INDIANAPOLIS – Franchise tags are about to start flying around everywhere. Chris Jones is just the start.
The owners know they are about to be more flush with cash than ever before, on the precipice of a 10-year labor deal and about to take aim at the television networks and streaming services with new broadcast deals coming next. And, with the knowledge that the league has barely even started to dip its collective toes in to the deep and plentiful revenue streams that await once the NFL wholeheartedly embraces the economic bounty of gambling.
The cap is going to keep rising, significantly, and now is not the time to fret over a few extra million in cap space when it comes to teams trying to secure their best talent for the 2020 season. And, with teams able to apply multiple tags for now at least – as lawyers for the league and union continue to hash out the fine print of this new collective bargaining agreement ahead of the players' full vote (more on that below) – there is all the more reason that franchise and transition tags are all the rage.
With the period to apply the tag now officially underway, here is the latest I am hearing on what is to come for the top potential free agents and their current employers:
CHARGERS: HUNTER HENRY – He is going to get tagged. Every team I have talked to that has a need at tight end or interest in upgrading at tight end believes there is no chance the Chargers let him go. He is a focal point and building block for whomever the next starting QB is for that franchise and from everything I gather he absolutely will be getting the franchise tag.
BUCCANEERS: SHAQ BARRETT / JAMEIS WINSTON – The Bucs will apply the tag on Barrett after his monster breakout year. That is not in doubt. And they continue to weigh the merits of tagging Winston as well. The consensus among the execs I spoke to is that if the Bucs can't get a strong sense that Philip Rivers will land there, then Winston gets a tag as well (assuming they can still use two tags). I still don't see a clear and obvious path for Tampa to upgrade from Winston. Regardless, the Bucs will be using a tag or two.
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TITANS: RYAN TANNEHILL / DERRICK HENRY /JACK CONKLIN – This is another team prepared to use two tags, sources said. And their primary objective would be to get a multiyear extension done with the quarterback, sources said, which would leave tags to be placed on the running back and right tackle. Of course, that may prove to be folly, because Tannehill is coming off an outstanding season and if a new CBA is ratified, say, next week, that second tag could quickly disappear. I'll say this, keeping Conklin is very much a priority for this franchise.
COWBOYS: DAK PRESCOTT / AMARI COOPER – Dallas is fully prepared to use two tags. Prescott absolutely positively gets a tag, And at this point he would have zero motivation to even want to engage with the Cowboys brass until he sees what the future holds for guys like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. No reason to even talk until mid July, when the deadline for extended franchised players rolls around. Cooper gets the tag, too, assuming they can use two.
RAVENS: MATT JUDON – I have been reporting for months that the franchise is prepared to tag Judon to keep him. That remains the case. And for all the work the sides are doing trying to hash out a long-term deal to avoid that scenario, I wouldn't be holding my breath about that getting done before the expiration of the tag period. Judon has every reason to be very patient and see what guys like Jadeveon Clowney get, assuming he hits the open market as many executives I spoke anticipate.
STEELERS: BUD DUPREE – Pittsburgh is in a cap crunch, and has some work to do. But I get the sense they will do anything within reason to facilitate the ability to put a tag on Dupree after his huge year. It is not as unrealistic as some would have you believe, and if I was a betting man I'd put money on Dupree getting tagged in the end.
JAGUARS: YANNICK NGAKOUE – Getting tagged, won't be very happy about it. It could get fairly contentious between these sides. Getting a long-term deal done won't be easy.
BRONCOS: JUSTIN SIMMONS – The team is already on record as essentially saying he isn't going anywhere. The safety is getting tagged unless they work out a long-term deal before then.
BENGALS: A.J. GREEN – Very likely he gets tagged. In fact, I'd be shocked at this point if he doesn't get tagged. They will keep weapons for Joe Burrow and their young, offensive-minded head coach, even after the debacle that was 2019 for player and team.
REDSKINS: BRANDON SCHERFF – More likely than not that the guard gets the tag. This team doesn't exactly have a lot of guys screaming out for extensions or other places they need to spend their money on their current roster.
VIKINGS: ANTHONY HARRIS – They have the worst cap crunch in football and a lot of needs. I don't see them being able to use the tag here and have enough flexibility to get under the cap and keep the team somewhat in tact.
SEAHAWKS: JADEVEON CLOWNEY – Never rule out Seattle GM John Schneider getting creative and finding a way to get something done that others don't believe is feasible, But this team has a lot of free agents, and many of them are centered at the point of attack on both sides of the ball. A second tag for Clowney comes at a crazy price and the best chance to keeping him may be bringing him back on a long-term deal once he gets a chance to see what else is out there on the open market.
49ERS: ARIK ARMSTEAD – They really want to find a way to make this work and keep what is the best defensive line in football totally intact … I just continue to see that as being quite difficult to achieve. The sense among other teams I speak to is that they project Armstead to hit the market.
PACKERS: BRYAN BULAGA – With Aaron Rodgers already lacking a bit in his supporting cast on the offensive side of the ball, and with many of his most trusted teammates being discarded in recent years, I would probably tag this stud tackle if I was running the Packers. But the sense I am getting here at the combine is that it's not all that likely.
That is a lot of names right there, people. Even if there is only one tag that teams end up getting to actually utilize when the league year officially opens, I expect there to be double-digit teams to apply it. And if they can tag two players, there could end up being to close to 15 players on the tag, taking a significant cut into what was an already fairly pedestrian free-agent class, quarterbacks aside.
New CBA: The latest on NFL, NFLPA happenings
As I noted, there is still a lot of work being done daily between the NFL and NFLPA with their lawyers drawing up the actual CBA document and hashing out some rules and regulations based on if and when it gets ratified by the full player vote.
Based on what I am hearing, and the amount of work still to be done, it is likely to be until Wednesday at the earliest that the 1,900 players could begin to take part in the process. The hope is the two sides have everything drawn up by Tuesday and then players would likely receive a secure link via text message which they would use to cast their ballot electronically.
There will be some limited timeframe in terms of how long players have to cast their ballot, although that too is still being worked out. One would anticipate that would be measured in days, or certainly no longer than a week, but, again, that has not yet been determined. I continue to anticipate that the CBA is ratified by the players. The average NFL player sees a lot of real-time advantages, especially in the short term.
More insider notes
- The uncertainty about the timing of these tags and how many will actually be in use has put a chill on the market in Indianapolis Teams don't have cost certainty about their own payrolls yet, and aren't positive of their budgets to bring in outside talent. There aren't nearly as many numbers being talked about at this combine, executives and agents tell me …
- Saying all of that, I have heard that Kenyan Drake is seeking a deal in the $8M-$10M a year range. That would be something given how things played out for him in Miami and the overall suppression in the running back market, though he did certainly flash well with the Cardinals …
- Hearing that the Browns are paying new GM Andrew Berry about $3.3M a year, which has a lot of his peers around the league excited. That is pretty big money for a first-time general manager, and considering how Browns ownership generally is still paying former coaches and GMs at the same (like recently-fired GM John Dorsey), it's a commitment that has gotten people's attention.