NFL Franchise-Tag Possibilities Who Should Hit the Free-Agent Market

Russell S. BaxterContributor IMarch 1, 2016

NFL Franchise-Tag Possibilities Who Should Hit the Free-Agent Market

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    As most know by now, the 2016 NFL fiscal year begins on March 9 at 4:00 p.m. ET.

    On March 1 (coincidentally by 4:00 p.m. ET), some teams will slap the franchise or possibly the transition tag on potential unrestricted free agents.

    But in some of those instances, that may not be the right thing to do based on a number of factors, from a lack of proven performance by a player to a team having its own issues with its own salary cap to perhaps a fellow potential free agent who may be a better choice to get the tag.

    Understand that we are not doubting the talents of these players. Quite the opposite. Just keep in mind that placing the franchise or transition tag on a performer is simply a business decision and an important one, especially for team that has quite a few players to re-sign (Will Brinson of CBS Sports has the numbers when it comes to both tags).

    Decisions. Decisions.

QB Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    It doesn’t appear likely. Then again, it hasn’t been ruled out.

    Last week, Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was asked about the possibility of slapping the franchise or even the transition tag on quarterback Sam Bradford.

    “We haven’t made any final decision on any negotiation with anyone,” said Roseman, per Zach Berman of Philly.com. “For us, we’re keeping all of our options open.

    “Obviously, our cap space becomes a factor into everything that we do…For us, we’ve got to build the team. We’ve got to add players, and we’d like to add more than one player this offseason."

    But given Bradford’s history and his so-so year with the Eagles, it’s somewhat surprising that this discussion is even taking place at all. The first overall pick in the 2010 draft with the Rams has played in a total of 21 games the last three seasons combined.

    In 2015, Bradford was 7-7 as a starter, but more significantly he threw for just 19 touchdown passes with 14 interceptions. He was sacked 28 times and lost three of his 10 fumbles. Those are not exactly awe-inspiring numbers by any stretch of the imagination.

    And given the fact that there’s a new head coach in town in Doug Pederson and the Eagles still have Mark Sanchez under contract, it will be a surprise if the Birds opt to play a game of tag with a performer who hasn’t played an entire season since 2012.

QB Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

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    Associated Press

    Mike Jones of the Washington Post has the latest on what is arguably the most interesting discussion regarding the most interesting player on this list.

    Talks continue between the Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins, who blossomed late in 2015 and helped lead the team to its first NFC East title and playoff berth since 2012. He led the NFL in completion percentage (69.8) last year, throwing for 4,166 yards and 29 scores while committing only 14 turnovers (11 interceptions, three lost fumbles).

    The interesting part is the Redskins’ decision on what game of tag to play with the four-year pro. For quarterbacks, the franchise tag sits at $19.953 million, while the transition tag stands at $17.696 million. What route will general manager Scot McCloughan take?

    But are the Redskins actually comfortable with committing that much money this season to a player who got hot when it counted most? Including the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, Cousins threw 13 touchdown passes and just one interception in his final five outings, totaling 300-plus passing yards in four of those five contests.

    Was the quarterback’s late-season surge a sign of things to come? Perhaps that is what the team is discussing internally. And would the Redskins indeed be unwise to let Cousins test the open market? Perhaps.

    The fact that the team has not decided on which tag to use for the young signal-caller shows a bit of hesitancy on its part on any level. But the fact that the parties continue to talk makes you think a new deal is on the horizon and perhaps the tag won’t be necessary.

FS Tashaun Gipson, Cleveland Browns

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    Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cleveland Browns won three games this past season, and their focus this offseason is on three potential unrestricted free agents, all of whom are coming off solid seasons.

    There’s been some speculation on whether the team would use the franchise tag on tackle Mitchell Schwartz, wide receiver Travis Benjamin or free safety Tashaun Gipson. Last Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine, Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown appeared to put any of those discussions to rest.

    “We don’t expect (to),” said Brown, according to Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan. “We know those are kind of tools in the toolbox here but we don’t expect to do that. I think there a couple players that you would say we might at those positions, Tashaun in particular. We would hope to come to a long-term deal with Tashaun, so I don’t expect it at this point.”

    As we have seen, never say never when it comes to negotiations. But it’s worth pointing out that that the franchise tag for a safety sits at $10.086 million. More significantly, via Pro Football Focus, the four-year defender’s performance fell off this past season following a Pro Bowl showing in 2014.

    One year after ranking as the NFL’s 15th-best safety, Gipson fell to No. 182 out of 188 safeties ranked by PFF. That’s quite a drop-off for any player, and while there are always extenuating circumstances when it comes to a team game, the Browns may be better off using the tag (if they so choose) to keep Schwartz, who ranked as the league’s sixth-best tackle in 2015.

LT Cordy Glenn, Buffalo Bills

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    No team in the league gained more yards per game on the ground this past season than the Buffalo Bills.

    Of course, no franchise in the NFL has been waiting longer to get back to the playoffs. And if the club doesn’t take care of some business along the offensive line, it could lose ground on its attempt to make that long-awaited return to the postseason.

    The left side of the Bills’ offensive front, tackle Cordy Glenn and guard Richie Incognito, can become free agents on March 9. When it came to ranking offensive tackles this past season, Glenn finished ninth on the list.

    Given the Bills' current salary-cap situation, which could change dramatically if they opt to part ways with defensive end Mario Williams as expected, would the Bills gamble and let Glenn test the market? The number for an offensive lineman to be tagged is $13.706 million. As of Tuesday morning, Buffalo was just $8.679 million under the cap, pending some potential moves.

    Interestingly, Glenn did not grade out well at all in terms of run blocking this past season, which is somewhat strange for a team that wound up leading the NFL in rushing. That’s not to say that Glenn can’t improve and is not a worthwhile pickup for any team, including the Bills, but it will be intriguing to see if this usually-conservative franchise opts to use the tag.

CB Trumaine Johnson, Los Angeles Rams

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Is it cornering the market or keeping your corners off the market?

    The Los Angeles Rams have a pair of young defenders in cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins and would like to keep them. Both are slated for unrestricted free agency.

    Both come off solid seasons. Via Pro Football Focus, Johnson was rated as the 20th-best cornerback in the league, while Jenkins was ranked 24th.

    No doubt the Rams were hoping they could re-sign Jenkins and put the franchise tag on Johnson. However, Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole has the latest on Jenkins, who apparently wasn’t overjoyed with the offer from the franchise.

    So what will the Rams do? The franchise tag for a cornerback is $13.952 million, and that’s not a problem for a team that made some moves in recent weeks and finds itself $59.6 million under the salary cap. But would the Rams be better off franchising Jenkins and letting Johnson test the open market?

    As we have seen with the releases of defensive end Chris Long, linebacker James Laurinaitis and tight end Jared Cook, more than just an address is changing with this team.

     

    All free-agent and salary-cap information, as well as 2016 transactions, are courtesy of Spotrac. Team salary-cap figures change on a daily basis. 

    Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference and ESPN.com. All player ratings courtesy of Pro Football Focus.