berry for his service and vowing to renew talks on a new deal as soon as the CBA allows in January. We'll see.
The Bears are eventually going to have to pay some skill players on offense again, and if Jeffrey has a quality season -- and stays relatively healthy -- they will be waving money at him in January.
Young general manager Ryan Pace didn't draft him, and Jeffery is being asked to be a true No. 1 receiver now. The litany of medical setbacks -- usually soft tissue injuries -- have been a concern, but in some months this guy has looked as good as anyone in the game.
With Jay Cutler's future in limbo, it just could be the Bears will need to dole out big bucks to receivers and backs to try to have an infrastructure around a rookie quarterback sooner rather than later, and for as little progress was made between the sides this season, that could change quickly after the season. These talks have remained largely cordial, and while Jeffery certainly isn't thrilled with how things have played out, I don't get the sense there is the kind of lingering animosity that has punctuated some other negotiations (or lack thereof).
The Rams might want to keep drafting corners. They never got close on a deal with Johnson, and franchising him twice in a row doesn't seem all that feasible. The would cost at least $16.8 million for just 2017 alone, and now we're talking about $31 million over two years, without having any rights to the player long-term.
The lack of urgency to get this one done makes it feel like a one-year rental, though perhaps, now out in Los Angeles, Stan Kroenke makes it more of a priority after the season. But getting Johnson to agree to terms before the start of free agency next year may be close to impossible, too, with the rates of corners rising and the salary cap finally soaring.
I expect he and his camp to be very resolute. Agent Joel Segal tends to drive a very hard bargain for his players, especially if/when things drag out that far. This could be the top corner on the 2017 open market, where he could surpass the free-agent deal former teammate Janoris Jenkins signed with the Giants this offseason.