Playing tag is no kids’ game for NFL teams

on Feb23
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NFL teams could begin playing tag on Monday, and it’s no kids’ game for the 32 teams.

Applying franchise and even transition tags to players can have major ramifications on a team’s present and future. That was never more of a consideration than this year, with the salary cap decreasing for now by $18 million. That’s the first time the cap has gone down, which is due to lost revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


“It has always gone up,” says Bill Polian, a Pro Football Hall of Fame executive. “So have the expectations of the players and agents. This is the first time this is not happening. That is a sea change.”

While this mini-tidal wave likely is only for the upcoming season — the league’s broadcast deals should be solidified soon and will bolster future caps — it certainly could have a significant impact.

Consider the Super Bowl champs. The Buccaneers don’t relish losing the likes of linebackers Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David, wide receiver Chris Godwin, running back Leonard Fournette, tight end Rob Gronkowski or defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Look for one of them, probably sackmaster Barrett or dynamic pass catcher Godwin, to get tagged for a one-year, guaranteed contract. Barrett was a franchise player in 2020 and would get about $19 million if tagged again. Godwin would get nearly $16 million.

Bucs coach Bruce Arians said after winning the NFL title that the team would find ways to keep key players. It will take some financial imagination.

“I’m very, very confident,” Arians said. “I have all the trust in the world in (GM Jason Licht) and what he will do. There will be dollars involved, but I think this group is so close that sometimes dollars don’t matter. But we’re going to do everything we can to get the dollars right, too.”

The biggest name — if not the best player — who might wind up tagged is Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. His ankle injury early last season muddled the picture in Dallas, but the team insists Prescott is the guy, even if it means a second straight franchise player designation — at nearly $38 million.

Polian, now an analyst for SiriusXM NFL Radio, notes that the higher-end players rarely reach total freedom.

“The ‘A’ players don’t get to free agency,” he says. “So what is out there on the market, even in this untoward year, are going to be ‘B’ players looking for ‘A’ players’ money.”


Other positions and who could wind up tagged:


Aaron Jones, Packers — Tagging runners sometimes seems wise because long-term contracts at such a punishingly physical position aren’t attractive for teams. Jones is a very attractive guy for the Packers because of his versatility, production, age (26) and strong relationship with MVP Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay doesn’t have much cap room, though, and the franchise tag will be approximately $11 million.


Kenny Golladay, Lions — The $15.81 million cost as of now isn’t prohibitive for this team. Golladay is a genuine No. 1 wideout and would get plenty of attention on the open market. New QB Jared Goff had a talented group of targets in Los Angeles and sure could benefit from Golladay sticking around.

Allen Robinson, Bears — When healthy, Robinson is a stud. Like Golladay, he would be coveted as a free agent, and he’s in his prime at 27. The uncertain quarterback situation in Chicago makes it likely Robinson leaves if he doesn’t get tagged.


Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon, Ravens — A pair of solid, sometimes dynamic defenders, and one of them probably will leave. Judon was tagged in 2020, so he would be due at least $20 million for next season.

Leonard Williams, Giants — The 2015 first-round pick by the Jets has found a home and his game with the other New York team. The Giants have professed their strong desire to keep Williams. Coming off his best year, he could get tagged a second straight time.


Haason Reddick, Cardinals — This is a difficult one because Reddick was mediocre in his previous seasons before being moved outside and flourishing. Was it an aberration or is Reddick the real thing for Arizona? Paying him about $14.5 million for one season to find out might be worth it.

Pittsburgh Steelers

LB Bud Dupree, Steelers — Pittsburgh’s tag went to Dupree last year and he would cost $19 million in ’21 for a team so cash strapped it is pondering not bringing back Ben Roethlisberger for one more season. Dupree figures to move on.

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