April 19, 2024

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NFL franchise tag winners and losers: Baker Mayfield, good news for RBs and more

NFL franchise tag winners and losers: Baker Mayfield, good news for RBs and more

The NFL kicked off its roster-building season Tuesday with the deadline for teams to use the franchise tag.

Eight players earned the franchise tag, while one earned the transfer tag. The deadline helped spur action with others, as wide receivers Mike Evans and Dalton Schultz were among those who agreed to contract extensions, while teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars began clearing away cap space by releasing high-profile players.

There is sure to be more to come before Monday when the negotiation period leads to free agency. Tuesday was a quiet opening in that regard.

As always, not all signs are created equal. Here are several winners and losers from Deadline.

Winners

Baker Mayfield

Mayfield doesn't appear to have been tagged by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Tuesday solidified the 28-year-old will be among the top quarterbacks in free agency.

There is a belief that Mayfield and the Bucs should be able to build on their first season together and work out an extension. If it doesn't come through before next week when free agency begins, Mayfield likely will have several other suitors, and that could push him to push for something similar to the four-year, $160 million contract Daniel Jones signed last offseason. .

While this may be a surprising number, there are 11 quarterbacks currently in deals worth at least $40 million in average annual value. Free agent Kirk Cousins ​​could soon join this club, and Trevor Lawrence and Jordan Love would surpass that number if they land new deals this offseason. Tua Tagovailoa and Jared Goff could do it, too.

This is simply the market right now. If Mayfield makes $40 million annually, there's a good chance he'll be among the 17 QBs with that number by the start of the 2024 season. He had his best season in 2023 and helped the Bucs win a playoff berth. Mayfield certainly feels he deserves to be paid as one of the 17 best quarterbacks in the league.

Go deeper

Why the Patriots might have to overpay for big-name players in free agency

Keep an eye on the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings if things go south for the Bucs. Falcons coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Zac Robinson worked with Mayfield in Los Angeles in 2022, while Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell should have good knowledge of Mayfield due to their mutual relationships with the Rams.

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Mayfield has struggled to find his groove over the past two seasons, but he may have reached the brink of signing a life-changing contract in the coming weeks.

Back running

The Ball Bearers have been clamoring for their chance to get paid for a few years, and now they're getting it — the chance, at least.

We'll soon find out if anything has changed, but at least they'll recognize its value instead of speculating about what it might be.

The burdens of Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard were lifted with their second franchise tag. No one comes out with serious injuries. They are all 27 years old or younger. All produced at least 1,100 yards from scrimmage last season.

The league recently informed teams that the salary cap would increase by an additional $30 million. If a veteran is going to get paid, this should theoretically be the right time, right?

deepen

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The RB market collapsed this past offseason. Is there any reason to believe it will bounce back?

Well, they'll also be competing for jobs on the market with Derrick Henry, DeAndre Swift, Zach Moss, Austin Ekeler, Devin Singletary, Gus Edwards, and others. This group represents two or three money levels in terms of impending contracts, so teams can determine what type of player will maximize their money. And then, of course, the draft will be a factor.

There are five running backs (Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb and Aaron Jones) who play on contracts worth at least $11.5 million per year. It wouldn't be surprising to see at least one of these deals reworked this offseason to reduce value.

Beyond that group of five, the next layer of support amounts to $7 million annually. There is no gradual decline from the first and second levels like other positions, and the population of the upper class has shrunk over the years.

Maybe this will be the group of free agents that will swing the pendulum back in favor of the running back. Or maybe they will continue to feel discouraged by the depressed market.

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Either way, they were placed in the “winners” category because they would at least get the answers they had been looking for for a while.

deepen

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Christian Wilkins, Mike Onwenu, and Xavier McKinney

All three avoided the tag, and now all three will enter free agency at their level above their respective positions.

(A quick qualifier first, though: Chris Jones is clearly the best defensive player — and perhaps the best player overall — in free agency. Whether he stays with the Chiefs or goes elsewhere, his market is unique and unlikely to yield An apples-to-apples comparison with Wilkins. Jones appears to be on track to get a superior contract, which leaves Wilkins alone in his league as the best of the rest.)

Wilkins took advantage of Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike. Onwenu escaped the tag when the New England Patriots used the go-to tag for safety Kyle Dugger. McKinney's market also rebounded when Dugger was tagged, not to mention Antoine Winfield Jr.

In theory, the Patriots' right to reject a Dugger trade could be a liability for other teams, perhaps fearing a long playoff window that might conflict with other free agent plans. Or, since the transfer tag is rarely used, teams may be reluctant to make the Patriots offers to them. Either scenario could lead to teams prioritizing McKennie.

Wilkins and Onwenu are about to get their pay. It's been all quiet on the Onwenu front, so we're only left to speculate here, but it's reasonable to think the Patriots feel good about extending him. Why else would they let a valuable offensive lineman — a position sorely needed in New England — walk freely on the open market? Could Onwino become the first major extension of the new system?

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Losers

Josh Allen and Brian Burns

The two best pass rushers on the market aren't going anywhere. Teams simply don't give up two first-round picks and historic contracts to pry Allen from Jacksonville or Burns from Carolina.

Based on Montez Sweat's recent deal with the Chicago Bears (four years, $98 million, $42 million fully guaranteed), Allen and Burns could have been tracking a contract worth a total in the nine-figure neighborhood. Now, they're on the books for about $24 million in 2024 as they try to work out extensions.

Maybe those new deals will come. The Jaguars know how important it is to build their defense around Allen, and it's fair to think quarterback Trevor Lawrence would like to see the Jags' homegrown talent earn extensions. He certainly does not want to sign a historic extension and then witness a repeat of the post-2017 fallout under the previous regime. General manager Trent Baalke discussed the importance of keeping Allen long-term.

Meanwhile, the Panthers have been hoping to do a deal with Burns for years, but here they are. Maybe new general manager Dan Morgan will try to set the tone and reward Burns with a big extension.

But until that happens, or unless it happens, Allen and Burns will have to wait for their salaries to be paid.

Receiving teams in need

So you're saying you need a wide receiver? Then this was not your day.

Tee Higgins and Michael Pittman Jr. were tagged, and Evans signed an extension with the Bucs. That leaves Calvin Ridley, Marquise Brown, Gabe Davis, Darnell Mooney, Tyler Boyd, Odell Beckham Jr. and Curtis Samuel among the top candidates in free agency.

deepen

Go deeper

NFL free agent rankings: Brian Burns, Saquon Barkley, Kirk Cousins ​​top top 150 free agents list

Teams needing to expand may have to shell out money No. 1 for Ridley or Brown. Otherwise, this is where personnel departments will excel when they evaluate professional employees and formulate expectations to determine the next course of action.

(Photos by Saquon Barkley, Baker Mayfield and Brian Burns: Michael Owens, Kevin Sabitos, Grant Halvorson/Getty Images)