Usage of the franchise player designation increased dramatically this year. More players were franchise tagged this offseason than over the last two years combined. In total, 14 players received franchise tags while 11 designations were used collectively in 2018 and 2019. Usage hasn't been this high since a record 21 teams placed the designation on players in 2012 when there was almost a 20 percent drop in the franchise tender amounts from 2011 as the method of calculating these figures changed. The clock is ticking with the players who were given franchise designations. The deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals is 4 p.m. ET today (July 15). Chris Jones and the Chiefs reportedly just beat the deadline, agreeing to a four-year extension Tuesday. In what will likely be a surprise to many, the Titans and Derrick Henry are reportedly closing in on a multi-year extension too -- more details on that below.
After the deadline passes, players with franchise tags are prohibited from signing multi-year contracts until the end of the regular season on Jan. 3, 2021. So far, Jones is the only one of this year's franchise players who has signed a long-term deal. The only times no tagged players signed extensions since the change with the calculations in 2012 has been 2013 and 2015.
COVID-19 is certainly complicating matters this year. Teams are being more cautious generally in signing core players to new contracts with league revenues expected to drop because of the pandemic and have an impact on the 2021 salary cap due to games potentially being played in empty stadiums or in front of limited fans.
Which players will sign multi-year deals by Wednesday's deadline? Joel Corry joins Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to size it all up; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
Here's a look at the situations of the 14 players given franchise tags.
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
The Cowboys don't have to worry about a Prescott training camp absence if a long term deal can't be worked out because he signed his $31.409 million franchise tag several weeks ago. The Cowboys have reportedly offered Prescott a contract averaging $35 million per year for five years with guarantees in $106 million range.
A major sticking point in the negotiations is the length of contract. Prescott wants a four-year deal. The recent trend with high-end quarterback contracts has been a shorter term than what Dallas would prefer. There are seven passers with contracts averaging $30 million or more per year. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is the only one whose deal contains more than four new contract years. He signed a five-year contract extension. The average length for these seven quarterback deals is 3.57 new years. Since all seven deals were extensions (had at least one year remaining on their existing deals when signed), the quarterbacks are under contract for an average of five total years.
The longer the Cowboys wait to lock up Prescott, the more costly it's probably going to be. By next offseason, there could be two $40 million per year quarterbacks. An extension for 2018 NFL MVP and Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes is a priority for the Chiefs. The Texans have had preliminary discussions with 2017 12th overall pick Deshaun Watson, who is also under contract through the 2021 season, for a new deal. Watson is reportedly seeking a three-year extension. Barring a major regression with Prescott this season, the Cowboys would be forced to top their most recent offer by a considerable margin with one of both of these contracts in the market place. Dallas and Prescott have reportedly not negotiated since March.
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans
UPDATE: According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Titans and Henry are closing in on a long-term extension just before Wednesday's deadline. Jordan Dajani has details on the report and what it means for both Henry and the Titans.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson is hoping to find common ground with Henry, who has already signed his $10.278 million franchise tender, on a long term deal. It wouldn't be surprising for Henry's camp to view the recording setting four-year extension Christian McCaffrey signed with the Panthers averaging $16,015,053 per year right around April's draft as an indicator of the running back market after a stellar 2019 season.
Henry led the NFL in rushing (1,540 yards) and tied for the league's most rushing touchdowns with 16 despite missing a game late in the season because of a hamstring injury. He earned his first Pro Bowl berth and was named to the Pro Football Writers of America's All-NFL team. Since the middle of the 2018 season, Henry has been the NFL's most productive ball carrier. He has league bests of 2,299 rushing yards and 26 rushing touchdowns with 5.4 yards per carry.
Henry really made his mark in the playoffs during the Titans' run to the AFC Championship Game. He became the first player to ever have two games of at least 180 rushing yards in the same postseason. Henry also set an NFL record for the most rushing yards during a playoff run (not including the Super Bowl) with 446. His 148.7 rushing yards per game this postseason is the fourth-best mark ever in any single playoffs.
A common denominator with the running backs who have commanded top dollar in recent years is their dual-threat capabilities. The bottom of the top tier is the $13 million per year the Cardinals gave David Johnson in 2018.
Henry may become the exception. He doesn't add much in the passing game. Henry is more of a traditional ball carrier from the previous era. Nonetheless, Henry is Tennessee's best offensive player. On Tuesday, it was reported that Henry is expected to play under the franchise tag.
