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NFL franchise tag rankings: Least to most sensible

Jesse Reed
Dak Prescott Dallas Cowboys
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

A stunning 14 NFL players received the franchise tag from their respective teams on Monday ahead of the new league year and free agency. Another player was hit with the transition tag, which isn’t worth quite as much but it gives his team leverage.

Not all franchise-tagged players are created equal, though. Some of them make more sense than others. That’s what we’re delving into here.

Looking at what each player hit with the franchise tag will offer their team, this is how we’re ranking these moves — from least to most sensible.

Note: Estimated cap hits courtesy of CBS Sports

15. Leonard Williams, defensive tackle, New York Giants ($16.13 million)

It never made much sense for the Giants to spend two draft picks trading for Leonard Williams last year. It’s hard to justify spending this type of money on him now, either. He’s a rock-solid, run-stuffing defensive tackle but isn’t tremendously effective when it comes to putting pressure on quarterbacks. The Giants continue to make baffling personnel decisions.

14. Hunter Henry, tight end, Los Angeles Chargers ($10.6 million)

I’d personally have been much more on board with this franchise tag if Hunter Henry were more reliable. He’s outstanding when healthy and is one of the league’s best red-zone threats. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been healthy for a full season in his first four campaigns as a pro, playing a grand total of 41 games. Henry benefited from a weak draft class and limited free-agency options, but this feels like an overpay.

13. Matthew Judon, outside linebacker, Baltimore Ravens ($15.83 million)

It’s hard to knock anything the Ravens do from a personnel point of view, and that’s not really what we’re doing here by ranking the franchise tag on Matthew Judon so low. However, despite being a consistent player for Baltimore, Judon isn’t an elite edge rusher. There is also plenty of noise that he’ll be traded, especially in light of the Ravens trading for Calais Campbell.

12. Brandon Scherff, guard, Washington Redskins ($14.78 million)

The cornerstone of Washington’s offensive line, Brandon Scherff has been the team’s best lineman and had to be retained. However, he has been beset by injuries in the past three seasons, playing in just 33 games. The team has plenty of cap space, but it’s hard to justify a nearly $15 million cap hit on a guard who has a history of injuries.

11. Bud Dupree, outside linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers ($15.83 million)

Using the franchise tag on Bud Dupree was a savvy move for the Steelers, to be sure. He’s coming off a career year in which he tallied 11.5 sacks, and Pittsburgh hopes he’s finally ready to live up to his first-round hype. That being said, Dupree averaged just five sacks in his first four seasons as a pro and must prove he isn’t a one-year wonder.

10. Kenyan Drake, running back, Arizona Cardinals ($8.48 million)

The Arizona Cardinals may end up being the biggest winners of the offseason prior to the draft. They pulled off an incredible trade with Houston, sending overpaid running back David Johnson and a second-round pick in exchange for DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round pick. Those moves make using the transition tag on Kenyan Drake look even smarter. He excelled in Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme and now has a ton of support in the passing game.

9. Anthony Harris, safety, Minnesota Vikings ($11.44 million)

The Vikings made a somewhat surprising move using the franchise tag on safety Anthony Harris, but it’s a smart call to keep him in Minnesota for another year. Harris was considered by many to be the top free-agent safety this offseason. Assuming he doesn’t hold out, he’ll continue patrolling deep with Pro Bowler Harrison Smith in 2020. The only issue is that Minnesota doesn’t have much cap space to work with and this could just be a temporary measure.

8. Joe Thuney, guard, New England Patriots (14.78 million)

It was strange, to say the least, that the Patriots (of all teams) spent big money to keep Joe Thuney from hitting free agency. Especially since they already doled out a big contract to fellow guard Shaq Mason recently, and even more surprising since many believe Tom Brady will not return. There have also been some rumors that Thuney will be traded, and that makes sense. He’s an outstanding player, but this franchise tag wasn’t in character with the Patriot Way and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens next.

7. Yannick Ngakoue, defensive end, Jacksonville Jaguars ($17.79 million)

Jacksonville has made some really puzzling moves lately as it looks to be going into full-blown rebuild mode. Using the franchise tag on Yannick Ngakoue isn’t one of them. This is a dude who’s racked up 37.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher the past four seasons. He has also said he wants nothing to do with the Jags. So, the franchise is smart to have tagged him instead of letting him hit the market because a trade is coming and it will add to an already large haul in draft currency.

6. Justin Simmons, safety, Denver Broncos ($11.44 million)

John Elway has made it clear in recent years that Justin Simmons is one of the key defenders the Broncos will be building around. Even in announcing the franchise tag designation, he made it clear that it was just a “placeholder” while the team works out a long-term deal. So, this was a no-brainer, and it’s not hard to see why considering his high level of play.

5. A.J. Green, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals ($17.87 million)

This was easy. A.J. Green has been very loyal to the Bengals over the years. He didn’t want to leave, anyway. Cincinnati will almost certainly be selecting LSU’s Joe Burrow atop the 2020 NFL Draft, and it’s rumored that he wanted Green back in the fold. Assuming Green can stay healthy in 2020, he’ll have a chance to make a massive impact for this franchise.

4. Derrick Henry, running back, Tennessee Titans ($10.28 million)

Personally, I have a very strict “don’t give running backs massive long-term contracts” policy. That’s why it filled me with joy that the Titans used the franchise tag to keep Derrick Henry in Tennessee. One year for just over $10 million is a tremendous deal when you consider that Henry is one of the NFL’s most dominant running backs, and that the Titans’ offense runs through him. If the Titans end up doling out a big long-term deal ahead of this season, it will be a mistake.

3. Shaquil Barrett, defensive end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($15.83 million)

Coming off a career year in which he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks, Barrett deserved a big payday. He may still get the long-term deal he seeks, but landing almost $16 million guaranteed after what he endured early in his career with Denver is big. For Tampa Bay, this move was utterly necessary. Assume he’ll continue to have a huge chip on his shoulder next season, which is bad news for the Bucs’ opponents.

2. Chris Jones, defensive tackle, Kansas City Chiefs ($16.13 million)

One of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL, Chris Jones has piled up 24.5 sacks the past two seasons — a bonkers number for a defensive tackle. Jones doesn’t seem happy to have been hit with the franchise tag and hinted his time in Kansas City may be up. But whether he stays this season or is traded, the move to keep him will pay off big for the Chiefs.

1. Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys ($31.5 million)

The Cowboys would free fall into oblivion if they hadn’t used the franchise tag to secure Dak Prescott. He’s their franchise, and owner Jerry Jones has not shied away from comparing his importance to the ‘Boys to that of his own son. The biggest no brainer of the offseason. Period. The only issue is, the two sides still need to work out a long-term contract, and they seem far, far away on that front.