Agent’s Take: Davante Adams tops 11 franchise tag candidates for 2022; projected tag salary at each position

Franchise tags numbers decreased by nearly nine percent across the board with the salary cap dropping from $198.2 million in 2020 to $182.5 million this year, as league revenues declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Collectively, the franchise tag numbers were on par with 2017 levels. The numbers are going to bounce back in big way with the salary cap projected to be at the $208.2 million ceiling that the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to in May.

A look at how franchise tags work is below. The projected 2022 franchise numbers and an examination of the best candidates to receive the designations next year follows.

Franchise tag logistics

NFL teams can retain the rights to one of their impending free agents in 2022 with the use of a non-exclusive or an exclusive franchise tag during a 15 day period from Feb. 22 to March 8.

How franchise tenders are calculated is misunderstood. Prior to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, non-exclusive franchise tags had been an average of the five largest salaries in the prior year at a player’s position or 120% of the prior year’s salary of the player, whichever was greater. For franchise tag purposes, salary means a player’s salary cap number, excluding workout bonuses and most other performance bonuses.

The 120% and five largest salaries provisions have remained intact, but the formula component is now calculated over a five year period that’s tied to a percentage of the overall salary cap. More specifically, the number for each position is determined by taking the sum of the non-exclusive franchise tags as determined by the original methodology for the previous five seasons and dividing by the sum of the actual NFL salary cap amount for the previous five seasons. The resulting percentage, which is known as the cap percentage average in the CBA, is then multiplied by the actual salary cap for the upcoming league year.

This non-exclusive tag allows a player to negotiate with other NFL teams, but if he signs an offer sheet with another club, his team has five days to match the offer. If the offer is not matched, his team will receive two first round picks as compensation from the signing team.

Under the exclusive franchise tag, a player will receive a one year offer from his team that is the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position once the restricted free agent signing period of the current league year has ended (April 22 for 2022) or 120% of his prior year’s salary. The non-exclusive number is initially used as placeholder and adjusted upwards if the exclusive calculation dictates once restricted free agency ends. A player cannot negotiate with other teams with the exclusive franchise tag.

The transition tag has been used with a lot less frequency than the franchise tag. It is based on the average of the top 10 salaries at a player’s position using the same methodology as non-exclusive franchise tag calculations. The 120% provision also applies. Teams have the same right of first refusal as with franchise tags but do not receive any draft choice compensation for declining to match an offer sheet.

2022 tag projections

The chart below contains an early look at the 2022 franchise tags. I keep track of the salary data necessary to do the calculations under the franchise and transition tag formulas. I recently confirmed with my NFL sources the 2021 data entering the formula. The tag numbers are based on a $208.2 million salary cap in 2022.

Cornerback

$15,060,000

$17,287,000

14.79%

Defensive end

$16,069,000

$17,859,000

11.14%

Defensive tackle

$13,888,000

$17,396,000

15.26%

Linebacker

$14,791,000

$18,702,000

26.44%

Offensive line

$13,754,000

$16,662,000

21.14%

Punter/kicker

$4,482,000

$5,220,000

16.47%

Quarterback

$25,104,000

$29,703,000

18.32%

Running back

$8,655,000

$9,570,000

10.57%

Safety

$10,612,000

$12,911,000

21.66%

Tight end

$9,601,000

$10,931,000

13.85%

Wide receiver

$15,983,000

$18,419,000

15.24%

Note: Projections assume 2022 salary cap is $208.2 million.

Top 2022 candidates

By CBA rule, the players currently under a one-year franchise tag, like Washington Football Team guard Brandon Scherff, are prohibited from signing long-term until the regular season ends on Jan. 9. Scherff won’t be franchised for a third consecutive year in 2022. The procedures outlined in the CBA dictate that Scherff’s third tag is the greater of 144% of his second franchise designation of $18.036 million or the largest number at any position, which is $29.703 million for quarterbacks.

Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin and Jets safety Marcus Maye, both 2021 franchise tag recipients, won’t get a designation for a second straight time because of serious injuries. Godwin tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee a couple of weeks ago. Maye ruptured his right Achilles tendon in a Week 9 game against the Colts.

Neither will Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson. His production this season doesn’t justify a $21.556 million tag. Robinson has 32 catches for 353 yards with one touchdown in 10 games primarily because of a lack of chemistry with rookie quarterback Justin Fields.

