House of Tags: Which Wide Receivers will get the NFL Franchise Tag?

I’m sure you probably filled most of your weekend with episodes from Season 3 of “House of Cards”.  And if you didn’t, why not?  Do you hate enjoying an awesome series?  Do you reside under a rock that doesn’t have internet?  I mean, I understand living under a rock, but no internet?  That’s barbaric.

Regardless, if you don’t watch “House of Cards”, let me just sum it up as the story of an incredibly ambitious politician, played by Keyser Söze from the “Usual Suspects”, and his rise (and falls) surrounding the US Presidency.  The central theme in the show concerns what one person is willing to do to get what they want and the consequences of those actions.  And there are certainly a LOT of consequences in the show.  And the same is true for the NFL in free agency.

USA Today Photo

USA Today Photo

We’ve seen a lot of boneheaded moves during free agency in the past, like signing Josh McCown, both last year AND this year.  And those teams had to pay the consequences.  Like how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers only won one game with McCown at the helm.  So that’s like $5 million per game won.  Pretty good deal, Mr. McCown.

Anyway, the first of several deadlines in free agency is approaching, as the deadline for the NFL franchise tag is 4 PM on Monday, March 2.  Of course, after the tag is applied, each team still has until July 15 to strike a long-term deal, a delaying tactic that many teams might opt for.  But let’s take a closer look at which wide receivers are likely to get tagged and which are not, whether its to lock the player up, or to bide time for a longer deal.

Demaryius Thomas

Denver Post Photo

Denver Post Photo

Clearly, Demaryius Thomas is belle of the ball among free agency wide receivers.  He’d draw quite a contract if he actually got there.  And the Denver Broncos definitely want to keep him in light of his franchise record 1,619 yards in 2014.  But with the franchise tag deadline looming, it appears that the Broncos haven’t made progress signing Thomas to a long-term deal.

Of course, getting the franchise tag as a wide receiver isn’t all that bad.  Thomas would still net around $13 million. And we already know that, if a deal doesn’t get done, the Broncos are committed using the franchise tag on Thomas.

However, there is still concern regarding the cap hit from Thomas (and from Julius Thomas), which may be why there’s been such prolonged negotiation with Payton Manning, as a restructure might be necessary (but first and foremost, Payton definitely needs to come back).  It’s also critical that Demaryius Thomas is retained, so its good that the Denver Post reports that it’s all but a certainty that the franchise tag will be used if no deal is reached.  So you can all now release your collective breaths, Broncos fans.

Randall Cobb

USA Today Photo

USA Today Photo

We’ve discussed several times now how Randall Cobb could be the most likely of the big wide receiver candidates to get out to free agency.  At just 24, Cobb could be cornerstone of the Packers future, so a long term deal makes sense.  However, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reported that “no deal is imminent” and there apparently hasn’t been any movement in contract negotiations.  Cobb is reportedly looking for around $9 million per year and the Packers have room under the cap to pay it.  But the Packers also have younger options that they could consider moving forward with, such as the promising Davante Adams.

It’s now been reported by ESPN Wisconsin’s Jason Wilde, according to his sources, that the Packers are continuing to pursue re-signing Cobb, but that negotiations will “go down to the final hours” before free agency starts on March 10.  The franchise tag is an option, though, particularly to buy time, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Jeremy Maclin

Getty Images

Getty Images

Jeremy Maclin is an interesting case.  He hasn’t become the consistent option the Eagles were hoping for when drafting him 19th overall in 2009.  But he did have a standout season in 2014, going to his first ever Pro Bowl.  So the Eagles would do well to hold on to him for 2015.  And the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane has reported that the two are not “significantly far apart” in negotiations. Of course, no contract is in place yet and the clock is ticking.

The Eagles have the franchise tag available, but may not be keen on the estimated $12.8 million that goes along with it.  CSN Philly’s Geoff Mosher believes the Eagles will use the tag on Monday if a long-term deal isn’t completed.  McLane believes the Eagles “would probably only use the tag to buy time and keep Maclin off the market.”  And that certainly makes sense to me.

Let’s look at the facts.  We definitely know that Maclin is interested in returning.  We’ve known that from some time from his induction to the University of Missouri Hall of Fame:

But we also know that Maclin isn’t in any hurry.  Maclin stated during an appearance at the King of Prussia Mall on Saturday:

“There’s just no rush. What’s the rush? We’re gonna do this thing, we’re gonna do it right. That’s how you want it to happen. That’s how you want it to be. You want both sides to be happy. So if it’s gonna get done the right way it will.”

And this isn’t a surprise.  Maclin isn’t in a rush to get a long-term deal completed because he knows the free agency market is hurting for wide receivers.  He took a risk last year with a one-year deal, and struck gold.  If he can parlay his 2014 into a better deal, he may very well do it.

Dez Bryant

ESPN Photo

ESPN Photo

I don’t think there was any doubt with this one.  We knew from the beginning that the Cowboys wouldn’t let Dez Bryant get to free agency.  And now it’s been confirmed by Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones that Dallas will use the franchise tag on Bryant by Monday’s deadline if a long term deal isn’t completed.

“I still think that it’s probably, you know, would be a stretch to think that we would have something done by Monday and beat the franchise-tag deadline,” Jones said. “Looks like we’re eyeing a franchise tag on Dez, but certainly won’t stop us from working hard to get a long-term deal.”

Torrey Smith

Getty Images

Getty Images

This also might be an easy one, but for the opposite reason.  Although Torrey Smith ended strong, he had a bumpy beginning to the 2014 season.  And that’s just the problem.  He’s not a reliable every play wide receiver, but he’s a gifted wide receiver that would be a good WR2 or WR3.  It appears, though, that although the Raven’s want to keep Smith, and Smith wants to stay, the economics of the matter might not make that possible.  The Ravens don’t have a lot of cap space, so a deal that Smith is happy with might be outside what the Ravens can afford.  Owner Steve Bisciotti stated at his “State of the Ravens” press conference last week:

“The difference between what we can pay Torrey and what he gets on the open market … Mike Wallace got $10 million and I don’t think anybody thinks that was a good deal…. There’s always a team that has lots of money that wants to bring in playmakers. Those guys are going to get those deals. I think we’re going to have to take it on the chin and move on.”

Well, first, it might be unfair to make the comparison to Mike Wallace.  But, in all honesty, this is a pretty clear sign that the Ravens don’t want to pay Smith what he thinks he can get in the open market.  And if they don’t want to pay $10 million, they certainly wouldn’t want to use the franchise tag on Smith.

The most likely scenario is that Thomas, Bryant and Maclin get the tag, while Cobb and Smith do not.  But for all these receivers, regardless of the franchise tag, we all probably won’t have the complete picture until September.

Of course, by then we might have other things to worry about.  Like waiting for season 4 of “House of Cards”.


By Ha Kung Wong

Twitter: @FBGarbageTime