While the sports world deals with uncertain futures in the face of the coronavirus pandemic (get the latest updates at CBS News), the NFL gained some measure of stability on Sunday after the NFLPA . The vote locks the league into labor peace for the next 10 years, and now the NFL can move on to plans for the 2020 league year.
As a result of the new CBA, teams will only be allowed to extend one franchise or transition tag to impending free agents. Had a new deal not passed and the league year began with no CBA in place past 2020, teams would have been able to use both a franchise and transition tag had they so chosen. That's a not-trivial distinction for teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans that faced the prospect of losing multiple key players.
We'll keep you updated here with all the players to receive the franchise or transition tag ahead of 2020 NFL free agency. Players are listed alphabetically by team.
While many of the tags were employed before the deadline were expected, the Arizona Cardinals deciding to put the transition tag on Kenyan Drake qualifies as a bit of a surprise. After all, the team handed David Johnson a three-year extension before the 2018 season that carries with it a cap number of over $14 million for 2020, and there aren't many teams willing to shell out big money for two running backs in an era where the position has been devalued.
That's not to say that Drake isn't worth the money. After all, he jump-started the Cardinals' rushing offense after being acquired from the Dolphins in the middle of the season, racking up 643 yards and eight TDs on the ground in just eight starts while adding another 171 yards on 28 receptions. But we'll see if the Cardinals go ahead and match Drake's best offer on the market when the time comes and carry two-high priced running backs. If they don't, they'll receive no draft-pick compensation.
After the Ravens said goodbye to two of their top three pass rushers from 2018, it was the one who stayed who stepped up to fill the void. Matt Judon delivered a career-high 9.5 sacks and 33 quarterback hits in 2019. After recording 16.3% of the team's sacks and 19.2% of the team's QB hits the previous year, Judon was the anchor of the Ravens defense in 2019, racking up 25.7% of the sacks and 29.7% of the quarterback hits in Baltimore.
As of now, the Ravens have decided to not let history repeat itself and let Judon walk out the door. He would be tough to replace for a team that should focus on stabilizing its front-seven during the offseason. However, the possibility of a tag-and-trade was already bandied about before the decision was made to tag the pass-rusher, so there's no guarantee he'll be suiting up for Baltimore by the time Week 1 rolls around.
A.J. Green is one of the most talented players not just at his position, but in the entire league when he's on the field. Unfortunately for Green and the Bengals, his ability to be on the field has been the issue over the last two seasons. A groin injury early in 2018 didn't keep him off the field, but he still managed to play just nine games after a midseason toe injury. An ankle issue sustained last summer went from being an issue that might cause him to miss Week 1 to one that kept him off the field the entire year. Those injuries were likely going to depress his market a bit despite his sterling career numbers, which include six 1,000-yard seasons in his first seven years.
Instead, the Bengals will retain his services for 2020 and likely hope to pair him with expected No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow. But that's if Green is willing to play under the tag at all.
The Cowboys made the move everyone saw coming, placing the exclusive franchise tag on star quarterback Dak Prescott. The 26-year-old is coming off the best season of his career, throwing for 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns when he had never topped 4,000 yards in a season before. While the Cowboys finished the year with their worst record under Prescott at 8-8, the young franchise quarterback has led the team to a 40-24 record as starter while never missing a game in his career to date.
Because the Cowboys were unable to come to an agreement on a long-term deal with Prescott before the deadline, they've used their one tag to keep him in Dallas. That means the team runs the risk of losing wide receiver Amari Cooper, who helped take Prescott's game to the next level in his first full season in Dallas, in free agency. Byron Jones, another candidate for the franchise tag had higher priorities not existed this offseason, is almost certain to find a new home this offseason as well.
The Broncos secondary has long been defined by its cornerback play, from Chris Harris to Aqib Talib to Bradley Roby and so on. Starting in 2018 and continuing on last year, Justin Simmons has emerged as the face of that unit. The talented safety started all 16 games in each of those seasons, finishing tied for first with three interceptions in 2018 and then leading the Broncos by recording four of the team's 10 picks last year. He's also finished second in combined tackles on the team in both years, while his passes defensed spiked from four in 2018 to 15 last season.
At 26, Simmons is a key piece to this defense moving forward, a player to help maintain stability on the back end during an offseason where the Broncos are expected to lose a longtime lineup fixture in Harris. Expect the team to work toward a long-term deal with Simmons during the coming weeks rather than risk losing him to the open market in 2021.
The Jaguars have entered rebuild mode on the defensive side of the ball. After parting ways with Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson prior to last year's free agency then watching Telvin Smith step away from football last summer, the Jaguars traded Jalen Ramsey to the Rams during the 2019 season, declined Marcell Dareus' option in February and then traded A.J. Bouye to the Broncos for a fourth-round pick. The Jaguars then agreed to a trade following the passage of the new CBA that sends veteran Calais Campbell to Baltimore. The core of the defense that took the Jaguars to the AFC Championship has been reduced to Myles Jack, 2019 first-round pick Josh Allen and Yannick Ngakoue, the talented pass-rusher who has managed 37.5 sacks in four seasons with the team.
Like Ramsey before him, Ngakoue appears to have no interest in remaining in Jacksonville long-term, so the team should be motivated to work out a trade to send him away for at least one premium draft pick this offseason.
If you asked people who the best interior defensive lineman was in the league after the 2018 season, many would have said Aaron Donald. But ask who was No. 2, and you'd have gotten a lot of "Chris Jones" responses. Considered a premier talent despite modest sack totals in his first two seasons, Jones finally exploded in 2018, recording 15.5 sacks along with 19 tackles for loss and 29 quarterback hits while even returning an interception 20 yards for a touchdown. And while his production dropped off in 2019 after the team's transition in scheme, he still put up nine sacks during the regular season and played a key role for the Super Bowl winning team.
