Buying or Selling the NFL's Biggest Franchise Tag Decisions in 2023

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 7, 2023

Buying or Selling the NFL's Biggest Franchise Tag Decisions in 2023

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    Lamar Jackson
    Lamar JacksonCourtney Culbreath/Getty Images

    Two NFL teams still have unfinished business this season (a Super something or another), but most of the league has already turned its attention to 2023. To righting the ship. Getting back to the playoffs. Making a run at Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas.

    One of the first orders of business for teams as they head into the offseason will be deciding whether to place the franchise tag on an impending free agent. Doing so all but guarantees that the player isn't going anywhere; even the non-exclusive tag nets a team two first-round picks if a tagged player signs elsewhere and the tagging team chooses not to match an offer sheet.

    However, the tag isn't cheap—a fully guaranteed one-year deal for the average of the top-five salaries at the position over the last five years. In 2023, that means anywhere from $5.4 million for special teams players to $32.4 million for quarterbacks.

    There is no shortage of potential candidates for the franchise tag in 2023, including three quarterbacks for teams that made the playoffs last season. Here's a look at some of the biggest names, including a prediction as to who could be tagged, who could be in line for a long-term deal and who might just be due for a change of scenery.

    Salary cap data courtesy of Over the Cap

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

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    BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 04: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens warms up before the game against the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
    G Fiume/Getty Images

    The 2023 offseason will be dominated by one player—one guy whose name will loom large above all others until a decision is made regarding his future.

    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

    Per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, the prevailing wisdom at last week's Senior Bowl was that Jackson would receive a franchise tag that would pay him about $32.4 million in 2023. And at least one AFC executive believes that tag could create some hard feelings.

    "It could become a standoff, because I wouldn't expect him to sign the tag for a while," the executive told Fowler. "And they will be so far apart in the guaranteed money."

    On one hand, a healthy Jackson is arguably the most difficult player in the league to defend. The two-time Pro Bowler and the NFL's MVP in 2019 is the only quarterback in NFL history to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in a season more than once.

    But Jackson has spent five games in each of the last two seasons watching from the sidelines with an injury and hasn't thrown 20 touchdown passes since 2020 because of his injury woes.

    Furthermore, ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported last fall that Jackson has already turned down a $250 million extension that included $133 million in guarantees.

    Jackson reportedly wants a fully guaranteed deal similar to what the Browns gave Deshaun Watson. It's highly unlikely that the Ravens want to make that kind of financial commitment to a player who has missed 10 games in the past two years, but it's even less likely that the Ravens will let Jackson anywhere near the open market.

    That leaves the franchise tag—hurt feelings or not.


Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith

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    SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 14: Geno Smith #7 of the Seattle Seahawks throws a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of the game in the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Levi's Stadium on January 14, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    There may not be a player in the NFL who made himself more money this past year than Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith. At this point one year ago, Smith was a bridge starter for the Seahawks—a one-year stopgap until the Seahawks could draft a quarterback of the future.

    Now, after throwing for a career-high 4,282 yards, pacing the NFL in completion percentage and being named a finalist for Comeback Player of the Year, the 32-year-old Smith is in line to hit the proverbial jackpot.

    While at the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas last week, Smith told reporters that he's confident an extension will be worked out in relatively short order.

    "We've had talks, and we're in the process of getting all that settled right now," Smith said. "It's looking very good. We think we can get some things done, but obviously those things take time. This is the process that I hate about the NFL because I just want to play football, but it's a business as well, so we've got to take care of business, and then we'll get back to the football."

    Frankly, a compelling argument can be made for slapping the franchise tag on Smith. His play in 2022 was great, but it was also an outlier. Prior to last year, Smith had made all of five starts over seven seasons from 2015 to 2021. Tagging Smith would force him to demonstrate that last year wasn't a fluke.

    But as Michael-Shawn Dugar wrote for the Athletic, the Seahawks have made extending Smith the team's top offseason priority.

    And provided that Smith is at all reasonable about his new salary, that deal will get done.


New York Giants QB Daniel Jones and RB Saquon Barkley

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 21:  New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) and New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) during the NFC Divisional playoff game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants on January 21, 2023 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    Fresh off their first playoff appearance since the 2016 campaign, the New York Giants face a double-decker dilemma in the offseason.

    With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, the Giants no doubt wish they had exercised the fifth-year option on quarterback Daniel Jones. But the reality is that after three up-and-down seasons in New York, the only person who saw Jones' career year in 2022 coming was Momma Jones.

    That breakout season (3,205 passing yards, 708 rushing yards, 22 total touchdowns and eight total turnovers) will make bringing Jones back a spendy proposition. But in his year-end press conference, Giants general manager Joe Schoen made it clear that retaining Jones is right at the top of the offseason to-do list.

