2016 NFL Free Agency: Predicting This Year's Franchise Tagged Players
NFL teams can start using the franchise tag—a designation used to retain one free agent with a guaranteed one-year deal—on Tuesday, February 16. The two-week period lasts through March 1, and any player assigned the franchise tag then has until July 15 to negotiate a multiyear deal or sign the tender.
Last year, six players received the franchise tag. At least that many could get the tag in 2016.
In the following slides, we will examine the looming free agents who are most likely to receive the franchise tag. These players are both indispensable to their team and potentially difficult to sign to a long-term deal before the start of free agency.
S Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
He beat cancer, returned to an NFL field, helped the Chiefs win 11 straight games and made the Pro Bowl. All in a single year. One way or another, Berry will be back in Kansas City.
DE Olivier Vernon, Miami Dolphins
The best edge-rusher in Miami is now Vernon, who played exceedingly well without Cameron Wake in the lineup for most of the 2015 season. Ascending pass-rushers get paid big bucks. Can the Dolphins—who already have millions invested in the defensive line—afford him?
S George Iloka, Cincinnati Bengals
Still only 25, Iloka is one of many free agents in Cincinnati's secondary this offseason. He's probably the most important long-term, and the safety tender isn't likely to be overwhelming.
K Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers
He rebounded from a brief career slump to regain his status as one of the top kickers in the NFL. If the Packers at all fear losing him, the franchise tag could come into play. Crosby's leg is a big asset for a team playing at least eight games a year at Lambeau Field.
P Marquette King, Oakland Raiders
The former undrafted free agent has quickly developed into one to the league's better punters. With few other in-house priorities, general manager Reggie McKenzie could use the tag to keep King in Oakland.
CB Josh Norman, Carolina Panthers
General manager Dave Gettleman and the Carolina Panthers should have little interest in letting Norman—a 28-year-old cornerback who has developed into an All-Pro player and franchise cornerstone—get any where close to free agency.
While a long-term deal would be the best outcome, Gettleman isn't scared to use the franchise tag.
"I've used it before. I'm not shy. I'm not afraid of it," Gettleman said, according to Kevin Patra of NFL.com. "We're going to do what we think after we evaluate everything, we are going to do what we think is the best interest of the Carolina Panthers. We've used the tag before. It's possible we'll use it again."
Back in 2014, Gettleman used the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy—who was also bound to be a free agent after a Pro Bowl season. That decision eventually backfired on Getteman, but one miss doesn't mean he is going to stop swinging.
Giving Norman the tag now could give him precious time to negotiate what should be one of the biggest cornerback contracts in the NFL.
Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman and Darrelle Revis—three of the best at the position—averaged over $40 million in guaranteed money on their current deals, per Spotrac. Norman will almost certainly use those three contracts to leverage his own huge payday, especially if Gettleman sets his market with the one-year guaranteed money of the tag.
LB Von Miller, Denver Broncos
The Super Bowl MVP is about to cash in on one of the great finishes to a season in recent memory.
Miller, 26, registered 2.5 sacks apiece in both the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl—helping the Denver Broncos crush Tom Brady and Cam Newton on their way to a third Lombardi Trophy. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft was going to be the top free agent in the 2016 class regardless, but his postseason dominance has only ensured the magnitude of Miller's upcoming payday.
Expect John Elway and the Broncos to first use the franchise tag as a steppingstone to his eventual multiyear deal.
According to Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com, the Broncos have used the franchise tag three times in the last four years, only to sign those players to long-term deals before the negotiation deadline. Kicker Matt Prater, left tackle Ryan Clady and receiver Demaryius Thomas all received the tag from Elway before agreeing to new deals.
"The goal is always to get a long-term deal," Elway said.
The Broncos have a number of priorities this offseason, but Miller is undoubtedly No. 1. There's no way Elway will let him even sniff free agency.
DL Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
Even general manager Mike Maccagnan admitted last month that the franchise tag is a realistic option for the New York Jets to retain defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.
"Potentially, yeah," Maccagnan said, according to Darryl Slater of NJ.com. "I mean, it's not a big secret or anything."
