First off, a quick rundown of all the possible outcomes regarding the NFL franchise tag. There's the non-exclusive tag, which means a player can freely negotiate with other teams, and if the incumbent team doesn't match the prospective offer sheet, the team acquiring said player must surrender two first-round draft picks as compensation.
When it comes to the exclusive franchise tag, that means a player cannot negotiate with other teams. They can still be tagged and traded, but there isn't the designated, automatic compensation requirement of two first-rounders.
Then there's the rarer transition tag, which gives players free rein to negotiate with other suitors. It's less expensive to go this route, but it's basically the non-exclusive franchise tag, except the incumbent team gets no compensation if they don't match the offer sheet.
With that in mind, we have several NFL teams approaching critical crossroads this offseason. Time to predict how each star's fate will shake out during the franchise tag window, which goes from now (opened Tuesday) through March 7 — eight days shy of the start of free agency.
Geno Smith, QB, Seattle Seahawks - Signs multi-year extension
Let's start with a positive outcome! There'll be a temptation to draft a quarterback with the fifth overall pick, or to trade up from there to land the next big thing.
Seattle should be at peace with paying Geno not-quite-elite quarterback money, keep him in the same offense, bolster the trenches around him and, most importantly, build a competent defense. I feel like Geno's deal might be worth something like $42 million over three years rather than, say, a six-year contract that gets up to near $50 million in AAV.
Like the Chiefs, the Seahawks just had a remarkable crop of rookies come through in 2022. They could have something truly special with another strong draft this year. No need to rock the boat by creating uncertainty at the most vital position by toying with Geno's payday. Just do a five-year contract that's really only two or three and hang onto the guy who led the NFL in completion percentage.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens - Exclusive franchise tag
Since the Ravens and Jackson are far apart on guaranteed money, this makes the most sense. They shouldn't limit their ceiling on potential trade compensation to two Day 1 draft picks, because they might be able to get more in the unfortunate event they're forced to trade Lamar away.
It's crazy to me that a former NFL MVP who, yes, got banged up the past two seasons, can't get his own team to fork over enough money. The Deshaun Watson fully-guaranteed $230 million deal may have thrown the QB market all out of wack. No other owner is keen to make a 100% guaranteed mega extension the new precedent.
So once Lamar gets the exclusive franchise tag, I won't be surprised if QB-needy teams serve up two 1s and two 2s in draft compensation and maybe even a player to pry the dual-threat field general away from Baltimore. Having said that, I'll believe it when I see it that Lamar isn't in a Ravens uniform. Seems like too smart of an organization to fuck this situation up this badly.
Although an exclusive tag risks alienating Lamar by not allowing him to negotiate with other teams, he can still sign the tender and be traded before the 2023 season. Baltimore can also maximize its return in a blockbuster deal this way. It'd make for an incredible subplot to free agency and the draft if it drags on that long.
Orlando Brown Jr., LT, Kansas City Chiefs - Signs long-term extension
If I'm Kansas City, I'd rather overpay a little for Brown now, as opposed to kicking the can down the road for another year, create a tense situation between both parties, and make for an uncertain future/potential awkward situation this coming season.
The Chiefs' latest draft class was so damn good that they'll have multiple key contributors on rookie deals for quite a long time. Combine that with the relative bargain deal Patrick Mahomes signed and the lack of other critical free agents, and the reigning Super Bowl champs should be able to make a five-year extension happen for Brown to secure his spot at left tackle.
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants - Signs multi-year extension
Why let the face of your franchise go? Saquon had two banged-up seasons before returning to form in a big way in 2022. He was the focal point of the Giants' offense with 1,312 yards rushing and 57 receptions.
It's really cool how Saquon didn't demand a trade, didn't let his emotions out of check when the Giants organization bumblefucked around for the start of his career, and rallied back from injuries to return to elite form. I'd dish out something like a three-year, $40 million offer.
Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants - Non-exclusive franchise tag
Saving yourself some money by not applying the exclusive tag to Danny Dimes seems like the smart move for the G-Men. I don't think anyone is sacrificing two first-round picks for him. You want to see another year of him in this offense, perhaps with a better wide receiving corps, before you commit to him long-term. Or at least that's my assumption of what New York's brass thinks of Jones.
