Which NFL players are likely to get a franchise tag in 2023?
The NFL’s franchise tag window opened on Tuesday and closes March 7. Let’s take a look at some of the big names up for a possible tag heading into 2023.
The 2022-23 NFL season has come and gone and now it’s time to look ahead to the 2023-24 season already. The franchise tag window has already opened as of Tuesday, February 21. NFL teams have from now until March 7 to place the franchise tag or transition tag on any of their players. Each team can only use one tag.
What is a franchise tag?
Let’s first talk about what the franchise tag means. When a team chooses to place a franchise tag on a player, it means they can now retain that player who was previously set to be an unrestricted free agent and instead sign them to a specific contract for another year. There are two types of franchise tags - exclusive and non-exclusive.
Exclusive franchise tag
An exclusive tag means the player’s contract must be no less than either the average of the top five salaries at their position or 120% of the player’s salary in the previous season - whichever is greater. Players on exclusive franchise tags are not allowed to negotiate with other teams or sign with another team if they reject the offer.
Non-exclusive franchise tag
A non-exclusive tag means the player’s contract must be no less than either the average of the top five cap hits at their position or 120% of their salary from the previous season - whichever is greater. In a non-exclusive tag, the player is allowed to talk to other teams and if they receive another offer, they negotiate with their current team, which has the opportunity to match the offer. If the current team chooses not to match an offer by another team, then they are entitled to two first-round draft picks.
In a transition tag, the player’s contract must be no less than the average of the top ten salaries at their position and there is no guaranteed compensation. Players on a transition tag are allowed to negotiate with other teams and if their current team refuses to match an offer, it is not entitled to any draft picks.
How did the franchise tags work out last season?
Last year, eight players were given the franchise tag. Three of those eight ended up signing long-term contracts and one was traded. The other four played the year on the tag.
Big-name players likely to be franchise tagged in 2023
Lamar Jackson, QB - Baltimore Ravens
As an unrestricted free agent, Lamar Jackson could walk away from the Ravens and they would gain nothing and lose their franchise quarterback, so it’s quite likely they will give him the franchise tag. He’d likely receive an exclusive tag, which would be worth around $45 million and would prevent Jackson from negotiating with other teams. That would be the better deal for the Ravens. If they risk a non-exclusive tag, they’d pay less but allow Jackson to negotiate with other teams, which would only give them the benefit of the two first-round draft picks if they don’t match. Jackson offers them more value than that - the Ravens are averaging 28 points a game with him as their starting quarterback as opposed to just 20 without him.
Geno Smith, QB - Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks need to make a decision about Geno Smith. If they choose not to use the tag, Smith hits the free market on March 15 with a brand new opening in Tampa Bay. If they use the tag on him, Smith would be under contract for the next year. Last year, he completed 69.8% of his passes for 4,282 yards and 30 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He is worth keeping around for Seattle, especially if they don’t want to look for someone new at quarterback. It would also give them time to come up with a more long-term contract. Of course, the option of first-round draft picks could allow them to draft a rookie quarterback, but Smith has made it clear he wants to stick around in Seattle. ...but also, that he’d like his contract to reflect his worth, so it’s going to cost them.
Daniel Jones, QB or Saquon Barkley, RB - New York Giants
As we explained, NFL teams can only use one franchise tag. So do the Giants tag Daniel Jones or Saquon Barkley? The franchise tag for QBs is $32.416 million and for RBs, it’s $10.091 million. The Giants currently have $46.993 million in cap space and signing Jones would drop that space to around $14.5 million (not considering any other moves). Signing Barkley would leave them with a lot more cap space, but that would mean they need to come up with a deal for Jones before he reaches the open market in March.
Giants general manager Joe Schoen has made it clear that Jones is the priority on the team, but losing Barkley would mean losing one of the best RBs in the league. He finished the 2022-23 season with a career-high 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns plus caught 57 passes for 338 yards. Obviously, the Giants would ideally get both Jones and Barkley back next season, but only one of them can get the tag. It’s likely we won’t see the decision until the end of the deadline. If New York can come to a long-term agreement with Jones before the cutoff, then they could potentially use the tag on Barkley.
Tony Pollard, RB - Dallas Cowboys
Tony Pollard proved his worth in the 2022-23 season, finishing with 1,007 yards, nine rushing touchdowns, 5.2 yards per carry, and 9.5 yards per reception. A franchise tag would only cost Dallas $10.1 million and considering fellow running back Ezekiel Elliott’s diminishing return, Pollard would be more worth that cost than Elliott would be his (cap hit of $16.7 million and base salary of $10.9 million). If Elliott is cut, the Cowboys need to ensure they have Pollard tagged in order to have some base at the position as they are currently lacking depth at running back.
Jessie Bates III, S - Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals used the franchise tag on safety Jessie Bates III last year and he finished the season with 71 tackles, eight passes defended, and a career-high four interceptions. Though Cincinnati drafted Dax Hill, who was supposed to be Bates’ replacement, it seems Bates is still a likely candidate to get the franchise tag again this year. Considering the franchise tag cost for a safety this year is $14.46 million and Bates would be earning 120% of last year’s salary, Cincy would have to pay $15.48 million fully guaranteed if they want to tag him again, which they can afford since QB Joe Burrow’s salary cap hit from his extension won’t hit until the following season.
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