NFL Free Agency: The Tags and the Tag-Nots

NFL Free Agency: The Tags and the Tag-Nots

This article is part of our NFL Free Agency series.

The deadline for teams to use franchise and transition tags was 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, leaving us with a final list of 10 players that will be tagged this offseason. The group includes two modest surprises in Jaguars OT Cam Robinson and Saints S Marcus Williams, while the other eight guys were fairly obvious candidates for the designation. 

Last spring, 14 teams used franchise tags, and the Cardinals used a transition tag on Kenyan Drake. This time, we're looking at only 10 players, including one guy (Dak Prescott) who reportedly has already agreed to an extension. The list of tag candidates who ultimately weren't tagged includes Lions WR Kenny Golladay, Packers RB Aaron Jones, Bengals DE Carl Lawson and Patriots G Joe Thuney. Below, we'll take a team-by-team look at the fallout from franchise-tag day.

But first, here are a few key RW resources to help you stay up to date with the NFL offseason:

Now, about those franchise tags...

   

Arizona Cardinals

Tag: None

There was some talk of using the tag on OLB Haason Reddick, a 2017 first-round pick who finally broke out in 2020 with 12.5 sacks, including five in a single game against the Giants. The Cardinals have enough cap flexibility to keep Reddick and CB Patrick Peterson, but that doesn't mean they'll want to, especially if both guys get big contract offers elsewhere.

    

Atlanta Falcons

Tag: None

The Falcons didn't have a candidate for the tag. Their top free agents this offseason include S Keanu Neal, C Alex Mack and RB Todd Gurley — not exactly irreplaceable, which is good considering the team doesn't have any cap space.

    

Baltimore Ravens

Tag: None

The Ravens used their tag on OLB Matthew Judon last offseason, but he arguably wasn't worth the $16.8 million, so there was no real chance of a second tag with a 20 percent raise to $20.2 million. Baltimore fans watching the tag deadline likely were doing so with an interest in the top wide receivers and interior linemen. 

    

Buffalo Bills

Tag: None

LB Matt Milano was mentioned as a tag candidate, but it reportedly would've cost $14.6 million, which is a lot for an off-ball linebacker. The Bills should be able to re-sign Milano with a much lower cap hit for 2021, if they so desire.

    

Carolina Panthers

Tag: RT Taylor Moton

A 2017 second-round pick, Moton is working on three straight seasons with 16 starts and a PFF grade above 76.0. He'll be one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league once he gets his multi-year contract, be it this offseason or next.     

Chicago Bears

Tag: WR Allen Robinson

Robinson's tag is expected to cost around $18 million, which will be tricky for a veteran team with a tough cap situation. Barring a long-term agreement before the July 15 deadline, we could see Robinson hold out from the offseason program, minicamp and part or all of training camp. 

Most players on a tag won't continue a holdout into the regular season, but it's at least a slight possibility we need to consider while the situation remains fluid. While Robinson has stated his desire to stay in Chicago, most reports suggest contract discussions have been either unproductive or non-existent the past six months.

    

Cincinnati Bengals

Tag: None

The Bengals could've used the tag on DE Carl Lawson or CB William Jackson. I'm not really sure why they didn't, but it sounds like they'll still make an effort to sign one or both to long-term deals. The team is estimated to have $41 million in cap space, fifth-most in the league.

    

Cleveland Browns

Tag: None

The Browns didn't have any candidates for the tag. Their free-agent class largely consists of role players, or guys who were expected to be reserves but ended up starting due to injuries. The franchise is in a pretty good spot, with $20.6 million in cap space and some potential cuts to free up more room. A splash addition on defense would make sense. 

    

Dallas Cowboys

Tag: QB Dak Prescott

    

Denver Broncos

Tag: S Justin Simmons

Tagged for $11.4 million last offseason, Simmons should now get a raise to around $13.7 million. He wasn't quite as dominant in 2020, but he's still one of the better safeties in the game, and his partner in the defensive backfield (Kareem Jackson) isn't too shabby either. But Bryce Callahan could use some help at cornerback.

