NFL Free Agency – To Franchise Tag Or Not?

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In the NFL, what is a Franchise Tag? During free agency, NFL teams can now use the Franchise Tag on players. Each team can choose one player they want to keep, but for some teams it just isn’t worth it. To place the tag on a player, it’s a high price. The player who receives it gets a salary that is an average of what the top five players at the position make.

Teams have until March 6th to use the Franchise Tag on their best player. With that date coming up, let’s take a look at the top 25 free agents available and if their teams should use the tag on them. I haven’t included players like Jarvis Landry and Ezekiel Ansah on this list because they already have the tag placed on them. For these other teams the question is, to tag or not to tag?

1. LE’VEON BELL, RB STEELERS: TAG

Bell is one of, if not the top RB in the NFL. Every team wants a RB like Bell, and the Steelers can’t let him get away. He’s still young and in his prime. His best years could be ahead of him. I know a lot of teams don’t like to pay RB’s these days, but Bell deserves to be paid. Without Bell, the Steelers would be a much worse team. They need to keep him.

2. DEMARCUS LAWRENCE, DE COWBOYS: TAG

After 14.5 sacks last season, the Cowboys can’t afford to lose Lawrence. Pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been a weakness for the Cowboys defense for years, but last year it finally wasn’t. Dallas needs to build on that, not take a step back. Tag him and build around him.

3. DREW BREES, QB SAINTS: NOT TO TAG

It’s my belief that Drew Brees will be a Saint no matter what. I don’t think the Saints need to tag Brees because he’s a Saint. I can’t imagine Brees going anywhere else and I think he wants to finish his career in New Orleans.

4. ANDREW NORWELL, G PANTHERS: TAG

Norwell will have a high price on him if he’s tagged, but it’s worth it. Carolina doesn’t have the best line, but Norwell is a bright spot. Norwell is an All-Pro Guard, and if Carolina wants to protect Cam and have an improved running game, they have to keep him around.

5. KIRK COUSINS, QB REDSKINS: NOT TO TAG

With Alex Smith in the fold, there’s no reason to tag Cousins. If I’m the Redskins, I’m done with him. He wouldn’t even be on my mind anymore. Their quarterback is Alex Smith now, not Cousins. Let him walk and get a massive contract from someone else.

6. ALLEN ROBINSON, WR JAGUARS: TAG

Blake Bortles is sticking around and he needs weapons to throw to. Robinson has been a good weapon when he’s healthy. He’ll be back and hopefully return to form. The Jaguars have other players leaving in free-agency at WR, so they need to retain someone. Why not retain the best receiver?

7. SAMMY WATKINS, WR RAMS: NOT TO TAG

Sammy Watkins didn’t even have 600 receiving yards last season. That’s not tag worthy. He’s a good weapon when he’s on the field, but he has yet to prove that he can stay on the field and also be consistent. Watkins is still very young and will help a team if he’s healthy, but the Rams have bigger needs elsewhere.

8. KYLE FULLER, CB BEARS: TAG

Kyle Fuller is a young corner who had a pretty good season. He was targeted a lot last season. His production with that many targets is something the Bears need to keep if they want to get better as a team. The price may be high for Fuller, but it’s worth it for them.

9. MALCOLM BUTLER, CB PATRIOTS: NOT TO TAG

Malcolm Butler is no longer wanted here. If they didn’t want him to play in the Super Bowl, they probably still don’t want him. They’re definitely not going to pay him top CB money.

10. DION LEWIS, RB PATRIOTS: NOT TO TAG

I feel like the Patriots have at least one different running back every year. They rotate through running backs like crazy, and they actually get production out of all of them. Lewis is a good weapon, but he shouldn’t get the tag money. They’ll find someone else to replace him if he leaves.

11. SHELDON RICHARDSON, DT SEAHAWKS: NOT TO TAG

Reports say the Seahawks are unlikely to tag Richardson. I do think he’s coming back to Seattle though. Richardson himself even said he expects to be back. They gave a good amount to get him and I don’t think they’re going to let him go. They’ll work out a long term deal with him rather than slapping the tag on him.

12. JIMMY GRAHAM, TE SEAHAWKS: NOT TO TAG

Jimmy Graham’s production has declined. He’s no longer the elite TE he was a few years ago. He can still be productive, but his franchise tag price will be too high for the Seahawks to use it on him.

13. TRUMAINE JOHNSON, CB RAMS: NOT TO TAG

Trading for Marcus Peters makes Johnson a Not to tag. They have other free agents they need to take care of, and with a corner like Peters, they don’t need to pay Johnson top dollar to be a number one corner. They can use the tag somewhere else.

14. LAMARCUS JOYNER, S RAMS: TAG

Out of all the players the Rams could use the tag on, I think it should be Joyner. He’s the most valuable to this team right now. Any team could use his skills. They don’t have anyone else at the safety position who can do what he does. Watkins contributed, but they could get the same production from someone else and now they have Peters as their top corner.

15. CASE KEENUM, QB VIKINGS: NOT TO TAG

There have already been reports that Keenum won’t be getting the tag, and that’s the right move for the Vikings. Keenum played well last season, but he’s not a quarterback who deserves to be paid like a top QB.

16. NATE SOLDER, OT PATRIOTS: NOT TO TAG

This one is easy. The Patriots shouldn’t tag Solder simply because they can’t tag him. There’s something in his contract that prevents the Patriots from using it on him. Unless they can work out a deal, Solder hits free agency.

17. BASHAUD BREELAND, CB REDSKINS: NOT TO TAG

Reports say the Redskins intend to let Breeland hit free agency. It makes sense when you consider he’s been benched a few times in games. He’s had some great games and then some really bad ones. They’re not going to give him Josh Norman kind of money.

18. DONTARI POE, DT FALCONS: NOT TO TAG

Atlanta wants Poe back, but not at the price the franchise tag would cost them. This makes it difficult for the Falcons to retain him because poe is likely to get offers from several teams. It may be better to let him hit free agency and try to work out a deal with him rather than paying a higher price with the tag.

19. CARLOS HYDE, RB 49ERS: NOT TO TAG

Carlos Hyde can be really good, but he can also be really bad. He has a lot of injuries and can’t stay on the field. He’s not one of the top running backs in the league. Someone will pay Hyde a good chunk of money for his services, but I don’t think it’s going to be the 49ers. They’re going to be looking elsewhere.

20. JUSTIN PUGH, G GIANTS: NOT TO TAG

Pugh is a quality guard and one of the best available this offseason. He was dealing with some injuries last season, which wasn’t very good timing for him. He can be a valuable piece somewhere. He’ll be a starter, but he’s not someone who’s worth paying the tag money for.

21. AJ MCCARRON, QB BENGALS: NOT TO TAG
22. KENNY VACCARO, S SAINTS: NOT TO TAG
23. ZACH BROWN, LB REDSKINS:  NOT TO TAG
24. TREY BURTON, TE EAGLES: NOT TO TAG
25. RASHAAN MELVIN, CB COLTS: NOT TO TAG

I ranked 21 through 25 above, but I don’t think any of these guys are worth the tag. None of them are top players at their position, which makes it not worth it to me. McCarron has proven he’s capable, but he’s not a top QB. There’s also other reasons why McCarron won’t be tagged by the Bengals. Vaccaro has never lived up to his potential, Brown is not elite, Burton is emerging but not close to an elite TE, and Melvin played well last season, but he’s not a top CB. If I were to rank the rest of the free agents, they’d most likely all be categorized as not to tag.

Le’Veon Bell” by Brook Ward is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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