5 NFL Players Destined to Get Franchise Tagged in 2016
The NFL gets to start tagging players on Tuesday, with the process officially coming to an end on March 1st. By that time, any player not tagged becomes a free agent and, quite naturally, insanity then ensues.
There are some very big names primed to hit the open market in March, but some even bigger names probably won’t sniff the fresh air of the free agency outdoors. Instead, they’ll be handed some type of tag, very likely in the next week, and may or may not also lock down a long-term deal.
Teams can decide to (or not to) hand a tag to their top free agents, which can range from exclusive rights (the player can’t go anywhere else), nonexclusive franchise tag (player can attempt to sign another team’s offer sheet, but original team can match and if they don’t match, they get two first round picks as compensation) and the transition tag, which is basically the nonexclusive tag without the draft pick compensation.
We’ll be focusing on the former, as we try to point out stud players that teams will want to be quite sure are staying in town for at least 2016, and hopefully a lot longer. Let’s check out the top five that should get the exclusive rights franchise tag at some point in the next month:
Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos
Miller is without a doubt the biggest name on this list, so naturally he kicks it off. He was probably the key reason the Denver Broncos just won Super Bowl 50 and after being named the game’s MVP, few will struggle to understand why.
We saw Miller’s impact on defense from day one as a rookie back in 2011, when he recorded 11.5 sacks. He only improved from there, as he notched 18.5 sacks in his second season and 25 over the past two years despite suffering an injury in 2013. Miller really picked his game up when it mattered most in the playoffs and Super Bowl and easily earned a fat paycheck, probably more than anyone else hitting free agency.
With Peyton Manning likely coming off the books due to retirement, Denver should have some money to work with and should act fast in paying their prized defender. Miller is a lock to get the exclusive rights franchise tag and oddly enough could be one of the quickest signings of the off-season. There is a slim chance he holds out for big money, but he and Denver both know his worth at this point, so there should be less haggling here than one would think.
Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers
Stud corners do not come around all that often, so when a Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis surfaces, you need to do all you can to lock them up. Norman is a weird dude, as he seems to be a primadona cornerback and may have a bit of a “me first” attitude, but that’s something the Panthers will look past in their bid to keep a borderline elite defense climbing the ranks.
Norman is a huge piece of the puzzle and he just now started busting out at 28 years old, but he should have a good 2-3 years of elite, shutdown corner ball in him. Carolina will be betting on that, as he’s slated to land a huge payday from the Panthers. He’ll command a ton of cash, though, so expect the exclusive tag and not much to be done in the early going in regards to contract negotiations. In fact, he could very well be a holdout candidate stretching into the preseason.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
A year ago the Bears could have maybe played with fire and allowed Jeffery to test free agency or at least sign him to a nonexlusive deal. Neither option is on the table now, as Brandon Marshall was traded to the Jets and Kevin White’s health questions leave Chicago with previous little talent at the wide receiver position.
Ideally, Jeffery’s 2015 season that was marred by injuries is a total thing of the past and White blossoms into the first round talent the Bears thought they were getting last year. Suddenly the Bears have a deadly duo for Jay Cutler and Chicago could quickly be a team to worry about in 2016. That can’t happen if Jeffery leaves, though, so expect the Bears to tag him and work on a big deal as soon as possible.
The team already traded away Jared Allen’s bloated salary last year and let Matt Forte know he wouldn’t be back – two moves that suggest they have an idea or two as to how they’ll be spending some cash this off-season. Jeffery is their top priority, so look for something to get done rather quickly.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
Cousins is a pretty tough call here, as he’s probably the best the Redskins are going to do for 2016, but committing to him far beyond that is mildly risky. They could bypass him and roll with Colt McCoy for a year while they groom a new passer via the 2016 NFL Draft, and that seriously could work out just as well, if not better.
That might be short-changing what Cousins accomplished as the every week starter in 2015, though, a season in which he tossed 29 touchdowns en route to an NFC East division title and playoff trip. Can Cousins keep that momentum going and put up big numbers during another post-season run? Only maybe. However, he does appear to be a strong fit for Jay Gruden’s offense and with a solid supporting cast around him, there is enough there to suggest he could be the long-term answer under center.
Because of all of that, I don’t think Washington wants to let Cousins hit the open market. If that were to happen, suddenly he could see the grass being greener elsewhere (New York, Buffalo, Houston, Denver, to name a few spots) and perhaps he could even get more money. That should have the Redskins tagging him and as long as Cousins doesn’t try to break the bank, a solid long-term deal ala what Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick got recently makes good sense.
Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets
Call me crazy, but I might sign Wilkerson to a nonexlusive tag and hope someone else offers him something that is sky high. New York is still better with him, but they also have a top shelf defense that would be plenty good without him – especially with the young Leonard Williams fully capable of replacing him on one side for the long-term.
That’s an intriguing thought, but Wilkerson is still just 26 and short of this side of J.J. Watt, might be the best defensive lineman in the entire league. He certainly packs a nice combo as an elite run-stuffer that can also get after the quarterback (paced the Jets with 12 sacks in 2015), so the value is quite visible. If the Jets want to ensure they have an elite defense for years to come, tagging him and then locking him up for a four or five year deal makes a lot of sense.
Keep in mind that even once tagged, a long-term deal is not cemented for sure. The team and player have until July 15th to hammer something out and if they can’t by then, the player would then play out 2016 on their franchise tender deal. The top five guys we touched on here are pretty likely to be tagged and then signed to big contracts, however.
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