The franchise tag is one of the most polarizing aspects of the NFL offseason. Players hate it, teams tend to prefer it, and it typically just delays the inevitable.
The window for teams to place the franchise tag on eligible players begins on Wednesday and closes on March 1 at 4 p.m. ET. The values of the tag at each position hasn’t yet been set, but the estimations are relatively accurate and provide a look at what cost teams are facing to hold onto their star players for one more season.
While there are dozens of players who could technically be tagged before March 1, there are only a handful of guys that are actually likely to receive it. With Wednesday being the first day tags can be handed out, we lay out the seven players most likely to be tagged.
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Melvin Ingram, OLB, Chargers
Of the seven players on this list, Melvin Ingram is the biggest question mark when it comes to the franchise tag. The Chargers are entering a new defensive scheme with Gus Bradley at the helm, which means they’ll have to decide whether he’s a good fit in their defense. On talent alone, he is, but there’s no guarantee the Chargers will view him that way.
Instead, they could choose to tag him and keep him around for one year, seeing if he works in Bradley’s regime as an outside linebacker. It wouldn’t be cheap – about $15.3 million – but it’s better than signing a player to a long-term deal if you don’t see a future for him with your team.
Not to mention, if he does hit free agency, he could land a contract similar to the one Olivier Vernon received a year ago ($85 million for five years). That’s not something the Chargers would be in favor of.
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Eric Berry, S, Chiefs
Eric Berry played the 2016 season under the franchise tag, but he made it clear he won’t do the same this season. He’s threatened to hold out in favor of a contract extension, but with the way the tag works, he doesn’t have much of a choice.
The Chiefs will likely tag their stud safety before the March 1 deadline and use it as a bridge to work out a deal before July 15, which is the deadline for extensions to be signed. It will essentially work as a delay tactic with the Chiefs aiming to keep Berry in Kansas City long-term.
Dont'a Hightower, LB, Patriots
The Patriots dealt Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins in the past two seasons so they could retain Dont'a Hightower, who’s set to be a free agent. New England has a number of key players set to hit the open market, but none are a higher priority than Hightower.
If the Patriots can’t work out an extension – likely one that rivals that of the one Collins just received in Cleveland (four years, $50 million) – they’ll tag Hightower and keep him for one more season. They have plenty of cap space to make either scenario work, and not enough depth at linebacker to go into 2017 without Hightower on the roster.
He’s a prime candidate to receive the tag, even though it’s more likely the Patriots reward him for his consistency with a lucrative extension.
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Kawann Short, DT, Panthers
Kawann Short is one of the best interior defensive linemen in football, and the Panthers aren’t going to let their top defensive free agent leave for the second straight offseason. They’re going to tag Short, just like they did to Josh Norman, and keep him in Carolina for another season.
An extension is still possible and Short has said he’ll take a different approach than Norman did in negotiations last season, bringing some hope that Short will be easier to work out a deal with. Short isn’t going to reach the open market and will instead stand to make about $14.7 million on the tag.
Chandler Jones, OLB, Cardinals
The Cardinals haven’t been shy about their plans for Chandler Jones. He’s getting the franchise tag. Bruce Arians said as much this season, and team president Michael Bidwell confirmed that news this week.
"We're not going to mess around with that," he said.
So there you have it. Jones is going to get tagged relatively soon, but that doesn’t mean the Cardinals won’t try to work out a contract extension with him. The stud pass rusher has showed everything the team could ask for thus far, and he’s certain to remain in Arizona for the foreseeable future.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers
Le’Veon Bell isn’t going anywhere. The Steelers will make sure of that by slapping him with the franchise tag before trying to work out a long-term extension. With the franchise tag for a running back costing about $12.75 million, it’s probably the best route for the Steelers to go, too.
Bell has had injury and character concerns throughout his career, which have prevented him from playing all 16 games in three of his first four seasons. Despite being an incredibly productive and versatile weapon, there are question marks that come with Bell.
By tagging him, the Steelers can force Bell to prove himself by staying clean off the field and healthy on it. If he’s able to do that, he’ll be worth every penny next offseason – and most would even say he’s worth that now.
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Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins
Kirk Cousins is on track to play under the franchise tag for a second straight season, and he’s perfectly fine with that. While he would obviously prefer to sign a long-term extension and secure his future financially, making nearly $24 million next season under the tag isn’t a bad deal.
The Redskins are likely to tag Cousins in advance of trying to work out an extension with the quarterback, keeping him in Washington for at least one more season. Outside of him, they don’t have many options, and they’re fortunate that he hasn’t threatened to hold out when he does receive the tag.
If the Redskins allow him to hit the open market, he’s going to command top money and they may find themselves in danger of not being able to match other lucrative offers that could come from the 49ers and Browns.