Predictions for Every NFL Franchise-Tagged Player Ahead of July 15 Deadline

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 14, 2020

Predictions for Every NFL Franchise-Tagged Player Ahead of July 15 Deadline

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    Several NFL teams have pressing decisions to make on franchise-tagged players by Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET. After that deadline, veterans designated with one-year tenders cannot sign long-term contracts until after the 2020 season. 

    Players with extensive injury histories, inconsistent production or high salary demands could find it more difficult to come to terms with their clubs on lengthy deals than in the recent past.

    With the uncertainty of the 2021 salary cap because of the potential loss of revenue, front-office executives may take a conservative financial approach with the big picture in mind.

    On the flip side, high-end talents can hold out if they haven't signed their franchise tenders, but that's a huge risk when you consider the loss of 2020 wages and time away from the field following virtual OTAs.

    As player reps and team cap specialists negotiate all the way up to Wednesday's deadline, we'll break down the scenarios and provide predictions for all 14 players. The verdicts will project extensions, trades, summer holdouts and those likely to play out the 2020 term with the franchise tag.         

    Editor's Note: After publishing, the Chiefs finalized a four-year, $85 million contract with Chris Jones per ESPN's Adam Schefter. 

QB Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

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    Dak Prescott signed his $31.41 million franchise tag, but he remains at odds with the team on the length of a long-term deal.

    According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, Prescott wants a four-year contract, while the Cowboys prefer a five-year pact. 

    Prescott isn't going to top Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes' new deal, which is worth $45 million annually, but he could match Seattle Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson at $35 million per year.

    Right now, Dallas isn't close to a new agreement with Prescott, per Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News

    ESPN's Ed Werder spoke to a source who broke down why the Cowboys would benefit from closing the deal this year rather than next offseason. 

    "Their problem is the second year, because this salary cap is going to crash unless there's an intermediate deal," Werder wrote. "They would have to gut their team to keep him then. So there's even more incentive for the Cowboys to do a long-term deal with Dak because of the coronavirus and where the cap might be next year." 

    Nonetheless, with the two sides still at distant contractual odds, Prescott's long-term negotiations with the Cowboys seem likely to drag into 2021.

    Verdict: Prescott plays the 2020 season on the franchise tag              

RB Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

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    Derrick Henry isn't going to hold out this summer. In April, he signed his $10.28 million franchise tag.

    Since then, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey signed a four-year, $64.06 million extension, though Henry shouldn't view that contract as his floor. He's more of a pure ball-carrier than a dynamic dual-threat playmaker out of the backfield. The Alabama product has just 57 catches for 578 yards and three touchdowns in four seasons. 

    Yet, Henry's physical play style embodies the Tennessee Titans offense. He's the focal point of that unit. The reigning rushing champion led his club to victories late in the 2019 campaign, logging at least 103 yards on the ground in five of the last six contests. Henry also played a huge role in two postseason wins, racking up 377 yards and a touchdown. 

    According to Terry McCormick of, the Titans will keep an active line of communication with Henry's camp:

    "Although no extension is on the verge of happening, there is the possibility that talks could accelerate in the final week with the deadline approaching. A move toward common ground is still possible as the sides are expected to continue discussions in an effort to put together an amenable deal for the former Heisman Trophy-winning running back." 

    According to ESPN's Adam's Schefter, Tennessee isn't expected to reach a long-term deal with Henry before the deadline. Although the Titans have $19.37 million in cap space, they'll hold on to their financial capital and reassess the running back's contractual situation after the 2020 campaign.

    Verdict: Henry plays through 2020 season with the franchise tag 

WR A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

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    A.J. Green didn't play a single game during the 2019 campaign. Last offseason, he underwent ankle surgery and experienced a setback in November during his recovery. Dating back to 2018, the seven-time Pro Bowler has suited up for just nine contests, hauling in 46 passes for 694 yards and six touchdowns.

    Turning 32 years old in July, Green has some durability concerns at this stage in his career, but the Cincinnati Bengals still have a promising wide receiver group. In 2019, the club signed Tyler Boyd to a four-year extension. In April, the front office selected Tee Higgins in the second round of the draft.

    According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler (h/t Bleacher Report's Mike Chiari), the Bengals don't seem eager to sign Green to a long-term pact.

