The NFL offseason kicks into high gear this week, as teams can start to use the franchise tag on impending free agents on Feb. 20.
Last year, only seven teams used the franchise tag. It’s a useful tool for keeping highly prized free agents from hitting the market, but it’s not cheap. Therefore, teams aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to use this tool unless they don’t see any other way of securing their players.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the eight players most likely to be tagged this year.
Le’Veon Bell, running back, Pittsburgh Steelers
It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Steelers will tag Le’Veon Bell for a second straight year — his threats to retire should they do so notwithstanding. Dialogue between the two sides has already been better this year than last as they work toward a long-term contract. But Bell has placed an extremely high value on himself that will be difficult to meet for Pittsburgh.
Still, given Bell’s value to the franchise, there’s no way Pittsburgh is going to let him hit free agency. Especially with teams like San Francisco, Cleveland and and Indianapolis practically gushing money.
Ezekiel Ansah, defensive end, Detroit Lions
It won’t be cheap to tag Ansah (around $17 million), but neither will it be cheap to sign him to a long-term deal. We recently speculated the 49ers would pay top dollar to add this dynamic pass rusher to their already loaded defensive line, and chances are other teams with deep pockets would, too.
Ansah has been a highly productive player when healthy. He racked up 12 sacks this past season, 14.5 in 2015 and 15.5 combined sacks in his first two pro campaigns. He’s coming into his prime now and will command top dollar this year. Detroit does have the cap space to tag him and work out a long-term deal afterward. Now we’ll see just how much the Lions value this player.
Allen Robinson, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars
This is tricky. Robinson missed almost the entire 2017 season with an ACL injury and wasn’t at the top of his game in 2016. Still, he’s the best downfield threat Jacksonville has (caught 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015), and the Jaguars will be hard pressed to find another player of his caliber in free agency.
Because of these factors, it’s been reported that the Jags will tag Robinson this spring or sign him to an incentive-laden one-year deal. We already know other teams are eyeing this receiver in free agency, so Jacksonville needs to make a hard choice, sooner, rather than later.
Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle, Seattle Seahawks
Richardson flourished with the Seahawks after being traded by the New York Jets last season. He emerged as a disruptive force on Seattle’s defensive line, and he has already said he’d love to return to the Pacific Northwest in 2018.
The big issue here is twofold. First, the Seahawks don’t have much cap space to blow, and defensive tackles are going to cost roughly $14.5 million on the tag this year. Secondly, Seattle has some other huge decisions to make, both this offseason and in the years to come, as the Legion of Boom starts to unravel.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how general manager John Schneider handles the juggling act.
Jarvis Landry, wide receiver, Miami Dolphins
Landry wants a big-money, long-term deal. He’s been very vocal about this, but so far the Dolphins haven’t been willing to pay him what he believes he’s worth. It’s going to cost Miami around $16.2 million to use the franchise tag on this dynamic receiver, and right now, the Dolphins are not in a great spot cap-wise.
That said, nobody can deny Landry is worth a big contract. All he’s done his first four seasons is catch 400 passes for 4,038 yards and 22 touchdowns. He’s one of the toughest receivers in the entire NFL and will certainly make bank if he becomes a free agent. Miami needs to figure out a way to bring him back. Because guys like this don’t grow on trees.
DeMarcus Lawrence, defensive end, Dallas Cowboys
A report Monday indicates that the franchise tag for Lawrence is a given. He’s going to cost $17 million, if that’s the route Dallas has to take to secure him. But Jerry Jones isn’t going to want to lose his “war daddy” pass rusher, who racked up 14.5 sacks last year.
Lawrence has some red flags that could make doing a long-term deal difficult. He’s been suspended for failing a drug test and has already had two back surgeries in his career. Those issues, combined with his monster 2017 campaign, indicate that perhaps the franchise tag could be the best way to proceed, even though a long-term deal will certainly be pursued.
Case Keenum, quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota is in a very unique spot. All three of its quarterbacks could be considered starting-caliber in the NFL, but all three are going to be free agents, too. Of the three, we suspect Keenum is most likely to be retained via the franchise tag. He’s coming off a career year and doesn’t have the injury issues of Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater.
Using the tag would cost the Vikings roughly $23 million, which certainly isn’t cheap. But given the fact that quarterbacks are starting to encroach upon the $30 million-per-year threshold, that could be considered a bargain, at least for one season.
Andrew Norwell, offensive guard, Carolina Panthers
We suspect Norwell will hit the open market. That said, the Panthers are going to be loathe to watch him sign with another team and should at least consider using the franchise tag to keep him in Carolina.
It’s going to cost over $14 million, and the Panthers have little wiggle room heading into this offseason. But Norwell is one of the NFL’s premier offensive guards. He’s very good in the run game and is an outstanding pass protector. Carolina already has failed Cam Newton enough in this regard, so losing one of their top offensive linemen will only further hurt him heading into 2018.