A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
Green wasn't thrilled the Bengals designated him as a franchise player for $18.171 million. Choosing to have Green play on the franchise tag may make the most sense for the Bengals given his injury history. Green has been one of the NFL's best wide receivers when healthy, which he hasn't been in recent years. He didn't play at all last season because of an ankle injury suffered in training camp that required surgery. Green, who turns 32 at the end of July, also missed six games in 2016 because of a hamstring tear and was limited to nine games in 2018 due to a toe injury also requiring surgery. He had career lows of 46 receptions and 694 receiving yards in 2018.
Brandon Scherff, OG, Redskins
Initial contract talks had reportedly gone well after the Redskins made Scherff the first offensive guard to be given a franchise tag since the Patriots used one on Logan Mankins in 2011. Retaining Scherff, who earned his third Pro Bowl berth in 2019, takes on additional importance after trading disgruntled left tackle Trent Williams to the 49ers. Scherff's franchise tag is $15.03 million, which is 120 percent of his $12.525 million 2019 fifth-year option salary. Ensuring that Scherff remains in Washington for many years will likely require a long-term contract averaging more than $16 million per year because a second franchise tag in 2021 at a NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement mandated 20 percent increase would be $18.036 million.
Leonard Williams, IDL, Giants
Curiously, the Giants gave up a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 fifth-round pick for Williams as last season's trading deadline was approaching when there was a better shot at the first overall pick in 2020 NFL Draft than securing a playoff berth. Giants general manager Dave Gettleman doubled down on Williams with the franchise tag. Williams may not have been a hot commodity in free agency since he has yet to live up to the potential that made him 2015's sixth overall pick. In the eight games Williams played with the Giants in 2019, he had half a sack, which was also his season total, but 31 quarterback pressures (combined sacks, quarterback hurries and quarterback hits). Placing the $16.126 million franchise tag on Williams only raised his salary expectations for a long term deal. In many instances, an agent will use the number as the starting point for negotiations, if not the average of two franchise tags as a barometer with a long term deal. In Williams' case, this would be approximately $17.75 million per year. On Tuesday, it was reported that the Giants don't plan to extend Williams.
Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, Buccaneers
Nobody could have foreseen Barrett having a league-leading 19.5 sacks in 2019. The 2014 undrafted free agent produced a total of 14 sacks in his previous four seasons with the Broncos. A long-term deal for Barrett might be comparable to the $18 million per year with the $40 million fully guaranteed at signing Trey Flowers got from the Lions in free agency last March. COVID-19 aside, any reluctance on making a long term commitment to Barrett would be understandable because of his limited track record for producing at the highest level. Barrett reportedly signed his $15.828 million franchise tender Friday and filed a grievance over his position listing.
Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE, Jaguars
Ngakoue wants to be traded. He has no interest in signing long term to stay in Jacksonville. Ngakoue's relationship with the Jaguars soured during acrimonious negotiations for a contract extension last offseason. Ngakoue had a brief training camp holdout, which primarily came to an end because of the need to earn another accrued season (i.e.; a year of service towards free agency). Under the CBA rules in existence at the time, Ngakoue wouldn't have earned a fourth one if he had waited until there were less than 30 days before the NFL's first 2019 regular season game to report to the Jaguars. Four accrued seasons are necessary to achieve unrestricted free agent status when a player's contract expires. Whether Ngakoue eventually signs his $17.788 million franchise tag, sits out some portion or the entire season remains to be seen.
Hunter Henry, TE, Chargers
Henry will make $10.607 million for the 2020 season absent a long term deal. The most relevant data point for Henry is the four year, $42 million deal with $23 million in guarantees Austin Hooper received from the Browns in this year's free agency to become the first tight end in league history to sign a contract averaging more than $10 million per year. Henry is unlikely to be franchised again in 2021 because wide receiver Keenan Allen and defensive end Joey Bosa's contracts will expire after the season. Henry having a true breakout season while putting the injury bug that's plagued him in the past could lead to deal significantly more than Hooper's in 2021, especially if 49ers tight end George Kittle has dramatically re-set the market.
Bud Dupree, EDGE, Steelers
Dupree rewarded Pittsburgh's faith in him by keeping his $9.232 million fifth-year option intact for 2019. He had a career-high 11.5 sacks, which matched his combined 2017 and 2018 sack total. T.J. Watt, Dupree's edge-rushing counterpart, seems destined to join the $20 million per year pass rusher club, as soon as next year, after posting 27.5 sacks in the last two seasons. The Steelers must decide their comfort level with having two outside pass rushers on big money long term contracts.