    "He has not signed the tag. I've talked to some sources involved," Fowler said. "They don't know either if he's going to or if a long-term deal is going to get done. They don’t sound overly optimistic in Cincinnati that their best pass-catcher will be locked up long-term." 

    The Bengals should wait to see if Green returns to pre-injury form before they consider a commitment to him beyond 2020. In the worst-case scenario, the front office may need to overpay the star wideout on an extension next offseason. On the other hand, Cincinnati can allow him to walk with Boyd and Higgins at the position.

    Verdict: Green plays the 2020 season on the franchise tag       

TE Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers

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    When healthy, Hunter Henry has carved out a steady role in the passing attack, hauling in 136 passes for 1,709 yards and 17 touchdowns through 41 games. However, he's missed 23 outings, including the entire 2018 campaign because of a torn ACL.

    During a segment on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Henry didn't push back on the thought of playing on the franchise tag (h/t Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper). 

    "I think it's fine. Obviously, I think I would like to get something done. Just security, and long term and just with the team and the franchise. It’s another year of playing football, man, that's how I look at it. ... Whatever the situation is, I'll be looking forward to going out with this squad. I'm really looking forward to this team, the potential and what we have going for us in this 2020 season." 

    Henry seems focused on the upcoming campaign and what the Los Angeles Chargers can accomplish as a team. Of course, he likely understands his injury history probably caused the front office to hesitate on a lengthy commitment.

    Without much buzz about negotiations on a new deal, Henry seems likely to play out the 2020 term on the franchise tag. 

    Verdict: Henry plays the 2020 season on the franchise tag    

G Joe Thuney, New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots recouped $7.79 million Saturday, settling grievances with wideout Antonio Brown and the late Aaron Hernandez, per ESPN's Mike Reiss. The added cap space gives the club some financial flexibility in case the team needs to tinker with the roster before the regular season.

    Now, with quarterback Cam Newton under contract on a one-year, $1.05 million base salary and the entire 2020 draft class signed, the Patriots don't need to shed big salaries to allow themselves financial flexibility. Unless another team makes a favorable offer for Joe Thuney, New England should keep him on the roster. He hasn't missed a start in four years. 

    Furthermore, with Newton coming off Lisfranc surgery and his recent history of shoulder injuries, the Patriots may want to lean on the ground attack in 2020. The same offensive style would also benefit inexperienced second-year signal-caller Jarrett Stidham. As a reliable starter, Thuney would play a huge role in clearing running lanes for the ball-carriers.

    Thuney signed his $14.78 million franchise tag, so he's not going to hold out. The Patriots could pause talks about a long-term commitment until they see how the offense shapes up in the post-Tom Brady era. The team should stand pat, see what its cap situation looks like in 2021 and reassess the guard's future next offseason. 

    Verdict: Thuney plays the 2020 season on the franchise tag   

G Brandon Scherff, Washington

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    The momentum in long-term contract discussions between Washington and Brandon Scherff has shifted over the past three months.

    In April, Scherff told Larry Michael the negotiations had "gone well." Recently, ESPN's John Keim suggested the team doesn't have much hope for a new deal.

    "There isn't much optimism that a long-term deal will be struck with right guard Brandon Scherff before the July 15 deadline to sign players on the franchise tag, a source said," Keim wrote.

    As quarterback Dwayne Haskins develops, he needs weapons at the skill positions and solid pass protection.

    Washington added running back Antonio Gibson—who played wide receiver at Memphis—and Antonio Gandy-Golden in the third and fourth rounds of April's draft, respectively. On the flip side, the team couldn't reconcile differences with tackle Trent Williams and traded him to the San Francisco 49ers.

    In 2019, Scherff put together his third Pro Bowl campaign, but he's missed 13 games over the last two years. According to Keim, Washington will reassess the standout guard's contract situation at the end of the 2020 campaign. The 28-year-old must stay healthy to push for a new deal.

    Verdict: Scherff plays the 2020 season on the franchise tag  

DT Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Editor's Note: According to ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, Chris Jones is staying in Kansas City. The reigning Super Bowl champions reportedly agreed to a deal with the 26-year-old that is worth $85 million with $60 million guaranteed. 

    The Kansas City Chiefs could encounter some complications with Chris Jones. He hasn't signed his $16.13 million franchise tag. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle also tossed out the idea of not playing in the upcoming season via Twitter.

