Team-by-team look at potential tag candidates
On Tuesday, the annual two-week window opens for applying franchise or transition tags. Every year, we look at the potential tag candidates, on a team-by-team basis.
Last year, we waited until just a few days before the window closed, officially explaining that few if any tags ever are applied early in the process. This year, I basically decided not to procrastinate.
Dolphins: Receiver Jarvis Landry could be slapped with either tag. The franchise tag has received the most attention in articles regarding his future, but the transition tag would give Landry a chance to see what’s available elsewhere -- and it would give the Dolphins a chance to match whatever someone else would offer to a player who may not attract a top-of-market package.
Bills: The trade of receiver Sammy Watkins left the Bills with no tag-worthy players in 2018.
Jets: The Jets hope to re-sign tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but their reported offer of $8 million over two years falls well short of what the tag would cost. Also, their misadventures with defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who parlayed the tag into a long-term deal the Jets would like to escape, could make them hesitant about using it again.
Patriots: A couple of years ago, cornerback Malcolm Butler seemed destined to be tagged, if he didn’t sign a big-money deal. Now, he’ll exit as a guy who played no defensive snaps in Super Bowl LII. There’s no one else they should consider tagging, especially with tackle Nate Solder exempt and running back Dion Lewis playing a position with a cost-prohibitive tender.
Steelers: Running back Le’Veon Bell could be tagged again, but the one-year tender would increase by 20 percent, from $12.1 million to more than $14.5 million. The Steelers prefer signing him to a long-term deal, which will be hard to do if Bell insists on $14.5 million for 2018 as the starting point.
Bengals: They didn’t apply the tag a year ago to tackle Andrew Whitworth or guard Kevin Zeitler; they don’t have more viable candidates this year.
Browns: The worst franchise in the league has earned that title in part by having no players who are worthy of the franchise tag.
Ravens: Center Ryan Jensen benefits from the fact that offensive lineman are lumped into one bucket for the franchise tag, which means that a guard or center will be paid like a left tackle, if tagged. Which means that few if any centers or guards will ever be tagged.
Texans: A year after watching up-and-coming cornerback A.J. Bouye walk away in free agency, they won’t be stopping significantly older cornerback Johnathan Joseph from leaving.
Colts: The Colts aren’t as bad as the Browns, but the Colts are afflicted by the same lack of talent that will keep anyone (other than Andrew Luck, if he ever gets healthy) from ever being tagged.
Titans: Kicker Ryan Succop could be tagged, but it would cost more than $5 million to do it.
Jaguars: Receiver Allen Robinson tore an ACL in Week One, and he’s due to become a free agent. He believes he’s healthy; if the team agrees, he could be tagged. (Like Jarvis Landry, the transition tag could be an option; for Robinson, the unknown about his knee could keep other teams from making him an offer the Jags couldn’t or wouldn’t match.)
Broncos: The silver lining from the dark cloud of a bad year is that there are no impending free agents who merit special consideration.
Chiefs: Some tough decisions are coming, with players like Marcus Peters (2020), Tyreek Hill (2020), Kareem Hunt (2021), and Patrick Mahomes (2022) heading toward free agency. For now, there’s no one to tag.
Chargers: Safety Tre Boston is a candidate for the franchise tag or the cheaper transition tag. Beyond that, they don’t really have anyone worth tagging.
Raiders: Their 2018 tag money went toward quarterback Derek Carr’s contract. Their 2019 tag money could end up going toward linebacker Khalil Mack’s long-term deal.
Cowboys: The Cowboys reportedly will apply the franchise tag to defensive end Demarcus Lawrence.
Washington: Quarterback Kirk Cousins could be tagged again, if Washington follows through on its misguided plan to get immediate compensation for Cousins by trading him. It would be a mistake, for various reasons. It also could be challenged, and beaten.
Giants: Guard Justin Pugh will be hitting the open market, if he isn’t tagged. Again, the tag for interior offensive lineman has become, as a practical matter, the tag for exterior offensive lineman. Specifically, left tackles. Which means it could cost more than $15 million to keep Pugh around for one more year. Which means Pugh could end up in Jacksonville, with the guy who drafted him five years ago.
Eagles: Things would be very interesting in Philly if Nick Foles had signed only a one-year deal. With Foles under contract through 2018, there’s no one else who’d justify the investment of a franchise or transition tag.
Vikings: If the Vikings are going to spend more than $24 million to use the franchise tag on quarterback Case Keenum, they should consider breaking the bank on a long-term deal for Kirk Cousins. Or paying less to get A.J. McCarron. Franchise-tagging Keenum comes with a 20-percent bump in 2019 and a 44-percent hike in 2020, which makes it anything but a long-term solution. The transition tag could be an option, allowing the Vikings to keep Keenum at a cheaper rate and giving them a right to match any offer sheet he signs.
Packers: With receiver Davante Adams signed, safety Morgan Burnett remains the only remotely viable candidate for the tag. If the Packers truly want him, however, they’ll more likely find a way to sign him to a multi-year deal.
Lions: The biggest decision for the Lions will be whether to apply the franchise tag to defensive end Ziggy Ansah. He finished his rookie contract with a flourish, racking up 12.0 sacks. Two years before, he had a career-high 14.5. But it’s that donut hole of 2016, when Ansah managed only two sacks in 13 games, that gives the Lions pause. They may want to be sure they’re getting the double-digit guy before they do anything more than a one-year rental.
Bears: The Bears have to decide whether to tag cornerback Kyle Fuller, a former first-round pick who they deemed a year ago to not be worthy of the fifth-year option. If Fuller had previously played like he did in 2017, a different decision would have been made.
Panthers: They’re not expected to tag either of their primary candidates -- guard Andrew Norwell or defensive lineman Star Lotulelei. The question becomes whether they re-sign either of them in competition with the open market.
Buccaneers: Another year, another roster containing no free agents worthy of the tag.
Falcons: The tag is a long shot for the Falcons, with the possible exception of kicker Matt Bryant. It would cost more than $5 million for one more year.
Saints: They can’t tag quarterback Drew Brees. They won’t tag anyone else.
Seahawks: Tight end Jimmy Graham hasn’t done enough in three seasons with the team to justify a tag. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson possibly did enough in one season, especially in light of the investment made to get him from the Jets last year (receiver Jermaine Kearse and a second-round pick).
49ers: With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo signed to a five-year deal, there’s no one to tag.
Cardinals: Like the 49ers, there’s no one to tag -- unlike the 49ers, there’s no quarterback on the roster.
Rams: After tagging cornerback Trumaine Johnson for two straight years, it would cost quarterback money to tag him a third time. Receiver Sammy Watkins could be kept under contract via the tag for a lot less than that.