What is a franchise tag? It’s a one-year contract that a team can use on a pending free agent, with the amount set by the collective bargaining agreement, or an amount equal to 110% of the previous year’s salary for the player, whichever is greater. OvertheCap has estimated the franchise tag amounts for the NFL in 2020 by position:
Part of the rationale behind slapping a franchise tag on a free agent is if the projected tag amount is less than the salary you anticipate being forced to pay if you signed them to a new contract. For example, Drew Brees is a free agent. Drew’s 2019 salary was approximately $22 million. If the Saints were to sign him to a new contract, it could be at an amount more than the franchise tag amount of $27 million, meaning the franchise tag makes a lot of sense here.
Unfortunately for the Saints, the terms of Drew’s previous contract prevent the team from using the franchise tag on him this year. So, no, that one isn’t an option.
What about some of other free agents? LB AJ Klein, CB Eli Apple, and CB PJ Williams would all surely make significantly less than the amounts of a franchise tag, so a franchise tag there doesn’t make sense.
That leaves only three potential options: QB Teddy Bridgewater, G Andrus Peat, and S Vonn Bell.
A franchise tag for Bridgewater would be risky, especially if Drew Brees returns for another season. This would essentially tie up over $50 million in cap space to the quarterback position, and that’s not counting Taysom Hill. If Drew were to retire, maybe it makes sense, but I’d imagine the Saints could sign Teddy to a multi-year deal with an average annual salary amount less than the 2020 franchise tag cost. The only way the franchise tag is a play here is if the Saints opt to tag Teddy to prevent him from signing a free agent contract somewhere else, forcing a team that wants to sign him to trade something to the Saints. Knowing the Saints couldn’t afford to keep both quarterbacks, the Saints wouldn’t have a lot of bargaining power, so this doesn’t seem like a likely path either.
Andrus Peat could be tagged, as it’s completely possible - if not unlikely at least - that he could eventually sign a contract worth more than $16 million. Still, if Peat were to be paid upwards of $16 million, let’s hope it’s by a team other than the Saints.
Finally, that brings up Vonn Bell. Bell, age 25, is set to sign his first free agent contract of his career. One of the closest comparisons I could find was former local product Tyrann Mathieu, who signed a three-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs at age 27. Mathieu’s contract was three years, $42 million, meaning an average annual salary of $14 million. That $14 million would be $2 million shy of the projected franchise tag, so if the Saints can’t reach an agreement on a long-term deal with Bell, the franchise tag is at least on the table.
A tag of Bell is still incredibly unlikely, but if the Saints were to apply the tag on any of their pending free agents, Bell would probably be the one.