Starting on February 21, NFL teams can start placing the franchise tag on impending free agents. That window lasts until March 7 when the deadline hits roughly a week ahead of free agency.
We’re expecting to see a lot of movement on that front, especially when it comes to top-end free agents such as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
It’s really going to be all about finances for teams. Does it make sense to place the franchise tag on a player when said move will create a huge 2023 cap hit? If not, there’s a risk to letting a star player hit the open market.
We’ll focus on some of that below. But before we do that, let’s check in on the estimated franchise tag numbers for each position (h/t Spotrac). We will also run through what the tag is for those without a working knowledge of it.
Related: Top 2023 NFL free agents
NFL franchise tag projections for 2023
- Quarterback: $32.45 million
- Running back: $10.1 million
- Tight end: $11.36 million
- Wide receiver: $19.76 million
- Offensive line: $18.26 million
- Defensive tackle: $18.95 million
- Defensive end: $19.74 million
- Linebacker: $20.95 million
- Cornerback: $18.16 million
- Safety: $14.47 million
What is the NFL franchise tag?
Under the current collective bargaining agreement, teams can place the dreaded franchise tag on pending free agents before the start of the new league year. A player who has said tag placed on him the first time will receive a one-year contract with an average of the top-five highest-paid players in his position in the NFL over the past five years or 120% of his current salary (whichever is greater). He can opt to sign said tender, hold out or potentially force a trade.
NFL rules are interesting as it relates to the franchise tag. The non-exclusive tag enables another team to sign said player away from his current squad by giving up two first-round picks in what essentially becomes a trade. The exclusive franchise tag prevents other teams from signing said player and would pay him the average of the five largest salaries in player contracts at his postion for that calendar year. Teams can only tag one player per offseason.
Likely NFL franchise tag candidates
Now that we have the background, let’s check in on those impending NFL free agents who are most likely going to have the franchise tag placed on them.
Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Baltimore Ravens
There’s a chance that Baltimore places the tag on Jackson with the sole intention of trading him. Extension talks last offseason did not go well. There also seems to be somewhat of a rift between the quarterback and his organization after the former NFL MVP missed the end of the 2022 season due to a knee injury.
The tag will cost Baltimore roughly $32.45 million in 2023. The Ravens are an estimated $34.67 million under the 2023 NFL salary cap, making a move of this ilk questionable from a financial perspective. Though, Jackson’s cap hit of $34.67 million would be below-market value.
Orlando Brown, offensive tackle, Kansas City Chiefs
This one is a big more complicated in that Brown Jr. played under the franchise tag in 2022. Said cost came in at $16.6 million. Per NFL rules, a player receiving the tag for a second consecutive year would be guaranteed 120% of his previous year’s salary. In this case, Brown would earn $19.92 million in 2023.
Even then, Brown has proven to be extremely important to the Chiefs’ success since he was acquired from the Ravens in a trade back in April of 2021. Having a true franchise left tackle for likely NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes has to be seen as a goal moving forward in Kansas City.
Saquon Barkley, running back, New York Giants
Barkley is an interesting tag candidate given the smallish $10.1 million figure that would come with it. The former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year returned to pre-injury from in 2022 en route to helping New York to a surprising playoff appearance.
Barkley, 25, gained 1,650 total yards and 10 touchdowns. This came after he played in a combined 15 games over the past two seasons. Placing the franchise tag on Barkley could make more sense than the Giants guaranteeing him a ton of cash on a long-term contract.
Jordan Poyer, safety, Buffalo Bills
Buffalo has some roster decisions to make this offseason after yet another premature playoff exit. Among them is the status of this stud safety. This past season alone, Poyer yielded a 60.1 QB rating while recording four interceptions in 12 games.
Poyer’s tag value would be $14.47 million in 2023. That’s not a high price to pay given it would rank ninth among safeties in the NFL next season.
Related: Highest-paid NFL players of 2023
Other potential NFL franchise tag candidates
- Josh Jacobs, running back, Las Vegas Raiders
- Tony Pollard, running back, Dallas Cowboys
- James Bradberry, cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles
- Dalton Schultz, tight end, Dallas Cowboys
- Daniel Jones, quarterback, New York Giants