2017 NFL Free Agency: 5 Players That Should Be Franchise Tagged

The franchise tag is a valuable tool for teams and every team has one, but here are the five most likely players to get tagged in 2017 NFL free agency.

The way the NFL’s franchise tag works is as such: Teams can tag a player that has an expiring contract to retain the player for one year on their roster, regardless of whether the player wants to play or not. The rate of pay the player receives is based on the average of the top five highest payed salaries at that player’s position. As expected, quarterback is the highest tag cost followed by edge rusher and then by wide receiver. The lowest are kickers and then tight ends.

Under the franchise tag, teams will pay players based on how valuable other teams see their own players. This is a double edge sword for both parties involved. For the player it means a higher guaranteed pay but no long term solution. If you are injured or have a poor season while tagged, your value drops tremendously the following season.

For teams, the cost for one year is high and there is the risk the player could hold out for a long term deal. If that player aids in a playoff or Super Bowl run then the cost was worth it and there may be more incentive to drive a long term deal.

With that in mind, here are the five most likely candidates league wide to be franchise tagged in 2017 NFL free agency.

Jan 1, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball as New York Giants defensive end Owa Odighizuwa (58) chases in the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Giants won 19-10. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 1, 2017; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws the ball as New York Giants defensive end Owa Odighizuwa (58) chases in the third quarter at FedEx Field. The Giants won 19-10. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Kirk Cousins, QB – Washington Redskins

We’ll start with arguably the most likely franchise tag candidate. Kirk Cousins’ 2016 was another step in proving he could be a quality starter in this league. He has all the weapons any quarterback could need, which allowed him to throw for close to 5,000 yards and 25 touchdowns. His interception rate remains fairly low over the past two seasons and he leads his team with tenacity on the field.

So why isn’t Cousins being given star treatment and the huge contract? Well,Washington didn’t make the playoffs this year despite adding to their defense last offseason. It is also expected that they may lose wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency which could greatly reduce Cousins’ numbers. Dan Snyder will want a long term deal done before next season, it is in the best interest of both sides, but he will use the tag first to make sure his quarterback doesn’t get away.

Dont'a Hightower

Jan 16, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (R) talks to outside linebacker Dont’a Hightower (54) during the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Dont’a Hightower, LB – New England Patriots

The Patriots can be viewed as harsh to their players who think they deserve big contracts. Just look at what happened to Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. They know when to pay a player and when to let him walk. Hightower is instrumental to the Patriots defense as a leader and the middle linebacker position is sparse with replacements. He leads the linebackers in tackles while on the field and frees up big plays for his secondary.

Hightower could come with a fairly high price tag as linebackers are set to make $15.3 million under the tag. That virtually doubles his cap hit for 2016. The team has enough cap space to make it happen before March. If they need to, they could make even more room by dropping a few of their offensive linemen. Though Hightower’s tag isn’t necessitated by his stellar play as much as the lack of other inside linebackers out there. The Patriots will definitely keep this guy.

Le’Veon Bell, RB – Pittsburgh Steelers

This has been in the news so much that you would think the Steelers have already tagged Bell. Everyone wants to get a long term deal done of course, but the running back tag is the second lowest on the offense. It is expected to sit right at just over $12.7 million. Bell is widely considered the most patient back in the league and may be one of the best. He rushed for over 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing four games. He also proved to be a good pass catcher out of the backfield with 75 receptions for 616 yards.

The Steelers may be a little strapped for cash as they don’t have any good sloughing contracts for 2017. With Antonio Brown playing the final year of his contract and Ben Roethlisberger close to retirement, the Steelers definitely want their workhorse running back long term. It would also save some of that $12.7 million for some of their young defenders set to hit the market in the next few years.

A.J. Bouye Houston Texans

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

AJ Bouye, CB – Houston Texans

The Houston Texans had better hope that they can sign their top corner to a deal. They have already been linked to desires for Tony Rom,o which will cost a lot. With their terrible Brock Osweiler situation, they might barely afford to keep Bouye. This is one of the situations where they really can’t afford the franchise tag, but they really can’t afford to let him walk. Bouye was rated the second best available cornerback by Pro Football Focus earlier this month and he will command big money.

He is definitely the highest rated free agent that was not a full time starter in 2016. He only started 11 games, but his ridiculous amount of pass deflections compared to his targets back up the high demand. The Texans aren’t believed by some to try and franchise him because of their financial commitments to other corners. However, the Texans can drop aging Jonathan Joseph and save close to six million. The Texans do not want to see Bouye on another team if they want to be competitive in 2017.

Stephon Gilmore, CB – Buffalo Bills

Another corner on this list that may command quite a bit of money in free agency. Gilmore has shown the skills to be a top corner in the league but has been plagued with inconsistency. This is the least likely tag on this list. The Bills have just hired a new coaching staff and may look to do a mini rebuild. Gilmore did not get a new contract in 2016 despite lobbying for one in training camp, but his play in 2016 could sway the Bills.

Gilmore tallied five interceptions and 12 passes defended in 2016 to put him in the Pro Bowl. What helps him is being rated at number one in available corners on Pro Football Focus’s list.  There also aren’t many that the Bills could grab to replace him.

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