Joe Thuney, OG, Patriots
The Patriots putting a $14.781 million franchise tag on offensive guard Joe Thuney wasn't expected. Thuney could potentially have become the NFL's highest-paid interior offensive lineman on the open market if recent history is any indication A Pro Bowl-caliber guard in his prime has been re-setting the market in free agency (Andrew Norwell, Kelechi Osemele, Kevin Zeitler). The current standard is the four-year, $56.55 million extension averaging $14,137,500 per year Brandon Brooks received from the Eagles during the middle of last season.
Mike McCartney, Thuney's agent, has demonstrated a willingness to embrace the franchise tag through his representation of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Thuney quickly signed his franchise tender. McCartney surely recognizes that a second franchise tag for Thuney in 2021 at a CBA-mandated 20 percent increase would be $17,737,200.
A long term deal must be attractive enough for Thuney to forego the possibility of hitting the open market next year since a second franchise tag might be too cost-prohibitive. The Patriots haven't been afraid to let offensive linemen go during free agency (Trent Brown and Nate Solder) in recent years rather than set the market.
Matthew Judon, EDGE, Ravens
The Ravens learned from letting Za'Darius Smith hit the open market in 2019. Judon didn't get the chance to test free agency after earning his first Pro Bowl berth last season while setting a career-high with 9.5 sacks. He isn't stressing about his franchise player status because he and the Ravens agreed to a compromise tag of $16.808 million, which is the midpoint between the linebacker and defensive end numbers. Judon won't get tagged again in 2021 if both he and All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley aren't under long term contracts by next March. The salary floor for a long term deal with Judon is probably the deal Smith got from the Packers in free agency last year. Smith signed a four-year deal averaging $16.5 million per year.
Justin Simmons, S, Broncos
Simmons picked the right time to play his best football, his contract year. He thrived in first-year head coach Vic Fangio's defense. Eddie Jackson raised the salary bar for safeties when he signed a four-year extension averaging $14,604,250 with the Bears in January. There is a unique dynamic in Simmons' negotiations. Rich Hurtado left CAA Sports, who represents Simmons, to become Denver's chief contract negotiator as vice president of football administration.
Anthony Harris, S, Vikings
There had been some talk that the Vikings could trade Harris to break up arguably the league's best safety tandem he forms with Harrison Smith earlier in the offseason. The chatter has cooled considerably but Harris would be virtually powerless to stop a trade because he signed his $11.441 million franchise tender in May. Any long term deal Harris, who tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions last season, signs would likely make him the highest-paid defensive back in Vikings history. That distinction belongs to cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was released in March, at $14.02 million per year.
Chris Jones, IDL, Chiefs - (Signed extension)
(Editor's note: On Tuesday, Chris Jones and the Chiefs reportedly agreed to a four-year extension.)
The Chiefs should have anticipated that making a major investment in a pass rusher last offseason that had never done anything for the franchise, defensive end Frank Clark, wasn't going to sit too well with Jones after the type of 2018 season he had. Clark, who had been franchised, was signed to a five year, $104 million contract with $62.305 million in guarantees ($43.805 million fully guaranteed at signing) in connection with his trade from the Seahawks shortly before the 2019 Draft.
Jones set a NFL record by posting a sack in 11 straight games and was third in the league with 15.5 sacks during the 2018 season. An encore performance in 2019 was always going to be a difficult task. Despite missing three games with a groin injury, Jones still had nine sacks.
Clark's deal was always going to be an important data point to Jones. The Colts giving defensive tackle DeForest Buckner a four year, $84 million extension averaging $21 million per year after acquiring him from the 49ers in March only confirmed Jones' contract demands.
Jones invoked running back Le'Veon Bell's name by suggesting he wouldn't pay this season unless signed to a long-term deal. Bell sat out the 2018 season rather than play for the Steelers under a $14.544 million franchise tag. One big difference between Jones and Bell's situations is Bell gained a level of financial security that Jones doesn't have by waiting until he was franchised for a second time before taking such an extreme stance. Jones made just over $6.125 million during the four years of his rookie contract. His $16.126 million franchise tender is close to three times as much as he made on his rookie deal.