The NFL franchise tag window opens on Monday, February 21, giving teams two full weeks to use their tag to prevent a pending free agent from entering the open market.
That means filming and action will soon begin as teams figure out who may need to be fired and who may and may not be kept before free agency opens in March.
With some franchises, the decision is easy. There are some teams of players who just can’t imagine reaching the free hand. At others, front offices have to compensate for the tag’s high price, which varies by position. Also, teams can only use one day per off-season.
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Here’s a look at some of the top contenders to earn the day, keeping in mind that every off-season comes with a few surprises just before the deadline.
Who Might Be Franchise Tagged?
The Ravens have claimed they plan to keep Lamar Jackson this offseason. Of course, if Jackson wants to stay, that’s a no-brainer. With contract negotiations seemingly still a long way off, the temporary solution this spring will be Franchise Tag to keep it off the open market.
If Jackson decides he wants a trade, the Ravens would much rather tag him and look at deals than let him go for nothing. That’s the worst-case scenario for Baltimore, after John Harbaugh said he was “200 percent” expecting Jackson to return in 2023.
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The Giants are in this situation because they decided a year ago to decline Jones’ fifth-year option. That means their options are to put the 25-year-old quarterback on a long-term contract, use the franchise tag, or let him walk.
While Jones still has a lot to prove, he had his best season yet under Brian Daboll in 2022 and certainly looks like he deserves more time in New York. Besides, there aren’t many better alternatives.
As great a season as Barkley has been, rebounding from injury-plagued years with 1,312 rushing yards, the Giants face a tough decision here. Their priority might be Jones just because of the importance of the quarterback position, and they might not be willing to pay Barkley a large sum of money given his injury history.
If the Giants want to keep both Jones and Barkley, they may have to work out a new deal with one of them before free agency. There’s only one franchise tag, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see Barkley testing free agency.
The Raiders also find themselves in this situation for turning down Jacob’s fifth-year option. With a chip on his shoulder, Jacobs broke ground for 1,653 yards and 12 touchdowns and was the centerpiece of Las Vegas’ offense.
Running backs don’t have a great track record after signing secondary deals, but it would be difficult for the Raiders to let Jacobs run after letting go of Derek Carr. At the start of his season at age 25, if they can’t negotiate a long-term deal before March 7, the Raiders have every reason to hit Jacobs with the franchise tag.
Seahawks fans expected their team to draft a quarterback early in the 2022 season, but Geno Smith shocked the world and was named Comeback Player of the Year while leading Seattle to the playoffs.
Like Jones, he may not be in the top league of quarterbacks, but he’s shown more than enough to deserve more time with his current team.
The Seahawks have made it clear they plan to re-sign Smith, but if they can’t work out a deal by March 7, franchise tag will be their ticket to an extended period of negotiations.
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Brown has been publicly pleading for a new contract for two years. Playing under the franchise tag in 2022, he made his money by starting all 17 games and earning a Pro Bowl selection.
Brown was part of a Chiefs offensive line that didn’t allow sacks in Super Bowl 57, a gargantuan improvement over the line Patrick Mahomes failed to protect in the big game two years ago.
The price tag for a second franchise label is higher than the first, but Brown has proven he’s critical to the Chiefs’ success and will likely be retained in one way or another.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that the Cowboys are seriously considering using their franchise tag on Pollard.
The former fourth-round pick ended his season with a gruesome leg injury, but he was a dynamic play on the Dallas offense in 2022 with 5.2 yards per carry and 1,378 scrimmage yards despite a timeshare with Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.
Whether or not Elliott stays around, Pollard would be difficult to replace and appears to be a priority for the Cowboys this offseason.
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Bates, like Brown, was tagged last offseason and endured part of training camp. The Bengals just couldn’t find enough common ground with their stellar safety and it now looks like they won’t be able to hold either Bates or Vonn Bell this offseason.
While the tag will be higher than it was a year ago, it’s possible the Bengals will continue to kick the can onto the street and use it again.
This is another offseason for Cincinnati considering both Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins are now eligible for extensions while Germaine Pratt is a free agent. The Bengals may need to think more carefully about using the tag on Bates this time.