WFT's Top Players to Consider for Franchise Tag, RFA Contract Tenders

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2021

WFT's Top Players to Consider for Franchise Tag, RFA Contract Tenders

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team won the NFC East with a 7-9 record in 2020, which helped make Ron Rivera's first season as head coach a success. However, Rivera and Washington cannot be satisfied with a division title and now must focus on getting deeper into the postseason.

    Step one will be finding a long-term answer at quarterback. Alex Smith may or may not be back for another season, and Washington recently re-signed playoff standout Taylor Heinicke. However, a clear starter has not been established.

    "It's going to be a competition," Heinicke said, per Ethan Cadeaux of Yahoo Sports. "I think that's the best way to do it.

    Of course, uncovering a quarterback is not the only challenge facing Rivera, new general manager Martin Mayhew and the Football Team this offseason. Washington will also have to address its own pending free agents, both unrestricted and restricted. 

    Allowing key contributors to walk should not be part of Washington's offseason plan. Finding a way to retain them should be.

    Here, you'll find an in-depth look at the Football Team's top candidates for the franchise tag and for restricted-free-agent (RFA) contract tenders.

On Tags, Tenders and Washington's Salary-Cap Situation

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    GM Martin Mayhew
    GM Martin MayhewAssociated Press

    Before we get into specific players, it's worth explaining how the franchise tag and RFA tenders work, along with Washington's current cap situation (if you're already familiar with how tags and tenders work, feel free to skip to the bottom of this page for team specifics).

    The franchise tag is a tool utilized to keep players in place without the use of a long-term deal. This can benefit a team that is unsure about a player's future or a team looking to keep a player off the market while a long-term deal is negotiated.

    The tag comes in three forms—non-exclusive, exclusive and the transition tag—and can only be used on one player per team. The exclusive tag keeps a player off the market altogether, while other teams can negotiate with a player on the non-exclusive or transition tag. If a player with the non-exclusive tag signs elsewhere, his team receives two first-round picks as compensation. A team has the right of first refusal on a transition-tagged player but receives nothing as compensation if he leaves.

    In terms of cost, the tags are as follows. The exclusive franchise tag costs an average of the five top salaries at the players' position or 120 percent of the offered player's current salary, whichever is greater. The non-exclusive tag cost the average of the position's top five cap-hit percentages over a five-year period applied to the current cap. The transition tag costs the same cap percentage but applied to the top 10 salaries at the position over five years.

    In short, a shrinking 2021 salary cap may cause non-exclusive and transition tags to be cheaper, but they're still not going to be cheap.

    RFA tenders have a sliding salary scale—full details can be found at NFL.com—but essentially lock in a player with three accrued NFL seasons for Year 4. If another team signs the player to an offer sheet and the team that tendered the player does not match, it receives corresponding compensation—a player given a second-round tender, for example, brings a second-round pick in return.

    Tenders come in four basic forms, first-round, second-round, original-round and right-of-first-refusal.

    Washington is in pretty good shape as it relates to the use of tags and RFA tenders. The Football team is projected to be more than $30 million under the salary cap. This means that, for the most part, the Football Team shouldn't have to do any heavy cap clearing ahead of free agency.

The Franchise Tag

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    Brandon Scherff
    Brandon ScherffJennifer Stewart/Associated Press

    The fact that Washington has plenty of cap space is good because the team also has a few quality players—including Brandon Scherff, Ronald Darby and Ryan Kerrigan—scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency.

    Darby and Scherff are the only pending free agents who should receive serious franchise-tag consideration, though. Darby is a 27-year-old cornerback who started all 16 games in 2020 and who allowed an opposing quarterback rating of just 81.0.

    Scherff is 29 years old, a four-time Pro Bowler and one of the best interior linemen in the game when healthy.

    "Scherff is coming off arguably his best season in the NFL as a member of the First Team All-Pro list. Even though he's going to enter his age-30 season, allowing him to depart when he very well could be peaking isn't the best idea," Ryan Homler of NBC Sports Washington wrote.

    Indeed, Scherff is one of the few players who should be considered franchise building blocks. He's also the Washington player most likely to get the tag, though it wouldn't be a shock to see Mayhew extend Scherff and use the tag on Darby instead.

Restricted Free Agents

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Only two Washington players will qualify for a RFA tender this offseason—wideout Robert Foster and cornerback Danny Johnson. One could argue that neither deserves to be a major offseason priority for the Football Team.

    Of the two, Johnson is the most likely to warrant tender consideration because of his special teams value.

    Johnson appeared in 14 games for Washington in 2020 and returned 26 kickoffs for 573 yards. While he didn't appear on defense this past season, Johnson did play 54 percent of the special teams snaps.

    Special teams is important, and Washington may believe it makes sense to give Johnson a right-of-first-refusal tender. However, plenty of teams view special teamers as interchangeable pieces, and Washington may prefer to use that money on a player who can also contribute elsewhere.

    If Washington gives Foster any tender consideration, it'll be strictly because of what he has accomplished in the past. The undrafted Alabama product had a promising rookie campaign for the Buffalo Bills in 2018, finishing with 27 receptions, 541 yards and three touchdowns. However, he's caught just five NFL passes since then and has produced only 37 receiving yards for the Football Team.

    Signed off the Green Bay Packers practice squad in October, Foster only appeared in four games this past season. Washington may want to get another look at Foster but probably not at the cost of a RFA tender.

         

    *Cap and contract information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.

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