    "We haven't had those [discussions] yet, but we would like to have Daniel Jones back," Schoen said. "We're happy Daniel is going to be here."

    Just as with Geno Smith, signing a player to a long-term extension based on one big year carries some risk. But the Giants have more than one reason to get Jones reupped. They certainly don't want to hit the reset button under center, but the franchise tag would take a massive chunk out of New York's $44.4 million in cap space.

    And the Giants have other players hitting free agency.

    Like Jones, running back Saquon Barkley is coming off a career year—he set a new career best with 1,312 rushing yards and topped 1,600 total yards for the season. However, per Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, Barkley turned down a three-year deal that averaged $12.5 million a season during the Giants' bye week.

    If the two sides can't come to an agreement on an extension that will help the Giants gain relief against the cap, then the tag for running backs is only about $10.1 million.

    Ten is significantly less than 32. Because math.

    BUY: Barkley

    SELL: Jones

Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 07: Josh Jacobs #28 of the Las Vegas Raiders warms up prior to playing the Kansas City Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium on January 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    The 2022 season was short on bright spots for the Las Vegas Raiders, but the play of running back Josh Jacobs was one. In his fourth season, Jacobs averaged 97.2 rushing yards per game and led the league with 1,653 yards on the ground.

    That breakout season puts Jacobs in line for a fat payday, and he told reporters at the Pro Bowl that, given his choice, he'd prefer to remain with the Raiders—if the money is right.

    "I feel like I've left my mark on this organization. With the guys in the locker room—obviously, it's going to be shaken up next year, but I feel like this is home," he said. "For me, this is where I want to be, but I'm not going to discredit myself trying to be here, either. So, it's just got to make sense."

    Of course, Jacobs also went on to say that how the Raiders address their uncertainty under center will play a big role in his decision and that using the franchise tag on him would result in "Hero turned villain, man."

    Frankly, this is a headache that the Raiders don't need. If Jacobs is willing to sign a reasonable extension, great. But giving $15 million a season to a player who just tallied a whopping 393 touches in 2022 is asking for trouble.

    The Raiders have too many holes to invest big money in the backfield. And if Jacobs really is hell-bent on not being tagged, then the best course of action might well be to just let Jacobs walk.


Kansas City Chiefs OT Orlando Brown

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 21: Orlando Brown Jr. #57 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs onto the field during introductions against the Jacksonville Jaguars at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on January 21, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    It's déjà vu all over again for Kansas City Chiefs tackle Orlando Brown.

    As Brown and the Chiefs prepare to take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, the 26-year-old made it clear to reporters that his focus is on one thing: bringing a title to Kansas City.

    "Yeah, just understanding that for me, right now, the current goal is winning a Super Bowl," Brown said. "And that's really just been my focus, and as far as all those other things, that will be taken care of by my agent and however things are worked out on the business side. So, I just try to focus on that goal and to me, that's what's most important right now."

    But soon enough, the focus will turn to next season—and a familiar dance.

    Brown has already played one season under the franchise tag. After reportedly turning down a six-year, $139 million extension last year, Brown made $16.6 million in 2022. The tag number for offensive linemen is about $18.2 million, but Brown would be in line for 120 percent of his 2022 salary under a second tag at just under $20 million.

    The Chiefs certainly can't let a key component on one of the league's better offensive lines leave town, and in a perfect world, the added cap flexibility from an extension would come in handy for a team that has just under $14 million in wiggle room.

    But Brown has already turned down $23 million a season. And unless that stance has softened, player and team could be headed for another stalemate.

    And a second franchise tag.


Arizona Cardinals DL Zach Allen

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    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 27: Zach Allen #94 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates a sack against the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter at State Farm Stadium on November 27, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The 2022 season was a hot mess for the Arizona Cardinals. But underneath the disappointment that cost head coach Kliff Kingsbury his job, there were some good things, like the play of defensive lineman Zach Allen.

    Allen had far and away the best season of his professional career in 2022, amassing 47 total tackles and 5.5 sacks—numbers that landed the 25-year-old among the top-25 free agents of 2023, according to ESPN's Matt Bowen.

    "Allen is a player who can be moved around in sub packages to generate interior pressure. He had 5.5 sacks and 26 pressures from various alignments in the Arizona defensive front this season. He also had a run stop win rate of 37.9%, which ranked in the top 40 among all NFL defenders. The arrow is pointing up on the 6-foot-4, 280-pound Allen."

    In light of J.J. Watt's retirement, the last thing the Cardinals can afford is to lose another key component of the defensive line. But the Redbirds only have about $14.6 million in cap space. That's about $4 million less than the tag for defensive tackles and closer to $5 million short of the tag for defensive ends.

    Arizona's new general manager can't afford to wreck the team's cap space for one player, especially when that player isn't a threat for double-digit sacks.

    This isn't to say that keeping Allen around shouldn't be a priority for Arizona's new regime.

