NFL Players Who Should Refuse to Sign the Franchise Tag as Deadline Looms
Like seemingly everything else in the NFL this year, drama over the franchise tag has been amplified to new heights.
Fourteen players received a franchise tag in 2020, a number that surpassed the totals of the prior two offseasons combined. Some tag situations, like that of Pittsburgh Steelers edge defender Bud Dupree, passed with little in the way of drama. Longstanding speculation surrounding Dak Prescott's tag...not so much.
A handful of tags still haven't been signed ahead of the July 15 deadline for players and teams to agree to long-term extensions, otherwise, a long-term extension can't happen until the end of the regular season. If an extension doesn't happen, the tagged player will play on the tag in 2020—provided they sign.
Of the players who haven't signed their franchise deals yet, a select few shouldn't. Some of these big-name players have been the subject of trade speculation, while all have some leverage to exercise by refusing to sign.
Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE, Jacksonville Jaguars
The divorce between the Jacksonville Jaguars and star edge defender Yannick Ngakoue seems inevitable.
Ngakoue has clearly refused to sign his tag to this point. He's ready to sit out "well into training camp," according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, and he's even gotten into a Twitter spat with Tony Khan—owner Shad Khan's son and an executive in the organization—while making it clear he wants out.
It's not hard to see why the Jaguars wouldn't want to move a 25-year-old defender with 37.5 sacks over all of four seasons. But long-term negotiations between the two parties didn't work a year ago. Ngakoue briefly held out but ended up playing last season to guarantee he gained an accrued season toward unrestricted free agency.
At this point, the Jaguars will probably have to blink first if the right trade offer comes along. While teams might not love the idea of coughing up draft assets and then paying up for Ngakoue, almost no team in the league would complain about actually having an elite, stable presence at a premium position.
Given the way Ngakoue has played his hand so far, he's got plenty of leverage to wait this out and eventually get his trade out of town. It'll be better for both parties, as the Jaguars can at least get something in return for the departure of a player who has made it clear he doesn't want to be a member of the team.
Chris Jones, DL, Kansas City Chiefs
It's not hard to see why defensive lineman Chris Jones might be frustrated with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jones put up 15.5 sacks in 2018 as one of the NFL's best outright defenders, even posting a sack in 11 straight games. Pro Football Reference had him creating 49 pressures, too.
The Chiefs responded by trading for Frank Clark and giving the edge-rusher a five-year deal worth $104 million. On the first year of his deal, Clark missed two games and put up eight sacks. Jones missed three outings but still registered nine sacks with 27 pressures.
Jones' comments after finding out about the tag say it all. He appeared on Fox Sports' The Herd with Colin Cowherd and said the following (h/t Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk):
"It's like a mix of emotions. Because you figure, you know, after four years, you do everything the right way, within the team way, you try to stay under the line, out of trouble, and be a good citizen for a team and for the city, you expect to be rewarded. So you know when you're hit with the franchise tag, it can go different ways. You can feel like they're not valuing you or they’re not valuing what you bring to the table or you can look at it as giving them time to get their horses in a cage and get something together."
Jones has since suggested he won't play this season if a long-term deal isn't agreed. And it's not a bad angle to take after four accrued seasons and watching what was potentially his roughly $20 million-per-year contract go to a new arrival to the team.
Two interior defenders make $20 million per year, and Jones is right there in talent alongside Aaron Donald and DeForest Buckner. If the Chiefs don't want to pay him like that, plenty of teams will even after coughing up assets in a trade.
Shaquil Barrett, Edge, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like the prior two, Shaquil Barrett happens to do one of the most important things in the NFL—pressure quarterbacks and disrupt the timing of offenses.
Granted, one could classify Barrett as a one-hit wonder after he broke out with 19.5 sacks last season during his first year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But Barrett could just as easily say he broke free of Von Miller's shadow in Denver after four seasons and was able to fully emerge.
Regardless, Barrett told SiriusXM NFL Radio (h/t Pewter Report) that he'll sign the tag if his reps and the Buccaneers can't reach a long-term agreement. Days before that, though, he'd said on NFL Total Access, "It's still up in the air right now, about 50-50."
And maybe he shouldn't sign. Edge-rushers are arguably the hottest non-quarterback commodity in the NFL. Last year alone, three franchised edge-rushers were traded (Dee Ford, Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney).
While teams potentially trading for Barrett would be foolish to expect anything but a regression from the 19.5-sack mark, if the Buccaneers aren't willing to pay him top-flight edge money, another team might be. He's already been in the league five seasons and will turn 28 this winter, so he's running out of time to get that massive long-term payday.
A cash-strapped Buccaneers team (roughly $5 million in cap space, per Spotrac) trying to go all-in around Tom Brady might be open to a deal if Barrett flexes some of his leverage.