Simply put, tagging Jones is one of the easiest decisions for a team ahead of the deadline. Even with a Patrick Mahomes megadeal looming on the horizon, the Chiefs should do what they can to get the talented defender under contract long-term.
When Hunter Henry has been on the field for the Chargers, he's been incredibly productive. His stats over his first four years work out to a 16-game average season of 53 catches, 667 yards and 6.6 TDs. Multiply those numbers by four, and only 33 players had reception (212), yardage (2,668) and touchdown (26) total numbers between 2016-19 at that level, while just three of those players were tight ends. Henry himself won't be on that list, however, and that's because he's been wrecked by injuries during his time in the league. He played 29 of a possible 32 games in his first two years but missed 2018 with a torn ACL suffered in OTAs (though he did return for the team's playoff loss to the Patriots), then missed four games last year with a tibia plateau fracture.
Even with his injury history, Henry is one of the top players at his position in the league, so it makes sense to tag him and try and work out a long-term deal. But it appears the biggest roadblock to delivering on his now-elevated price tag could be his ability to stay on the field.
Anthony Harris became a full-fledged star in 2019, tying for the league lead with six interceptions (and returning one for a touchdown) while also racking up 11 passes defensed and 60 total tackles in his 14 games (all starts). His rise has been a fast one, having jumped to seeing the field on 60 percent of defensive snaps in 2018 but playing more on special teams than defense prior to that.
Harris was expected to be coveted on the open market after his breakout season, but instead he'll pair with Harrison Smith to give the Vikings a high-priced safety duo for now; the Vikings entered the offseason as one of the league's most cap-strapped teams, something that's already resulted in parting with Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes. While the Kirk Cousins extension does help to create cap space, it's anyone's guess whether the plan is to keep Harris or trade him for picks and cap relief.
The Patriots made perhaps the most surprising franchise-tag move of the offseason just before the deadline, placing their tag on guard Joe Thuney. That's not to say Thuney is anything but a top talent, but rather that giving him the highest yearly salary at the guard position, thanks to a $14.781 million projected tag that includes the higher-priced offensive tackle position as a factor, seems anathema to the Patriots' usual method of operations. However, what the Patriots are getting for that price tag is a top-tier talent who had no penalties in 2019 despite playing 99 percent of the offensive snaps.
And there's still a chance Thuney suits up for someone else in 2020. It wouldn't shock anyone to see the Patriots find a trade offer they like for the guard rather than pay him top-tier money.
The Giants paid a pretty penny to acquire Leonard Williams before last year's trading deadline, trading third- and fifth-round picks to land the former No. 6 overall pick. And now they're paying to keep him in place, putting a franchise tag on the defensive lineman. In Williams' eight games with the Giants, he delivered 26 total tackles and 11 quarterback hits but just two tackles for loss and half a sack.
The move guarantees that the defensive interior will continue to be a strength for the Giants. Now their attention shifts to addressing the myriad issues elsewhere on the roster.
The Steelers drafted Bud Dupree in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft hoping he'd give the pass rush a boost, but his production largely lagged behind his pedigree up until 2019. After the addition of 2017 first-round pick T.J. Watt gave the Steelers pass rush a boost, Dupree helped take it to the next level last season, racking up 11.5 sacks after managing 20 in his first four years. In addition, the pass rusher recorded career-best numbers in quarterback hits (17), forced fumbles (four), total tackles (68) and tackles for loss (16).
Due to that breakout season, the Steelers were unwilling to let Dupree leave in free agency, especially considering the lack of a first-round pick due to the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade would have made it tough to bring in an impact player to replace that production.
Shaq Barrett was once upon a time an undrafted free agent who signed with the Broncos but didn't see the field in his rookie season. Now he's been guaranteed almost $16 million after being slapped with a franchise tag by the Buccaneers. In between, Barrett managed to carve out a role with the Broncos, making six starts in 2015 and nine more in 2017. After not seeing the field much in 2018, the pass-rusher took his talents to free agency having recorded 14 sacks in his five years in Denver. He landed in Tampa, signing a one-year, $4 million deal with the Bucs, and proceeded to have one of the all-time breakout seasons, recording a league-best 19.5 sacks along with 58 total tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 37 quarterback hits.
The Buccaneers were not about to let the diamond in the rough leave after the breakout season, using their franchise tag to keep him in Tampa. However, the Bucs aren't done addressing their pass rush, with key players such as Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh also
Derrick Henry went from being a good player to a great one in 2018, rolling to 1,059 rush yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Last year, he took his game to a whole new level, particularly in the back half of the season with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. By the time the regular season was over, Henry had piled up 1,540 rushing yards on 303 carries with 16 rushing touchdowns, all league-best numbers. His 5.1 yards-per-carry average was also a career-best, and he played a critical role in getting the Titans to the AFC Championship Game with 182- and 195-yard performances in the playoffs.
So it's no shock the Titans didn't want to let Henry get away in free agency, and using the tag on the talented running back was made all the more likely when the team signed Tannehill to a new deal. This move secures two key parts of the Titans offense for 2020, but it does leave right tackle Jack Conklin to head into free agency unsigned.
Brandon Scherff has been the rock of the Washington offensive line ever since he was taken at No. 5 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft between Amari Cooper and Leonard Williams. While the Trent Williams situation has turned acrimonious between player and team, Scherff has played a part in giving the offensive line some stability and high-level play, to which his three Pro Bowl trips can attest. But Scherff has also dealt with injuries since starting every game in his first two seasons, as he's played in just 33 of a possible 48 games over the last three years.
Players of Scherff's caliber are hard to find, and it makes sense for Washington to want to hold on to him as long as possible as the offense looks to grow under second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins.