The first important date of the NFL offseason arrives Tuesday as it's the first day that teams can slap the franchise or transition tag on their respective free agents. That window runs through March 9 and clubs can use just one tender each per offseason. Arguably the five biggest-name players looking at potential franchise tags are Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, receivers Allen Robinson of the Bears, Chris Godwin of the Super Bowl champion Bucs and Kenny Golladay of the Lions, and running back Aaron Jones of the Packers.
The NFL has told the players' association that the salary cap for this season will be at a minimum of $180 million but probably not much more than that (if any more) coming off a year were few or no fans were allowed in league stadiums. The 2020 salary cap limit was $198.2 million, so there will be some belt tightening around the league.
The highest franchise tag number belongs to quarterbacks, as one would expect. A QB being franchise tagged for the first time would get about $25 million in salary this season. The franchise tag number for each player is either the league-wide calculation for their respective position or 120 percent of the player's prior-year salary, whichever is greater.
Because Prescott was franchise tagged last season, his salary would be $37.7 million in 2021 unless he and the Cowboys agree on a long-term deal -- clubs have until July 15 to agree to deals on tagged players; after that, the player has to play under the tag. Jerry Jones has always said Prescott is going nowhere. The Cowboys went 4-7 without him in 2020.
That's a massive $37.7M cap number (about 21 percent of the total projected cap) with the Cowboys currently having just $19.3 million in space as of this writing, according to Overthecap.com. They will have to restructure contracts or cut players just to fit Prescott and that doesn't include signing other free agents, draft picks, etc.
Prescott was limited to five games last season due to a gruesome ankle injury but was on a record yardage pace when he went down Oct. 11 vs. the New York Giants. The Cowboys were leading the NFL in total offense up to that point. If Prescott plays on the tag again, there's essentially no chance the Cowboys can tag him a third time in 2022 for financial reasons and he probably will be elsewhere.
Chargers tight end Hunter Henry and Broncos safety Justin Simmons could be tagged for the second year in a row as well. Fourteen players were retained using the franchise tag last year, and Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake received the transition tag.
The Bucs will likely have to decide between Godwin or pass-rusher Shaquil Barrett regarding the tag. Barrett already has said he wants a long-term contract after spending 2020 on the franchise tender. Godwin had a very disappointing, injury-plagued season but was excellent in 2019. Tampa Bay does have a fair amount of cap space.
Chicago currently is over the 2021 cap and Robinson would earn about $18 million on the tag in 2021. It would seem a no-brainer for the Bears to tag the best wideout they have had in years, but Robinson doesn't want to be tagged and has hinted he may demand a trade or hold out if that happens. Teams can tag a player and trade him.
Golladay was a Pro Bowler in 2019 but limited to five games in 2020 due to injury. With fellow wideout Marvin Jones a free agent, the Lions almost have to tag Golladay. He has averaged 16.8 yards per reception in his four-year career, the second-highest in the NFL since he entered the league in 2017. Defensive end Romeo Okwara also is a potential tag candidate on the Lions. Okwara was one of just four players in the NFL last to record at least 10.0 sacks, 10.0 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
The Packers might have started planning for life without Jones by taking Boston College running back AJ Dillon in the second round of the 2020 draft. Green Bay tried to sign Jones to a long-term deal last season but couldn't work something out. Jones then changed agents, hiring Drew Rosenhaus, late last season.
Most media around the Packers believe the team will not tag Jones because the club is so far over the cap. Fellow running back Jamaal Williams also is a free agent but not a tag candidate. Green Bay is a +450 favorite to win the NFC next season with the Bucs. Instead of paying Jones $8 million on the franchise tag, the Packers could opt for the transition route. The transition tag stems from the top 10 -- not top five -- salaries at each position. Other teams can sign players to an offer sheet, but the original club has five days to match.
Here are the players given the franchise tag in 2020: Prescott, Henry, Simmons, Titans running back Derrick Henry, Patriots offensive lineman Joe Thuney, Vikings safety Anthony Harris, Bengals receiver AJ Green, Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree, Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, Giants defensive end Leonard Williams, Washington guard Brandon Scherff, Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, and Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon. Henry and Jones ended up signing long-term deals.
Via SportsLine NFL oddsmakers: Will Dak Prescott play the 2021 season with Dallas on the franchise tag?
- Yes -150
- No +120
The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times, and it returned over $5,000 in profit on its top-rated NBA picks last season. The model is also up almost $8,700 on top-rated NBA picks over the past two-plus seasons. Dating back to last season, it enters Week 10 of the 2020-21 NBA schedule on a stunning 85-49 roll on top-rated NBA picks against the spread. Anybody who has followed it has seen HUGE returns.