    On a positive note, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported the Chiefs opened discussions with Jones' camp about an extension. That's an encouraging step because the two sides hadn't discussed much over the last three months.

    Jones has provided a consistent interior presence in the pass rush, logging 24.5 sacks over the last two campaigns. Because of his impact, he could command up to $20 million annually.

    On the other hand, the Chiefs may not have the financial resources to keep him at that price following quarterback Patrick Mahomes' record-setting 10-year, $503 million deal. Remember, wideout Tyreek Hill, safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark have cap hits at $16.33 million or higher in 2020. All three players have contracts that extend beyond the upcoming term.

    Kansas City cannot pay everyone, but Jones deserves $20 million annually. If he's prepared to take a hard stance, the 26-year-old will earn the big bucks elsewhere.

    Keep an eye on the Detroit Lions, who struggled to generate a pass rush last year, tying for 29th in sacks. They can pair Jones with defensive end Trey Flowers to form a solid inside-out duo on the defensive line. 

    Verdict: Jones holds out, and the Chiefs trade him before the 2020 season    

DL Leonard Williams, New York Giants

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    Midway through the 2019 term, the New York Jets traded Leonard Williams to the New York Giants. He didn't stand out in eight games with Big Blue, registering 26 tackles, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a half-sack.

    After an inconsistent four-year stretch with the Jets and a relatively quiet second-half finish with the Giants last year, Williams will likely wait for a big payoff.

    Ralph Vacchiano of SNY pulled back the curtain on negotiations between the Giants and Williams in a mailbag response:

    "… When the Giants and Williams were actually trying to get a long-term deal done late last season and earlier this offseason I never got the sense that they were particularly close in terms. Williams, from what I understand, wanted to be paid like a premier pass rusher (think $18-20 million per year) and the Giants didn’t want to pay that amount." 

    According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Williams understands he'll play out the 2020 term with the franchise tag.

    Unlike Chris Jones in Kansas City, Williams hasn't been as impactful in the pass rush, recording 17.5 sacks through five seasons. He must show more in that area to justify a contract worth $18-20 million annually. 

    The Giants don't have an incentive to open up the checkbook for Williams.   

    Verdict: Williams plays the 2020 season on the franchise tag      

EDGE Matt Judon, Baltimore Ravens

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    In 2019, Matt Judon logged a career-high 9.5 sacks and earned his first Pro Bowl nod. He's not a dominant edge-rusher but is the Baltimore Ravens' best pass-rusher.

    The Ravens re-signed Pernell McPhee, who's a rotational defender on the edge. Tyus Bowser hasn't developed into a consistent threat, though he recorded a career-best five sacks in 2019. Jaylon Ferguson is going into his second season with a lot of room for growth. He played 51 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie.

    Defensive end Calais Campbell has shown he's a solid pass-rusher, logging 31.5 sacks over the past three terms with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Still, the Ravens need a complementary pocket-pusher and three-down playmaker off the edge. 

    As a starter in 36 out of 62 outings, Judon needs to show a little more before he can command a lucrative long-term deal, but he's worth another year on a $16.81 million franchise tag. That's the compromised price tag between the linebacker and defensive end position designations, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

    Verdict: Judon plays the 2020 season on the franchise tag     

EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Yannick Ngakoue's contractual situation with the Jaguars could drag through the summer. He's already expressed his desire to move on and engaged with team senior vice president of football administration and technology Tony Khan. "Just trade me. I don't need the speech," the defensive end tweeted.

    According to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, Ngakoue hasn't cooled on his perspective. He's yet to sign his franchise tender. The Pro Bowl pass-rusher is the most likely holdout candidate.

    The Jaguars can play hardball. They essentially selected Ngakoue's eventual replacement in April's draft, taking K'Lavon Chaisson with the No. 20 overall pick. He could earn a starting spot to rush the passer opposite 2019 first-rounder Josh Allen. 

    Yet, general manager David Caldwell has kept the door open for Ngakoue, per ESPN's Mike DiRocco.

    "I think his options are very limited at this point in time," Caldwell said. "We'll welcome him back with open arms when he's ready to come back, and we look forward to it."

