NFLTR Review: Franchise Tag Deadline Preview

The deadline for tagged players to sign long-term is a week away and we’ve got a preview of what to watch for, including which players are most likely to sign and which ones are most likely to play on the tag. 

Franchise Tag Deadline Preview

Earlier this offseason, there were nine players who received the franchise tag from their teams. Two have already signed long-term deals — Broncos S Justin Simmons and Giants DL Leonard Williams

That leaves seven more players who have until next Thursday, July 15, to negotiate an extension, otherwise they’ll play out the 2021 season on the tag. The list includes: 

A few of these players will become much wealthier in the next week. Others will still be well off on the tag but face a more uncertain future in 2022. Here’s a look at which could be which: 

Allen Robinson: Tag

There’s been very little positive momentum between Robinson and the Bears since talks started last year. Chicago wasn’t willing to give Robinson what he was seeking last summer, which presumably would have put him pretty close to the top of the league in terms of average annual salary at his position. After another great season, there’s no reason to think the price has gone down. 

The floor for the average on a long-term deal is probably the $18 million Robinson is making on the tag right now. That will go up well above $20 million next offseason if the Bears want to tag him for the second consecutive year. Robinson isn’t getting any cheaper so it seems like it just comes down to whether Chicago wants to fork over the money or take its chances finding a replacement elsewhere. 

Given that Robinson has thrived in a place that has the reputation of being where receivers go to die, it seems like this should be an easy decision for the Bears. There’s been little indication they view the situation with the same urgency, however. 

Chris Godwin: Deal

The tag for Godwin is just a hair under $16 million for the 2021 season and that probably is close to what Godwin is looking at as a borderline No. 1 receiver. That would put him in the same range as Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Tyler Lockett and teammate Mike Evans. While the Dolphins are dealing with a situation where there are hard feelings about salary differences between CBs Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, I don’t think Evans and Godwin would have that issue. 

There’s plenty of incentive for the Buccaneers to lock up Godwin, as they’ve shown they’re all-in on maximizing their competitive window now. An extension would actually lower his 2021 cap hit and the team has enough flexibility to absorb the deal in 2022 and beyond. It’s not a lock that this gets done by next week but I would be surprised if Godwin was not locked up by the Buccaneers at some point before the start of free agency next year. 

Cam Robinson: Tag

The Jaguars provided the surprise of the tag deadline in March when they slapped the tender on Robinson, who hadn’t really distinguished himself through his first four seasons. It would be even more surprising if the Jaguars and Robinson agreed to an extension by next week’s deadline. 

Injuries have been a factor but Robinson still has a lot to prove to merit a major extension. Jacksonville didn’t like the look of the tackle market in free agency and decided it was worth paying $13.754 million in 2021 for Robinson as insurance for Trevor Lawrence’s blindside. Jacksonville also spent a second-round pick on Walker Little, so they’ll evaluate both this season to decide if either is the future at left tackle. 

Marcus Maye: Tag

The last time the Jets signed one of their draft picks to a meaningful extension was WR Quincy Enunwa, a sixth-round pick in 2014. It goes beyond busted draft picks, as valuable players like Leonard Williams, Robby Anderson and Jamal Adams all departed instead of signing long-term deals. So being able to get a deal done with Maye would have extra symbolism of how things might be beginning to turn around in New York. 

It doesn’t appear like the two sides are close to a deal, however. Maye is a good player but a salary that puts him in the top five at his position might be too rich for Jets GM Joe Douglas, who has shown in the past he’ll stand firm on the values he puts on players. Barring some movement toward a compromise, Maye will play out the season on the tag and the two sides will revisit this next offseason. 

Taylor Moton: Deal

Carolina hasn’t had a lot of stability on the offensive line for the past few seasons. One of the few exceptions has been Moton, who has been a steady presence on the right side of the offensive line and finished 16th, 17th and 13th in PFF’s tackle grades the last three years. Keeping Moton around is a major priority for the rebuilding Panthers. 

Good tackles aren’t cheap, though, and the price for right tackles went up last week when the Saints inked RT Ryan Ramczyk to a new contract worth $19.2 million per year. Moton’s tag is $13.754 million and a new deal probably comes in somewhere around either the $14 million a year the Browns gave RT Jack Conklin in free agency or the $16.5 million the Raiders initially signed RT Trent Brown for. Still, it’s well worth it for the Panthers if Moton can maintain his consistent level of play. 

Marcus Williams: Deal

The other major surprise of the tag deadline was the cap-strapped Saints’ decision to place the franchise tag on Williams for $10.6 million in 2021. It clearly shows New Orleans views him as a key part of their defense moving forward and doesn’t want to let him go, which makes sense considering he’s still just 24 and has improved every season. 

Figuring out how to make the numbers work will be a challenge, however. It’s not impossible, the Saints have shown they’re adept at maneuvering the cap to accomplish their goals. They could push the bulk of the cap hits for a Williams extension to 2023 and beyond when the NFL salary cap is expected to really start growing again. 

The extension for Ramczyk and an accounting trick for CB Marshon Lattimore have taken the pressure off to find cap space for this season, so the Saints have the flexibility to let Williams play the year out on the tag and revisit things next offseason. If they’ve already extended themselves to put the tag on Williams, though, it makes sense to get a long-term deal done sooner rather than later. 

Brandon Scherff: Tag

This is the second straight season Washington finds itself in this situation with Scherff, as the team used the franchise tag on the veteran guard last year as well, paying him $15 million for 2020. Now Washington owes Scherff $18 million for 2021 and a third tag next offseason would be an astronomical almost $27 million. 

That means if Washington and Scherff can’t find common ground on an extension by the 15th, odds are incredibly high that Scherff will test the open market and other teams will have the opportunity to outbid Washington. 

The team has really backed itself into a corner here and Scherff’s representation likely knows it. If Washington isn’t willing to pay a premium to coerce Scherff into giving up his chance at the open market — which likely means, at a minimum, making him the NFL’s highest-paid guard ahead of Chiefs G Joe Thuney’s $16 million a year — there’s no reason for Scherff not to keep betting on himself. 

This Week In Football

  • Patriots WR N’Keal Harry has been on the trade block all offseason but with little to no movement on a deal, his representation took the semi-unusual step of publicly and formally requesting a trade on Tuesday. It remains to be seen if this will hasten Harry’s exit out of New England at all, but from his point of view, it’s worth a shot to try and land on a team before training camp rather than trying to catch up on a new playbook, system and teammates in the middle of training camp or the regular season. 
  • The Vikings have done a lot to remake their defense the past couple of seasons, but one of the stalwarts has been S Harrison Smith, who’s been locked in as a starter since his rookie season in 2012. Smith is entering the final year of his deal in 2021 and there was some question about his future given he’s 32 but it appears the Vikings hope to sign him to an extension to keep him in the fold a little longer. 
  • A new deal for Smith could actually free up a bit of extra cap space this year which could go toward a new deal for RT Brian O’Neill. The Vikings have also opened extension talks for O’Neill, who is the team’s best offensive lineman. If the Panthers get a deal done for Moton before the deadline, that could actually serve as a template for Minnesota and O’Neill. 
  • Common sense prevailed and the Navy reversed its decision with Buccaneers undrafted CB Cameron Kinley. Like other service members before him, Kinley will be allowed to pursue an NFL career before fulfilling his service obligations. He’s a long shot to make the roster but he’s also a terrific representation of the Naval Academy and someone Bucs fans will find it easy to root for.

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