Franchise tags will be too cost prohibitive for the Cardinals and Chiefs with outside linebacker Chandler Jones and safety Tyrann Mathieu because of the 120% of prior year’s salary provisions. Jones’ tag number will be $25 million. It will be $23.63 million with Mathieu. The Saints are precluded from designating offensive tackle Terron Armstead because his 2021 contract year doesn’t void until last day of the 2021 league year on March 16, which is after the designation window has closed.

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Negotiations for a new deal haven’t been very productive. The Packers have refused make Davante Adams the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver ahead of DeAndre Hopkins, who signed a two-year contract extension with the Cardinals during the 2020 preseason averaging $27.25 million per year. Adams can make a compelling case he should be the highest paid because of his sustained excellence. Since the start of the 2018 regular season, Adams leads the NFL with 415 receptions, 5,119 receiving yards and 46 touchdown catches. The Packers don’t have a great track record in giving wide receivers a third contract.

A non-exclusive franchise tag for Adams will be $20.12 million. It will be based off a 20% increase of his 2021 salary. Some salary cap gymnastics will be required to accommodate an Adams franchise tag. Green Bay’s $247.882 million in 2022 cap commitments are the NFL’s second most according to NFLPA data. 44 players are under contract while the top 51 salaries (i.e.; cap numbers) matter with offseason salary cap accounting rules.

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J.C. Jackson is putting to rest any questions about whether he could assume No. 1 cornerback duties in New England raised by Stephon Gilmore’s early season departure to the Panthers in a trade. The 2018 undrafted free agent, who is playing under a $3.384 million restricted free agent tender, was named November’s AFC Defensive Player of the Month. Jackson was just named to his first Pro Bowl. He will be an AFC starter.

Jackson is arguably the NFL’s premier ballhawk. He is second in the league this season with seven interceptions. Jackson has the NFL’s most interceptions since the start of the 2019 season with 21. His 21 passes defensed are tied for the most this season. A cornerback in his prime with a complete skill set, like Jackson, will be a hot commodity in free agency, if he gets to market.

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The Chiefs can’t risk Orlando Brown being a one-year rental by becoming a free agent given the draft capital required to obtain him from the Ravens. Brown forced a trade because he wanted to be a left tackle, which wasn’t possible in Baltimore because of All-Pro Ronnie Stanley. The Chiefs gave up their 2021 first round pick (31st overall), a 2021 third round pick (94th overall), a 2021 fourth pick (136th overall) and a 2022 fifth round selection to the Ravens for Brown, a 2021 second round pick (58th overall) and a 2022 sixth round pick.

Brown’s Pro Bowl selection validates his move from right tackle to left tackle. The Chiefs are likely going to join the ranks of teams paying a premium financially when a long term deal for a player who had remaining time on his contract isn’t done in connection with a trade involving significant draft capital. Any long-term deal will surely put him in the $20 million per year offensive lineman club, which currently has three members. Left tackles Trent Williams, David Bakhtiari and Laremy Tunsil have deals with the 49ers, Packers and Texans averaging $23.01 million, $23 million and $22 million per year respectively.

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Mike Williams started the season like gangbusters with 22 receptions for 295 yards with four touchdowns in the first three games. He hasn’t been able to sustain that pace but is having a career year. Williams had 64 receptions (a career high) for 964 yards with seven touchdowns in 14 games before landing on the COVID-19 list. A franchise tag is a possibility because of the Chargers’ cap situation. The Chargers have the NFL’s second fewest 2022 cap commitments with $145.81 million although only 34 players are under contract. It will cost the Chargers $18.816 million to designate Williams as a franchise player, which is a 20% percent raise over his current $15.68 million fifth year option.

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Marcus Williams was a surprise recipient of a $10.612 million franchise tag because Saints needed to shed approximately $110 million of financial commitments just to be cap compliant when the 2021 league year started on March 17. By process of elimination, Williams is the Saints’ only legitimate franchise tag option. The structure of Armstead’s contract prevents him from being franchised. Ryan Ramczyk was given a $19 million per year extension setting the right tackle market and Marshon Lattimore’s $19.4 million per year extension made him the NFL’s third highest paid cornerback.

A second franchise tag for Williams will be one of the few instances where the 20% raise provision doesn’t apply. 120% of Williams’ current tag is $12,734,400 while the cap percentage average projects to $12.911 million.

The Saints are in great shape cap wise for 2022 compared to this time last year. There’s a league leading $259.45 million in 2022 cap commitments with 40 players under contract and a minimal amount of unused cap room to be carried over (less than $500,000).

