If you were paying attention, tomorrow represents the final day NFL teams could franchise tag their pending free agents.
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 2021 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.
There is admittedly a second reason to apply the franchise tag, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the value of the contract necessarily. It’s about the duration. A franchise tag is another guaranteed year of a player on your team. If there is a pending free agent that you’d be willing to pay but who wants to sign elsewhere in free agency, you can choose to apply the franchise tag in order to ensure their services for at least another year. For the New Orleans Saints, knowing they are still approximately $60 million over the 2021 cap, they will not have that luxury. The franchise tag will be used to find value, not to overpay to keep someone on the team.
Looking at the majority of the Saints pending free agents, most are expected to make well below the OvertheCap’s projected franchise tag figure for 2021. Even Trey Hendrickson, who Spotrac estimates would earn an average yearly salary of $10 million, is cheaper to sign on the open market than try to tag.
When thinking about the Saints pending free agents, there are “only” three high-profile names out there: quarterback Jameis Winston, safety Marcus Williams, and the aforementioned Trey Hendrickson. Everyone else - like Sheldon Rankins, Justin Hardee, and others - we know will sign for less than the franchise tag amount, whether with the Saints or elsewhere.
Jameis Winston only signed a one-year deal with the Saints last year for $1 million, so while he will likely earn more this offseason, the odds of a deal over $24 million is incredibly low. So Jameis doesn’t look like a reasonable tag candidate.
That leaves only Marcus Williams.
Marcus is the only Saints’ pending free agent who Spotrac predicts a market value over the current estimated cap, with a market value of $13.5 million per year, and a tag estimate of only $11 million. That means if the Saints were indeed to apply the franchise tag to any player, it would be Marcus Williams, especially if they couldn’t convince him to stay otherwise.
But because the entire cap hit of the franchise tag cannot be extended into multiple years, the Saints’ best option would be to negotiate a long-term deal with Marcus to free up additional funds in free agency.
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