Wilkerson, 26, is coming off a season in which he registered a team-high 12 sacks. However, the Jets' first-round pick in 2011 also broke his leg in the season finale—putting both the team and player in a tough spot for contract negotiations.
Wilkerson's value on the open market probably took a hit, while the Jets might now be a little wary of giving him a lucrative, long-term deal. It's a perfect situation for the tag, which gives Wilkerson a sizable one-year deal while also providing the Jets some protection against him struggling to return from injury.
QB Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Franchise quarterbacks are the most sought-after and valuable assets in the NFL, and the Washington Redskins feel like they have one in Kirk Cousins.
The problem now is figuring out how much it will take to keep him in Washington for 2016 and beyond.
Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan said he prefers a multiyear deal for his quarterback, but he isn't ruling out the franchise tag.
“Of course you’d rather not, you’d rather get a long-term deal done, but we have a lot of options we’re dealing with right now and that’s one of them,” McCloughan said last month, per Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post.
The franchise tag for a quarterback is expensive—roughly $20 million—but the consensus has been for some time that Washington would rather apply the tag than risk sending Cousins into the shark tank of free agency.
"Per sources, the Redskins intend to execute a blockbuster deal with their new franchise quarterback before the deadline to tag players in early March, but are fully prepared to franchise Cousins if they can't beat the clock," wrote Albert Breer of NFL.com in early January. "As one source explained it, 'He's not getting out of the building.'"
LT Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills
The realities of being a young, ascending offensive tackle in the NFL and the negotiating history of his agent make Cordy Glenn a prime franchise tag candidate for the Buffalo Bills.
Glenn, 26, is coming off his finest season in the NFL. He's equally capable playing left tackle—the money position along the offensive line—or inside at guard, making him one of the most attractive free agents of the 2016 class.
Bills general manager Doug Whaley has made no secret about his desire to bring Glenn back to Buffalo.
“It’s imperative,” Whaley said, per Sal Capaccio of WGR 550 in Buffalo. “When you look at that position (offensive line) as a whole, you like to have those guys with some continuity and playing together and basically playing like one.”
Keeping the continuity might require the tag, given the market likely to develop for Glenn if he makes it to free agency.
Also, Tyler Dunne of the Buffalo News dug up a compelling fact about agent Pat Dye, who represents Glenn. In the past, Dye has had three clients—Ryan Clady, Jeff Backus and Charles Grant—receive the tag and then eventually sign a long-term deal. Glenn might be traveling down the same path with the Bills.
WR Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
Forte, a stalwart in Chicago for many years, may depart. Jeffery almost certainly will not.
Despite a number of injuries plaguing his 2015 season, Jeffery is the top playmaker in the passing offense and the team's most talented receiver entering free agency. The Bears can't afford to let him get away.
General manager Ryan Pace called the franchise tag "a tool that we have at our disposal," according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. But he also said a multiyear deal with Jeffery was in the "best interest" of the Bears.
Last season, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas received the tag before signing new long-term deals. The same scenario could play out for Jeffery, who has to know he could make a small fortune if he reaches free agency. The Bears also know it, which makes the tag a realistic option in the coming weeks.
K Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
Designating a kicker as a franchise player always feels wrong, but teams apply the tag to the position more often than most realize. In fact, at least one kicker has been tagged in six of the last seven seasons.
The Ravens might continue the trend with Justin Tucker. General manager Ozzie Newsmen has already admitted the possibility.
“We would like to have Justin continue to be a part of our football team,” Newsome said, per Garrett Downing of the team's official site. “We will go to work on trying to get a contract done. We do know what the franchise number is for a kicker, if it gets to that. But, we will go to work on that, and we want Justin to be a part of our team.”
Tucker hit on 33 of 40 field goals in 2015, including four of 50-plus yards. His 87.8 career kicking percentage ranks second in NFL history, trailing only Dan Bailey of the Dallas Cowboys. With a big, accurate leg, Tucker could secure the most lucrative contract for a kicker ever.
However, the Ravens might first need to use the tag. Last season, the New England Patriots tagged Stephen Gostkowski before signing him to what is currently the biggest kicker contract in NFL history ($17.2 million over four years).
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