    

Detroit Lions

Tag: None

I'm surprised a team with so little talent would allow WR Kenny Golladay to leave. Even if they don't think he'll sign with them long term, shouldn't the Lions have tried a tag-and-trade? I suppose they could end up with a third-round comp pick next spring, but a trade might net something like a second-rounder, right? Anyway, Golladay is the top WR in free agency, with Robinson and Chris Godwin getting tags.

    

Green Bay Packers

Tag: None

You could've made an argument from RB Aaron Jones or C Corey Linsley, but neither ever appeared likely to get the tag. With Jones and Williams both headed for free agency, AJ Dillon could be the biggest fantasy winner of this offseason.... or not. TBD.

    

Houston Texans

Tag: None

Will Fuller would've been a reasonable choice, but we've known for a couple weeks that he wouldn't get a tag. He's arguably the No. 2 free-agent WR after Golladay.

    

Indianapolis Colts

Tag: None

The Colts have the fifth-most cap space (more than $40 million) even after we account for the Carson Wentz trade. Golladay would sure be a nice fit to replace a well-aged T.Y. Hilton (also a free agent) as the Colts' deep threat.

    

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tag: LT Cam Robinson

This is a little surprising, though maybe it shouldn't be after the way Tampa prioritized LT Donovan Smith and watched him develop from mediocre to above average on his second contract. You could pretty easily argue that Robinson doesn't have the reputation or PFF grades to justify a tag, but mere competence at a high-value position is worth a lot of money, especially when your team has more cap space than it knows what to do with. The Jags have a lot of different options for building an offense around Trevor Lawrence this offseason, but they also have a lot of work to be done on defense.

    

Kansas City Chiefs

Tag: None

No candidates, no tags. 

    

Las Vegas Raiders

Tag: None

The Raiders didn't have any tag candidates. They've been busy addressing mistakes from the 2019 offseason, releasing WR Tyrell Williams and S LaMarcus Joyner and trading OT Trent Brown. Jon Gruden deserves credit for his offensive scheme and his work with Derek Carr, but Chuckie's personnel moves have too often been disastrous. Wasn't Mike Mayock supposed to fix everything, or something like that?

    

Los Angeles Chargers

Tag: None

The tag is relatively cheap for tight ends, but the Chargers already used it on Henry last offseason, and a 20 percent raise would've pushed him to $12.7 million in 2021. You could argue that's a reasonable salary for a starter at a thin position, though Henry appears to have plateaued somewhere shy of stardom. He's competent as both a receiver and blocker, which means a bunch of teams will try to sign him if the Chargers can't complete a multi-year deal before the new league year starts.

   

Los Angeles Rams

Tag: None

S John Johnson isn't a household name, but he's one of the better players at his position. The Rams might've used a tag on him if they'd had more cap space. As is, Johnson likely will sign elsewhere.

    

Miami Dolphins

Tag: None

No candidates, no tags. Miami has the cap space and draft capital to make a ton of noise this offseason, and there's a clear need for talent at the skill positions on offense. I'll be surprised if they don't nab at least one guy from the group of Aaron Jones, Chris Carson, Kenny Golladay, Will Fuller, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

    

Minnesota Vikings

Tag: None

S Anthony Harris played under the tag last season but now becomes a free agent. His PFF grade dropped to 66.2 in 2020, down from 89.0 in 2018 and 91.1 in 2019. Harris made 16 starts and logged 104 tackles, but he didn't pick off any passes or otherwise have a hand in any takeaways. He might be a one-hit wonder more so than a late bloomer?

    

New England Patriots

Tag: None

The Patriots are doing a late-round pick swap to acquire OT Trent Brown (a former Patriot) from the Raiders. New England has two quality O-line starters (LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews) scheduled for free agency, but arguably can afford to lose both. Isaiah Wynn, Shaq Mason and Michael Onwenu all got PFF grades in the 80s last year, and each of the three is capable of playing multiple spots on the line.