    But it needs to be done via a more cap-friendly route than the franchise tag.


Washington Commanders DT Daron Payne

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - OCTOBER 30: Daron Payne #94 of the Washington Commanders walks off the field after a win over the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 30, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
    Justin Casterline/Getty Images

    There isn't a team in the NFL that has invested more early-round draft capital along the defensive line than the Washington Commanders. The good news is that those picks were well spent. Tackles Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen and ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young have all shown the potential to take over games.

    The bad news is that the bill is coming due for those players. Allen already got an extension averaging $18 million a season, and now fresh off a career-high 11.5 sacks, it's Payne's turn to get paid.

    Per Ethan Cadeaux of NBC Sports Washington, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera values what Payne brings to the table and would like to see him back in the nation's capital in 2023.

    "We think he's a piece. He fits the formula of what we wanna do and how we wanna play, and he's got the skillset that you would like to have," Rivera said. "We think his presence on the football field was outstanding this season, and he did a lot of good things for us."

    For his part, Payne wants to be back in Washington this year—for the right price.

    "You know what I want, man. It's self-explanatory," Payne said. "I just want what I earned."

    Has Payne earned a long-term deal? Sure. Such a deal would also afford a Commanders team with just $8.4 million in cap space some flexibility. But the team will free up a big chunk of cap space by releasing quarterback Carson Wentz, and the franchise tag would prevent the club from making another massive long-term financial commitment on the defensive line.

    Given the needs the team has on both sides of the ball, that's not a bad idea.


Dallas Cowboys RB Tony Pollard

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    SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 22: Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) warms up before the NFL NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    As recently as a couple of months ago, the notion of investing major resources in running back Tony Pollard appeared a wise course of action by the Dallas Cowboys, whether it was via a long-term extension or the franchise tag.

    In 2022, Pollard emerged as the most dangerous back on Dallas' roster on a per-touch basis, and it wasn't close. Pollard surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground for the first time in his career, averaged a robust 5.2 yards per carry and played a big part in the Cowboys winning 12 games for the second consecutive season.

    Of course, it's not just as simple as writing a check. The Cowboys are over $7 million upside down against the 2023 cap, and the team is already heavily invested in Ezekiel Elliott. While speaking to reporters, executive vice president and director of player personnel Stephen Jones allowed that keeping the band together in the backfield won't be easy.

    "Obviously, we're probably one of the top teams in the league already with what we pay running backs," said Jones. "We have to make sure how we pay attention to this and how we spread it out—how we divide up the pie. We have to relook at that. We have to look at Zeke, and, obviously, Tony is looking to make more money.

    "So, we have to relook [at] the whole thing in terms of running back and what that looks like. ... Oh yeah, you always want Zeke. But do the numbers work? You can't define what Zeke does for our football team. He's a competitor and what he brings—just a special guy."

    Add in the fractured fibula and high ankle sprain that ended Pollard's season in the divisional round, and the matter becomes that much more complicated.

    The Cowboys could shave $10.9 million off the 2023 cap by releasing Elliott with a post-June 1 designation. But that would leave the Cowboys with that much more uncertainty in the backfield, and using the franchise tag on Pollard would wipe out that newly created wiggle room.

    There are ample reasons for the Cowboys to make a concerted effort to keep Pollard.

    But they need to do so in a way that doesn't involve a $10 million cap hit in 2023.


Jacksonville Jaguars TE Evan Engram

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    JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - JANUARY 14: Evan Engram #17 of the Jacksonville Jaguars carries the ball against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field on January 14, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
    Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

    This is a very important offseason for the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a second-half surge netted the team its first postseason appearance and playoff win since the 2017 season, the next few months will be all about attempting to build on that positive momentum.

    Step 1 in that regard is attending to the team's in-house free agents, and after setting career highs in receptions (73) and receiving yards (766) last year, tight end Evan Engram is right at the top of the list.

    While addressing the media in January, Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke made it clear that the team wants to bring Engram back for a second season in Jacksonville.

    "Obviously, we would love to have Evan back," he said. "Evan and I visited yesterday, and he went around the building and visited with everybody. I think it's mutual. Now we got to make it happen. That's something that we're going to work on with Evan and all the other free agents that we have. We have a list of them that we got to mow down one at a time."

    However, while Engram had an excellent season, his career to date has featured no shortage of ups and downs. It's not unreasonable to have reservations about Engram's ability to string two successful seasons together.

    Last year, we saw tight ends like Dalton Schultz of the Cowboys, Mike Gesicki of the Dolphins and David Njoku of the Browns all receive franchise tags from teams with concerns about making a long-term commitment. Only one (Njoku) then signed a multi-year extension.

    And with a tag amount of $11.3 million for tight ends this season, using the same strategy with Engram offers a measure of insurance at a relatively reasonable cost.