Eight NFL Players Given Franchise Tag

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The first major milestone of the NFL off-season was Tuesday’s deadline for using the franchise tag on would-be free agents. Eight teams elected to use the franchise tag, with one, the New England Patriots, using the transition tag on safety Kyle Dugger.

The transition tag is a one-year, fully guaranteed average of the top 10 player salaries at that position. In this case, Dugger will receive a $13.8 million contract for 2024 instead of the $17.1 million he would have been due on the franchise tag. That number is whichever is greater between the average of the top five salaries at the player’s position, or 120% of the player’s prior salary.

The other main difference between the franchise tag and transition tag is that Dugger can still negotiate a long-term contract with someone else. Then the Patriots have the right to match that deal or take two first-round picks as compensation.

That’s far too much compensation for a safety, so expect to see Dugger with New England next season.

Tagged Wide Receivers

The free agent market for wide receivers is suddenly very thin on superstars. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Mike Evans, the Cincinnati Bengals used their franchise tag on Tee Higgins (as expected), and the Indianapolis Colts tagged Michael Pittman Jr.

Both Higgins and Pittman will make at least $21.8 million, with both teams hoping to lock them up for longer than one year. The signing of Evans makes that considerably harder. Evans will be 31 when the season starts vs. 25 for Higgins and 26 for Pittman, and Evans’ two-year contract is worth up to $52 million with incentives.

Ohio online sportsbooks have the Bengals at +160 to win the AFC North, and if they don’t have Higgins next year, that number will grow. Indiana online sportsbooks have the Colts at +275 to win the AFC South, and Indianapolis needs Pittman to help develop quarterback Anthony Richardson and stay competitive in a division with two playoff caliber opponents – the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans.

Tagged Defensive Line

Pass rushers are at a premium in the NFL, and two of the best will not hit the open market thanks to the franchise tag. The Jaguars’ Josh Allen had 17.5 sacks last season, and he will make at least $24 million in 2024. Brian Burns of the Carolina Panthers, who had eight sacks in 2023, is also due to make $24 million on the tag.

Last season the Los Angeles Rams reportedly offered a pair of first-round picks plus a second for Burns, but the Panthers said no. So if there is to be a tag and trade scenario this off-season with Burns, it will be costly.

Also tagged was Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, who had a breakout season in 2023 with the AFC North champs, recording 13 sacks. The Ravens were the top seed in the AFC in January, but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. Maryland online sportsbooks currently have them at +475 to get over the hump this coming season and win the AFC.

Madubuike will make at least $22.1 million in 2024. But the Ravens see him as an anchor for their defense for years to come, and they are working on a long-term contract for the 26-year-old.

Not tagged were Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and Chiefs All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones. They are free agents.

Tagged Defensive Backs

The Chiefs’ quest for a third consecutive Super Bowl title is looking less and less like it will include cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. The Chiefs franchise-tagged him, but they’ve also given him and his agent permission to seek a trade. In this case, it looks like the Chiefs simply tagged him so they would get more in return than a third-round compensatory pick.

Reports are that the Chiefs are close to signing their priority, Chris Jones, which further complicates any long-term contract that would keep Sneed in Kansas City. His tag number is $19.8 million.

Jaylon Johnson of the Chicago Bears was the other cornerback free agent prize. But the Bears see him as a cornerstone of their defense for years to come, and they are working on a long-term contract extension. The tag was used in this case to buy their negotiations a little more time. Johnson was second-team All-Pro in 2023, and he doesn’t turn 25 until next month.

Johnson is a big part of a big off-season in Chicago, which has NFL online sportsbooks favoring them at -900 to use the first overall pick on USC quarterback Caleb Williams.

The last of the eight franchise tags was used on Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. His tag number is $17.1 million for 2024.

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