    Barring a 180 redirection, Ngakoue isn't likely to join the Jaguars for training camp. He wants a new contract—preferably from a team that has a "great culture" where "winning is a habit," per ESPN (h/t Kevin Patra of Jacksonville has gone 11-21 over the last two campaigns. 

    With $24.73 million in cap space, the Philadelphia Eagles could attempt to acquire Ngakoue in a blockbuster deal.

    Verdict: Ngakoue holds out, and the Jaguars trade him before the 2020 season       

EDGE Bud Dupree, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Bud Dupree signed his $15.83 million franchise tender, but he filed a grievance for classification as a defensive end as opposed to a linebacker, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

    Rapoport also noted Dupree isn't close to a new deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even though deadlines can spark action, don't expect the two sides agree on a long-term pact by Wednesday.

    The Steelers will likely prioritize a new contract for edge-rusher T.J. Watt, who's logged three more career sacks (34.5) than Dupree despite playing 23 fewer games than him. The former should command a megadeal in the near future while the latter attempts to establish consistency as a high-volume pass-rusher.

    In 2019, Dupree recorded 11.5 sacks, 5.5 more than his previous career high in 2017. Pittsburgh has no incentive to extend him with Watt likely to break the bank. For now, the Steelers should wait to see if the sixth-year veteran can give them an encore performance in 2020.

    Verdict: Dupree plays the 2020 season on the franchise tag  

EDGE Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Like Dupree, Shaquil Barrett filed a grievance for classification as a defensive end rather than a linebacker, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    Yet Barrett is not a candidate to hold out. During a segment on SiriusXM NFL Radio, he confirmed his intention to suit up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 (h/t Pewter Report's Mark Cook). 

    "Yeah, that's accurate," Barrett said. "I will most definitely be here next year."

    Right now, Barrett doesn't seem to be bothered by the franchise tag. After five terms in a backup role with the Denver Broncos, he broke out for a league-leading 19.5 sacks in 2019.

    Although the Buccaneers have been in talks with Barrett about a multiyear deal, the front office may want to see him record consecutive seasons as an impact defender before committing to him on a long-term agreement. 

    If Barrett continues to show up as a disruptive force on the edge, the Buccaneers shouldn't have an issue paying him a top-dollar contract before he hits 30 years old in 2022. For now, they should make sure he didn't have a fluke 2019 season.

    Verdict: Barrett plays the 2020 season on the franchise tag        

S Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos

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    After three solid seasons, Justin Simmons had a breakout 2019 term, registering 15 pass breakups and four interceptions. He was expected to sign his $11.44 million franchise tender over the weekend, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, but his camp has been active in negotiations with the team before the draft.

    Ironically, Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson tops the position in annual salary at $14.6 million. He played under Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, who served as the defensive coordinator in the Windy City between 2015 and 2018.

    Like Jackson, Simmons flourished in Fangio's system and should reap the rewards in the near future. The Broncos have $17.25 million in cap space, which is enough to pay their starting free safety. 

    According to ESPN's Jeff Legwold, general manager/president of football operations John Elway extended all four franchise-tagged players during his tenure (tackle Ryan Clady, kicker Matt Prater, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and edge-rusher Von Miller). Simmons should fall into that category as the fifth player to sign a new deal before the deadline. 

    Verdict: Broncos sign Simmons to a four-year deal before Wednesday's deadline      

S Anthony Harris, Minnesota Vikings

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    Anthony Harris signed his $11.44 million franchise tag with the Minnesota Vikings. He was the subject of trade talks with the Cleveland Browns in March, per Mary Kay Cabot of The Vikings have also discussed parameters of a new deal with him, according to NFL insider Josina Anderson.

    The Browns have disappeared off the radar as a trade suitor for Harris, and the talks about an extension have gone mute in recent weeks.

    As a ball-hawking safety, Harris would compete with Justin Simmons to be the highest-paid player at the position. Since 2018, he's recorded nine interceptions and led the league with six last year.

    The Vikings have another contractual decision that takes precedence over Harris' tender. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, running back Dalvin Cook won't rejoin the team until he receives a "reasonable extension."

    As a run-heavy team that ranked fourth in rushing attempts last year, Minnesota has probably moved Cook ahead of Harris on the priority list. As a result, the sixth-year safety will wait until next offseason for a long-term deal as general manager Rick Spielman assesses his lead running back's contract demands.

    Verdict: Harris plays the 2020 season on the franchise tag