Between those three, Brown, the two impending free agents and Marcus Cannon, the Patriots have no shortage of option for putting the finishing touches on what should be a very good line. Now about those skill positions...

    

New Orleans Saints

Tag: S Marcus Williams

Given their cap situation, the Saints would be foolish not to explore a sign-and-trade. Of course, they may need to act fast, as cap compliance won't be easy over the next couple weeks. While perhaps best known for his gaffe on the famous Stefon Diggs touchdown, Williams is one of the NFL's better safeties, compiling 60 starts and 13 INTs through four NFL seasons. A long-term contract would allow the Saints to keep him around without the huge cap hit in 2021.

    

New York Giants

Tag: DL Leonard Williams

Williams broke through with career highs of 11.5 sacks and 30 QB hits at the best possible time. He's reportedly seeking $20 million per season on a long-term deal, and it sounds like both sides prefer to work something out before the July deadline.

    

New York Jets

Tag: S Marcus Maye

After last year's Jamal Adams trade, the Jets were never going to let their other safety walk. Heck, Maye might be the best player on their roster, which is partially a credit to him but also a statement on what a disaster this is. Some rebuilding projects require more patience than others, and Robert Saleh might want to invest in a fidget spinner.

   

Philadelphia Eagles

Tag: None

The Eagles are in a tricky cap situation for 2021, but Carson Wentz is off the books thereafter, creating flexibility for 2022 and beyond. This looks like a weird transition year, one that could be devoted to evaluating Jalen Hurts and other young players. Don't be surprised if the Eagles cut more veterans in the coming weeks.

    

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tag: None

Late-blooming OLB Bud Dupree finished 2020 with eight sacks and 15 QB hits in 11 games, bowing out in early December with a torn ACL. The timing was tough, but he should still attract interest this offseason, seeing as he's a pass rusher and what not.

    

San Francisco 49ers

Tag: None

The 49ers' top free agent, OT Trent Williams, had a contract stipulation prohibiting the franchise tag. He may stick around anyway.

    

Seattle Seahawks

Tag: None

RB Chris Carson and CB Shaquil Griffin were realistic options for the tag, though neither appeared likely to get it. That's good news for anyone holding out hope for a late breakout from Rashaad Penny, though I'm guessing Seattle brings in other RBs if Carson and/or Carlos Hyde exit(s) in free agency. 

    

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tag: WR Chris Godwin

A team in win-now mode doesn't let a player like Godwin walk away for nothing more than compensatory draft pick. Godwin was never going to become a free agent, as the Bucs likely would've pulled a tag-and-trade if the relationship had soured. Fortunately, the relationship appears fine, with Godwin even saying earlier this offseason that he'll play out 2021 under the tag if he can't work out a long-term deal. The two sides now have until July 15 to figure it out.

    

Tennessee Titans

Tag: None

TE Jonnu Smith was a candidate, though a franchise tag seems pricey for a guy who has never reached 500 receiving yards in a season. Smith is solid as a blocker and fantastic at picking up YAC, but it's less clear if he's able to separate from coverage on deep and intermediate routes, as the Titans used him in a role that wasn't exactly on the cutting edge of TE technology. Maybe that's just who Smith is, or maybe there's an 800-yard YAC monster lurking beneath the surface. 

Either way, both Smith and WR Corey Davis are set to hit free agency, and slot receiver Adam Humphries has already been released. The Titans may somehow become even more dependent on Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown, if that's at all possible.

    

Washington Football Team

Tag: RG Brandon Scherff

Scherff earned a career-best PFF grade (86.3) in 2020, ranking fourth among guards. He's been one of the better interior blockers in the league ever since he was drafted fifth overall in 2015, but he's also missed multiple games four years in a row (18 absences overall). Anyway, Washington has an opportunity to return all five starters from an O-Line that placed No. 6 in PFF's 2020 grades.

     

           

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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