I think this dude gets way too much heat for how his career started. Yes, he had a fumbling problem, but he also played for Pat Fucking Shurmur and Joe Judge's fake hardo ass. Suddenly you get Coach of the Year Brian Daboll and play-caller Mike Kafka in there, and behold! Danny Dimes can play!
As solid as Jones' 2022 campaign was, he did only throw for 15 TDs and averaged 6.8 yards per attempt. Can he really keep running for over 700 yards and seven scores per season going forward? I have my doubts about that type of rushing workload, especially if, for some reason, the Giants don't keep Saquon around.
Jones shouldn't play hardball and be grateful for getting a fat check for 2023 that'll be well north of the fifth-year option the Giants didn't pick up ($32.4 million vs. $22.4 million). Even if it's nowhere near the reported $45 million per year he's wanting.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders - Exclusive franchise tag
The Patriot Way pride that accompanies the likes of head coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler to Las Vegas mandates that the New England ex-pats get "THEIR GUYS" in place wherever possible. They inherited Josh Jacobs and declined his fifth-year option right out of the gates. All he proceeded to do was become the NFL rushing champion.
Why not ride Jacobs for one more season? At such a contact-heavy position and with Jacobs' injury history, he'll be hard-pressed to secure a multi-year deal on the open market. The Raiders drafted a tailback last year, and if Jacobs hadn't played so well, Zamir White might've taken the feature role going forward. Instead, Jacobs returns to an offense where he enjoyed his most production. In Jacobs' shoes, I wouldn't want to rashly join a cap-flush, tailback-needy team in the throes of a rebuild.
Marcus Davenport, DE, New Orleans Saints - Not tagged, leaves in free agency
At a certain point New Orleans' front office has to stop lying to themselves. They need a quarterback and aren't high enough in the draft to get one of the top prospects. No one available in free agency or a trade is going to be a bargain, and they need draft capital to nail picks and get cheaper players under contract to get them out of the red.
I'd strongly consider a low-key tank season if I were the Saints. Blow the thing up and start over. They can't pay Davenport the top-market money he'll want. They're almost $31 million in the red in 2023 salary cap space. Davenport didn't have a good season this past year, so his leverage in New Orleans is even more limited. I think he'll want a change of scenery to kick off the next phase of his career and sign a short-term deal somewhere else.
Jordan Poyer, S, Buffalo Bills - Not tagged, returns on 1-year deal
My feeling is the Bills will prioritize an extension for linebacker Trumaine Edmunds even though they're $16.5 million in the salary cap hole and need restructures to facilitate that deal. Franchise tagging a safety isn't a prohibitive cost by any means, yet Poyer is turning 32 in April and may at least initially look for greener grass with other hopeful Super Bowl contenders.
In the end, I think Poyer takes a "hometown discount" to remain in Buffalo.
Kaleb McGary, RT, Atlanta Falcons - Exclusive franchise tag
No question McGary is a killer run blocker. He ranked fourth overall among all tackles in PFF's 2022 grades. A perfect fit for Falcons coach Arthur Smith's run-heavy system. Nevertheless, it's hard to know what the QB position will look like in Atlanta going forward, and what Smith's offense will look like once that guy is in place. It's therefore in the best interest of the Falcons to slap the exclusive tag on McGary, see if he can replicate his recent success, and potentially save up for a big leap forward in 2024.
Daron Payne, DT, Washington Commanders - Non-exclusive franchise tag
Cutting Carson Wentz and restructuring Jonathan Allen and Curtis Samuel would give the Commanders over $50 million in cap room, per OverTheCap.com. Since Washington already shelled out a lot of money for Allen, I doubt they do so again for another defensive tackle.
No one in their right mind is going to pay two first-rounders to acquire Payne, so this seems like a no-brainer choice by the Commanders to keep Payne somewhat happy and see if he can come close to backing up an 11.5-sack effort in 2022.
Evan Engram, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars - Signs long-term extension
According to the man himself, it seems there's mutual interest in a reunion between Engram and the Jags. A four-year deal worth, say, $45 million or so (basically the value of a franchise tag) would be a show of good faith that Jacksonville appreciates Engram. It's a nice reward for the one-year prove-it deal he signed last free agency.
Given how inconsistent Engram was with the Giants, Jags GM Trent Baalke should give himself some wiggle room in case there's a regression, a la frontload the deal with guarantees in the first two years. That's especially so with Trevor Lawrence's extension negotiations beginning next offseason.