Williams probably expects to be treated like Lattimore and Ramcyzk relative to their positional markets. Jamal Adams, Harrison Smith and Justin Simmons are the league’s three highest paid safeties with $17.5 million, $16 million and $15.25 million per year deals with the Seahawks, Vikings and Broncos respectively.

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Odds are Dalton Schultz gets his freedom because of Dallas’ cap issues. The Cowboys have just under $223 million in 2022 cap commitments with 44 players under contract and a little more than $4 million of cap space that can be carried over to next year.

Schultz is proving his 2020 campaign in which had 63 receptions for 615 yards and four touchdowns in his first extensive playing time wasn’t a fluke. He has already exceeded those numbers this season. Schultz ranks third among tight ends with 69 receptions, sixth with 733 receiving yards and tied for sixth with six receiving touchdowns. Surprisingly, Schultz is fifth among tight ends with 316 yards after catch.

Schultz should be the beneficiary of the dramatic jump in the tight end market since 2020 free agency began. There weren’t any tight ends making over $10 million per year when the 2019 season ended. Now there are seven. Among the seven are Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, who received $12.5 million per year deals from the Patriots in this year’s free agency. The Patriots duo’s combined production of 69 receptions and 754 receiving yards is very similar to Schultz’s this season.

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Harold Landry is producing the way Bud Dupree should be, given his contract. The 2018 second-round pick is tied for ninth in the NFL with a career-high 11 sacks. It’s been a frustrating year for Dupree, who signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract (worth up to $85 million through incentives) with $35 million of guarantees in this year’s free agency. He is currently on the COVID-19 list after missing three games with an abdominal injury and three others early in the season related to the torn right ACL he suffered last December playing for the Steelers. Dupree has three sacks this season, but two in his last two games.

The Titans retaining Landry could be a difficult proposition without a franchise tag because of the Dupree dynamic. Landry would be justified in insisting on more than Dupree to remain in Nashville given how things have unfolded between the two this season. Using the designation on Landry could be problematic because of $199.3 million in 2022 cap commitments with 37 players under contract and just $3.212 million of cap room that be carried over to next year.

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The safest way for the Dolphins to ensure Mike Geiscki’s services next season is to franchise him given they are in great shape with the salary cap. Miami’s $134.72 million of cap commitments are the NFL’s fewest for 2022. Thirty-seven players are under contract next year. Just like with Schultz, those $12.5 million per year deals Henry and Smith got should be important salary benchmarks for Geiscki. He has 67 catches for 707 yards with two touchdowns in 15 games this season. The receptions and receiving yards are career highs. Gesicki is one of the league’s better vertical threats at tight end. His 12 receptions going for 20 yards or more are tied for sixth among tight ends this season.

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Jessie Bates expressed frustration about his contract negotiations during a training camp interview with the local Cincinnati media. Prior to venting publicly, Bates indicated he wanted to be in Cincinnati long-term. Bates admitted his contract status affected his play early in the season. Overall, 2021 hasn’t been up to the standard Bates set last season when he earned second-team All-Pro honors. Nonetheless, he’ll still likely want more than the four-year, $61 million contract with $35 million in guarantees the Broncos gave Simmons, who was franchised, to top the safety market before a reset by Adams with his four-year, $70 million extension worth up to $72 million through incentives and salary escalators from the Seahawks.

The Bengals have a pretty good track record of keeping core homegrown talent around. The salary cap won’t be an impediment to the 24-year old being with the Bengals in 2022. Cincinnati has just under $156.2 million in 2022 cap commitments with 37 players under contract while there’s slightly over $6.3 million of existing cap room that can be applied to next year.

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Carlton Davis’ presence in the Buccaneers secondary was sorely missed during the seven games he was sidelined with a quadriceps injury. Godwin’s knee injury eliminates the need for the Buccaneers to make a decision on which player to give the franchise designation. 25-year old cornerbacks with top flight coverage ability rarely hit the open market.

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Quandre Diggs’ salary expectations on a long-term deal are probably more than Seattle wants to pay after two straight Pro Bowl selections and Adams resetting the safety market. Since making his Seahawks debut in Week 10 of the 2019 season a couple of weeks after being traded from the Lions, his 13 interceptions are the most in the NFL among safeties. Outside of future Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Wagner, Diggs has probably been the most consistent defensive player during his two and half season tenure in Seattle. 


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